World-Famous in Harrisburg

I was looking through my photos today and thought I should post these two.

The first is my billboard, up this entire past season in various well-traveled locations, and the subject of much teasing from my friends here.

Hbg Symph 9-06

The second is my life-sized cardboard cut-out, made to help advertise the HSO raffle this past year, but kept for other potential uses in the upcoming season. If you think I got a lot of grief from the billboard, it was nothing compared to the flack generated by this:


It can be somewhat odd to be a local celebrity. It must be really strange in the larger markets. I remember when Movin' Out opened in NYC, and there was a building-sized photo of Michael Cavanaugh up in Times Square. That must have been intense and pretty cool for Michael. Then I think of the real mass-market celebrities like the sports, TV and movie stars, who see themselves everywhere, and have no aspects of their lives to themselves. At what point does it cross over the line between fun/cool and horrible/invasive? Tough to say, but I'm certainly glad that most people don't have any desire to know what conductors do when they are out of their tails.

My kids loved the billboard, though...

In Memorium: Earl Mays and Marjorie Katzman

It's been a sad week. Two friends died this week, both of complications from cancer. In a two day stretch Earl Mays and Marjorie were gone.

I met Earl Mays in 1991, when I went to Charleston, SC to be the Assistant Conductor of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. Earl was already a living musical legend in Charleston, having led the band program at the Citadel for many years, and having written several excellent pops arrangements for the CSO. Over the years, I've conducted nearly all of Earl's arrangements, premiered many of them. Earl was a magnificent orchestrator - he really understood how to write for symphony orchestra. I always felt he was particularly good at brass orchestration, and when he had the luxury of a sax section, his "big band sound" was second to none. I remember him telling me that he spent most of his arranging time working out the segues (the way one tune merges into another). They always turned out interesting and seamless. Even after I left Charleston, I continued to play his music - some of his charts, like the "Big Band Blast" and "Hooray for Hollywood", I could probably lead in my sleep. When my brother, Joel, and I created our "Las Vegas Legends" show, I asked Earl to write charts for the second half of the show - all of the Sinatra tunes. This may be the best work I saw Earl do. Tasteful, brash, swinging and fun.... what a great arranger!

As brilliant a musician as he was, he was equally a gentle, avuncular man. We became very close friends. I loved being around Earl, and after I left Charleston, we stayed in very close contact. He was planning to attend my Carnegie Hall debut last winter, but his health prevented him from making the trip. He would have really loved that...

I will miss Earl. Knowing him enhanced my life and contributed to my growth as a musician. I will continue to perform his wonderful music, and I know he will be on my mind whenever I program a pops program or perform big band music.

I've known Marjorie Katzman for only seven years. I first met her husband Ron, who was one of the committee that brought me to Harrisburg, was previously chairman of the HSO's Board of Directors, crafted my initial contract, and continues to serve on the Board and contribute pro bono legal advice to the HSO (the value of his donation of time and expertise has been immeasurable). He is one of a handful of real heroes of my tenure with the HSO.

Marjorie was much more behind the scenes during my time here. She had served her time in the spotlight - chairman of the Board, president of the Symphony Society - and in recent years was the chairperson for several fund-raising events. And that was just her activities for the HSO. She also was a volunteer for several other worthy organizations, and served earlier as a missionary abroad. She was the kind of person who would come through whenever you needed her - generous in every way. She was also an extremely warm, kind and sharply intelligent person.

Marjorie was no pushover. Her mind was always working, and when she had an idea, she would be heard. Luckily, her ideas were usually good, and always at least provocative. More importantly, they always came from a deep love of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. She really liked music, but she loved the HSO, and was one of the people (like Ron) who I knew would never allow the orchestra to fail. Every organization needs those supporters. In fact, if I could clone Ron and Marjorie Katzman and create a symphony board and auxiliary, it would be pretty hard to beat.

Harrisburg is a lesser place for having lost Marjorie. She devoted her life to two things: raising a family and doing good things for others. We need more people like that.

My deepest sympathies go out to Earl's and Marjorie's families.