Swan song for members of musical group


The co-founders of September Song will take their final curtain call this year after 22 years of benefit performances for the developmentally impaired residents of Carroll County.

Producer Arnie Hayes and orchestra director Robert "Doc" Kersey will retire from their respective positions.

Also bowing out after this year are Mary Lee Schmall, pianist and chorus director for 19 years; and Elaine Carabell, who has done makeup for all 22 shows.

"We just feel we should turn it over to younger blood," Mr. Hayes said. "Doc and I are leaving because we're getting older and have other things we'd like to do. This takes a lot of time. It takes its toll."

The 1995 show is the same as in 1974 -- "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Show times are at 8 p.m. tomorrow, Sept. 29 and 30 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Westminster High School, 1225 Washington Road.

Besides being producer, Mr. Hayes also will reprise his role from the 1974 show as Mr. Twimble.

There's not much that Mr. Hayes, who turns 71 today, hasn't done for September Song. It was his idea to produce a musical in the new Westminster High School 21 years ago. Mr. Kersey, now 70, offered to organize an orchestra.

"I went to the papers and advertised it," Mr. Hayes said. "It was only one weekend the first year. I tried to get sponsors and couldn't, until I went to The Arc [of Carroll County] and promised them they would never lose money."

The first year, the group made $750 for The Arc, a nonprofit organization that assists people with disabilities, which stayed with September Song through 1988. Mr. Hayes, who has a developmentally impaired relative, decided he wanted to do September Song annually to raise money for the mentally disabled.

Since The Arc pulled out of September Song in 1988, the play has been sponsored by CHANGE Inc., Richcroft Inc. and the Carroll County Therapeutic Recreation Council. This year's proceeds will pass the $200,000 mark for the 22 shows, Mr. Hayes said.

The stories that can be told about September Song are many.

"Doc has not missed one single performance, not even the extra show we did for Union Memorial Baptist Church that burned in 1978," Mr. Hayes said. The benefit performance of "Oklahoma" earned $1,100 for the church's building fund.

Mr. Hayes credits Ira Domser, Western Maryland College instructor and producer of Theatre on the Hill, with a major part in September Song's success. Mr. Domser builds the sets for the plays.

"Without Ira, I don't think we could really exist," he said.

Mr. Hayes has produced the show every year, even when he was sick.

"Last year was particularly nice because my daughter Karen played the fiddler in 'Fiddler on the Roof,' " Mr. Kersey said as he rattled off the names of the musicians who have played most, if not every, September Song show.

Ms. Schmall, who teaches the chorus its songs and plays piano in the orchestra, calls the chorus members "unsung heroes -- there's no show without them."

The co-founders are ensuring that the show goes on, even without them. Mr. Hayes has chosen his successor, actress Joan Crooks, and Mr. Kersey is hoping that one of his musicians will replace him.

Many actors, singers, technicians and other volunteers who have worked with September Song through the years will return.

"I can't tell you how many wonderful people are involved in this," Mr. Hayes said. "We've grown up with each other. I've enjoyed it and enjoyed the way the community supports it."

Tickets to the show are $10 for reserved seats, available at Coffey Music, 15 E. Main St., Westminster. General admission is $7. Information: 848-1824 or 876-1760.

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