Over a hundred years ago in 1905, the tradition of offering musical entertainment in Ocean City was born at the foot of Moorlyn Terrace. Free band concerts were enjoyed at the Music Pavilion which stood not far from where the present day Music Pier stands. The disastrous boardwalk fire of 1927 destroyed a large section of the boardwalk, but the Music Pavilion was spared and moved to Sixth and the Boardwalk where it served as the Convention Hall, until1965 when another fire consumed it.
In 1928, work began on the Music Pier and the new concert hall rose out of the ashes of the original site.The Pier was completed in 1929 and was dedicated on July 4th with a celebration that included fireworks and a parade. Free concerts by the new Municipal Orchestra, conducted by Orestes Vassella, entertained audiences twice a day, seven days a week. The concerts provided a welcome distraction from our nation’s economic woes.
Since then, the orchestra has operated under a variety of names and conductors until the present day.
In 1930, J.F. Leman and George Frey led the orchestra for only six weeks each. H. Siegal followed with a trio in 1931, and Don Luigino picked up the baton in 1932. From 1933 to 1945, J. Fred Manne conducted the small ensemble and began using vocal soloists. The first two were Tom Perkins and Jeanette Stokes, soloists still remembered by Pops' audiences even today. Photographs reveal that audiences dressed up for concerts. (1937 Orchestra in photo to left.)
The Pier was left unscathed by the hurricane of 1944 and as the song goes, "The Band Played On." Joseph LaMonaca conducted during the summers of 1946-48, and Victor Marandino replaced him for the 1949 season. In 1950, Clarence Fuhrman took over as orchestra conductor and continued until 1975. He wielded the baton longer than any conductor until now and used a variety of vocal soloists including Ocean City local, Nancy Fox. She continued to appear regularly on the pier under the direction of Maestros Frank Ruggieri and William Scheible.
When Fuhrman completed his tenure with the orchestra, John Warrington succeeded him and was the first to use the name The Ocean City Pops. Warrington, a famous big band music arranger, conducted from 1976 to 1978 but fell ill in mid-summer, and Frank Ruggieri completed the season. Several of Warrington’s arrangements are still used in concert programs today.
Frank Ruggieri, the orchestra's bassoonist, librarian, and manager, conducted the Pops from 1978-1986. He spent his winters in New York City, where he performed as bassoonist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein. During his tenure as conductor, Ruggieri brought a new format to concert programming and also encouraged the introduction of young, aspiring performers. Ruggieri retired from the Pops in 1986 and became Conductor Emeritus. In this position, he continued to conduct two concerts each season. Each summer, audiences sense the admiration musicians and patrons had for Maestro Ruggieri when they attend the “Night in Old Vienna” concert dedicated annually to his memory.
William Scheible, the first chair trumpeter, became the Pops' Artistic Director in 1987. He continues to hold this post and has made the ensemble the highly respected orchestra that it is today. Looking back on his 26 years as artistic director, Scheible can be proud of the growth and extension he has brought to the orchestra. Under his direction, the Pops have received numerous grants to foster youth outreach programs and bring professional artists from around the United States to entertain Ocean City audiences. He has also arranged for the orchestra to perform out of state and took the Pops on its first international tour to Bermuda in 1996. Photo to the right: Maestros Ruggieri and Scheible in Baby Parade
Scheible’s dedication to the Pops and Ocean City is evident each concert season as he presents programs with a variety of classical as well as popular music and continues the tradition to feature professional and aspiring vocal and instrumentalists. The Pops’ participation in Ocean City’s First Night celebration always marks the end of a tremendous Pops season and gives the New Year’s Eve audience the promise of the upcoming summer and another season of outstanding entertainment on the Music Pier.