Taking a Bow
The children who dance and sing along at Columbus Symphony Orchestra Popcorn Pops concerts weren't born when resident staff conductor Albert-George Schram joined the orchestra.
For that matter, many of the parents who bring their kids to Popcorn Pops weren't born yet, either, when Schram came to the CSO 37 years ago.
Schram's title has changed a couple times through the years, but even after he steps away at the conclusion of the 2016 summer season, he will retain the title of "Lover of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra."
"I consider it a privilege," he said of manning the CSO podium, adding, with his trademark sense of humor, "At least I wear well in one place."
Associate conductor Peter Stafford Wilson, along with guest conductors, will lead the orchestra's outdoor concerts after this season. Schram's final concert will be July 30, with the CSO and Ohio State University Marching Band. His final Popcorn Pops concert was July 22.
In recent years, Schram's most prominent role has been at the helm of the CSO's summer season, leading the popular Picnic with the Pops and family-oriented Popcorn Pops concerts.
"At first it was the music director's job and then they brought in some guest conductors, and when they were out of ideas, they looked at me," he joked of his role with the outdoor series, which in 2012 moved from the lawn of Chemical Abstracts Service to Columbus Commons.
While his training and conducting experience includes significant classical programming both in Columbus and around the world, much of Schram's local impact has been made performing outdoors for more informal audiences.
"I look at myself as a bridge, an instrument that connects an audience with the musicians and the music the orchestra makes," Schram said. He described his conducting style as "not that fancy," but said his work has been to "show where the musical interest lies, to shine a little light and give maybe a little bit deeper experience."
Schram's willingness to meet young audiences where they are, to talk to them in musical language that helps them learn about the orchestra and orchestral music, and to just plain have fun have endeared him to Popcorn Pops audiences.
Amy Taylor, chief operating officer of Columbus Downtown Development Corp., said her 8-year-old daughter, Audrey, is a Schram fan.
"She thinks the world of him, he's like a superstar," Taylor said. "He has just the right personality, and always gets the audience actively involved singing and dancing and clapping their hands. Audiences want to have as much fun as he's having."
"Albert-George has become an icon for the Columbus Symphony over the years, especially for the audiences of our Picnic and kids' concerts," CSO Board of Trustees Chairwoman Lisa Barton said in a statement. "His fun-loving nature and genuine enthusiasm will be sorely missed. We wish him nothing but the best."
"If I were to pass on or stop conducting today, I would still be immensely grateful that I have been allowed to make music for all those young people over the years and for people who have enjoyed the music and maybe learned some stuff," Schram said.
Schram joined the CSO under the orchestra's first formal music director, Evan Whallon.
"Columbus was my first professional job. I hadn't even finished my (doctoral dissertation at the University of Washington)," Schram recalled. "When I first arrived, there were 13 or 14 full-time musicians in the orchestra."
"Every city morphs and changes over the years. Right now, the city feels good, and the orchestra feels good."
Schram has lived in Florida since 2001, where his wife, Debbie, is a professor at Florida Atlantic University. The Schrams have three grown children, so he has "not as many duties as I did when I was a practicing dad."
"I have a wife that still loves me after all these years, and I'm still stimulated by what I do. I'm not perpetually on the road, and it helps that many of the orchestras that hire me (to guest conduct) know me pretty well.
"I've worked with folks I've treasured my whole life. That this little Dutch man was able to work with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie … and still now I love working with people like Chris Botti, and I had the best time with Melissa Etheridge."
Schram expects that his guest conducting duties will, on occasion, include work on the CSO podium.
"I don't think I will be completely disappearing," he said. "I trust I will be back."