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New organization keeps community concerts going

What could have been a cultural loss for communities around the nation - including Havre - has turned into another season of concerts after a shuffling of names and organizations.

The national Community Concert organization was replaced by another group after Community Concert ran into financial difficulties and local associations began to believe it could no longer provide access to performers. The new organization, Live on Stage, is providing the same kind of service across the nation, said Ellin Lindee of Minot, N.D., a field representative for Live on Stage.

The Havre Community Concert Association has disbanded and has bee replaced by the new Hi-Line Concert Association, which has many of the same members.

Through its affiliation with Live On Stage, the Hi-Line Concert Association has four concerts set up for this season and is planning its concerts for the 2004-2005 season, local publicist Dee Ann Turck said.

Lindee, who also serves as an area educational outreach coordinator for Live on Stage and as a volunteer with its Minot affiliate, said the former field staff of Community Concert across the United States came together to create the new organization.

"We worked so hard this spring just to keep the concerts in the towns," Lindee said. "We had our first staff meeting in March and in August had our conference, and we're just rarin' to go."

Live On Stage provides a roster of performers available each season and helps its affiliates book their seasons, as the national Community Concert organization used to do.

Community Concert started in 1927 and brought concerts to about 1,000 communities each year in its heyday, Lindee said.

In 1999, Trawick Artist Management bought Community Concert from Columbia Artists, which had owned the organization since 1929, Lindee said. She added that the field representatives found out late last year how bad the finances were.

"We were laid off in December as a money-saving tactic," she added.

Some communities abandoned their ties with Community Concert, and plannned to negotiate with artists directly. Some found other booking agencies, like Live on Stage.

The transition from Community Concert to Live On Stage shouldn't make any difference to concert-goers.

"They won't notice any change at all," Lindee said.

Former members of the Havre Community Concert Association created the Hi-Line Concert Association to continue bringing concerts to north-central Montana. Cindy Keim, president of the new association board, said creating the new group wasn't difficult, although the group met many times over the spring.

"The big problem was trying to maintain the community perception that we're still doing the same job and will continue to bring quality concerts the same as we have in the past," she said.

The effort seems to have worked. The sale of memberships, which allow the member to attend all of a season's concerts, is going well, she said.

"People have responded very well. They just want to see the concerts, and we're continuing to bring them to Havre," Keim said.

However, she added, "Our campaign got off to a very slow start. We're still looking for people to buy tickets."

Memberships cost $30 for adults, $15 for students and $75 for families. The association must sell tickets in advance of the season because it has to make a down payment for all performances to Live On Stage before the season starts.

Memberships will be sold through Oct. 15, the day of the first concert. It will feature Canadian fiddler April Verch with a performance of a variety of traditional and contemporary songs from around the world and her own compositions.

Verch's concert will be followed in November by the return of Festival of Four, a quartet consisting of two guitars, a mandolin and a flute performing a variety of folk and classical music. Turck said the quartet enjoyed its Havre performance in 2002 so much it requested a chance to perform here again.

Award-winning pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, a native of Italy, performs in February. The husband-and-wife team of Sherry Overholt and Lee Velta, who perform a mixture of musical selections including opera, Broadway songs and chamber music, will finish the season in May.

Havre created its Community Concert program in 1940, and brought concerts by performers like the Von Trapp Family Singers, later immortalized by the film "The Sound of Music," William Warfield, best known for his performance of "Old Man River" in the film version of "Showboat," and Hi-Line native Karan Armstrong, who went on to become a renowned opera singer and performed with major opera companies in the United States and overseas.

Lindee said half of the performers provided by Live on Stage will be Community Concert veterans and half will be artists new to the venues. Community Concert also rotated new artists in during each season, she said.

Live on Stage kept the roster small for next year, but will have to expand the selection for the 2005-06 season because so many communities have joined the new organization, she said.

"We had a goal of 100 to 125 towns, and we're over 200 already," Lindee said.

Affiliating with groups like Live On Stage is the only way for some smaller towns to bring performances of the caliber the organization offers, she said.

"This is a unique concept, to have a route for the artists to go out and perform on that they would not otherwise. It's the same for the towns," she said. "If they tried to bring some of these artists singly as a solo performance it would cost much more."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.


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