DUNEDIN — When he was 12 years old, little Lou was an accordion player in the St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral dance band in Cleveland.
"Ah the accordion — every mother's dream, every son's nightmare," recalled Dr. Louis Alan Zagar, now 64. "Actually I enjoyed playing it and still have the instrument in our closet, where it shall remain."
His love for playing the accordion may have been short-lived, but his passion for music was not. He would become an instrumental music educator and a professional clarinetist and conductor.
Now the music man will sing his swan song. This Sunday he'll conduct his final show after six seasons as music director and conductor with the Dunedin Concert Band.
The Stars and Stripes Forever musical montage salutes the nation and those who have served. Concerts are tonight at 8 and Sunday at 3 p.m. in Edinburgh Hall at the Dunedin Community Center.
Zagar, who wrote the narration for this concert, included the touching story of his Russian grandparents' voyage to America and how they based their journey on the promise of a new life and freedom.
The concert opens with toe-tapping, thigh-slapping patriotic favorites such as When Johnny Comes Marching Home.
Richard Rodger's epic Victory at Sea will be performed with a video presentation showcasing important sea battles in World War II.
And what self-respecting patriotic gig would go on without The Armed Forces Salute and Lee Greenwood's God Bless the U.S.A.?
Vocal soloists Scott Tilson and Pamela Hood-Kooyenga will also perform.
When Zagar stepped up to take over in 2008, the band (formed in 1981) had only 27 members and was within a few days of being disbanded.
He brought gusto, talent and aplomb to the conductor's podium, growing the band from 27 to 84 musicians. Audiences have ballooned from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand for the weekend presentations.
"He makes rehearsals fun and we've learned a lot from him," said flutist Debbie Langrock. "He gives us the background on each composer and each performance tells a story."
The band performs six pops-style concerts a year: two at Christmas, two in early spring and two in May. Get there early as the seats fill up fast and audiences usually spill out into in the hallway.
The concerts are free, with donations accepted. Zagar, who has served with no pay, leaves the band in good shape, with a rich library of materials and enough money to pay a new conductor.
As to who will pick up the baton, well, that has yet to be decided.
Zagar turns 65 in August and wants to have more time for travel with his wife, he said.
"I'm going to miss it," he said of the band. "I have such great affection for members of the band and the audience members. But there comes a time when you just say, 'I'm done.'"