WORTHINGTON — The 127th season of Worthington’s “Amazing” City Band almost didn’t occur.
Nevertheless, the first of five scheduled concerts will take place at 7:30 p.m. today in historic Chautauqua Park, weather permitting.
“We’re glad the band can do something this summer, but we need everyone to stay safe,” urged director Mike Peterson.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced outright cancellation of the band’s entire slate of June concerts, as well as its traditional performance at the city’s annual Memorial Day ceremony. Considerations about how to socially distance within a musical ensemble were puzzling.
But discussions among the band’s leadership, including director Peterson and 2020 band board president Rich Besel, led to careful and creative planning once Gov. Tim Walz loosened some gathering restrictions, especially those related to outdoor events.
“We want to follow Gov. Walz’s guidelines,” assured Besel.
“We’re excited to be able to do this, and we want to enjoy it as much as we can — in a safe way.”
Tonight’s performance is the first of five (eight summer concerts is the norm) slated for each Wednesday night in July, plus the Fourth of July.
Audience members can expect changes to the usual format, as only about 25 players will participate in each concert (instrumentalists will rotate throughout the month). Only one musician will play a part within each section to allow for space between players.
In addition, Peterson — and Matt Saxman, who will conduct the July 4 concert — will direct from a scaffold in front of the stage to create greater physical distance between him and the heavy-breathing band members.
“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t feel safe,” said Peterson, adding that the first several park benches will be blocked off to keep the audience further back from the performers, as well.
Band members are expected to wear masks during concert set-up and teardown times, as well as during the intermission entertainment features.
“And we strongly encourage attendees to wear masks and position their lawn chairs at a distance from others,” said Besel.
“Music brings us together, and we know the joy experienced when listening to or performing music is exhilarating, yet we want people to be safe.”
Besel, a trumpeter, and his clarinetist wife Kris have been part of the “Amazing” Worthington City Band since 1986, so band rehearsals and concerts have come to epitomize summer’s spirit for them and many other long-serving band members. They’re delighted to see at least a portion of the season salvaged in some fashion.
“It’s always terrific to reunite with band friends we don’t always see throughout the year,” said Besel, “and one of the great things about band is you can keep playing an instrument as you get older.”
Another difference concerns rehearsals, which will not take place on Monday evenings at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center but at 6:30 p.m. on concert nights in the open air at Chautauqua Park.
“Outdoors is better,” said Peterson, referencing COVID-19 risks.
“Most of the music we’ve picked is already familiar to the bulk of the band from past years, so I have confidence we can rehearse the pieces at 6:30 p.m. and perform them well at 7:30 p.m.”
Still, Peterson said he has “a little apprehension and a little excitement” going into what will be his seventh season as leader of the band.
“We want to make sure the music is as topnotch as we can get it, but also make sure everyone stays safe — that’s the primary concern,” said Peterson.
However, audiences can count on a reliable mix of music.
“We traditionally have at least one march, one familiar sacred number and some good toe-tapping tunes,” listed Peterson.
“And we’ll feature different sections within the band each week — tonight it will be the flute section, all two of them — and next week, the clarinets.
“We’ll also have a soloist or two.”
In the event of inclement weather, concerts will not take place.
“Hopefully, the weather will cooperate,” said Peterson.
“It’s going to be fun — that’s why we do it — and this year, we’ll strive to be safe at the same time.”
The “Amazing” Worthington City Band performs at 7:30 p.m. today and also on July 4, 8, 15, 22 and 29 at Chautauqua Park, Worthington. July 1 emcee is Troy Appel, with Kalea Appel providing intermission entertainment; July 4 emcee is Gordon Moore, with Davis Moore providing intermission entertainment.