Vermillion â�?�?embraces romanceâ�?�? during concert Sunday By David Lias
Plain Talk The operatic talents of Scott Piper was the main reason Old Main on the USD campus filled to capacity on a Sunday afternoon to help kick off this year's sesquicentennial celebration in Vermillion. What the audience didn't know was that Piper, and those who helped him organize Sunday's performance, entitled "Unchained Melodies:1859," had a rare treat in store for them. It was an afternoon filled with operatic singing and classical music, as expected. But other highlights that made the day grand was a review of the art, literature and history from the era of 150 years ago that had a profound influence in shaping Vermillion when it was quite young. "We are embarking on a wonderful adventure," Piper told the audience. "We are here to set the tone for the celebrations of this year to come. We are celebrating the 150th anniversary of our fair city, Vermillion. I am deeply honored that our very kind mayor, Dan Christopherson, would ask me to present this special event to our community." Jan. 11, the date of the concert, was unique in other special ways, Piper said. "It is a special event known to those who follow the course of our stars. For your see, Mercury turns retrograde on this day. This is the first of the four Mercury retrogrades happening in 2009. "Mercury is the planet that rules all forms of communication," he said. "Therefore, as Mercury slows its steps, begins to turn around and go backwards, it is a natural time for us, too, to review and reflect. People hadn't gathered in Farber Hall Sunday afternoon simply to listen to music, Piper said. "This afternoon, we who are present in Farber Hall are making a concerted effort to embrace romance," he said. "In dressing up, we embrace the spirit of romance of the period. We extend pleasantries and a hearty handshake with those around us, and in dressing well, we take time to prepare our bodies and minds for something out of the ordinary, something unique, something special, and heeding Mercury's call, we begin to journey back in time." There are many people, Piper said, who claim that romance is dead. "One may contend that romance is not dead but merely in dire need of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. There are those who are of the mind that romance is neither dead nor dying or in need of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. She stands, gently in the corner of the room, longing to be brought back into the conversation." During Sunday's performance, romance was given center stage. "We listen with anticipation, we give her lead to speak as an artist would speak, play, as an artist would play, and teach, as an artist would teach," Piper said. On stage with Piper that day was Susan Keith Gray, piano; Jeffrey Paul, oboe; Katherine Vogele, flute; and Chris Hill, clarinet. The musicians performed several classical pieces during the afternoon, including Sonnetto 123 by Franz List, Flotow-Martha's M'appari tutt' amor, Fantasiestucke, movement 1&3, by Robert Schumann, and Oboe Sonata, second movement, by Camille Saint-Saens. Other highlights of the afternoon were two readings by Steve Miller: Walking, by Henry David Thoreau, and Edgar Allen Poe's Tell–Tale Heart. Miller's rendition of Poe's work especially drove home the dark nature of the author's work. Piper delighted the audience with songs usually sung by folk singers rather than operatic tenors. To demonstrate the musical culture that had begun to spread across the country at about the time Vermillion became a city, he performed two Stephen Foster numbers: Beautiful Dreamer and Gentle Annie. The musicians and actors who took to the stage in Old Main Sunday, he said, play a crucial role in the livelihood of our nation. "Society needs artists, just as it needs scientists, professional people, teachers, fathers and mothers, to insure the growth of the person and the development of the community," Piper said, quoting Pope John Paul II. While billed as the kick-off, the sesquicentennial concert is actually not the first event of the year-long celebration, Christopherson said. "Celebrate Vermillion," a community family-oriented event, offered a smoke-free and alcohol-free atmosphere on New Year's Eve at the University of South Dakota (USD) DakotaDome. "The fireworks during 'Celebrate Vermillion' was the official start to 2009, and we will have events each month," the mayor said. The official sesquicentennial celebration will be held Aug. 6-9 (Thursday through Sunday). The weekend will include the all-school reunion, Clay County Fair and a large community barbecue featuring an appearance by the Ratingen Youth Orchestra from Vermillion's sister city in Germany. The year-long celebration will feature dedication of Vermillion's new City Hall Building, set for April 30. In addition, the city will complete its Streetscape project. "The original plan of the sesquicentennial was always to have a couple of significant brick-and-mortar projects, but combine those with a series of official events and celebrations," Christopherson said. The 150th celebration will also feature the USD campus, the mayor said. The university enrolls around 9,000 students, is undergoing several major construction projects and has begun its transition to NCAA Division I. "We will have tours of some of their new projects, such as the medical school, the Muenster University Center, the business school and many other things," Christopherson said. The Vermillion sesquicentennial committee has been planning the celebration since early 2005, the mayor said. "It is hard to believe, on the one hand, that it is officially here. On the other hand, … some of us (committee members) said, 'What are we going to do in 2010?" he said. "We have been holding meetings for (four) years, and there has just been a lot of work. This year, it's a matter of tying up loose ends and details with the projects, then pulling them off and being successful in it." Christopherson admits to mixed feelings now that the long-awaited anniversary year has commenced. "It's one of those bittersweet feelings, where it's finally here, and we have all of our main projects through the year," he said. "It's been very satisfying. A lot of work has been done, and now we are seeing it come to fruition." A list of events can be found on-line by clicking the '150' logo at www.vermillion.us. For more information or to contact committee members, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.