Baltimore's band plays on Music: Under a law set in 1860, the Municipal Concert Band gives city neighborhoods a chance to sing and dance all summer long.

July 16, 1996|By Kathleen B. Hennelly | Kathleen B. Hennelly,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Baltimore will never be without music. And that's the law.

This is by order of the 1860 Baltimore City Charter: "Music shall be provided for the citizens of Baltimore by the city."

Abiding by that lawful request -- the only item that remains from the original charter -- the Municipal Concert Band has neighborhoods all over Baltimore singing, dancing, laughing and clapping to music all summer long.

Wednesday was northern Bolton Hill's turn. The residents there plan their yearly neighborhood fund-raiser and party around the band's performance.

Grant Stiner, 75, a resident of northern Bolton Hill, has been attending the concerts for as long as he can remember. "These concerts are nostalgic; I remember them as a kid," said Stiner. "This brings out the good in everyone."

Last week, as the crowd gathered, hot dogs and hamburgers sizzled on grills, fried chicken and homemade cakes were neatly arrayed on picnic tables, and soda and beer were on ice. Barefoot children ran around the street, owners slackened the leashes on their dogs, and a crowd diverse in age, race and social class gathered around the bandstand, the tables and the coolers.

The band played in the shadow of Strawbridge United Methodist Church, and its pastor, the Rev. Boyd N. Walton Jr., said he feels that the concerts bring the community together.

"Everyone seems to like it and it's beneficial to the community," said Walton.

Emily Gilliard lives in northern Bolton Hill with her husband and three young children. "These concerts are great," she said. "It gives people something positive to do instead of watching all the crime on TV, and it's something that families can do together."

In the 1930s, Baltimore billed itself as the "Cradle of Music," and the city's Department of Music was known as Baltimore's "lusty child." Back then, four bands drew crowds of up to 30,000 people and played every night -- sometimes simultaneously -- in the city's major parks.

Now the band plays on a 32-by-16-foot mobile bandstand and draws crowds from 200 to 2,500. The city has scheduled 23 concerts this summer.

The four bands of the past were segre-gated, said Stephanie Esworthy, superintendent of the Baltimore Bureau of Music since 1967. She worked to integrate them in the 1960s.

"Now it's all about integration," Esworthy said. "Look at the crowds we draw, look at the bands now -- we do everything from the 'Electric Slide' to Duke Ellington, and we play everywhere from Cherry Hill to the Village of Cross Keys. It depends on what the crowd wants, and they tell us what they want."

Elijah Gamble, 35, of Federal Hill, was at the northern Bolton Hill event with friends.

"I live in a large community where people don't get together much," he said. "These things are great. I love the aspect of people of all walks of life getting together and enjoying the music and each other's company."

The band plays classic favorites: show tunes from Rodgers and Hammerstein, opera selections and even music from "The Lion King." Before the intermission and at the end of the show the band plays a sing-along, where the audience is expected to participate.

The band is a compilation of different people. However, many of the musicians went to the Peabody Institute, and 90 percent are music teachers during the rest of the year. Each is paid about $40 a show.

Of 37 members, 25 have been dedicated to the band for more than a decade.

vTC Albin Grden has been with the band for 44 years and is the first chair clarinet.

"I love the music and it gives me chance to play," said Grden. "It is also something to do in the summer when I'm not teaching."

Harry Ruder, who has played with the band for 15 years, retired from teaching and moved to Florida in 1990. He is now a member of the Coral Springs Symphonic Pops Band, at Deerfield Beach, Fla. But he makes his way up the coast to Baltimore every year to play.

"I love this band," said Ruder. "They ask me back every year, so I come for the music and the people."

For schedule information on the bands, contact Stephanie Esworthy at 396-7076.

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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