IF YOU GO
What: Bonita Springs Concert Band
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, March 18
Where: Riverside Park, on Old 41 in Bonita Springs
BONITA SPRINGS — One Sunday a month, hundreds of people flock to Riverside Park with lawn chairs and picnic baskets in hand, eager for a relaxing afternoon of musical delights from Bonita’s hometown band.
The Bonita Springs Concert Band will again entertain its audience with a lineup of overtures, marches, jazz tunes and theme songs during its March 18 concert in the park.
Along with the usual sing-along, toe-tapping melodies, this concert will offer something new. For the first time, the band has hired a professional musician to join them, giving the audience free access to top local talent.
Paul Votapek, principal clarinetist for the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, will be featured in “Concertino for Clarinet and Band,” an arrangement by Frank Bencriscutto. Votapek has been playing with the Naples Phil since 1988 and teaches clarinet at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Bower School of Music. He has been featured as a soloist with the Phil on five occasions and has performed as principal clarinet with the Utah Symphony and Boston Esplanade Pops Orchestra.
“Several clarinet players in our band either do study with him or have studied clarinet with him,” said Dr. Dennis Hill, Bonita Springs Concert Band director. “He’s a marvelous player.”
Band founder Sylvia Schraff was taking private lessons from Votapek as the Bonita band was just taking shape in 2007.
“He is fabulous,” Schraff said. “He really improved my confidence, improved my tone and improved my capabilities.”
Votapek said he enjoys teaching clarinet to those who are serious about improving their skills, whether at the collegiate level or retirees.
“An older student is doing this because they really love to do it, and that passion shows in the way they focus,” he said. “It doesn’t matter the level of the player; it’s how hard they try. You just want people giving 100 percent, and then it’s a joy to teach.”
Votapek considers his career highlights to be playing “Rhapsody in Blue” in Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops Orchestra, as well as winning the job of principal clarinetist with the Naples Philharmonic 22 years ago.
“We’re the smallest town in the country, by far, that supports an orchestra of this size,” he said. “The quality of the orchestra is quite high being in a county of 300,000. Most orchestras of this size and quality are in a city of at least 1 million.”
A native of East Lansing, Mich., Votapek grew up in a musical family. His father, Ralph, was winner of the first gold medal in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and an artist-in-residence at Michigan State University for 36 years, also playing with the Chicago Symphony and performing several Latin America tours.
The talented father-son duo recently released a recording of the “Concert and Contest Collection for Clarinet,” a time-honored book of solo pieces for clarinet students. Paul’s sister, Kathryn, sometimes joins them on violin as part of the Votapek Trio, while his mother plays piano and his brother, cello -- all professionally.
Although Votapek began piano lessons in second grade and picked up the clarinet at age 10, he wasn’t always focused on music. “Back then, I’d rather play basketball,” he recalled.
He finally got bitten by the performance bug in high school, after attending a summer music camp at Interlochen Arts Academy. Now married to an oboe player, Votapek is the father of three musically inclined children, all violinists.
In addition to Votapek’s solo, Sunday’s concert will include a number of crowd-pleasing selections, including a Star Trek medley featuring the classic television show’s familiar theme.
“It’s now a subculture; it’s cult like,” Hill said. “It’s a lot of fun, and people will recognize it.”
The audience also will be humming along with familiar melodies made popular by the legendary Tony Bennett. As part of “Tony Bennett Unplugged,” the band will play a series of Bennett’s classic hits, including “The Good Life” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got that Swing.”
The concert also will feature sounds from the Big Band era with a tribute to American jazz musician Glenn Miller, who went missing in action over the English Channel during World War II.
“That was really at the height of his popularity,” Hill noted. The Glenn Miller Orchestra continues playing in his honor today.
In its fourth season, the Bonita Springs Concert Band now includes more than 60 members.
“We started it with kind of a bang and just keep growing,” Hill said. “We’re trying to raise the quality and get a more perfect instrumentation.”