I marvel at people who are filled with music. Where does it come from? I tried to find it early on: piano lessons (and a piano recital playing a piece for six hands with my sisters, Jo and Judy), the summer spent on the front porch, singing the same song over and over with my ukelele; singing in the church choir and in the boys quartet in high school literary meets with Sonny Thurmond, Wayne Ogletree and Aubrey McElhannon; and much later in the Borderline Quartet, performing in fundraisers for the Morton Theatre with David Burger, Chuck Searcy and Clyde Anglin. I’m still not filled with music, though Flagpole keeps me close to it.
Of course we all know that Athens is full of music and people who work whatever jobs they can find to support themselves while they pursue their first love. Athens is also filled with people who don’t just work day jobs but pursue careers, while still doing music on the side.
This Christmas season has brought, among the many other concerts, the magnificent performance of the Athens Master Chorale, under the longtime direction of Joe Napoli. In the atrium of the Classic Center on a Sunday afternoon, a diverse group of people sang classics and Christmas tunes that filled the beautiful space with a wall of sound created by their voices and some nifty brass accompaniment. It was thrilling to sit in that space and let that sound flow over you, coming just from those people, who have worked so diligently to prepare themselves to let that music out. (Borderline alumnus David Burger was in the bunch.)
In the next week a standing-room-only crowd filled the Conservatory at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia for the Christmas concert of the Classic City Band, which has been around since 1978, belting out all kinds of music at civic occasions such as the Fourth of July: citizen performers, pursuing their careers by day and their music by night.
And then again on this past Saturday and Sunday, out-of-town family plans kept me away from the sold-out performances of the always popular Athens Symphony Christmas Concert in the Classic Center Theatre. There, the citizens were at it again, sharing their talents and their practice in their traditional free concerts.
Photo Credit: Wade Sheldon
Michael Brewer, to name just one, could be the poster child for all these citizens. He conducts the Classic City Band and also plays trombone in the Athens Symphony and with the Athens Master Chorale, where he also arranges music, as he does for the Symphony. He also directs the Athens Brass Choir, a community brass ensemble he founded. Michael grew up in Athens and is an applications programmer at UGA, where he earned degrees in music and math. He also contributes his musical skills to local theater, and even showed up as a waiter in Town & Gown’s recent production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, for which he grew a mustache and an Italian accent. Michael’s wife, Terri Tillman, whom he met in the Emmanuel Episcopal choir, sings in the Athens Master Chorale. How in the world they find the time, I don’t know, but they, like so many other people here, find it a labor of love.
This season is a reminder of the richness in our town, and of course the music is just one part of the treasure, along with theater, art, crafts and our writers. There’ll be more concerts in the spring, more plays, art openings, pottery sales, book signings, and of course more locally written, locally played music in the clubs.
It’s time once again to paraphrase what the great Samuel Johnson said about London: If you’re tired of Athens, you’re tired of life.