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Published: Monday, 7/4/2011

Music Under the Stars was a joy of summer

Dwindling attendance in recent years and poor health for the maestro have cost Toledoans one of the joys of summer -- Music Under the Stars at the Toledo Zoo amphitheater.

Health concerns for Sam Szor, the impresario of the Toledo Concert Band, are unfortunate but understandable. He's been at this for more years than most Toledo-area folks have been alive -- this would have been his 59th season. He doesn't have the same spring in his step.

But dwindling attendance? That part I don't get. The Music Under the Stars programs are entertaining and fun. Mr. Szor always puts together an eclectic assortment of pieces, ranging from classical selections to marches and the occasional bit of whimsy.

Former Toledo television personality Gordon Ward lends his own touch of class to the evening as master of ceremonies.

I will always remember the night many years ago when I was invited to one of the zoo concerts by Kathy Carroll, now the president and CEO of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. My job, she said, was to present an award on stage to Mr. Ward. So I did. After I finished my comments, Mr. Szor turned the tables, handing me the baton.

"Here," he said, "I need a break." Off he walked.

The next selection on the evening's program: the "Toledo Blade March." Yes, there is a "Toledo Blade March," and fortunately, there is little a rookie conductor can do to mess it up.

I managed to get the orchestra started, and then for three minutes I flailed my arms like a guy with a tarantula on his sleeve, all the while wondering how I was going to finish.

I'm forever grateful to the French horn player who nodded at me at the appropriate measure. I waved the baton violently downward, praying everybody would stop. Everybody did. And everybody clapped.

"You've done this before," Mr. Szor said with a laugh after he reclaimed his baton, too kind to state the obvious: The band was on automatic pilot.

I also remember the phone calls from Mr. Szor over the years, not in his role as conductor but as unofficial marketing and public relations director. He assumes many responsibilities, including getting as much news media attention as he can for his series. He always let us know, in his kind and gentle manner, when Blade coverage didn't match his expectations.

Cancel Music Under the Stars? We might as well cancel the Fourth of July. Let's hope the series resumes at some point, and if he's able, that Sam -- Toledo's "Mr. Music" -- can be part of it.

Though the cost of a gallon of gasoline has retreated since it soared past $4, filling the tank remains a big budget item for most of us, particularly folks who drive giant sport utility vehicles or pickups the size of Rhode Island.

My sympathy has its limits, however -- especially when I'm in line at a convenience store behind a guy who tells the clerk he can afford only $10 of gas for his big honkin' Dodge Ram 1500, as he plunks down a case of beer and two cartons of cigarettes.

Then he pulls away from the pumps, practically on two wheels, and speeds away.

I figure 10 bucks' worth is only going to get him to the next convenience store.

I got an unusual email the other day. A gentleman asked me whether I had some embarrassing moments I could relate from my newspaper career.

Sir, we have neither the space nor the time. But I will share one.

For several years, I was editor of the Monterey Peninsula Herald on the central California coast, a daily newspaper owned at the time by Block Communications Inc. Like The Blade, the Herald was the only daily newspaper in town. I wrote two editorials for each day's paper, one long one followed by one short one.

The long piece was our chance to sound profound and, we hoped, make the world a better place. The second shorter piece was our chance to have a little fun and to show that we didn't take ourselves all that seriously.

One day, I got seven angry phone calls in the first hour I was at work. Everybody was mad about the first editorial.

When the phone rang again, I expected the worst. Instead, it was a sweet elderly lady from Carmel who called to compliment me on the second, shorter editorial. It was funny and persuasive, she said, and she agreed totally with it.

I thanked her profusely and explained the ordeal I had just gone through over the top editorial.

"Oh," she said, "you're the jerk who wrote that piece of garbage?"

True story. There, I've shared it. I really need to let it go.

Thomas Walton is retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday.

Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com



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