Finding a new year’s path in music, art

As I looked back at the year 2016, my first thoughts were about our fractured political system and the spread of terrorism around the world. And, sadly, we lost too many iconic people who will be forever missed — people like John Glenn, Harper Lee, Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Prince. It was not the best of times.

At the same time, I wanted to start 2017 with a new vista on life. I think I found it at the Schuster Center on New Year’s Eve, attending “American Vistas,” a production by the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance, a special collaboration of the Dayton Philharmonic, the Dayton Ballet and the Dayton Opera in a structure that is unique in the United States.

It was a delightful evening for me; it was a delightful evening for the community. It opened with a spectacular rendition of the Festival Overture, Dudley Buck’s celebration of the “Star-Spangled Banner” first presented as an organ concert in the late 1800s. It was a rousing way to open the show, and it brought everyone to their feet as proud Americans.

It was that opening that I think lifted our spirits about our country, about our community, and about ourselves. “American Vistas” was performed by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, sprinkled with dazzling performances by Kara Shay Thomson, the operatic soprano, and by four lithe dancers from the Dayton Ballet. It was Americana at its finest, and the first half ended with a long and beautiful presentation of George Gershwin’s “American in Paris.”

It was no secret that, as it happened, this New Year’s Eve performance was scheduled in the same time slot as the Ohio State-Clemson Fiesta Bowl football game. DPO Music Director Neal Gittleman knows his audience. For a brief encore at the end of the first half, Gittleman returned to the stage wearing his Ohio State baseball cap and led the orchestra “Across the Field” in an exhilarating pep song for the crowd that again brought everyone to their feet. (If only the OSU football team had heard that rendition!)

The crowd at the Schuster ranged from very young children to 101-year-old philanthropist Zoe Dell Nutter. This is one of Zoe Dell’s favorite events. I was visiting with her during the intermission when she noted that as a young woman she had performed in the San Francisco ballet for a number of years. She still has on her face the glint and glamour of the theater. Her face sparkled when Gittleman came to visit her during the intermission and thanked her for her support over the years. That moment reflects in so many ways how our community is one family and why it is so supportive of the performing arts.

Then more American Vistas returned to the stage with “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man,” from Jerome Kern’s classic musical, “Showboat,” followed by Scott Joplin’s “Ragtime Dance.” For me these songs (and others in the program) brought back fond memories from the past but, more importantly, these songs were setting the tone for the future as they lifted the spirits of our community. In a special prelude to the finale, 10 or so members of the orchestra greeted the audience in a variety of different languages and cultures, reflecting the diversity of the Dayton community. Then everyone joined in “Auld Lang Syne.” The balloons came down from the Schuster stars.

It was over, but for all of us, it was really the start. Happy New Year.

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Attorney Merle F. Wilberding is one of our regular community contributors.