"Pops" There Goes Skitch!

By Henry C. Mayer

"Sit down relax and just enjoy it! Just listen! Come with a smile and big ears! And don't try to be a critic!"

That's advice from one who knows. Who is it'? It's Skitch Henderson, one of today's most talented music makers, sharing how to enjoys Pops musical events. And not just any Pops music time, but our very own glistening Yellowstone SuperPops featuring our own Louisville Orchestra.

Skitch continued, "I'm especially glad to have the opportunity of working with the Louisville Orchestra. I've been following them since Robert Whitney. I'm impressed with their integrity. They've consistently been adding to their repertoire not just repeating the old standbys and pot boilers."

Skitch's ever ready smile verifies his next comment, "Pops is entertainment not a concert!" And then "much of Pops' success depends on the conductor's communication with the folks who come to hear it. I like to keep a running conversation with the folks a little inside dope about the composer or the piece a friendly wisecrack or joke and with it all, a feel for how the music is affecting them." Skitch did not say so, but that smile of his makes what he says even more welcome and delightful.

Skitch confided, "I learned a lot from Arthur Fiedler. For years he had the Pops field to himself in this country when he took members of the Boston Symphony and began treating first New England and then nationwide music lovers to a constantly changing musical menu from pieces by the masters to tunes from Broadway musicals and the movies. And he was ever generous with encores and that's why audiences fell in love with him." Skitch emphasized, "He also taught that people want and demand short, snappy pieces nothing longer than ten minutes!"

There may be some dispute about the origin of the word Pops. The obvious answer is that the aim was to offer music with a popular appeal. However, another distinguished conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, began presenting what he called Lollipops, Concerts in Great Britain. So take your pick. Like Beecham, Skitch was born over there.

Back to Skitch. "But you make it sound easy," this writer interrupted. "Was it really that way?" Skitch's smile got bigger. "No, not at all. At first many Boston Orchestra members fought Fiedler. But he won them over. And what happened to Fiedler happens to everyone who tries to introduce 'Pops' symphony orchestras. The New York press were horrible to Lenny Bernstein. I guess I got my big break when Arturo Toscanini, then running the NBC Symphony, sent for me. The maestro flabbergasted me with the depth and detail of his familiarity with what l was trying to do. Then he asked me to direct the NBC Orchestra his orchestra in a series of summer programs. Finally he said, 'I can't do this, but you can!'"

Though Skitch's musical career began as an arranger or sketcher (hence his nickname) for Hollywood movies, working with such folks as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Judy Garland, his musical training was solid. He received classical training in conducting from such titans as Albert Coates (BBC) and Fritz Reiner who wielded his baton before such ensembles as the Chicago and Pittsburgh Symphonies and the Metropolitan Opera. And Skitch's training in musical theory came from such men as Amold Schoenberg, a major name in 20th Century music.

"The hardest thing I have to do? Putting together a program. There's not much music written expressly for Pops. So I've done a lot of arranging. I like to work with pieces by Richard Rogers, Lenny Bemstein, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Ed Loewe and, here's a likely surprise Charlie Chaplin. Most people would not think of him as a composer, but he has done some good things, such as the song, 'Smile!"' That piece could be named for Skitch and if he has his way, a growing number of local folks are going to do just that smile when they go to him and our Louisville Orchestra. See you there!