My Musical Journey Through Montgomery, Alabama (Final Project English II)

As you may or may not already know, I am a musician. Not only am I a musician, I’m a music geek. Because I’m a music geek, practically every time I hear about a concert or some musical event I instantly want to attend; and when I have an opportunity to play in a musical group I often take that opportunity. I’ve played in and for several musical groups in the Montgomery area, as has my brother, and I’ve immensely enjoyed every group I’ve played for and heard. And because I’ve heard and played quite a lot of music in the state of Alabama and in the cities of Montgomery and Prattville specifically, I’m writing my final project for Honors English Composition II on music in Montgomery. Welcome to my journey through the music that is an integral part of my life and of Montgomery’s culture. Enjoy!

 

The easiest group to start with is the Prattville Pops. The Prattville Pops are a community band. You don’t have to audition to get in, which means that no matter how old or young, experienced or inexperienced you are – if you can sight-read at least a little bit and actually make the correct sounds on an instrument, you can join. There’s also no fee necessary to join the Pops. The only thing you have to pay for is a shirt (or two), if you want to play with them at a concert.

The Prattville Pops play for concerts and events all around the city of Prattville, and the majority of their performances are free and open to the public. Just in this past year (i.e. 2012), they played at the Prattville Independence Day Patriotic Concert (and firework display) with the Prattville Community Chorus, the Prattville Christmas Tree Lighting, and their joint Christmas concert with the Prattville Community Chorus. This year, they were set to play at the Prattville CityFest Arts Showcase, but they were rained out. They’re also scheduled to play a short concert at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center, and their annual Spring Concert at the Doster Community Center in downtown Prattville. I played keyboard with them (as a member of the Community Chorus) at the fireworks display last year; I played secondary percussion for their Christmas concert; and I’m going to play either keyboard or secondary percussion for at least one of their last two concerts for this season. My brother is a member of their trombone section, but he hasn’t played a concert with them yet: his first would’ve been the CityFest performance this year, but, as aforementioned, it was rained out.

The Prattville Pops are a very well-known part of the arts revitalisation of Prattville. The director and several members actually drive up from Montgomery every Tuesday to rehearse with them, and they are very welcoming to musicians of all ages, even middle- and high-school kids. I have a lot of fun listening to their rehearsals and attending (and playing in) their actual concerts. It’s quite impressive to think that a little town like Prattville, Alabama could have a wind band of the standard of the Prattville Pops.

 

The next group I’d like to mention flows easily from my discussion of the Prattville Pops, as they regularly do joint performances with the Pops. I speak, of course, of the Prattville Community Chorus. For a community chorus, the Prattville Community Chorus or PCC has attracted some quite lovely voices just from the general community, with no audition and no fee necessary to join. I was their secondary pianist for half a year last spring, and it was a lot of fun. It’s now also become a pleasure to see all the members again when I attend their concerts.

Speaking of concerts, the PCC is also quite active in the community. They are perhaps not quite as active as the Pops (though I am quite willing to be proven wrong), but that is not to say that the PCC does nothing. In fact, according to the program I received from their spring concert about a week or so ago, in this next year alone (and some also in years past) they will be singing with the Prattville Pops at the Independence Day Patriotic Concert for the Fourth of July, at the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society Annual Conference for Professional Women Educators (I honestly have no idea what that is), at the Prattville Christmas Tree Lighting Concert and in the Prattville Christmas Parade, performing again with the Pops at their annual Christmas Concert, singing on a float for the Prattville Mardi Gras parade, and also for their two travelling singing events: Christmas Caroling at an Assisted Living facility, and delivering Special Singing Valentines all over Prattville for Valentine’s Day (for just a small fee you can have one delivered to your sweetheart, wherever they are – so long as it’s in Prattville). When I played for the PCC last spring,  I played at their Spring Concert, at the Prattville CityFest, and at the Independence Day Concert with the Prattville Pops, as I mentioned earlier in my section on the Pops. The pieces the Chorus perform, no matter the event, are fun, delightful, lively, and easily accessible to people of any age and musical ability.

The Prattville Community Chorus is a huge part of the arts scene in Prattville, and it’s flourished tremendously in the 40 years since it was founded. There is one founding member of the chorus still singing with them. She was recognized publicly by the mayor of Prattville at the Spring Concert this year. I sincerely hope that the Chorus continues to perform as much and as enthusiastically as they do now, even after the older members have moved on. It would be a shame to let such an amazing piece of the history of Prattville merely fall to the wayside as the world moves on.

 

After writing about the Prattville Community Chorus, it follows quite naturally that the next group I mention is the Montgomery Youth Chorale. After all, both groups are singing groups. The Youth Chorale is an auditioned choral group for children ages 8 – 16 (or, for boys, 8 to whenever your voice breaks). I sang with them during the fall of 2007 and the entirety of the 2008-2009 season. (I also took organ lessons with the director, Joel Gregory, just last year. He’s pretty cool: a pianist, an organist, a choir director, and a banker in Montgomery. Not bad…)

The Montgomery Youth Chorale performed for the first time with the Montgomery Chorale (a singing group for adults in the Montgomery area) in the spring of 2002. In March 2003 the Youth Chorale performed by themselves for the first time. Ever since then, the Youth Chorale has performed both independently and with the Montgomery Chorale every year. Here is a list of all the concerts that the Montgomery Youth Chorale will have presented in the 2012-2013 performing season, as described by their website:

  • The Red Mass and Opening of the Alabama Supreme Court at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in October of 2012
  • The Alabama Governor’s Christmas Party at the Governor’s Mansion in December
  • A joint concert with the Montgomery Chorale in April
  • A tentative performance with the Alabama Choir School, also in April (the website hasn’t been updated yet as to whether or not this performance actually took place)
  • Their annual Spring Concert in May

Not listed on the website, if indeed it is happening this year (it occurred the year I was a member of the Chorale), is the tour/trip that the Youth Chorale tries to take every year. I did see listed the Pancake Breakfast, which is a chance for the Youth Chorale to raise money for their trip by serving pancakes to paying members of the public; and this listing of the Pancake Breakfast leads me to believe that the Chorale did indeed go on their tour/trip this year. The year that I was able to go on the tour, we took a three-day trip up to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We visited several interesting sites on that Friday and Saturday during the daytime, then at night on each of those days we attended a concert by two choirs who were performing in Chattanooga that weekend. On Sunday morning, before we left to return to Montgomery, we performed at a church service in Chattanooga. It was a brilliant excursion, and although I probably would have preferred to actually sing more than we did, it was a great experience and the concerts that we attended were lovely.

A fun fact about the Montgomery Youth Chorale is that their pianist, Ms. Cynthia Summers, is also the pianist for the Prattville Community Chorus! The first night I went to a Community Chorus rehearsal it was a big surprise and a great pleasure to see someone I knew.

The Montgomery Youth Chorale is a great and fun way for kids to get into music and singing while still being disciplined. Mr. Gregory does an excellent job of balancing fun and enjoyment while still producing high-quality concerts. Music is not being given as much of an emphasis for children as it should, and so programs like the Youth Chorale are a great boon to our society, especially in smaller cities like Montgomery.

 

Going along with the theme of musical opportunities for children that are both fun and educational, my brother is currently a member of the Montgomery Youth Orchestra. As you can probably tell from the name, the Montgomery Youth Orchestra is an orchestra for teenagers (or youths, if you prefer) in the Montgomery area. On occasion, twelve year olds are allowed to audition, but for the most part, the cut-off age of auditioning for the Youth Orchestra is 13. (I know this because my brother tried to audition when he was twelve but was told by the director to wait another year.) The Youth Orchestra’s current conductor, Yvonne Collins, has been directing the Orchestra for 23 seasons, including the current season. I was unable to find out when the Youth Orchestra itself began, but the Montgomery Symphony League, which runs the Youth Orchestra along with several other programs to provide musical opportunities in the community, was founded in 1982, which would seem to imply that the Youth Orchestra is either younger than or as old as the Symphony League.

The Montgomery Youth Orchestra, or MYO for short, typically only performs twice a year: once around Christmas time, and once more on or around Mother’s Day. The performances are free and open to the public, unlike the orchestra itself. I neglected to mention that to be a part of the MYO, not only do you have to audition and be the right age, you also have to pay an annual fee to be a member. The MYO does offer scholarships for summer music programs, however, if you apply for them.

The MYO is not necessarily the most active music group in the Montgomery area, but it is certainly the most diverse group for young people in the area. Most of the other groups are either bands, which exclude all string instruments excepting the string bass on certain occasions, or are choral groups, which exclude all instruments except a piano. I personally have never played in the Montgomery Youth Orchestra, or any orchestra for that matter, but I’m sure that for those teens who are a part of the MYO it is a great learning experience, and the pieces are, I’m sure, quite fun to play.

 

I mentioned the Montgomery Symphony League in my previous segment on the Montgomery Youth Orchestra. The Montgomery Symphony League is affiliated with the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra, which is rather obviously Montgomery’s Symphony Orchestra. None of my family has ever been a proper performing member of the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra or MSO, but I have been to quite a few of their concerts, and I was invited to play very briefly as a young guest artist on one of their “Holiday Pops” concerts.

According to the MSO website, there are five concerts that the MSO play every year. These concerts are not free, but they are open to anyone who wants to attend. There are also two or three “Pops” concerts every year, and I believe that the “Pops” designation means that these concerts are free to the public. One of the concerts, which I attended several years ago, is called “Broadway Under the Stars”, where the MSO plays only Broadway showtunes rewritten for orchestra. This concert takes place at the lake in the middle of the grounds of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and the neat thing about it is that while the Symphony performs on one side of the lake, you can sit at any part of the lake and hear the music clearly because of the reverberations across the water. The other two Pops concerts the MSO performs are the Holiday Pops concert in December (which I mentioned earlier as being a concert I was invited to play in), and their Jubilee Pops concert near Memorial Day in May. The Violin and Cello Fellows of the MSO, who are the only paid members of the orchestra and often come from all across America, also have their own concert series (six concerts long: I don’t know how they divide it up) during the season that takes place at the Wilson Auditorium at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. I attended one of the Fellowship concerts last year with the Cello Fellow, and it was absolutely spectacular.

The Montgomery Symphony Orchestra has been in Montgomery since 1976 and has been led by their current conductor, Maestro Thomas Hines, since 1983. It has been instrumental in bringing orchestral music to Montgomery, and the Montgomery Symphony Association and League that make their concerts possible are an incredible contribution to the community.

 

The last musical group I want to describe that is in Montgomery is the Chestnut Street Opry. This is a bit harder to tie in to my discussion the way I’ve managed to tie together the other groups, as the Opry is a bluegrass and country music jam session and all the other musical groups I’ve mentioned are classical groups, but I’ll try my best. The Chestnut Street Opry is the youngest group I know of, as it only started in 2010. The Opry follows the tradition of several other bluegrass music jams taking place in and around Montgomery, however, so the idea isn’t completely new. The Opry meets once a month for about three hours, and is essentially a group of musicians playing around with well-known bluegrass and country songs with a highlighted artist brought in to play solo music for a few minutes somewhere in the middle. The founder of the Opry, Mary Wolfe, is/was a member of the Montgomery Square Dance Association and so was able to obtain permission to use the Square Dance Association building as a meeting space, which they used from the birth of the Opry until May of 2013 when they moved to Ridgecrest Baptist Church.

My usual section on the performances of the group I’m describing isn’t really feasible with the Chestnut Street Opry, as pretty much every time they meet it’s a performance. Families are welcomed, as is dancing whenever you feel like it. Every time they meet (i.e. once a month) they have a highlighted artist, who has several minutes to play a solo program of their choice in the middle of the evening while the other participants rest their fingers. I played as their highlighted artist in November of 2010, less than a year after their formation, though I didn’t know that at the time. I’ve been asked to play again at their June meeting, because Ms. Wolfe wanted me to play one more time before I move away this summer. The type of music the Opry participants play is usually bluegrass, country western, or gospel, according to the website, but they invite all genres of artists to come listen and play. (That is rather apparent to me, as I’m a classical musician, and before attending the Opry had never really had exposure to playing any of those genres of music…)

The Chestnut Street Opry was created as a place for musicians to get together and have fun once a month in a “smoke-free, family-friendly, wholesome environment” (a paraphrased quote from the website). While still not as large as a group like the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra, it is still an influential group in the River Region and is an easy way to expose people of all ages to those genres of music favored by the musicians in the Opry.

 

And so we have arrived at the conclusion of my journey through the musical groups and opportunities in Montgomery, Alabama. This is obviously not comprehensive, and is certainly not representative of the number of musical events that take place in the Montgomery/Prattville area, never mind the state of Alabama, but these are the groups and events that I have been personally involved with or have attended. I learned quite a lot about these groups from researching this discussion, and I hope you’ve learned a lot as well. Please, by all means, check out the websites of these groups that I’ve linked to in the text if you want more information, and if you’re interested and in the Montgomery area, I highly recommend that you attend one of these musical events. There’s no one comprehensive website that I know of to find all the musical opportunities in Montgomery, but if you search hard enough and get to know some of the right people and websites, you can find whatever you’re looking for. Thank you for joining me on this mini adventure, and I hope to have many more with you!

 

Explore, play, listen, and enjoy onwards!!! <3

 

(This is the Padlet page that I had to create as another part of this final project. It’s basically a virtual posterboard. Please be sure to read it! It’s basically a shorter version of this page. Thanks!)

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