Murphy sings swan song

09/02/2010 12:00 AM |

?Peggy Murphy of Southold (center) announced her retirement as organizer of Southold’s Summer Showcase Concert Series at Silversmith’s Corner at its final event of the season last Wednesday. She introduced her successor, Amanda Newcomer of Greenport (left), as conductor Colin Van Tuyl and the Greenport Band waited to perform.

By the time the first musician strikes a note, a triumvirate of three volunteers has been hard at work for months planning Southold’s Summer Showcase Concert Series at Silversmith’s Corner. This summer’s Wednesday night series concluded on Aug. 25.

The first concerts 20 years ago were the brainchild of Southold resident Peggy Murphy. After three years, she recruited former high school friends Cynthia Mellas and Betty Wells to help organize the annual events. Ms. Mellas has been the treasurer and Ms. Wells the publicist while Ms. Murphy has been program coordinator.

But following the final 2010 concert, which featured the Greenport Band, the three have opted to pass the baton to Amanda Newcomer, who will begin putting together her own team to keep the concerts going. She will be looking to some of her colleagues in the arts community, including those she works with at Northeast Stage.

It all began after Southold Town’s 350th anniversary celebration in 1990. It included a concert on the green at Silversmith’s Corner, Ms. Murphy said. She went to then town supervisor Scott Harris with the idea of turning the concert into a weekly event for the summer. The Town Board endorsed the concept and came up with some seed money, about $2,000, Ms. Murphy remembered.

Town public works and community development director Jim McMahon helped Ms. Murphy apply for a New York State Council on the Arts grant. State and other grants, some corporate contributions from local businesses — including Cross Sound Ferry and the now defunct North Fork Bank — and donations from concertgoers have kept the effort afloat.

“I love the small-town scene,” Ms. Murphy said about why she wanted the concerts to continue after the town’s 1990 birthday celebration.

“We tried to use local talent — the idea of neighbors entertaining neighbors,” she said. But through the years, she has also brought in musicians from the South Fork, other parts of Long Island and upstate New York.

It costs about $900 a week to pay the performers and sound system man Joe Capuano, who took over the gig after Don Fisher retired in 2008.

This summer’s fare included bluegrass, Broadway, Dixieland, jazz and barbershop quartet music. Many attendees are seniors, Ms. Murphy said, and they come from all over the East End.

She has avoided adding rock music to the program, noting that it seemed better suited to a site like Mitchell Park in Greenport.

Only once in her 20 years has Ms. Murphy had to cancel a concert and that was on Aug. 11, when a heavy rain and wind storm forced her hand. But there have been nights when foul weather resulted in moving the concert from the green to Southold United Methodist Church. While Ms. Murphy said she appreciated the generosity of the church in opening its doors for the events, she said audiences were far smaller and she always heard complaints from people about the need to move indoors.

She admitted she won’t miss the anxiety of stormy or cloudy Wednesdays. But she will relish having more free time to visit her children and grandchildren, who are scattered around the country, in Texas, Virginia and upstate New York.

What she will miss is having the Quatrain Quartet, a barbershop group, rehearse on her porch, just two blocks from Silversmith’s Corner; and the sounds of a Native American flute group that returned to her yard to play after a concert.

“It was just magical,” Ms. Murphy said.

And she said she would miss the many people who were loyal to the concerts through the years, but she figured she’ll see many of them when she returns to Silversmith’s Corner to join the audience at concerts Ms. Newcomer will produce.

“It just seems such a valuable part of the community’s social life,” Ms. Newcomer said of the concert series. While she said she is thinking about ways to expand the audience, she isn’t in a rush to make changes to a program that has been so viable for so many years, she said.

She wants to “maintain the integrity of the program Peg built” while exploring ways to broaden it without alienating the base audience, she said.

Ms. Murphy’s hunt for a successor took more than a year, she said.

“Can you imagine putting all this time into something and seeing it die on the vine?” Ms. Murphy said. “Thank God for Amanda.”

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