Conductor Robert Hart Baker was thrilled when legendary St. Louis sportscaster Ron Jacober agreed to perform with the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra this weekend.
Jacober won’t be playing an instrument. He’ll be serving as a play-by-play announcer for the first movement of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5,” complete with digs at musicians who miss notes or otherwise let down the team.
“Even the conductor gets penalized for not following the oboe solo properly,” Baker said.
The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Lindenwood University auditorium in Belleville. Jacober’s announcing partner will be Tom Birkner, jazz trumpeter and retired director of instrumental music at Belleville West.
Jacober agreed to participate in the concert “in a weak moment,” he joked by telephone last week.
“No, really, it should be a lot of fun, and it’s something I’ve never done before. I’ve been (inducted) in five halls of fame, but I’ve never done a symphony.”
The concert theme is “Popular Classics.” The first half will feature music from Broadway, Hollywood and pop culture, including the Ian Polster arrangement “That’s Entertainment — A Salute to MGM’s Music.”
“It’s a real layman’s kind of concert because people can enjoy it by just listening to the music,” Baker said. “You don’t need any prior background. People will know most of the pieces.”
It should be a lot of fun, and it’s something I’ve never done before. I’ve been (inducted) in five halls of fame, but I’ve never done a symphony.
Ron Jacober on performing with Belleville Philharmonic
The second half will be Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5,” one of the best-known compositions in classical-music history. But the first movement (about nine minutes) will be replaced with a comic version called “New Horizons in Music Appreciation: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.”
That piece was written by American composer, bassoonist, music educator and parodist Peter Schickele. It debuted on his 1967 album “Report from Hoople: P.D.Q. Bach on the Air.”
“He’s combining two genres (classical music and sportscasting) that would never go together, and it’s very funny,” Baker said. “You don’t expect this kind of dialogue while the music is playing.”
Birkner, 61, of Belleville, retired last year after 21 years with District 201. He also taught at Southwestern Illinois College, University of Illinois, Parkland College and Terre Haute (Indiana) South High School.
Birkner still writes music and plays trumpet with a Champaign-based, 1920s-style band called the Traditional Jazz Orchestra. He also leads clinics for high-schoolers at jazz festivals.
Birkner called the Beethoven sportscast “very entertaining.”
“It’s been around for a long time, and it’s meant to be fun for the audience,” he said. “Most people will recognize the music even though they may not know the name.”
It’s a real layman’s kind of concert because people can enjoy it by just listening to the music. You don’t need any prior background.
Robert Hart Baker on “Popular Classics” concert
Jacober and Birkner will speak into microphones on a broadcasting table and welcome the audience to the “wonderful wide world of notes.”
“We’re talking to you from Lindenwood University auditorium in beautiful downtown Belleville, Illinois, where in a few minutes, the Belleville Philharmonic will be playing against conductor Robert Hart Baker, who I believe is undefeated this season,” Birkner begins. “Isn’t that right?”
“That’s right, Tom,” Jacober responds. “And this is a very important match for Dr. Baker, since a victory tonight could put him in the World Twelve-tone Series at Powell Hall this spring.”
“Well, I suppose it’s too early to tell which orchestra he’ll be playing if he makes it, but would you care to make a guess?” Birkner asks.
“Well, Tom, it’s hard to say ... but I’d put my money on the New York Philharmonic,” Jacober answers. “They’ve trounced just about every conductor who’s come up against them for the last — oh, say — 10 or 15 seasons.”
And so it goes ...
Lindenwood is just down the street from the former location of WIBV-AM radio station, where Jacober, a Highland native, started his career in 1969 as a weekend disc jockey.
“I remember a homeless man sneaked in one night, and I was the only one there,” he said. “I looked around the corner, and there he was sleeping.”
Jacober also has fond memories of his parents and grandparents sitting in on a radio show, beaming with pride and amazed by all the high-tech equipment.
Jacober went on to join broadcast teams for Cardinals baseball, Blues hockey and Storm and Ambush pro soccer, Missouri Tigers football and St. Louis University basketball. He’s covered Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, World Series, Olympic and NCAA Final Four games.
“(His symphony sportscast) will be a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Baker said.
At a glance
- What: “Popular Classics” concert by Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra
- When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Lindenwood University auditorium, 2600 Main St. in Belleville
- Admission: $15 for adults; $12 for senior citizens 55 and older and military personnel; or $5 for students 18 and under in advance ($18, $15 and $5 at the door)
- Tickets: Stop in Happy Hop Homebrew & Gourmet or Fletcher’s Kitchen & Tap in Belleville, call 618-235-5600 or visit www.bellevillephilharmonic.org