The Quad City Symphony Orchestra likely will see its biggest audience in three years at the Quad City Bank & Trust Riverfront Pops this weekend at LeClaire Park.

What it bills as “the party of the summer” is celebrating its 40th rendition, and violinist Charlie Abplanalp has played for every single one, since it debuted in 1983.

Charlie Abplanalp has been performing in the Quad City Symphony Orchestra since 1979.

A friendly, 66-year-old native of Lake Forest, Ill., he graduated from Augustana College, Rock Island, with a degree in music education and has been a member of the QCSO since 1979. Abplanalp studied conducting with James Dixon (University of Iowa), a longtime QCSO music director, and David Becker (University of Wisconsin).

Capping a 41-year career in public school music education, Charlie retired in 2019 after his 18th year as director of orchestras at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill., where he was also Instructor of AP Music Theory, Jazz Combos and Big Bands.

During his tenure, ETHS was recognized four times as a Grammy Foundation Signature School for Excellence in Music Education. Charlie also taught many years at Davenport Central High School.

He originally chose Augustana because he wanted to be a geologist and geographer (he rocks now in a different way at Pops concerts).

“They have a really vaunted program as far as that goes. I went there, I got over-involved in music,” Charlie said. “I auditioned for the orchestra, they made me concertmaster. I got into the jazz band. I auditioned for the top band, and I got into the top band.

“It was ridiculous I got to do all that stuff,” he said, noting he also has played upright bass and viola. “I still do all of those things. In the first few years of Riverfront Pops, what I did was play bass.”

The Pops was on the riverfront at LeClaire Park since the start, always capped with Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture and fireworks. The first programs featured Moline native and legendary jazz drummer Louie Bellson (1924-2009).

A scene from Riverfront Pops at LeClaire Park, Davenport.

“I got to play bass with him in the first three concerts. That was a huge, huge thrill for me, to be able to do that,” Charlie recalled. “It’s been a great, great thing ever since.”

The original vision for the Pops concerts (which for many years were in September) was to have a big QC event to draw the community in.

“Which is absolutely right on. There’s a ton of people that come,” Charlie said. Well, at least before COVID. The following are attendance figures since 2019:

  • 2019 (Rock Island Arsenal) – 7,933
  • 2020 (socially-distanced at LeClaire Park) – 2,192
  • 2021 – 4,071

The Pops attracts a lot of patrons who are not typical QCSO goers for the classical concerts, Abplanalp said. “Even if one of them goes to the QC Symphony, it served the purpose it was set up to do. That’s the whole reason it was set up.

“Whether you go there to enjoy the riverfront, or go there to listen to the concert, as a musician, I just want to make the community enjoy the music more,” he said. “That makes me really, really happy.”

Riverfront Pops at night, with the Centennial Bridge lit up in the background.

Another thing about the orchestra that makes him happy is that he gets to perform in the Violin II section with his wife and business partner, Elizabeth Gosma – violinist in the QCSO since 1991.

“We’re normally stand partners; we sit together and have a great time,” Charlie said.

“I literally have played all 40 years,” Abplanalp said of Riverfront Pops. “I probably, at least, 10 of those played upright bass and electric bass.” For those latter shows, he returned to the violin for the explosive finales.

A killer Queen show

Has he had a favorite program?

“I think my favorite one and for sure her favorite one, is when we played Queen on Arsenal Island (in 2019),” Charlie said. “There was a bachelorette party, in the front row. They were screaming at the orchestra, ‘We want to go to a bar with you after the show.’ They were so drunk.”

“That concert was super cool. The band was great, the orchestra was great,” he recalled. “The audience really loved it.”

“The weather has always been good. Liz and I play tons of outdoor weddings. The chances of it raining during this time is very small,” Abplanalp said. “I think the weirdest thing, the audience has to stare into the sun.”

The QC Youth Symphony Orchestra — which does a short pre-show program at 6:30 p.m., has only been part of Riverfront Pops for the past decade, he said.

Students with the QC Youth Symphony Orchestra play a short program at Riverfront Pops before the QCSO starts.

“One of the great things is also, that the sound crew has been about the same the whole time,” he said. “It’s really been a great experience. I’ve loved to play for the crowd.”

“That’s really kind of one of the things about this, it reaches out to the community, and they may never go to a symphony concert again,” Charlie said. “I also have tons and tons of really great friends that were part of the orchestra.

“One of the things I love about the orchestra is the community. We’ve lost a little bit because there are so many out-of-towners – journeyman, freelancers. For me, there’s been a lot of fantastic friends that I have made and met, and gotten to play with.”

A great Midwestern business

Abplanalp was previously Orchestra and Associate Band Director at Central High School in Davenport, where in 1991 the Music Department was named the Exemplary Music Program in the state. In 1993 Charlie was named a regional “Golden Apple” teacher.

He’s served as the All-State Orchestra Chair for the Iowa Music Educators Association and is a member of NAfME, the American String Teacher’s Association, the Illinois Music Educator’s Association, the American Federation of Musicians, as well as being a charter member of the Jazz Education Network. He has been an instructor at St. Ambrose University and Augustana.

Abplanalp in the second violin section at Riverfront Pops, LeClaire Park.

Charlie performs regularly as a violinist/violist in Chicago area orchestras and chamber groups and appears frequently as an electric and standup bassist with regional jazz combos and big bands.

He and his wife own Great Midwestern Music Inc. (GMMI), which provides music education instructional resources and contracts professional musicians for special events and touring shows at major venues in the Midwest. Their credits include performances with Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Marvin Hamlisch, The Temptations, Natalie Cole, Mannheim Steamroller, Sarah Brightman, Manhattan Transfer, Rod Stewart, The Trans-Siberian Orchestra as well as appearing with Josh Groban at the United Center.

In the summer of 2019, GMMI contracted musicians for a 41-piece backing orchestra, performing with Weird Al Yankovic on his “Strings Attached” tour in the Midwest. In demand as a guest conductor/clinician, Charlie has appeared before over 100 festival and honors ensembles in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, as well as conducting the American Honors Orchestra at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Abplanalp and his wife are co-founders of the Great Midwestern String Clinic, a summer music experience developing mastery in string students in both the QC and Chicago areas for over 20 years.

Charlie’s wife Liz Gosma also plays second violin in the QCSO, and together they run Great Midwestern Music, Inc.

“I am concerned about the lack of teachers that there are,” he said this week. “No one is going into it, and ones that are into it are dropping out. I never thought about this when went to Augustana. The profession definitely needs a little help.”

As COVID has subsided, Charlie travels around the Midwest doing clinics for orchestras, without compensation.

“It’s been awesome, fantastic. I continue to do that. I don’t ask for money — I just want to give back,” he said.

The orchestral parts for Pops concerts have improved over the years, and Abplanalp is looking forward to playing the Elton John tunes Saturday.

“Young people really love coming to the concert. It has a good impact on their vision for the future,” he said. “In my years of teaching, I’ve always taught my kids you don’t have to be an orchestral musician. You can actually play your instrument and be part of a thing — whether you’re on Broadway, touring, or doing whatever for yourself, it’s a legit way of being a musician.”

Riverfront Pops general admission seats cost $22 in advance for adults and $5 for children between the ages of 3-13. Adult prices increase $3 on Friday, Aug. 19. Have a group of 15 or more? Learn about group discounts.

For tickets and more information, click HERE.