City's musical summer tradition

June 24, 1993

Many things in Baltimore have changed since 1860 but at least one pleasant summer tradition lives on -- city-sponsored outdoor concerts.

The city Bureau of Music's Outdoor Summer Band, under the baton of George Gaylor, begins its 133rd season at 8 p.m. July 1. The first performance is at Northwestern High School, 6900 Park Heights Avenue. Eleven other concerts of Broadway tunes and light classical favorites will follow at locations throughout the city.

Starting July 18, Baltimore's Big Band will continue the series with concerts at six locations. Gene Walker is the conductor. (Concert information can be obtained from 396-7076).

Few taxpayers or outsiders know it, but the City Charter decrees that "music shall be provided for the citizens of Baltimore." Indeed, Baltimore was the first city in the United States to sponsor a municipal band -- which in 1942 gave birth to an independent Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Many other cities subsequently created similar municipal bands but most have long since been silenced by budget woes. Baltimore's band continues, using professional pick-up musicians.

Around 1915, this interest in municipal music led to the adoption of "Baltimore Our Baltimore" as the city's official anthem. Most of today's Baltimoreans might not even recognize the song. Go to one of the band concerts: Each one opens with this civic anthem.

Baltimore also was the first city in the United States to introduce audience sing-alongs. In the early days, the words to the song were shown on a screen and the audience followed a bouncing ball.

It may not be karaoke, but sing-alongs are a lot of fun. Hum your heart out, sing or tap your toes!

Overall, more free music can be heard in Baltimore City this summer than in many years.

The latest addition is a series of lunch-hour concerts by the Amaryllis String Quartert. The one-hour performances start at noon every Tuesday until August 3 at the West Garden of Mount Vernon Park.

In recent years, Mount Vernon Square has reclaimed its reputation as one of the most glorious of American plazas. This series ought to add an extra dimension to its many attractions.

Still going strong are the jazzy Thursday night double-header concerts at Hopkins Plaza -- next to the Morris Mechanic Theater -- and the nearby Charles Center Plaza. They have become a Baltimore cult event, with people dressing up for them!

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