ONE NIGHT this week I sat in the middle of the street and howled. The occasion was the appearance of Baltimore's Municipal Concert Band, a group of about 35 musicians who, in keeping with a 140-year-old tradition, put on free outdoor band concerts and sing-a-longs in city neighborhoods during the summer.
Wednesday night's performance on Wilson Street in Bolton Hill was a typical rendition of the sing-a-long version of the show, said Stephanie S. Esworthy, superintendent of the Baltimore City Bureau of Music, which organizes the events. There were the traditional marches, show-tune sing-a-longs, and spellbinding solos by Delores Jones, whose powerful contralto voice virtually shook the brickwork of nearby Strawbridge United Methodist Church.
The Bureau of Music also puts on a Big Band performance, with no sing-alongs, featuring the music of Stan Kenton, Whitney Houston and Count Basie. The host neighborhood picks which version of the show it wants, Esworthy told me. By the time the group winds up its season at the end of July, it will have given concerts in 23 different locations. Tomorrow night for instance, the band appears at Coldspring Community and Monday night it is in Gwynns Falls Park.
By the time I got to the concert Wednesday night, the air was filled with music and the street was filled with people. Up front, near the bandstand, were "the bouncers" - little girls and boys dancing to the music. Around the edges of the street were the vendors, folks from neighborhood organizations selling hot dogs, Polish sausages, drinks and desserts. There was also "the park set," older kids playing games and hanging out in Fitzgerald Park, a pocket park at Wilson and Bolton streets. In the center of the street, a collection of dog walkers, kid toters and supper eaters milled around behind rows of folding chairs, sometimes talking, sometimes singing.
This was a summer night. There was no agenda. Grab a Polish sausage. Sip a beer. Visit with the neighbors. Sing "Hello Dolly."
I was somewhat disappointed but not surprised to find out that our kids were not in attendance. Over the years they have moved through the ranks of concert-goers, starting off as "bouncers," moving on to become members of the park set (although they preferred the renovated park in its older, darker, bumpier state). Now, as teen-agers, they were likely only to make a brief appearance at the neighborhood concert, grabbing a bite to eat, before disappearing into their social whirl.
I had hoped that the outdoor concert and sing-along might serve as a meeting point, a Camp David on musical tastes, for our 15-year-old son and me. This summer we have spent a lot of time together traveling in the car. That means that this summer we have spent a lot of time arguing about what kind of music to play on the car sound system.
The kid wants to play rap, which to my ears all seems the same: loud, crude and sounding something like "BOOM! Shockalockalocka, BOOM!
I prefer something more melodic, such as country western music. The other day I picked the kid up while playing my tape of Hank Williams Sr. singing, "Why don't you love me like you used to do? Why do you treat me like a worn out shoe? My hair's still curly and my eyes are still blue, why don't you love like you used to do?" I thought the kid was going to crawl under the car seat.
As we rolled south down the Jones Falls Expressway we tried a compromise. I played Hank Williams from the Beltway until we hit Northern Parkway. From Northern Parkway to North Avenue, he played rap. The experience left both of us on edge.
Sitting out in the night air and singing "By The Light of the Silve'ry Moon" could, I thought, be a healing, harmonious experience. It worked for me. After belting out "I want a girl, just like the girl that married dear old Dad," I felt better.
There were still problems out there but for an hour or two after the concert there was a song in my heart. It went something like this: "In the good old summertime, BOOM! Shockalockalocka BOOM!"