At a sporting event, I’m the girl who has to be careful not to gesticulate too wildly (mind your beers, neighbors) and warns you upfront to just “let me know if I get too loud.” I can’t help but get caught up in the excitement when I’m actually at a game, test or match so, I was concerned I might slip into etiquette unbefitting an arts environment when I attended the San Jose Wind Symphony’s Out in Left Field baseball-inspired concert December 4th. As it turned out, I was in perfect company and found myself pleasantly surprised at both the quality of the concert and the good sportsmanlike conduct of symphony and audience alike!
Fun is seemingly a prerequisite for this group as they appeared on stage wearing various baseball jerseys and hats. No stuffy pretense here, it was Sunday and it was time to PLAY BALL! They kicked off the concert with a handful of radio and TV clips of notable moments in baseball history which totally set the mood. Included in this prelude was the entire 6 minutes of Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First routine. A marvelous piece if you haven’t heard it in its entirety but, I would have loved to SEE all these clips rather than just hear them as it made for a bit of an awkward start with the orchestra on stage restlessly waiting as we listened. Once the main program began though, boy did it pack in some punch!
Enter our concert master who ceremoniously threw out the first pitch and NOTE, to get everyone alert and on key. Then the conductor, in full uniform, took to home plate, playing to the crowd with a bat before taking up his smaller and much more functional baton. Of course, the classics were dug out for the first half and we stood to sing The Star Spangled Banner and were privy to a rousing rendition (just a fantastic arrangement) of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
Walter Mayes, a local actor and a giant among men (read: super tall with booming voice), skillfully guided us through the introduction of each piece as well as provided us a stellar narration of the famous Casey at the Bat. Walter also brought a convivial improvisation to the trivia portion of the afternoon which provided gourmet peanut brittle prizes for correct answers and kicked off the post “seventh inning stretch” intermission.
Another excellent use of audio (that would have been even lovelier with video) was a portion of Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech again narrated by Walter and scored with a passionate and touching I Love You Truly (the piece that originally played on July 4th, 1939 at Yankee Stadium). An educational, entertaining, and moving addition to the program that just got better and better with each selection played.
The finale was perhaps my favorite, The National Game by John Philip Sousa. This whole concert put a grin on my face from beginning to end but, this last piece was inspired and seemed to musically sum up everything we love about sports (and baseball specifically). Such a clever piece too with a fantastic contraption assembled from a block of wood and bungee chords. Positioned prominently at the front of the stage it was energetically smacked with a bat by a member of the exquisite percussion team on cue during the piece. A mighty WHACK! A sound that somehow articulates inspirational pride, suspense, nostalgic youth and victorious accomplishment all at once.
This is a labor of love for the members of the symphony and each concert thus far (this is my second I have attended) is accented with genuine joy, humor, history, and excellent team work (much like baseball, no?) Overall, this was a home run for the SJWS that concluded with free crackerjacks as we left the auditorium!
This delightful, perfectly balanced program stole my heart along with several bases and easily achieved a game-winning 4 1/2 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara! SJWS has over 50 years of history and continues its MVP worthy 2011-2012 season on Sunday, Feb. 12th, with their program Tiptoe Through the Tubas at the McAfee Center in Saratoga.