Shuffle: Metro Parks Ensemble Fosters a Love of Music And Nature

May 24, 2018

The Summit Metro Parks will again be filled with music this summer, as its ensemble returns for its 18th year. 

The Metro Parks Ensemble is made up of 34 of the hardest working musicians in the region. And they’re all volunteers, some in their 80’s. Director Karen Bennett of Munroe Falls says it's all for the love of the parks and the camaraderie.  

"It’s just a really fun thing to be out in nature making music. And the other thing is friendship. Everybody just gets along and feeds off of one another and has fun."

Like Bennett, most of the band members are retirees with a music background. Another member of the band, Jim Lynn, taught audiology at the University of Akron up until his retirement. He took up the euphonium, a low brass instrument that looks like a small tuba, after he retired. He’s been with the ensemble for six years.

"As an amateur musician, you don’t get very many chances to play regularly. This is every Tuesday evening for most of the year. So it keeps me playing and keeps my skills up."

Year-round dedication
The ensemble takes just two Tuesdays off every year. Summers are spent performing free weekly concerts at about a dozen Metro Park locations and winters they perform at nursing homes. The rest of the year, they’re practicing every Tuesday at the Goodyear Heights Metro Parks lodge. 

Bennet says the group is believed to be the only band affiliated with a public park in the U.S. It started in 2000 as a Christmas singalong group.

Bennet says she creates three distinct playlists for June, July and August consisting of traditional marches, big band standards, oldies, classic TV theme songs and even some polka. She says this July, they’re trying something new – a performance that will combine patriotic and Christmas music.

But putting a fresh program together every year has been a challenge. She relies on other musicians, like John Ulmer of Canal Fulton. He’s played trombone and tuba in the ensemble for the last 10 years.

"She has no real budget so she doesn’t have a good access to music," Ulmer says. "We came in with our community band and have a ton of music. So we’ve been feeding her stuff that she can use here to help build up her music library."

Jeannie Hamilton, 81, of Akron, has been playing saxophone in the ensemble since it started
Credit Amanda Rabinowitz / WKSU

Friendships and family
And that’s really what the ensemble is all about --- sharing the love of music, fostering friendships and even bringing families closer together.

Jeanie Hamilton, 81, of Akron, has been playing in the group since her son was the group’s first director. 

"I’ve played saxophone since I was in the 5th grade. My saxophone and me are the same age. It was made in 1936, so I thank the lord that I’m still able to do it."

Jeanie gets a ride to rehearsals with her daughter, Tina, who plays flute in the band. 

"With my mom’s limited abilities, if I didn’t join the group, she would no longer be able to play. I will continue until I can’t play anymore, probably."

Those relationships are what keep the Metro Parks Ensemble going strong year after year. Director Karen Bennett says it’s not so much about being the most polished, professional band in Northeast Ohio. It's about playing fun music that people want to hear. 

Metro Parks Ensemble schedule:

Tuesday, June 5, 6:30 p.m. 
Munroe Falls Metro Park/Lake Area, 521 S. River Rd., Munroe Falls 

Tuesday, June 12, 6:30 p.m. 
Silver Creek Metro Park/Bathhouse, 5000 Hametown Rd., Norton 

Tuesday, June 19, 7 p.m. 
Towpath Trail/Clinton Trailhead, 2749 North St., Clinton 

Tuesday, July 3, 6:30 p.m. 
Munroe Falls Metro Park/Lake Area, 521 S. River Rd., Munroe Falls  

Tuesday, July 10, 6:30 p.m.  
Silver Creek Metro Park/Bathhouse, 5000 Hametown Rd., Norton 

Tuesday, July 17, 7 p.m. 
Liberty Park/Twinsburg Ledges Area, 9999 Liberty Rd., Twinsburg 

Tuesday, July 31, 6:30 p.m. 
Munroe Falls Metro Park/Lake Area, 521 S. River Rd., Munroe Falls 

Tuesday, August 7, 6:30 p.m. 
Silver Creek Metro Park/Bathhouse, 5000 Hametown Rd., Norton 

Tuesday, August 14, 7 p.m. 
Nimisila Reservoir Metro Park/Lot C1, 5550 Christman Rd., Green 

Tuesday, August 21, 7 p.m. 
Wood Hollow Metro Park, 2121 Barlow Rd., Hudson 

Tuesday, August 28, 7 p.m. 
F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm/Onondaga Deck, 1828 Smith Rd., Akron 

Tuesday, September 4, 7 p.m. 
Cascade Valley Metro Park/Chuckery Area, 837 Cuyahoga St., Akron 

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 7 p.m. 
Firestone Metro Park/Coventry Oaks Area, 40 Axline Dr., Akron