Lake Area Community Orchestra resumes concerts

Joyce Miller, jmiller@lakesunonline.com
In this file photo, the Lake Area Community Orchestra performs in front of the castle at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

The Lake Area Community Orchestra is back for the season with a fresh enthusiasm and a new conductor who is bringing his own style of conducting to the stage.

For more than three decades, the orchestra has been entertaining audiences with summer and winter performances. Their performances travel around the lake, bringing the chance to hear the orchestra in churches, performing arts centers and outdoor venues to all corners of Lake of the Ozarks. 

This season, audiences will see the orchestra under the direction Andrew Drennan. Although he is no stranger to those who are fans of great music, this season is his first directing the LACC. Since 2012, Drennan has played with Lake Jazz as a lead/solo trombonist as well as jazz/salsa combo and quintet work around the area for various events, both private and public. Most recently he has gotten involved with some members of a band based in Jefferson City, to form an ’all-star' band for the non-profit group “The Red Slipper Warrior Project,” an advocacy group for women cancer survivors. 

Drennan started out as a trumpet player but switched to trombone after necessity forced him to get braces. Since then, he has been playing the trombone and other brass instruments.  

Like many musicians, Drennan said he is always in search of the next performance. And the orchestra definitely offers that opportunity to perform and share his love of music with others. He jumped at the chance to take on the position with the orchestra when it came along last August.  

“At the time, COVID had pretty much erased everything resembling a live performance medium and I was experiencing major withdrawals. I sat in on bass trombone and traded podium time with Rose Adams, the retiring director, and after a couple rehearsals, that was it,” he said. “I think I needed them as much as I was needed. It's been a life-changer for me. I feel lucky that an opportunity like this presented itself when I was really feeling disconnected from the performance scene here. Many of my colleagues had put together online performances to great success, and I felt like I'd missed the boat adjusting to the COVID downturn.”

Drennan’s opportunity with the LACO has been serendipitous in that the group has a mutual desire to try new things and learn them together. Since they started rehearsing last fall for a radio broadcast performance, it's been great challenging his fellow musicians with what he can find in their library and new tunes online, Drennan said. The excitement has been growing among the orchestra members to get back out in the community and sharing the joy of a live performance, he said. 

 “We've been adding harder and harder classical repertoire to the folder with the goal of constant challenge, with positive results. I think both the orchestra and the audience appreciate marches of all nationalities, with Sousa being a favorite,” he said.  

The thrill of the performances and the camaraderie among musicians in the orchestra is obvious to those who have taken in a performance. The LACC gives musicians an avenue to pursue their lifelong passion for music and enriches the entertainment community, bringing extraordinary performances to the lake. 

Over the course of three decades and counting, the LACC has continued to thrive and grow when many smaller communities have seen a decline in organizations that promote the arts. Aside from the changes the pandemic brought to the performing arts, the LACC has prospered. The success of the orchestra is a testament to the community and the musicians who make it all possible. 

“I think it's a twofold testament: both the commitment and investment of time of multiple generations of area musicians, and being responsible at resource management and bookkeeping,” he said. “It can't be stressed enough the statement that a great musician does not necessarily a good manager make, and there are some responsible people here with a vested interest in seeing this orchestra succeed in perpetuity. Even with COVID killing budgets everywhere, somehow this group kept the books healthy. That's a rarity in an era of fiscal waste experienced in all sectors.”

Drennan is based out of Lebanon. Originally from Kentucky, he spent most of his formative years in Quincy, Ill. before enlisting in the Army out of college. He served as an Army Musician for a little over 23 years. 

“I had always considered this area as home once I initially moved here in the mid-90s. Many overseas tours later frequently had me returning to Missouri, and it really wasn't a question where I'd move back to once it was time for a final assignment selection,” he said. “I’ve been spoiled by the friendly nature of musicians here for the most part. I think it has to do with the more laid-back pace of the lake area and the environment that practically forces you to enjoy your surroundings and take a break.”

The Army music program changed his life, Drennan said. By far it’s the most stable gig you can get as a musician, traveling to some awesome places, he said. His time in the Army music program changed his life in many ways and shaped how he views music as a universal language, whether it is overseas performing for other nations or here at home in his backyard. 

Very early in his career he played with a local community band in Illinois, mostly for veterans' homes, local events and retirement villages. Playing music popular from the era of those audiences really put smiles on their faces, and it was a positive reinforcement to be a good showman, both vocally and instrumentally, he said.  

Later as a young soldier, he performed for units deployed around the world, including the DMZ area of the South Korean Republic and various spots in the Middle-East.  

In those places, Drennan said, he saw another type of positive result of music: stress relief and morale enhancement.  Some of those folks had really been cooped up with little to do for free time, and it was great to be able to provide them a little respite from a constantly hazardous environment. 

“As an added bonus, after a little experience, I started performing for the UN Command Bands as a member of their musical ambassadors. Being able to trade musical experiences with other nations' counterpart bands as well as entertain the ambassadorial, governmental and command staffs really illustrated how important it was to be able to communicate in ways that were considered universal.”