A 15-minute drive takes me to one of my favorite destinations: Otterbein University. At Courtright Memorial Library, I spent a semester completing my library school practicum. At the Hanby House, I vowed to learn to play “Up on the Housetop” on my harp. And in Cowan Hall’s Fritsche Theater, I was transfixed by Doris Kearns Goodwin in 2002, as she lectured on presidential leadership in moments of crisis and good habits of academic research.
Last Saturday morning, we settled into the back row of Fritsche Theater and listened to the Westerville Symphony’s conductor and musicians rehearse for their performance during the Humor in Music Festival hosted by Otterbein’s Department of Music.
Since last Thursday, Otterbein students and faculty have been performing dozens of humorous and satirical musical works in a series of delightful concerts. Jon Deak, the former associate principal bassist of the New York Philharmonic and the composer of over 300 musical works, is the festival’s guest conductor. Since his arrival on campus, Deak has been giving lectures, participating in panel discussions and coaching the musicians on how to deliver their performances. The festival concludes tonight.
So, it’s apropos on this April Fool’s Day to tell you about how much I have enjoyed attending this festival celebrating humor in classical and contemporary music – and making a terrific new discovery on the Otterbein campus, too.
I knew I had come upon something great when I heard conductor Peter Stafford Wilson lead the Westerville Symphony’s talented members through their first piece: the Overture from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 21. Where have I been hiding, not to have discovered them sooner?
At the conclusion of the Suite from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé, Op. 60, I was amazed by the virtuosity of these musicians. Before they performed “Condominiums on the Hot Stove,” Deak’s humorous take on the familiar tune of “Home on the Range,” I had the good fortune to meet one of the musicians. Then, tapping my toes to Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 in G Major “Surprise,” I determined it was time to learn more about how I could become involved with this symphony that, besides offering concerts throughout the year, collaborates with Mount Carmel-St. Ann’s Hospital for Healing Harmonies, the Westerville Public Library for Tunes & Tales, and the Westerville School District for its Young People’s Concert.
The next evening, we slipped into another back-row seat at the Battelle Fine Arts Center’s Riley Auditorium to hear Jennifer Hambrick, WOSU Classical 101’s midday announcer, present a lecture titled “Is Music Funny?” To prove her point, she shared videos of Jerry Seinfeld’s December 20, 2012 New York Times interview on how to write a joke, Victor Borge’s performance at the White House, and Igudesman and Joo’s rendition of Alla Molto Turca. Describing the humor in four of Haydn’s symphonies, Jennifer recommended Gretchen Wheelock’s book, Haydn’s Ingenious Jesting with Art: Contexts of Musical Wit and Humor. After Jennifer played Peter Schickele’s “Last Tango in Bayreuth” and his “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony Sportscast,” presented like the play-by-play commentary of a baseball game, I concluded that she was right!
Jennifer also served as master of ceremonies for festival concerts performed on Sunday and Monday evenings. Otterbein’s chorale, vocal ensemble and concert choir performed lyrical limericks, tone twisters and other pieces like “The Animal Fugue” and “Old Horatius Had a Farm.”
Seven saxophonists played “Laff’N Sax” and “Torrid Dora” before four pianists tackled the amazing “Waldstein Express.”
And Dr. Caroline Salido-Barta entertained the audience with P.D.Q. Bach’s “Notebook for Betty-Sue Bach,” among other humorous selections.
“If I ever had to choose between you and a third helping of mashed potatoes, (whipped lightly with a fork, not whisked, and a little pool of butter melting in the middle), I think I’d choose the mashed potatoes,” the concert choir sung in Sidney Hoddes and Paul Carey’s “Mashed Potato/Love Poem.” That brings me to my other welcome discovery — The Cardinal’s Nest!
On the scenic second floor of Otterbein’s Campus Center, we indulged in a feast reminiscent of our Sunday-night pig-outs at Miami University’s Alexander Dining Hall.
At The Cardinal’s Nest, menus feature reasonable portions of healthy dishes made from locally grown, seasonal ingredients. Soups, salad dressings and sauces are made from scratch. Deli meats are roasted and carved in-house. Cook-to-order entrees are made in a special exhibition area. And organic vegetables are cooked in small batches, at the last minute possible, to ensure that they’re as tasty as possible. No wonder The Cardinal’s Nest is going to be my new favorite hangout — no fooling!