45 Years of Music in Plymouth

by | Jun 2017

The Minnesota Orchestra performs at Music in Plymouth.

The Minnesota Orchestra performs at Music in Plymouth. Photo: Mele Willis

Celebrating the anniversary with a salute to the Plymouth Civic League.

A relaxing evening outdoors with fireworks, symphonies and family fun, Music in Plymouth has become a staple of summertime in Plymouth.

As the event enters its 45th year, we take a look back at the Plymouth Civic League, the organization behind the fanfare.

In 1972, Plymouth was a burgeoning community in the Twin Cities, but lacking in spirit and unity.

“This was a very, very small community with no identity at all, divided by two major highways and four school districts. No downtown, no city hall, no area for the citizens of Plymouth to focus on,” says Barbara Willis, current Civic League president of the board.

With the mission to make Plymouth more than a bedroom neighborhood on the commute to city life, former mayor Al Hilde Jr. and resident Curt Carlson of the Carlson Companies teamed up, spearheading a premiere event to put the city on the map. From their efforts, Plymouth became a mainstay for the Minnesota Orchestra’s Symphony for Cities summer tour and the Plymouth Civic League was conceived to organize and continue the event.

Joining not long after the civic league’s inception, Willis was driven not only to build up Plymouth’s community identity, but to also promote a music event for all. She’s served on the board of directors since 1979.

“I’m a retired music teacher and I feel it’s important for everyone to have the opportunity to hear fine music,” she says. “The Minnesota Orchestra is obviously one of the best in the country, if not the world.”

Now, the Plymouth Civic League has become a family affair, with Barbara Willis’ daughter, Mele, growing up volunteering and currently serving as the public relations chair of the Civic League board.

“As a little girl, I was involved with Campfire Girls and we would take posters from the event and use our bicycles to ride around and go to businesses, handing out programs,” Mele says.

The Willis women hold the unofficial history of the civic league, from the early days of symphonies in parking lots to building the event’s permanent home, the Hilde Performance Center in 2002. Former mayor Hilde also created an endowment fund for the league and for the event, ensuring the show must go on, says Mele.

A lot has changed in the past 20 years. No longer a stand-alone event, Music in Plymouth is bookended by two fundraising events: a 5K Fun Run in June and Wine Tasting in early fall.

Currently, the all-volunteer league has about 30 active board members, a mix of citizens and representatives from area companies. Roles are sectioned into five main committees for finance, public relations, entertainment, concessions and site, along with smaller sub-committees.

Chairperson for the finance group, Tom Barron, became involved with the league in the 1980s and 90s, volunteering under the direction of his boss. A resident himself, Barron joined as a citizen, becoming a board member in 1996.

For him, the most rewarding aspect of involvement comes the day of the event, seeing “mass of humanity” assembled together for an evening.

Despite the changes, ebbs and flows of the of the organization, the Plymouth Civic League’s goal has remained the same, promoting community spirit and identity through Music in Plymouth.

“The league and the event are unique and offer an example of perspective into what makes Plymouth such a special place to live. It’s a very welcoming place. It has grown enormously over the lifespan of this event, but it continues to have at its core a real connected and groundedness to each other and its spaces. I’m proud of it,” says Mele.

Music in Plymouth will take place July 5 at the Hilde Performance Center, with opening performances by the R Factor and the Okee Dokee Brothers, beginning at 5:30 p.m. The Minnesota Orchestra performs under the direction of Roderick Cox, followed by a grand fireworks finale.

To learn more about Music in Plymouth, the 5K Fun Run, Wine Tasting, and to get involved, visit the Plymouth Civic League online.


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