Green-Wood Cemetery Memorial Day concert celebrates veterans and their sacrifices
Brian Worsdale, founder and principal conductor of the ISO Symphony Orchestra and ISO Wind Orchestra, concluded his 11-year run at Green-Wood Cemetery’s Memorial Day Concert with a triumphant series that focused on both Leonard Bernstein, one of Green-Wood’s most famous residents, and the men and women who served our country in the armed forces and their families.
This year’s concert was the 20th in a series that began, according to Green-Wood Cemetery President Richard Moylan, as a way to raise funds to replace the vandalized “Angel of Music” statue that had adorned the grave of composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk.
“Raising money with free concerts,” said Moylan with a laugh. “It was quite the challenge!”
Nevertheless, by 2012, a new “Angel of Music” was unveiled over the 19th-century superstar’s tomb, and a Brooklyn Memorial Day tradition was set firmly in place.
During the concert that finished with a rousing rendition of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” it was announced that the ISO Conductor would be taking on leadership of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Young People’s Orchestra, effective September 2018.
“Of all the events throughout the year, this one is by far my favorite,” Worsdale told the audience before leaving the podium.
In addition to honoring the nation’s veterans and remembering their sacrifice, 2018 marked a significant milestone for Bernstein. Born Louis Bernstein in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on August 25, 1918, Bernstein’s actual centennial is still months away, but the scope and scale of his contributions to culture require plenty of time to commemorate.
Accordingly, the program included selections from Bernstein’s “Candide” and “West Side Story” with vocalists Timothy Stoddard and Danielle Buonaiuto supplying the libretto. In addition, Brooklyn native Renee Manning performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “Maybe This Time,” the former composed by Green-Wood resident James Weldon Johnson, the latter by another resident, Fred Ebb.
Famous cemetery residents and their milestones notwithstanding, this year’s emphasis was on veterans, veterans’ families, and all they sacrificed for home and hearth.
Middy Streeter teaches high school English today, but recalled enlisting in the US Army in ’69 to take advantage of the GI Bill. Because he did enlist and wasn’t drafted, Streeter had options about where and how he would serve: “I finally wound up in the 101st Airborne Division,” he explained. “We arrived in country, in Hue, in ’69, well after Tet, so things quieted down a little. Still, I did see a fair amount of combat. But you know how it is,” Streeter recounted with a smile. “The guys coming back the other way always insist they had it worse.”
Both of Streeter’s parents served in the Second World War, so it was only natural for their son to follow through. Asked would he advise young people today to follow his example, Streeter shook his head. “No,” he said. “It’s too dangerous. And for what? Sure, there are people who risk their lives to make a living—cops, firemen, and so on—but I don’t see the need for kids to go that way today.”
Frank Worsdale also served in Vietnam. Watching as his son, ISO Orchestra Conductor, Brian Worsdale, completed the Memorial Day Orchestra set, Worsdale Elder recalled: “I had eleven aunts and uncles. All of them enlisted during World War Two. Two of my aunts were WAVES (women’s branch of the US Navy during the Second World War) and now they’re buried in Arlington.”
“I would. Sure,” said Worsdale when asked if he would recommend a stint in the armed forces to a young person today.
“I can’t imagine a better turn out than this,” Moylan said, taking in the fully utilized orchestra seating and scores of families and couples arrayed on Battle Hill, many stretched out on picnic blankets with coolers filled with snacks and soft drinks.
Small children played, quietly rolling down the fresh grass — something about the cool, late spring weather, the setting or perhaps the day itself put everyone on their best behavior.
Across the lawn, nearly a dozen people occupied folding lawn chairs arrayed in a hollow generously shaded by overhanging trees. Led by Lucey’s Lounge co-owner, Darren Lucey, this group hasn’t missed a single Memorial Day at Green-Wood.
“I run point,” explained Lucey with a laugh. “I get here early enough to reserve this spot.”
“That’s right,” said another member of the informal arrangement. “You never know if it’s going to be 90 degrees—“
“Or rain,” someone else interjected.
They were then asked what other events the group attended.
“Oh, just this one!” several replied at once.