Amid ongoing pandemic, Ames' Town & Gown's annual Musicale goes virtual

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune

Ames Town & Gown is holding its 31st annual Musicale next Saturday at 7:30 p.m., but the event will be a free, virtual event this year rather than the celebration that usually serves as the group’s main fundraiser.

The public is invited to tune in through Town & Gown’s website,, to watch the event, which Paula Forrest, the group's artistic director, said will feature "some of the most talented and generous musicians in central Iowa."

“The whole idea for the Musicale has always been to offer a classical music variety show,” Forrest said. “It’s not even all strictly classical music, but it’s mostly classical-ish.

“There’s a great variety. Jonathan Sturm and pianist Jodi Goble will be playing a virtuosic violin piece. There will be a duet between a trombone and a miniature carillon.”

There’s a practice carillon in one of the science buildings, which is where the performance will take place. Tin-Shi Tam, Iowa State’s long-time carillonneur, has arranged a song for carillon rather than piano and will perform a duet with trombonist Nathan Dishman.

“That’s one of the things that being online has allowed us to do because we haven’t been able to include the carillon in a traditional venue,” Forrest said.

A buffet of sumptuous foods is usually one of the key features at Ames Town & Gown's Musicale. This year, since the event is virtual, artistic director Paula Forrest encourages viewers to indulge in their favorite foods and drinks at home during the concert.

Another interesting performance is a recently composed vocal work by Jodi Goble, co-director of the ISU Opera Studio. Goble’s piece is inspired by the 1918 and current pandemics. She and baritone Chad Sonka will perform part of the composition.

“Some of our performers are from the university and some are from the community,” Forrest said. “One example is Caleb Polashek, an Ames High graduate who is now a very accomplished violinist who plays with the Austin Symphony in Austin, Texas. His father, Emil Polashek, is a wonderful singer and accordion player, so they’re going to be playing something that they’ve arranged for violin and accordion.”

The list of performers also includes the Ames Piano Quartet; oboists Amy Christensen and Kevin Schilling with pianist Paula Forrest; solo pianist Mei-Hsuan Huang; organist Miriam Zach; soprano Hope Metts and oboist Rachel Keske, both students at ISU; and Ames High School student Seth Durbin.

“People have called it their favorite night of the year,” Forrest said. “There’s something very special about it. I think it’s partly because of the bringing together of the university people and community artists to perform together.

“It’s usually a very sparkling, very fun, upbeat evening, with the concert taking place first and then we have the party afterward.”

The event usually includes a lavish buffet, complete with champagne.

“We hope people will enjoy their own champagne in their family rooms,” Forrest said. “We’re just kind of joking, but we do hope people will indulge in some of their favorite food and drink and, since they’re watching from home, they can enjoy it during the concert instead of afterward, like we normally do.

“We usually have tables and tables of the most beautiful desserts and savories; it’s an incredible evening.”

Forrest had the idea for the Musicale back in 1990, shortly after she moved to Ames from Washington, D.C., and became involved in Ames Town & Gown, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary that year.

Forrest suggested to the group's board that they host a fundraiser that would feature a collage of chamber music performances along with an elegant buffet of desserts. Forrest was hoping to have at least 40 people attend, but interest in the event surpassed her expectations, with about 100 people bought tickets.

Musicale has remained a highlight in the local performance calendar, with about 125 people attending most years.

“Although the 2021 Musicale will be virtual and therefore cannot include its usual lavish post-concert buffet, the online program will nevertheless be a unique musical feast and a meaningful reminder of our important local connections through the arts,” Forrest said.