If hills can be alive with sounds of music, then our rivers’ currents can flow with melody. Since TaxSlayer Center opened, this area has become a destination point for concerts by all the greats, from Rod Stewart to KISS to Neil Diamond and more.
We also have great shows at the Adler, Waterfront Convention Center, and elsewhere. During my teen years, Blue Oyster Cult, Styx, and others played the RKO Orpheum Theater, while Pure Prairie League and Dr. Hook were among the popular groups that played at Augustana College.
I also grew up with the symphony. I took private piano lessons, still do, in fact. My first recital was at Butterworth Center, an awe-inspiring experience for a 9-year-old. I took guitar lessons at Griggs Studio from a young man who had attended Juilliard.
In school, we sang in choirs, studied music theory and history, and played the toinette, a wind instrument designed for schoolkids that was part kazoo, part clarinet. It sounded terrific to us. I had one uncle in band playing clarinet. Our son played French horn; he participated in marching band, concerts, and took piano lessons. Today, he composes his own music.
Later, we had opera stars come to talk to us in 10th grade chorus, and a friend and I played the guitar and sang for local groups. Those were great times; below is a brief survey of all the music that plays here.
Since its 1915 beginnings, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra has contributed music and music education to residents. It is one of the 20 oldest continuing symphonies in the U.S. Director Mark Russell Smith leads performances ranging from classical symphonies to Riverfront Pops. The best musicians in the area and region play. And 1950 saw the beginning of the Quad City Youth Symphony orchestra, but there are four additional ensembles for students, including a youth choir.
Since 1956, Genesius Guild Opera has provided Shakespeare, ballet, classic theater performances, and opera during summer weekends. With Ballet Quad Cities, it also puts on a ballet. My husband spent many summers participating. I sang in the chorus of Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry), under the direction of the late James Parks, a gifted, kind artist. I never forgot that summer; I spent time with my future husband, and I tasted a little of the glory that comes with performing on the stage.
Our own Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931) has inspired both the world famous Quad-City Times Bix 7 race, and a jazz festival played in different venues. Sponsored by The Bix Beiderbecke Society, the festival and race attract people from everywhere, some to run, some to listen, and some to play. Much has been written about Bix and his short, sometimes tumultuous life, but suffice it to say that his flame burned bright, and his trumpet blew strong. He was a talented composer who played with several bands, including his own Beiderbecke 5. He also composed “Davenport Blues” and other acclaimed pieces.
Certainly, Bix wasn’t the only musician to play the blues here.
Ellis Kell, who’d been playing since he was 11, created the Ellis Kell Band. He opened for musicians like B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Etta James, and The Neville Brothers. He used the gift John Milton described as “death to hide” and through music, gave back to the community in more ways than there are musical notes and scales.
The Mississippi Valley Blues Fest is another event that brings together blues lovers from all over the world to play, record, and sing their favorite music.
Without Kell, the local musician and philanthropist, there might not have been the one-of-a-kind River City Music Experience. He helped found the musical museum, and went on to serve as director of programming and community outreach. He also established the Winter Blues Camp for young people and the Karli Rose Music Scholarship in memory of his daughter. After his death in 2016, he was inducted into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame.
Without music teachers like my own piano teacher, who taught public school, directed choir school and junior choir, accompanies students at competitions, and gives piano lessons, there would be no groups or dancers in the QCA.
Our theme song might’ve been “The Sounds of Silence.” You have only to peruse local newspapers to see the mind-boggling choice of music out there, from chamber music to Wicked Liz.
These musicians are our friends, coworkers, family, and teachers. Dance groups, Ballet Quad Cities and various choirs would take up several volumes if we were to write their history. Our performances of "The Nutcracker" alone would fill a good-sized tome. We are indeed music, and we can even write the songs. Let the bands play on!