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Mountain Home Magazine

Judge This Book by Its Conductor

Mar 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Stephen Gunzenhauser

Stephen Gunzenhauser, music director and conductor of the Endless Mountain Music Festival, recently published his memoir of behind-the-scenes encounters with celebrities and personal anecdotes charting his long and varied career. It spans his German Jewish ancestry, his international travels both playing and conducting music, and his eighteen years in the Twin Tiers conducting and creating eclectic programming for EMMF. He will sign copies of his book, Travels with Stephen: The Most Famous Unknown Conductor, from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 17, in the Penn Wells Hotel lobby in Wellsboro, where From My Shelf Books will have copies for sale.

As a conducting student in Boston in 1964, [at twenty-two years old], I was asked to conduct the concert wind ensemble for the Republican State Convention. It took place at the Statler Hilton Hotel in Boston. I was so excited. Our rehearsal was on the stage of the ballroom. After the rehearsal, an M.C. came up to me, both excited and nervous, and said, “Hey kid, look, when I give you the cue, play “The Star-Spangled Banner.” No, wait a minute. When I give you the cue, play “Stars and Stripes” for the entrance of the Governor. No, wait a minute again. When I give you the cue, play “The Star-Spangled Banner” and then “Stars and Stripes”.”

As Governor Volpe arrived at the front door, the M.C. signaled me to play the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I started the “Banner,” the lights dimmed, and an electric fan started blowing the flag with a spotlight on it. How dramatic. Except the Governor was standing outside of the ballroom. The M.C. had gotten confused. To make matters worse, he ran up to the stage and tried to get the ensemble to stop playing. Half of the players, not understanding what to do, listened to him and stopped playing. I then had to stop the other players to avoid a complete meltdown. With “The Star-Spangled Banner” stopping, the person operating the fan stopped it from blowing.

The flag drooped and the spotlight was turned off.

Senator Saltonstall of Massachusetts approached me and said, “Sir, on behalf of the United States Senate, I am lodging a protest for your interruption of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.” I was rattled to say the least, but I still had to conduct the correct song, which was “Stars and Stripes,” to provide the entrance for Governor Volpe. Once that was out of the way, I was expected to create music to enhance the occasion. While I was conducting a Sousa march, I felt a tug on my right pants leg. There was a little, old lady who said, “Hey Buddy, tell your boys they are too loud.” I acknowledged her and continued. A few minutes later, I felt the same tug.

The little old lady was standing there again, and she repeated, “I told you your boys are too loud!” I was beginning to regret the opportunity to conduct for the State Convention. But when she came up and started yelling at me a third time, Larry Mentzer, the principal clarinetist, who later became principal clarinetist in San Antonio, looked down at her and said, “Lady, leave the guy alone. He is just trying to do his job.”

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