Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 17, 2013

Empire event to celebrate beloved soundman

BY GRETCHEN MURRAY
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The northern Michigan musical community will pay homage to one of its own during the Summer Solstice Celebration of Music and Community on June 23 from noon to 9 p.m. at Johnson Park in Empire.

More than 25 performers are expected to participate in the event hosted by the Empire Area Community Emergency Fund that will honor the memory of the late, longtime sound engineer Jan Waling, who died Nov. 29. The concert is free, but donations will be accepted to benefit the relief fund.

Many considered Waling to be the “sound of music” for the 10-plus years he spent stringing cables and adjusting microphones for many local performers and venues.

Pat Niemisto, a local musician, music teacher and Waling’s friend, said the call for musicians to perform at the concert brought an overwhelming response.

“Everyone knew him and loved working with him. Jan was very reserved, very humble and very smart,” Niemisto said. “And he was unflappable. He never got shook, and that made musicians feel relaxed and comfortable.”

Paul Koss, a part-time musician and soundman from Empire, said Waling’s expertise could help dispel any stage fright.

“He was probably the best and most proficient soundman in the region,” Koss said. “If you walked in and saw he was running the sound system, you would let out an inaudible sigh of relief.”

Koss said Waling’s quiet, reassuring presence and his commitment to the music community had local musicians searching for a fitting tribute.

“We though it appropriate to honor him through music,” Koss said. “This celebration of friendship and community is what Jan would have wanted.”

“The event is meant to be cathartic,” said Gerry Shiffman, president and treasurer of the Empire Area Community Emergency Fund, a nonprofit founded in 2011 to assist members of the community who have fallen on hard times. “The proceeds will benefit a cause that was close to Jan’s heart.”

Shiffman said the Empire Area Community Emergency Fund has sponsored concerts on the last Sunday of each month for over a year.

“Performers donate their time and talent, and local businesses donate advertising and venues so all contributions go toward helping residents get through a personal crisis. So far the concerts have raised about $11,000 toward that effort,” he said.

The Summer Solstice concert, a full day of live entertainment, is expected to be a bigger version of the monthly concerts, and Koss hopes the event will give the public a glimpse of the “man behind the music.”

“A part of being a consummate soundman is to always remain anonymous,” Koss said. “The audience should enjoy the music without ever knowing the sound is being manipulated. Jan was simply the best in the business, and his passing is a loss for the music community that no one else could ever realize.”

The concert will move to the Empire Town Hall in case of rain. For details on the event, call Gerry Shiffman, 231-326-2509 or email: empireareacommunitycenter@gmail.com.