Sweat beads up on Bret Rasmussen’s forehead and drips down his face. He pauses in the brilliant sunshine and wipes his face on his sleeve, then hoists a stack of six folded wooden chairs. A few rows away, Brian Herr and his dad carry tables two at a time and set them up. They move steadily in the afternoon heat, staying just a little ahead of the group cutting white plastic and taping it to the tables as covers.
Bret and Brian are Boy Scouts, and they are part of a ward effort to benefit the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Twice a week, all summer, the youth of the Noblesville Indiana Ward labor in the hot sun. They carry dozens of tables and chairs to the base of a long grassy hill in preparation for a symphony concert. Sweat, Scouts, and symphony—an unlikely trio? What brings them together?
It all started when the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra began outdoor summer performances at Conner Prairie Pioneer Settlement, a restored 1836 village. The first few years, all concertgoers sat on lawn chairs or blankets on the grass. Later, Symphony on the Prairie organizers offered reserved tables and chairs near the stage for a higher price. But who would set up a hundred tables and a thousand chairs twice a week? The symphony looked for a service group, and that’s where LDS Boy Scout troop 596 came in.
They are not alone. Scout leaders, families, and friends all lend a hand. “It’s a time to see friends and get to know new people,” says Emily Runyan, whose brother Chris is a Scout. “Those of us who aren’t in the troop can still be an example of service to others.”
Missy Wardwell feels that her work at Conner Prairie changed her attitude towards service. She used to feel it was a duty, “but I found this was fun because I chose to come. It was great to work on something important.”
People notice the unity between youth and adults in the Noblesville Ward. Jennifer Rasmussen attributes it to what happens when teachers and leaders labor alongside the youth. “Before,” Jennifer says, “you only saw them on Sunday. But working together is a bonding experience.”
Jennifer also points out the benefits for new or quiet kids in the ward. “These youth get to know people and become comfortable working together, whereas otherwise they might have taken years to open up. They get invited to stay and join us in other activities.”
Missy points out another benefit. “In the summer, sometimes school friends call and invite me to a party. I know what kind of party it will be. It’s security for me to have another place to go that is good and fun and social.”
The LDS youth finish and settle down on the hill with cool drinks and snacks. With their service comes a bonus—they can stay and hear the symphony concert for free. As the sun lingers near the edge of the concert shell, thousands of concertgoers arrive. Sometimes 10,000 people throng the grounds on a symphony night. After the sun goes down, the scattered lights of hundreds of tiny citronella candles flicker like caged fireflies.
“I never thought the kids would stay for the program,” says Rich Armstrong of the Scout committee. “I could see youth using lots of outdoor energy, but I didn’t expect them to be interested in symphony music.”
“I had never heard a symphony orchestra before,” says Brennan Wood. “But the more you hear symphony music, the more you understand it.”
Trent Wardwell agrees. “This has given me a better appreciation for what goes into producing symphony music. Hours before the concert, while we are putting up chairs and tables, the symphony workers have to set up their sound system and prepare the stage, just for a short, two-hour show.”
The concert is finished. A few fireworks light the sky over the orchestra shell, and the LDS youth scramble up from their places. Swarming down the hill, they start folding chairs, clearing tables, and carrying them back to storage. Now that it is cooler, demonstrations of strength take place. Austin Armstrong carries eight chairs at once. Brennan staggers under 13. Jamie Ketring and Jennifer tote one table between them, but Jon Foote hoists one above his head and carries it alone.
The final tarpaulin is tugged up and over a mountain of chairs. It is time to go home.
The thoughts of all the youth are echoed by Emily Runyan. “My main memory of summers is our work at Conner Prairie.”