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History Will Be Heard and Seen at Civil War-Era Performance

Brass group with 19th century look and instruments leads Aug. 7 march and Civil War celebration.

Birmingham residents and visitors can follow the Dodworth Saxhorn Band across a bridge to the 19th century on Aug. 7, inspired by musicians' clothes, instruments and songs.

The nationally known Ann Arbor brass band will perform "Songs That Made a Nation" at an outdoor event honoring Birmingham's role in the Civil War, which began 150 years ago. In addition to imaginary time travel to the 1860s, participants can literally follow the musicians from a Civil War monument in to the nearby , where the 17-piece band will perform an hour of music and readings.

"We encourage everyone to fall in behind the band as we march," said brass player Michael Deren, a band member for 25 years.

Audience members in Civil War-style outfits or other 19th century fashions get free ice cream. "Yes, there was ice cream during the Civil War," said museum director Leslie Pielack.

'Edutainment' spans centuries

Deren's tenor saxhorn, other brass pieces and percussion instruments are refurbished originals from 1840-80. The group enlivens history by "combining period arrrangements and 21st century interpretation to provide a 19th century concert experience," said Deren, who has served double duty as business manager since 1994. "Performances include education, drama, humor and poetry. Some people call it 'edutainment.' We are true Americana."

At the free Sunday event, vocalists Dustin Scott and Carol Ambrogio-Wood will read excerpts from letters sent and received by a woman with two sons in uniform — one wearing Confederate gray and the other in Union Army blue. Scott also portrays Allen Dodworth, who started a brass band in New York City in 1834. While The Battle Hymn of the Republic is played softly, he'll recite the brief Gettysburg Address delivered Nov. 19, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of Soldiers' National Cemetery in Pennsylvania.      

The tentative song list includes When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Mother Kissed Me in My Dreams, Bonnie Blue Flag and We Are Coming Father Abra'am. The repertoire also includes Dixie, a selection not in heavy rotation up north.

"There really is no substitute for engaging all the senses in experiencing history," said Pielack of the museum, which is sponsoring the show with . "That's how we best connect to stories of the past ... how we suddenly understand so much more about what it may have been like because we just experienced something like it ourselves."    

When 'interactive' wasn't electronic

Pilelack, appointed last December, admires the Ann Arbor band's authenticity and full-immersion style that lets listeners "experience these performances much as original audiences did."

"Musicians of the 19th century filled multiple roles," Pielack said. "They entertained, they enlightened and they carried culture from one audience to the next. Their presentation was interactive and engaging because it combined sight, sound and movement."

Band member Deren, 58, agrees. "We all learn in different ways. We hope what comes through the ears touches the heart. Our goal is to build a connection, to increase understanding."

This year's Civil War sesquicentennial has boosted bookings for the 26-year-old Michigan band, which has several ensembles and two CDs. A small cluster will deliver strolling music and readings at Greenfield Village in Dearborn on 12 weekend days this summer while a 17-member group performed July 10 in Hudson, Ohio, south of Cleveland.

A highlight on the schedule comes Nov. 19 when Dodworth Saxhorn members will entertain lavishly-costumed guests at the ninth annual Remembrance Day Dinner and Ball in the Gettysburg Hotel in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — 148 years to the day after Lincoln's legendary address nearby.

Previously, the Dodworth band has played at the White House during Bill Clinton's presidency and in the 1994 Emmy-winning Baseball documentary series by director Ken Burns on PBS.   

Historic legacy

Birmingham's event commemorates area men who fought in the war between the states, men such as William Irving, whose gravestone says "1844-1864." He survived the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, but not an engagement the next May at Spotsylvania, Virginia.

Irving's father Hugh, a merchant and village trustee, began a drive that financed the four-sided marble obelisk erected in 1869 to honor fallen soldiers from Bloomfield/Birmingham, Royal Oak, Southfield and Troy. That monument is where 150th anniversary ceremonies begin.      

If you go

  • When: 2-4 p.m. Aug. 7
  • Where: Starts at Shain Park, ends at Birmingham Historical Museum and Park.
  • Seating: Bring lawn chairs or blanket. Coolers and picnic baskets welcome (no alcohol).
  • Dress up: Friends of the Museum will give ice cream to those in period garb.
Hartland Smith August 02, 2011 at 03:29 PM
There are numerous excellent video clips of the DODWORTH SAXHORN BAND on YOU TUBE.

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