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Orchestra of NNY celebrating the 4th with hall of fame fiddler and Civil War tunes

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Words and music from the Civil War will assist the Orchestra of Northern New York in celebrating the Fourth of July.

The orchestra will perform its patriotic program at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Helen M. Hosmer Hall at SUNY Potsdam and at 8 p.m. Thursday at Thompson Park in Watertown.

Its American pops concert is a “down-home celebration of great American music.” It comes complete with fiddlers, a hoe-down and, for Watertown, howizters.

The Watertown concert marks the return of an orchestra to the park for Fourth of July festivities for the first time since 2011 when Symphony Syracuse performed, replacing the defunct Syracuse Symphony, which performed annually in the park for years. Last year’s Fourth of July concert in the park by the rock band Fred & the Eds and Symphony Syracuse was rained out.

The Watertown concert is presented by the North Country Arts Council, which also is in a celebratory mood. It’s the first time the organization has hosted the traditional event.

“It’s sort of a celebration of community, a celebration of our freedom and those who helped make it possible for us,” said Michael C. Miller, president of the NCAC.

Mr. Miller said the council became involved in organizing it because community leaders were looking for an organization to take charge of the event, which he described as a “public-private” partnership between the city, citizens, businesses and organizations that’s more than 20 years old.

“We decided the arts council was the perfect entity to do this, so we moved ahead,” he said. “It’s our gift to the community.”

Not only does the event celebrate the holiday, Mr. Miller said it also honors the Orchestra of Northern New York — for its 25th anniversary year — and Thompson Park.

“As a community, we should shout from the rooftops that we have an Olmsted-designed park in our community,” Mr. Miller said, referring to the landscape architecture firm founded by Frederick Law Olmsted, which also designed New York City’s Central Park.

He said the approximately 65 orchestra members are drawn from an area ranging from Cleveland to Montreal. “They either trained here, love this part of the country or know and enjoy playing with people who are in the organization,” he said.

The orchestra’s Watertown performances are partially made possible by the Northern New York Community Foundation. The orchestra has received funding the past few years from the foundation since the demise of Syracuse Symphony. Last month, it was announced the orchestra will receive $17,000 to fund a minimum of four concerts as part of its 2013-14 Watertown season and to help market itself throughout Jefferson County.

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“The Civil War theme developed throughout the year,” said Kenneth B. Andrews, ONNY founder and music director. “I had planned on doing a work or two.”

Instead, it developed into “A Musical Tribute to the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Emancipation Proclamation.” That portion of the orchestra’s program begins with “American Salute” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Morton Gould (1913-1996). That will be followed by the theme from the 1993 movie “Gettysburg” by Randy Edelman.

Potsdam resident Gretchen P. Koehler, the latest inductee into the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame at the North American Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame and Museum in Osceola, Lewis County, will then be featured on “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar. Scott LaVine, Norwood, will perform piano on the song, which is the theme song from the Ken Burns 1990 documentary “The Civil War.” In one segment, the song plays in the background to accompany the reading of a letter written by Sullivan Ballou, a Union soldier from Rhode Island, to his wife. In Watertown, the letter will be read by James A. Swords, human resources director for Lewis County and its municipal hospital. He had served as chief of Fort Drum’s military personnel division and director of human resources following his military retirement in July 2009.

In Potsdam, the Ballou letter will be read by John F. Schwaller, outgoing president at SUNY Potsdam.

The tribute will then feature “Battle Cry Freedom” by George F. Root, with fiddle arrangements by Ms. Koehler. She will be joined by her sister, Rebecca, also on fiddle.

Mr. Andrews explained that “Battle Cry Freedom” was a popular song originally sung by Union troops.

“But the Confederacy loved it so much that they took it, created their own words and it became one of their favorites,” Mr. Andrews said.

The tribute concludes with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with music by William Steffe (1830-90) and words by Julia Ward Howe.

More fiddle tunes follow the intermission with “Hoedown” from the musical suite “Rodeo” by Aaron Copland (1900-90). The suite also features “Bonaparte’s Retreat” and “Miss McLeod’s Reel.”

The traditional tune “Devil’s Dream” will feature Gretchen and Rebecca Koehler on fiddles along with Brandt Kronholm, Rebecca’s husband, on guitar and Sylvain Koehler Foisy, step-dancing and fiddling. Sylvain is the son of Gretchen Koehler and SUNY Potsdam math professor Joel Foisy.

“Liberty Bell March” by John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) will feature Noel de la Motte, Canton, winner of the ONNY 2013 guest conductor raffle.

The concert concludes with Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” with Howitzers provided by the 10th Mountain Division.

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The “annual pre-concert” in Watertown begins at 6 p.m. with the 198th Army Reserve Band’s seven-piece rock ’n’ roll group. It will be followed at 6:40 by the co-ed a cappella group Acappedia, which formed last year.

Acappedia’s repertoire ranges from Reba McEntire to Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini layered with a bit of current popular music and jazz.

Mr. Miller said this year is the first time that the Fourth of July event in the park has been designated a “deaf and hard of hearing”-friendly event. Two interpreters will sign all the musical acts and guest speakers.

the details
WHAT: The Orchestra of Northern New York presents “American Pops: A Down-Home Celebration of Great American Music.”
WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. Wednesday at Helen M. Hosmer Hall at SUNY Potsdam and at 8 p.m. Thursday at Thompson Park, Watertown.
COST: For the Potsdam concert, tickets are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors, $10 for students and free for children 12 and under. They are available in Potsdam at Northern Music & Video, 29 Market St., and the CPS Box Office at SUNY Potsdam.
The Watertown concert in Thompson Park has free admission.
In Watertown, a pre concert performance will be given at 6 p.m. by a seven-piece rock ’n’ roll band from the 198th Army Reserve Band and at 6:40 by the local a cappella group Acappedia.
OF NOTE: The traditional fireworks after the Watertown concert have been enhanced, according to Michael C. Miller, president of the North Country Arts Council.
“We increased the budget, which had been the same for the last decade,” he said. “We also have some contacts in the business who took a look at what we had decided upon and offered suggestions and tweaked it a little bit more.”
In the event of rain, the Watertown concert will be held at Dulles State Office Building, 317 Washington St., beginning at either 6 or 6:30 p.m. Final inclement weather details, including plans for fireworks, will be decided on the day of the concert.
Mr. Miller noted that the city dog ordinance will be in effect for the event.
“Police will ask you to leave if you bring your pets,” he said.
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