The Chautauqua Community Band will take over Bestor Plaza today for its last hurrah of the season: the traditional Old First Night concert.
The annual concert will take place at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, August 6, rain or shine — but in the event of rain, the band will perform in the Amphitheater. The volunteer musicians will play classics by the likes of Francis Scott Key and John Philip Sousa, as well as hit show tunes, like a medley from Oklahoma!
Conductor Jason Weintraub has led the CCB from its very beginning, when he founded the tradition after Independence Day almost 30 years ago. He said the 60 to 80 musicians who play in each concert are there for the same reason: to celebrate their community.
“It’s not professionals performing for the community, it’s community members performing for the community,” Weintraub said.
Weintraub, a CSO musician, has been a Chautauquan for almost 50 years. He said the CCB’s two annual concerts, Independence Day and Old First Night, are community favorites for two reasons.
“First, it’s band music that everybody enjoys listening to, very familiar music,” Weintraub said. “Second, they get to see their friends and neighbors performing.”
The CCB’s concerts are unique in that they draw performers from on and off the Chautauqua grounds. Chautauqua residents, Chautauqua employees, Music School Festival Orchestra students, CSO musicians and residents of the surrounding communities alike can play in the band.
One of those musicians is Brian Kushmaul. Kushmaul is a 25-year CSO percussionist and — for the first time — a drum soloist with the CCB. He said the drum solo was a long time coming.
“I’ve watched (the CCB) for years, and Jason is a friend of mine,” Kushmaul said. “We had an idea three years ago: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a drum solo for the Community Band?’ So we’ve been talking about it for years, and this year we decided we’d finally make it happen.”
That solo is New York composer Larry Neeck’s “Concerto for Drum Set and Band.” Kushmaul said this simple concerto was chosen for the band’s — and the audience’s — enjoyment.
“We wanted something that was fun to listen to and easy to put together,” Kushmaul said. “Hopefully the band will have fun playing it, and hopefully the audience will have a lot of fun listening to it.”
Alongside the concerto, the program includes several pieces that Weintraub said will fit well in Chautauqua’s birthday celebration — including two pieces by American composer Sousa, who performed several concerts with the CSO in his lifetime. It also, of course, includes “Happy Birthday.”
Whether the CCB plays on Old First Night or Independence Day, Weintraub said, its tradition of community involvement and enthusiasm is uniquely Chautauquan.
“I’ve had a lot of people say it’s their favorite thing,” Weintraub said. “Because only at Chautauqua do you find something like this — that represents Chautauqua like this.”