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Boston Pops' Keith Lockhart Conducts July Fourth Concert For 17th Year

This article is more than 11 years old.
Keith Lockhart conducts the Boston Pops July Fourth concert rehearsal at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade in Boston on Sunday. (AP)
Keith Lockhart conducts the Boston Pops July Fourth concert rehearsal at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade in Boston on Sunday. (AP)

Since the pre-dawn hours thousands have been gathering at the Charles River Esplanade for Monday's Fourth of July Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, Boston's traditional way of celebrating Independence Day.

Debbie Shinker, from Stowe, Ohio, was among the first in line, making sure she and her family will get a spot up front.

“There is no better place to be on the Fourth,” Shinker said. “The spirit of the city and the history just literally seeping out of the ground here is like none other.”

A military color guard stands ready for the playing of the National Anthem during the Boston Pops July Fourth concert rehearsal on Sunday. (AP)
A military color guard stands ready for the playing of the National Anthem during the Boston Pops July Fourth concert rehearsal on Sunday. (AP)

Monday’s concert gets underway at 8:30 p.m. and features country singer Martina McBride, who stepped in at the last minute when headliner Lionel Richie backed out because of strained vocal chords.

For the 17th year, Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart will be wielding the baton at the Hatch Shell. I caught up with him Monday morning on the very stage where the Pops will be performing before a national TV audience of millions.

I asked him what goes through his mind when he steps on the stage for the show to begin.

Keith Lockhart: I still remember the very first one, and walking out here, and seeing this immense sea of people and knowing there were so many people there to be part of this event who were far beyond what I could see. And it kind of gave me an idea of the impact of the Boston Pops all in a heartbeat. It's kind of an amazing feeling and it makes you, of course, as a performer, want to do something really great for them.

Steve Brown: When you get up here, does anything out in the crowd catch your eye?

Well, people try really hard to catch your eye, you know, and that sort of thing. Yes, but you know you really can't let your focus get drawn by that. You're not here really performing just for the one guy in the big Uncle Sam hat. You're performing for all the people beyond them, and some people always ask, they say, "What's it like to perform for a half-million people?" and I say it's sort of like performing for 50,000 people, because you can't see past the first 50,000 people.

What goes into putting together a show like the one you'll be putting on tonight?

Well, lots of logistics, I mean immense hours of logistics, thousands of man hours of work, a lot of which is of course is not our department, which is good, we're responsible for the concert. We start planning the process right on July 5 — we'll be thinking about what's going to be happening differently next year. But even as you know this year, with the cancellation 48 hours before of our headline artist, all the planning in the world doesn't solve those things. And we have a lot of talented people who work really fast to make sure that we have a great concert by the time these people rush onto the Esplanade.

You mention the last-minute change, 48 hours before. What does that do to you, and to the orchestra? You have to change gears in a hurry?

Well, the biggest thing, actually is music preparation, with the orchestra. We don't actually rehearse with the artist until July 3 anyway. But to find out on July 1 meant that we had to create new orchestral arrangements for Martina McBride's material because she didn't have them. They were just for her and her band. And people don't really think about that, they think, "Well, the orchestra just gets there and plays a song." No, somebody has to write a score out that shows what every instrument is playing, and make something that's cogent and works with the artist. Fortunately we have a great stable of arrangers who work for us, and we farmed it out, one per person so they'd have time to get it done. And these days, in the miracle of electronic file sharing, and things like that, all that stuff ends up being transmitted electronically back to our library who hastily throws music on stands.

We're standing on, I guess, hallowed ground here. This is the Hatch Shell, for many years now, this is the 38th year there has been a Fourth of July Pops concert. How is this as an outdoor venue for you?

Well, I think it's a great venue mostly because of its location, what it means and the history here. And of course, the 38 years of Fourth of July concerts, but a history of free concerts for the people of Boston with the Boston Pops that dates back to 1929. July Fourth used to just be an off day in that process. And it's kind of a difficult space to do TV in, because it wasn't invented for that purpose. That having been said, I don't think it would never mean the same. I remember a few years ago, they were talking about closing down this area because of work on Storrow Drive, and we were talking about alternative venues and none of them made any sense because people wanted to be here on the Fourth.

Let's talk about tonight's show. What can folks expect?

Well, Martina McBride, of course, who has joined us hastily and sounds wonderful, looks amazing. And really, if last night's [dress rehearsal] is any indication, people are in for a treat. The U.S. Army Field Band and Soldier's Chorus, the musical ambassadors of the army are joining us for a lot of our patriotic moments in the concert. Broadway vocalist Norm Lewis, who will be starring at the A.R.T.'s production of "Porgy and Bess" this fall, will be joining us to sing a song. We have a new emcee, Michael Chiklis. The first time I'm told that a local boy has ever come back to be master of ceremonies for this. He's from Lowell, and went to Boston University and of course has gone on to big things on Broadway and on television and in the movies. He's a great guy, and on top of that, I think he's the first singing emcee we've ever had, he actually will be performing with the orchestra.

He's not known for singing?

No, but he was trained that way, actually. He was trained and did a lot of music theater when he was at BU. And he's a very talented, crossover kind of guy, but people who know him from his role on "The Shield" will find it hard to see him bursting into song, I suppose.

I know in theater, you don't wish anybody "good luck," and I don't want to wish you to "break a leg," so have fun.

Thanks, we'll do that. Happy Fourth.

This program aired on July 4, 2011.

Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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