By Peter Tyner
Who knew a butterfly could create its own headwinds?
Or, that uplifting community music could become so burdened that it simply stops playing?
Ah well, despite singer Elton John’s assertion that “Butterflies are Free” the local and beloved Butterfly Concerts have been grounded, at least until a new flight support system can be arranged.
In the meantime, the 50-piece Sierra Symphony will have to get along without this annual September venue.
Or maybe not, if Normadene Carpenter, president of the Marble Valley Regional Center for the Arts, has anything to do with it. Her organization is the driving force dedicated to furthering the arts — performing and otherwise — in El Dorado County.
“Our goal is a local performing arts hub,” Carpenter said. “And we know folks have lots of choices these days, from Mondavi in Davis to Three Stages in Folsom. We wouldn’t try to compete head-to-head; ours would present greater artistic diversity and more intimate styling, smaller productions perhaps, from plays to galleries to music.”
Carpenter’s vision of a top-flight arts center in the foothills has scaled down modestly from its original, grander inspiration. Although land has been donated and funds raised, “There are lots of moving parts, and the project moves slowly, but it moves,” Carpenter said.
Hopes wax and wane, and despite occasional setbacks, Carpenter is confident that the goal of having an arts center hovers ever closer.
“We will have our own center one day,” she said plainly.
The Butterfly musical tradition began 33 years ago with orchestral visits from the Sacramento Symphony. These concerts became quite popular and the orchestra found itself “flitting” from one venue to another, thus the analogy.
Over the decades Placerville became the main setting for the performances.
A few years ago, the locally based Sierra Symphony became the Butterfly orchestra of record. Musicians were selected from El Dorado, Amador and Sacramento counties.
Under the baton of Roy Fulmer Jr., the highly regarded foothill symphony still performs several local concerts annually.
The build-up to the Butterfly Concert was always a well-run campaign. The colorful butterflies set up along Highway 50 in Placerville were popular “announcements.”
Two years ago, the Diamond Springs Art Association repainted the butterflies for their annual appearance. A banner stretching across Main Street in Placerville trumpeted the event, eye-popping flyers were distributed to shops and restaurants, and even radio spots were scheduled.
The lack of a Butterfly Concert this year disappoints many fans.
“Used to be 1,500 people bought tickets for the Butterfly, spread themselves out all over the hill, that’s a fact,” Camino farmer Paul Oerdorff said. “Last year, maybe 500 or so. There’s lots of competition these days.”
He added, “I played bass drum with the York (Nebraska) High School marching band, in 1949, you know? Good hometown music is a real treat. We’ve been lucky.”
But it was more than luck, it was absolute dedication by many volunteers that kept the Butterfly Concert going.
Visitors recall the lively pops program that began with the National Anthem and concluded with “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Phillips Souza. The rousing finale was always conducted by the winner of the golden baton auction.
Then the concert was over. Decorative butterflies were carefully stored, banners were rolled up and preserved, the lights went out and volunteers went home. But a year later the question still hangs in the air like a lost note — is it really over?
Has the green at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds hosted its last Butterfly?
“We’re working on it!” assured Carpenter, smiling radiantly. “Possibilities are in motion right now. Good is inevitable.”
Oerdorff echoes the sentiment.
“Brings to mind Job, who said, ‘For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that (through the scent of water) it will sprout again,’” Oerdorff said.
Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, maybe.
The Sierra Symphony Orchestra encourages interested musicians to contact Symphony Manager Lynda Parker at (530) 622-6053 or e-mail [email protected].
For information about the effort to have an arts facility visit marblevalleycenter.org or call (530) 642-2431.