Sue Samuels has had the pleasure of directing the UAB Summer Band’s Fourth of July concert for the past six years. She’ll be holding the baton again this July 4 when the group presents its 8 p.m. performance on the lawn outside Bartow Arena.
|Sue Samuels will be directing the UAB Summer Band’s Fourth of July concert again this year. The free event will take place on the lawn outside of Bartow Arena at 8 p.m. on July 4. |
Patriotic, pops and traditional band music will be featured, as will an audience sing-a-long medley and a few other surprises. The concert is free and all ages are welcome for a relaxing hour of free, family-friendly music, ending with a finale of fireworks atop Red Mountain. Lawn chairs, blankets and picnics are encouraged. Samuels recently spoke to the UAB Reporter about the concert and shared a few of her favorite memories.
Q. What things make the UAB Summer Band unique?
A. It’s a community band in the truest sense – people of all ages from the metropolitan Birmingham area come together to rehearse one day a week from Memorial Day until July 4. We literally have a 16-year-old talented high-school tuba player sitting next to a 23-year old UAB student on one side and a 50-plus (I’m being kind here) UAB computer science professor on the other! We have a few high school students in the group and a few UAB students, but the majority of the band are adults from our area who simply are looking for a place to play their instruments. They are professors from campus, accountants, engineers, doctors and area teachers. In fact, this year’s UAB Summer Band has more than a dozen area middle-school and high-school band directors participating.
Q. What is it like rehearsing with such a diverse group?
A. It’s a challenge to choose music that is appropriate for their varying abilities and experience. Even more of a challenge is the pacing of each rehearsal; we have only six rehearsals to prepare for this concert, so we have to work through a lot of music in a relatively short amount of time. However, my nature in rehearsal is attention to detail, and that sometimes can be a painstaking task. That requires time. When we are trying to line up intonation, balance, style, etc., we have to work fast. But, I can’t rehearse this group like I do the UAB Band. I can’t push quite as hard. These folks are here for fun, but for me, fun means being as excellent as we can possibly be.
Q. Is it more special to play on July 4 than any other random day?
A. For me, it’s not necessarily more special, just special for different reasons. I believe every time a band I’m leading takes the stage it is special and deserves tremendous attention in our preparation. And the chance to perform for an audience always is exciting for those of us who are performers. However, July 4 has that special element of patriotism attached to it, with our opportunity to salute members of the armed forces who serve our country, with our opportunity to play songs that we’ve known since we were little kids like “Yankee Doodle” or “America the Beautiful.” Those are songs that make me feel a sense of nostalgia and pride, and that is special.
Q. Your father was in the U.S. Army. Did he serve during wartime? How much did he talk much about his experience and why he served?
A. My father was a 24-year career Army man, and I grew up on military bases until I was in high school. My father served in Vietnam when I was very young. He never did talk about it very much as it was a difficult time and I’m sure held some tough memories for him. Nonetheless, he always has been a proud American. There always was an American flag on our house, we sang all kinds of patriotic and Army songs on family car trips, and we always went to July 4 celebrations on post, sang patriotic music and watched the fireworks. A July 4 celebration has always meant family to me and always has been a part of my life.
Q. What aspect of the concert always seems to grab the attention of the audience?
A. I think different things grab different people, that’s why I try to put quite a variety into the programming. Some people are moved by the patriotic music, some people like the thrill of a Sousa march, some feel great when they recognize some tune from a show they haven’t heard in a while or one of their personal favorites. I have tried to include a couple of unique aspects in the concert each year. One usually is a solo artist of some kind – we’ve featured trumpet, clarinet and tuba in recent years – and this year, we’ll feature an alto saxophone playing Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” We also added a neat feature the past couple of years in which we raffle off the opportunity for an audience member to conduct the band. We end the concert with Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” march, and we randomly draw a name of someone in the audience to take the stage and lead the band from the conductor’s podium.
Q. What is your favorite part of the concert every year?
A. I love the casual setting and relaxed atmosphere of this concert. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to bring the Birmingham community onto our campus at UAB and share with them some wonderful music and good times. My favorite part each year is when I step off the podium and walk through the audience talking with people, some who have been to our July 4 concerts for years and some who are first experiencing this wonderful event. For me, every concert is always about two things – the music and the people!