GREENSBORO — Barry Auman couldn't have known in 1979 that the concert series he created would become a 40-year summer tradition.

As director of the Parks and Recreation Department's music program, Auman wanted to show taxpayers what their dollars bought. So he organized the free Music for a Sunday Evening in the Park series and showcased city-sponsored bands and orchestras in city parks.

He wanted to take a variety of music into as many neighborhoods as he could. 

"Taxpayers help to pay, so why shouldn't they receive some of the benefits?" Auman said.

Auman remains amazed that the popular series commonly called MUSEP is still going.

"It's very heartwarming to know that it has been successful for 40 years," said Auman, who recently retired as music director at Shallotte Presbyterian Church near the coast.

The season starts at 6 p.m. Sunday at the White Oak Amphitheatre in the Greensboro Coliseum complex. The Gate City Divas, then David Childers and the Serpents, will perform.

From there, it will continue every Sunday through Aug. 25. Local musicians will bring a mix of musical genres into parks and expansive spaces around the city. 

Each concert attracts an average of 1,500 people of a variety of ages and backgrounds. They come from Greensboro and even surrounding cities.

They bring blankets, chairs and picnics — sometimes even a candelabra to decorate their table — and socialize, dance and relax while listening to the music.

"It's amazing to see how our community has embraced the series and helped it grow," said Jennifer Hance, who has planned the last 13 years of concerts as Music Center director. "It exposes them to music that maybe they haven't heard and facilities they didn't know we had."

Over 40 years, only three people have planned the MUSEP series: Auman until 1990, Lynn Donovan from 1991 to 2006 and Hance since then. Hance now works as community engagement coordinator for Parks and Recreation, and a new Music Center director will plan MUSEP next year.

Hance and Meredith Gornto, music education coordinator, found the brochure from the first season in 1979.

On June 3 of that year, the Greensboro Concert Band performed the series' first concert at Latham Park. Auman chose the park for its expansive size and parking. 

With its wind, brass and percussion, the Greensboro Concert Band "was best-equipped to perform outdoor concerts," Auman said. 

The band would perform at five more MUSEP concerts that summer. It still performs each season.

The Greensboro Civic Orchestra played that first summer, too. Now called the Philharmonia of Greensboro, it still plays MUSEP concerts, as does the Greensboro Big Band.

Chris Williams, executive director of the Greensboro-based Eastern Music Festival, praises its relationship with MUSEP. Its faculty and student orchestras performed that first summer, and a student ensemble still does.

"The concerts that we present together are fantastic door-openers for us," Williams said. 

Organizers over the years diversified local talent and repertoire, and added new locales such as LeBauer Park.

Sweet Dreams brings blues, R&B, jazz and soul. West End Mambo brings Latin. Nu-Blu plays bluegrass.

"Because I am from Greensboro, all my friends and schoolmates look forward to the opportunity to see each other," said James Yourse of Sweet Dreams, which will play Aug. 4 at Gateway Gardens.

Wally West's Little Big Band has performed frequently. It will play at the season's final concert on Aug. 25.

"I can't think of a more wonderful way for Greensboro to celebrate itself," West said.

Diane and Todd Chase try to attend every concert. They bring their three young children and join relatives there.

Their children dance to the music, blow bubbles and play.

"It makes it easy to take them out and show them different musical instruments and types of music," Diane Chase said.

The Chases moved to Greensboro from Washington, D.C., where there are plenty of free events. But they are too crowded, Diane Chase said.

"Here, it's a more relaxed and casual atmosphere that invites you to socialize," she said.

Although the series is free to attend, it's not free to produce.

At first, it relied solely on city funds, Auman said.

In 2002, the series faced possible cutbacks because of city budget woes that started with a state budget crisis.

The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro kept the music playing, giving $11,000 to MUSEP and $4,000 to a four-concert series at Barber Park. In 2003, the two series combined, Hance said.

Donovan began to circulate a bucket at concerts to seek donations. Last year, individual donors gave $10,000, Hance said.

This year, the series runs on a $30,000 budget, which pays expenses that include performers and sound technicians. It comes from the city, sponsors and individual donors.

"Without sponsors and donors," Hance said, "this series would not be possible."

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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