Theater group's conductor sounds note of satisfaction after 20 years

September 22, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

When the overture began Saturday for the first performance of "The Music Man," put on by the charity theater group DTC September Song, Dr. Robert Kersey was at his usual station in the orchestra pit.

The 68-year-old Westminster resident has conducted the orchestra through every performance of every production since the curtain rose on the first September Song show 20 years ago.

September Song is an annual event that has raised over $175,000 for Carroll County residents with developmental disabilities, said Arnie Hayes, who co-founded the event with Dr. Kersey.

Dr. Kersey "was playing Judy Garland, and I was Mickey Rooney," said Mr. Hayes, and together they came up with the idea, " 'Hey, let's put on a show in the barn!' "

Dr. Kersey said the idea was just an idea -- until he saw a poster for September Song that had his name on it.

Mr. Hayes' account differs slightly.

He says it was a newspaper article, not a poster, that listed Dr. Kersey as conductor and gave him no chance to back out of the role.

Since then, there has been no turning back.

Dr. Kersey, a former music supervisor for the Carroll County school system who later was assistant superintendent of instruction, says there is artistic satisfaction in conducting the orchestra, as well as personal satisfaction from giving something back to the community where he and his wife, Florence, have lived since 1951.

Although he has held other jobs, Dr. Kersey said, he has "never really left music."

He has continued to compose music and play the trumpet. For several years, he was an educator during the school year and spent summers in his hometown, Atlantic City, N.J., where he had his own nightclub orchestra.

"That was really a double life," he said.

As September Song conductor, Dr. Kersey must recruit the musicians, as well as rehearse with them and conduct the public performances. Over the years, he said, he has found more than 85 musicians willing to donate their time to the project. Many are current or retired music teachers.

"A lot of them are highly involved in music, and they're all well-trained people," Dr. Kersey said.

This year's orchestra has 22 members. All are local people, Dr. Kersey said, except for three violinists from Hanover, Pa.

"I don't know how many of them would give up that time, except for him," Mr. Hayes said. "These guys, and women, could be out making money on the weekend."

He said Dr. Kersey "makes you feel very important. . . . He's a gentleman."

In fact, when a local bank needed a "distinguished older person" as a photographic model for a brochure, Mr. Hayes suggested Dr. Kersey, who got the role.

He said Dr. Kersey is the kind of person who looks handsome even when working in his garden.

Technical aspects of his craft have changed during the last 20 years, Dr. Kersey said. For example, singers now wear body microphones. That frees the conductor to coax a louder, fuller sound out of his musicians without fear of drowning out the singers.

Mr. Hayes said Dr. Kersey's years of experience translate into authority in the eyes of younger performers, who look to him for guidance "when the lights are down and the audience is out there."

Dr. Kersey said one advantage of aging is that experience has taught him how to budget time and effort so that he can maximize the orchestra's potential.

"I think I know where to put the emphasis as far as getting the job done," he said.

It also helps to have connections.

This year, on opening night, one of the violinists was unable to play, but Dr. Kersey was able to find a replacement -- his daughter, Karen, a professional violinist who traveled from Cape May, N.J., for the performance.

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