Sunday, July 4, was Independence Day, so it might not have been unusual to hear a John Philip Sousa march playing. What was unusual was that the music was not someone’s outdoor stereo but a live performance, being played by a large group of musicians spaced six feet apart on a front lawn on Brookside Drive. Max Morden’s front lawn to be exact.
Morden has, for many years, taught beginner band in all four Verona elementary schools. A trumpeter by background, he’s also been in charge of brass lessons at Verona High School and the high school jazz band known as Verona Jazz & Beyond. His summer days are usually spent leading the Verona Summer Music program, but not this year because of the pandemic and all the school construction projects. And when not leading music in Verona, Morden maintains an active career as a professional freelance performer, composer and arranger.
So when Morden got the itch to perform live, he made some phone calls to all the professionals that he’s been playing with for all these years, and the Morden Music Manor was born.
It kicked of with the Sousa extravaganza and then last Sunday was all Latin jazz. (You can watch the whole concert in the video below.) This Friday, July 17, at 6:30 p.m. will be Max’d Out, a trio that includes Morden and fellow Verona residents John Priori and Anders Bostrom. [UPDATE: Because rain is in the forecast, Friday’s concert has been moved to Saturday, July 18, at the same time.]
The Morden Music Manor has drawn on a number of Verona-based musicians. The Sousa crew included John Palatucci, Martha Boughner, Adrienne Ostrander, Dale Trimmer and Morden’s daughter, Amanda. Bostrom, who was a regular in the pit of Broadway shows before COVID-19, was part of the Latin conjunto.
“No musicians are working now,” Morden says. “Entertainment is going to be the last thing that opens up.”
But musicians need to play and they need to play together, maybe now more than ever. “I had a couple of guys who travelled an hour or so for Sousa,” Morden says.
Though musicians are out of work now, the concerts have been a labor of love, not money, so far. Morden hasn’t passed a hat or otherwise asked for donations from listeners who line the sidewalk or stake out a spot on Trimmer’s lawn across the street, which isn’t closed to car traffic during the performances. “Everybody’s been good about being spaced apart,” Morden says.
After this Friday, the schedule for future performances will depend on who can stop by to play, and the weather. Morden is wary of moving the concerts to a larger spot in town because it would require more equipment and Morden is, to borrow an expression, a one-man band as an impresario. And he’s thrilled that people have been so captivated by the simple set-up. “People come by and say, ‘oh man, I love the music’.”
You can follow the music schedule through Morden’s Facebook page.