Peninsula Music Festival — The Battle of the Baton
The winner by popular vote conducts the Star Spangled Banner on opening night
The Peninsula Music Festival has been active for more than 50 years in Wisconsin’s Fish Creek community. The town is an historical epicenter and part of a large tourist network throughout the Door Peninsula. Using this to its advantage, the Peninsula Music Festival runs nine concerts during three weeks of the tourist season in August. Due to their own shop responsibilities and commitments, the permanent residents of the area have little time to hear the orchestra during the busy season. The Peninsula Music Festival developed the Battle of the Baton in an effort to involve the residents and raise funds in a unique manner. The idea originally came out of discussions with the Manitowoc Symphony Orchestra.
For the 2007 competition, five individuals vied for conducting rights to the podium. Many had little or no musical background, and indicated as much in their platform speeches. The speeches were written by each candidate to describe why s/he should be chosen, using humor and a chummy “pick-me” attitude. Audience members were allowed to cast a single vote for $5, then stuff the ballot box with duplicate votes by adding $5 for every additional vote. Additionally, each voter received a coupon for $3 off the purchase of a ticket, up to two tickets. The Music Festival spends the entire year with ears to the ground listening for potential conducting candidates, who are then solicited not for their baton technique, but for their potential to galvanize community involvement. The most recent winner of the competition, a local philanthropist and friend of the community, threw a party the night before the ballots closed, forcing every guest to vote in order to attend. Over $3,000 was raised that evening alone. Other candidates included a retired pastor, board members of community organizations, and an editor at the local newspaper.
Some voters cast one vote for each candidate, while others have entered over 100 votes for a single candidate. Most votes are cast through the mail, but votes can be delivered in person at several locations such as local churches, the newspaper office, and other community centers. Ballots are sent to the Peninsula Music Festival’s mailing list, and additional ballots can be downloaded and printed from the internet. Individuals fill out the ballot and enclose the appropriate amount of money (depending on the number of votes cast). Ballots are collected two weeks prior to the first concert. Once the winner is selected, s/he has a lesson with the conductor, and a brief rehearsal with the orchestra, allowing time to run through the Star Spangled Banner before the evening’s concert.
The Peninsula Music Festival has raised more than $17,000 during the first three years of the conducting contest, but made a dramatic increase last season bringing in over $11,000; the change was attributed to greater public awareness created by the popularity of the participants. The funds are used exclusively for broadcasting previously recorded concerts via Wisconsin Public Radio. And Battle of the Baton continues to pick up momentum. Music Director Victor Yampolsky has decided that next year will be the Battle of the Winners, pitting the last four winners against each other, with the victor conducting a Souza march. Executive Director Sharon Grutzmacher explained, “This is the most fun I have ever had fund raising. It involves the entire local community, we add new names to our mailing list, and we raise money for the Music Festival. I love how the contenders really get into the spirit of the fund raiser.”
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