The confluence of two historical musical icons are about to create a historic event.
The Allentown Band, the oldest civilian concert band in the United States, performs at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, a renovated Victorian concert hall, for a special Winter Festival - Presidents' Weekend & Valentine's Day performance on Sunday afternoon, February 19.
In a performance organized by the Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce, the Allentown Band will perform pieces from romantic classics like the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky, to regional delights like the Penny Whistle Jig from the Molly Maguires by Henry Mancini and the Black Diamond Express by Alexander, to the Lincoln Portrait by Aaron Copland and the Presidential Polonaise by John Philip Sousa.
John Philip Sousa prominently features in the history of the Allentown Band. After organizing as a fife and drum corps around 1822, by 1828 they began performing military band concerts. At least 20 members of the venerable band were recruited to play in Sousa's band in the 1920s.
When these musicians returned to Allentown, they brought back the Sousa stylings, and their leader, Albertus L. Meyers, continued this tradition for his 51 years as conductor. For a period of ninety years, the band was under the leadership of only two conductors- from 1886 to 1926 under Martin Klingler, and from 1926 to 1976) under Albertus L. Meyers. Ronald Sherry filled in as conductor in 1977, and with current conductor, Ronald Demkee, commanding the baton since 1978.
The 65-member band is composed of a cross-section of the area's population: doctors, engineers, teachers, business people, merchants, sales personnel, service professionals, with an age range from high school students to senior citizens with more than sixty years in the band. Many of the Allentown Band's members teach music in schools and in private studios.
"When they meet to perform all effort is concentrated on creating the most enjoyable sounds these exceptional musicians can produce, whether it be an overture transcribed from opera, a modern composition written especially for concert band, or a Sousa march," said Dan Hugos who is coordinating the performance for the Chamber.
Although familiar to Lehigh Valley music lovers through their summer performances at regional concert stages, baseball parks, and outdoor concerts, they routinely play in larger venues from Allentown's Symphony Hall to New York's Carnegie Hall. In addition to providing free concerts for the greater Lehigh Valley's younger school children, their schedule includes a yearly event where talented secondary-school student musicians are invited to participate in joint performances.
In 1991, Charles Kuralt's "CBS Sunday Morning" hosted a segment about the Allentown Band and in 1992 the band was featured on national television's "If You Knew Sousa". The band has made three recent trips to Europe, playing concerts in Switzerland and Austria.
The program for the Winter Festival includes: Presidential Polonaise - Sousa, Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky, Cupid's Bouquet Concert Waltzes by Sanglear, Union March by Scala, Lincoln Portrait - Copland, Tycoon March (for Abe Lincoln) by Coates, George Washington's Bicentennial March - Sousa, Selections from "1776" by Sherman & Sherman, Penny Whistle Jig from "Molly Maguires" by Mancini, Black Diamond Express by Alexander, and Dance of the Tumblers from the "Snow Maiden" by Korsakov.
The Allentown Band with Ronald Demkee, Conductor will perform A Winter Festival - Presidents' Weekend & Valentine's Day on Sunday, February 19 at 5 p.m. at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, PA. Tickets are available online at MauchChunkOperaHouse.com, and at SoundCheck Records in downtown Jim Thorpe, either by visiting or calling them at (570) 325-0249. You may also call the Opera House box office at (570) 325-0249.