Baseball music project visits Appleton

Deborah Nixon

Many baseball lovers do not connect baseball with music. However, Saturday, May 3, they had a chance to experience this connection at the Fox Valley Performing Arts Center. That evening, The Baseball Music Project hosted its Appleton concert, which was presented by the Fox Valley Symphony as part of the BMP’s nationwide tour.
Founded in 2004 by a group of music professionals, the BMP has collected and arranged a variety of baseball songs to form a concert program. A key figure in this development is Kimberly-Clark Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies Fred Sturm, an avid Cubs fan.
He became involved with the BMP at the request of Robert Thompson, his former classmate from Eastman School of Music. Thompson is also the former chief executive of Universal Edition, a firm that “represents and publishes composers in classical, world, jazz and film music.”
“Knowing my love for baseball, Bob invited me to serve as the BMP’s artistic director, composer and arranger. I worked with Bob to research the music — we located over 1,200 baseball songs dating back as far as 1858 — and assemble the concert program,” Sturm said.
This concert program includes the well-known poem “Casey at the Bat,” set to new music by composer Maury Laws, and “Take Me Out to The Ballgame.” Also included are lesser-known works titled “The Baseball Polka” by J.R. Blodgett and “The Umpire is a Most Unhappy Man” by Joseph E. Howard. Sturm’s favorite song, however, was virtually unknown.
“My favorite baseball song of all among the 1,200 plus we’ve unearthed is unquestionably Dave Frishberg’s 1969 masterpiece titled “Van Lingle Mungo,” a song with lyrics comprised solely of obscure baseball player names. Mungo was a pitcher for the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1930s, and Frishberg used that colorful name as the hook for his tune,” he said.
Also on the program is Sturm’s composition “Forever Spring.” The nine movements in the composition are based on nine examples of baseball poetry and prose from an enormous collection compiled for Sturm by journalist Paul Kitzke, an LU grad in 1973. Kitzke was Sturm’s roommate during his days as a Lawrence student.
“Forever Spring” was commissioned in 1994 by a group of five American symphony orchestras that requested a work for a narrator and orchestra comparable to Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait.”
Sturm “decided immediately that baseball had to be the subject of the work and determined that baseball players, managers, coaches, and sportscasters would serve as the ideal narrators.”
The BMP will continue its concert tour this year with presentations by the Boston and San Diego Pops Orchestras. It has already been presented in Miami, Phoenix, Seattle, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, and at the Ravinia Festival.
According to the BMP Web site, the concerts are part of the program’s “dedication to fostering greater awareness of the cultural lineage and historical significance of music written about baseball through concerts, recordings and related outreach events and projects.”
Sturm commented, “It’s my dream that every city with a major or minor league baseball team and a symphony orchestra will one day program the BMP concert, and we plan to provide both baseball and music ‘clinics’ in all of those communities.”
Meanwhile, Sturm is enjoying the current BMP concert tour.
“I get my greatest joy at these performances when I stand in the lobby and see so many people dressed in baseball hats and jerseys and T-shirts. I’ve been delighted to learn that many of our audience members are self-proclaimed jocks and sports fans who have never previously attended a symphony concert. Conversely, we’ve heard from some regular concert-goers that they’re planning to attend their first professional baseball games after viewing a BMP program.”
For more information about the BMP, visit the Web site