Concert band and choir set to go silent for year

May 7, 2019 GMT

Barry Lehman has loaned his trumpet to Rochester’s Fourth of July celebration for the past four years.

This year, however, if he heads to Silver Lake Park on July 4, his trumpet is likely to be replaced by a heavy heart, knowing he won’t be performing with the Rochester Concert Band.

“I know traditions are meant to be broken and all that, but there’s something about concerts in the park for the Fourth of July with the music for the season,” he said, noting the patriotic music is a salute to veterans like his father, who served in World War II.

The Rochester Music Board announced last month that the concert band, along with the city’s concert choir, is being put on hiatus for the upcoming season, which typically starts with the July 4 performance.


“It was not a decision that was made lightly,” Music Board President Shelley Mahannah said.

The decision stems from looking at the department’s mission, as well as stated Rochester City Council priorities. There were listening sessions with band and choir members in 2017 and several board discussions regarding programming and available funding.

“It was necessary for us to reprioritize programs to meet the strategic imperatives established by the council,” said Steven Schmidt, general manager of the Rochester Music Department.

Among the main priorities is improving the quality of life in Rochester, and under that objective the council specifically calls for increasing vitality in neighborhoods.

To do that, the Music Department is teaming up with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to hold a series of concerts in neighborhood parks throughout the city.

City Administrator Steve Rymer said he feels the Music Board’s decision to work with new programs meets with the council’s goal to use city resources to reach into the community.

“I think it’s a good example of how we are looking at things differently than in the past,” he said.

Schmidt said staff limitations mean the program will start slowly, with hopes of building to at least one concert in each of the city’s six wards by the summer of 2021.

The same limitations means the department lacks the ability to meet the needs of the city’s band and choir for at least the next year.

Part-time conductor Chuck Blattner retired from leading the two groups in 2017. Since then, city staff has been looking for his replacement while arranging guest conductors for two to three performances each year.


Schmidt said costs go beyond finding someone to lead performances, noting the city pays for rehearsal and performance space, sheet music and technical support for each performance.

“It’s more that just the amount we pay the conductor,” he said.

Mahannah said the planned retirement of Deana Carr, who handles operations and production activities for the band and choir, also adds to the complexity for the department’s small staff.

Schmidt said he hopes the band and choir will return to a regular performance schedule after new initiatives are implemented and lingering uncertainty about city-owned performance spaces is resolved.

Meanwhile, other top priorities for the Music Board and department are the Riverside concerts and outreach programs that help introduce wider audiences, including young people, to diverse musical offerings.

As that work continues, Schmidt said the board and staff will continue to seek ways to make all programs more effective, which could include a potential plan for reactivating the band and choir after its hiatus.

“We’ll be revisiting where the band (and choir) will fit in the future,” he said.

Lehman said he hopes the band and choir will find a place in the city’s fold.

“I think it says something about the community and the importance of music,” he said of the groups’ place in the city.

At the same time, he noted several other groups exist that could fill the concert band’s place on local stages temporarily.

Lehman, who also plays in the Rochester Community Band and other ensembles, said he’d love other groups to get a chance to play for new audiences, but added that the Concert Band and Choir have unique connections as city-run entities.

Among them, he maintains, is a place on stage before the city’s annual fireworks display.

Schmidt said plans are in the works to fill that spot, which sits between scheduled performances organized by The Commission, a young professionals group that has organized the annual Salute to the Fourth events at Silver Lake Park since 2014.

Lehman said he believes something will be lost if the space is not filled by a concert band playing patriotic music, but he anticipates such music will continue to be played throughout the city.

“Rochester is a music city as much as it is a med city,” he said.

At the same time, he said he anticipates his fellow musicians will be ready when the city decides to get the band back together.

“I think the interest will be there,” he said, noting the planned year-long break could be overcome.