Known to many music lovers for the steady rhythm of their resounding “oompah, oom pah pah” sound, tubas are usually found near the back of an orchestra. From time to time, their luminous bells are visible above the heads of the violinists and cellists who usually line the front row – and often the second and third rows, come to think of it.
But on Friday at Diamond Park, a very special tuba will emerge from behind violins and cellos, violas and oboes, flutes and piccolos too – yes, even bassoons – to finally take center stage.
The tuba’s opportunity to become a seemingly “oom” star is the performance of the Erie Philharmonic’s “Tubby the Tuba,” the much-loved family classic popularized by comedian Danny Kaye in the mid-20th century.
“Tubby the tuba wishes he could play more than the ‘oompah, oompah’ he always plays,” explained Shawn Clerkin, the baritone who will play the narrator. “A frog he meets one evening on his way home from rehearsal encourages him and says that even frogs have beautiful melodies to sing, so why not sing a beautiful melody?”
The discouraged tuba, whose desire to sing had already been ridiculed by other instruments, is inspired and returns to the orchestra.
“Tubby starts singing his lovely melody,” Clerkin said, “then other instruments who laughed at him before suddenly starting to say, ‘Wow, that’s a really lovely melody, let me sing it, let me sing it. Eventually, the whole orchestra sings Tubby’s beautiful melody.
The performance will mark the second consecutive year that the Erie Philharmonic has given a free performance at Diamond Park. Like last year, when approximately 650 people filled the Diamond, the orchestra is hoping for a solid performance from members of the community.
“We had a great time last year,” said Steve Weiser, the orchestra’s general manager. “We are very grateful for the incredible funding we have received from these incredible businesses in Meadville. Hopefully we can’t wait to make this an annual tradition – the full Erie Philharmonic right in the middle of Diamond Park.
The family-friendly “Tubby the Tuba” is aimed directly at young people likely to be in the audience, but the other works to be performed are likely to appeal to a wide range of interests as well, according to Weiser.
“For an outdoor concert,” he said, “it’s the perfect mix.”
Also on the playlist is the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s 1816 comic opera ‘The Barber of Seville’ – familiar to older children from the Looney Tunes cartoon ‘Rabbit of Seville’, featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.
The evening will be completed by Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite and a short symphony by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
For audiences wanting to take a hands-on approach to the evening’s music, an instrument “petting zoo” with violins and cellos of various sizes will precede the performance. Weiser was able to guarantee that anyone adventurous enough to try their hand at the instruments at the petting zoo would be able to make a sound, although he offered no guarantees on the quality of the sound.
“Anyone who shows up early is more than welcome to come and try out any of the instruments we have there,” he said. “It’s really great to see families with young children come out and be able to hold a cello for the first time – it’s really cool.”
This year’s performance differs in one important respect from last year’s, according to Meadville Deputy Town Manager Katie Wickert. While funding for the Philharmonic’s 2021 visit was supported by federal coronavirus grants, this year’s visit is entirely the result of “community collaboration.” Donations to support the show were received from more than a dozen businesses, organizations and individuals.
“It was so well received by community members that several people this year asked if they would return,” Wickert said. “If we get the same level of return as last year – and so far it seems there is significant interest from the community – we would like to incorporate it into their regular concert series. summer.”
Wickert was optimistic, however, that a 2021 feature won’t be an annual event. The orchestra’s rendition of “Peter and the Wolf” last year was joined by unexpected solo performances from a riding mower and weeder as landscaping work was carried out at the historic Tarr Mansion across the street.
“We’re closing the Diamond so we won’t have any additional percussion from motorbikes and other vehicles going by,” Wickert joked, “and we’ve tried to educate the public as much as possible so that local businesses don’t have their landscaping companies working Friday nights.