Britt's elimination of national anthem upsets some followers

It decided to forgo yearly tradition at the Classical Festival because of three auditioning conductors

The absence of the traditional "Star Spangled Banner" sing-along hit a sour note with some Britt Classical Festival followers.

Jacksonville resident Margaret Kaplan was disappointed, to put it mildly, when Angela Warren, Britt's performing arts director, announced during the opening weekend of the annual Classical Festival that the national anthem songfest was being shelved. At least temporarily.

Kaplan said she and her husband attend all of Britt's classical musical concerts, and have for many years.

Originally put in place by former conductor Peter Bay, the opening night ceremony of standing with an entire crowd of fellow music lovers and singing the national anthem was a heartwarming tradition that Kaplan does not want to see terminated.

"I was shocked and had the urge to stand up and start singing," Kaplan said. "It was really a wonderful tradition that Peter Bay started."

Calls to Britt Executive Director Donna Briggs were not returned. Sara King Cole, Britt's marketing director, said Bay's 20-year opening night tradition was placed on hiatus by the Britt board because this season there are three conductors vying for Bay's position.

Mei-Ann Chen, Teddy Abrams and David Danzmayr are auditioning for the position of music director and conductor through Sunday, Aug. 18. The three were chosen in a national search that attracted more than 130 applicants, and each one is conducting two concerts with the Britt Orchestra.

The anthem traditionally is sung only on opening night of the Classical Festival, which this year was Aug. 2. Britt did not want to give the privilege to one conductor over the others, nor perform the sing-along three times, Cole said.

"The decision wasn't made with the intent of upsetting or disappointing anyone," Cole said, adding that Britt has received "a few complaints" about the issue.

"A handful of people are upset about it," she said.

Kaplan said that handful likely included several friends and acquaintances, of various ages and political persuasions, who were likewise surprised and disappointed with the decision to nix the anthem.

"It was a mini-crowd of people," Kaplan said, adding the group's disappointment at the missing anthem "seemed to overshadow" its enjoyment of the concert.

"It took a little bit of the shine off Britt this season," she said.

Kaplan said she called Briggs to complain. Briggs stood by Britt's decision not to have one or all three candidates play the national anthem, Kaplan said. Briggs told her the tradition may, or may not, be reinstated, depending on the desires of the next conductor, Kaplan said.

"She said it was very unusual for the national anthem to be part of a concert like this, to which I agreed it was unusual, yet I said it was something that was a tradition that I believe should be continued," Kaplan said.

Cole said Britt's board and the new conductor will decide the fate of the opening anthem.

"There's really no way to tell at this point because we don't know who that person will be," Cole said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.


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