David Lloyd Kreeger remembered to bring his violin but left his reading glasses in the car Saturday night at the University of Maryland. Gov. Harry Hughes brought his trumpet and didn't need reading glasses, since he plays from memory. Former congressman Jim Symington never has to worry about leaving his instrument behind. He is a singer.
All three were featured performers in the "Celebrity Follies," a fundraiser for the University Community Concerts program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary with plans to add a fourth series -- jazz -- to its flourishing chamber music, keyboard and early-music concerts. Arts patron Kreeger was not only the musical highlight of the evening but also the guest of honor. He was given a eulogy by Hughes, who was given a eulogy by University of Maryland President John Toll, who was given only a short, pungent introduction ("Ask not for whom the John Tolls") by the emcee, radio announcer Robert Aubry Davis.
Hughes played the trumpet competently (wisely opting not to imitate Bunny Berrigan's famous recording in "I Can't Get Started With You") but made the strongest impression in his introductory remarks. "If you paid to hear me," he told the formally clad audience, "this will be the most purely charitable contribution you have ever made." Later, he warned, "All you music lovers, this is your chance to leave." But when accompanist Larry Cione (whom he introduced as a "real professional musician") began to tiptoe away, he changed his mind: "You! Get back! You're being paid."
For his encore, Hughes played (what else?) "I'm Just Wild About Harry," and evidently he was not the only one; he was given a standing ovation for what was clearly a heartfelt performance. Earlier, Toll had given him an introduction ringing with a university president's rhetoric: "Our state was pleased to respond to the clarion call of that trumpeter. This university and our state are a good deal better because of him." And that was before Hughes, perhaps to encourage applause, reminded the audience that the University of Maryland's next budget hasn't been approved yet.
At a cocktail reception before the main event (where he must have shaken as many hands as Hughes, who does it for a living), Kreeger explained why he had to go back to the car for his reading glasses: "Maybe I'm worried about playing the violin tonight. Perhaps I should dance." That would have been a mistake; the evening's dance numbers (tangos by Ron Guillory and Diane Kelber, belly dancing by Najwah) were the most professional moments in an evening that had, in general, the friendly, relaxed feeling of a family musicale: amateur music-making in the best sense -- music performed for love, not for money.
In this context, playing Scott Joplin with his string quartet and pianist William Raiford, Kreeger sounded not spectacular but satisfying; love of music could be heard in every measure he played, and ultimately that matters more than technique. "His life's ambition really was to be a great violinist," a friend in the audience remarked as Kreeger began to tune up. If his hands were as responsive as his heart, he might have made it. What he has done instead as a patron of music is probably more satisfying to everyone in Washington except David Lloyd Kreeger.
Among the evening's amateur musicians, the one who made the strongest impression was Symington, who showed an excellent, well-controlled voice and a good sense of style in English, French and Spanish songs. The Spanish number "Solamente una vez," dedicated to Kreeger's wife Carmen, had exactly the right romantic flavor, and "L'Ame du Poe'te" turned the Grand Ballroom of the University of Maryland's student center, for a few minutes, into something like a Paris cabaret.