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The Chautauqua Community Band plays its 25th Annual Independence Day Concert at 12:15 p.m. Saturday on Bestor Plaza.
For Martha Reitman, the Chautauqua Community Band’s principal kazoo player, the humdrum rhythm of retirement wasn’t going to cut it.
Originally trained as a pediatrician, Reitman founded her own biotech company and started a nonprofit for arts and culture in the Bay Area after retiring. This year marks the 38th season in Chautauqua Institution where she has appeared onstage in the Amphitheater, spoken at the Chautauqua Women’s Club, and doubled on flute and kazoo for the Community Band.
Although Reitman said she always loved music, she decided to go to medical school instead.
“I almost majored in music, but I thought biology was easier,” she said.
Reitman and the rest of the Chautauqua Community Band will appear at 12:15 p.m. Saturday on Bestor Plaza under the direction of founder and conductor Jason Weintraub.
This year’s performance features the patriotic staples of Sousa marches, hummable tunes and traditional sing-alongs.
It was during one of these familiar marches, Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” that Reitman’s kazoo career really took off. Weintraub instructed the woodwinds to hum or whistle a certain section of the march. But Reitman had her own plan.
“I pulled out my kazoo, and Jason grinned like a fool, and I kept going,” she said. “I’ve been accused by people in the horn section of somehow getting a solo, and they were very jealous.”
What started as a joke has evolved into a tradition, and Reitman has accordingly stepped up her game; she recently auditioned for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on kazoo. Reitman said her audition was well-received, but the orchestra lacked an endowed kazoo chair. Until one exists, Reitman said she is satisfied with her current position. After all, she said, the band is the steadiest gig in town.
“It’s sort of like the Postal Service — rain, shine, it just seems to go through,” Reitman said.
In that respect, Weintraub might as well be postmaster general. If nothing else, Weintraub, also a 44-year CSO member, is reliable.
“I missed one [CSO] concert when I fell and broke my neck,” he said. “But other than that, I haven’t really missed anything.”
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the band started when Weintraub cobbled together 15 musicians in 1990 to fill what he saw as a gap in the Institution’s festivities. Over time, the ensemble grew in numbers and slowly garnered a more prominent performance space.
Community Band performances now span Bestor Plaza with upwards of 80 musicians all clad in identical concert dress — a powder blue T-shirt.
Weintraub said the whole experience is structured to encourage Chautauquans to celebrate America with their families.
“This is a Norman Rockwell experience here,” he said.
Weintraub said the band gives families a special opportunity to observe and interact with musicians. Per tradition, Weintraub will put down his baton for Sousa’s “Washington Post March” to lead the youngest children on a march of their own around the plaza’s fountain. In his absence, 7- to 10-year-olds are invited to conduct the band. Elements like this are why Chautauquans peg the Community Band as a seasonal highlight, despite the fact that essentially the same music is played each year.
Of course, there always ends up being a twist.
“[The concert] is old favorites in a sense that we all know what’s coming, but every time we play there seems to be something new introduced in some way that does keep it fresh,” Reitman said.
If there are any surprises, though, it’s not because Weintraub planned them. After 25 seasons of July Fourth performances, he said the music, the programming, the people — none of it needs much improvement.
“Patriotic stuff is patriotic stuff,” he said.