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Susquehanna Life

Life and Art - Regional Music is Fabric of Communities

Aug 29, 2015 08:35AM ● By Erica Shames

The Milton Area Community Band, Williamsport Symphony Orchestra and the Repasz Band each is unique in its own right, yet similar in intent: they bring together members of the community; lift the spirits of area residents; and foster a sense of community pride.

Rooted in history

The Milton Area Community Band, formed in 2011, is the youngest of the three. Although the band is new, the town’s reputation for music dates back many years, to 1919, when it earned acclaim as one of the smallest communities in the United States to support a full, symphonic orchestra.

Brett Hosterman, who has a Master’s degree in wind and conducting, was aware of the area’s rich musical history and felt the time was right to resurrect the region’s musical reputation. “I thought there was a need in our area for lifelong opportunities in musicianship,” said Hosterman. The wind band began with 70 volunteers and now boasts upwards of 100, with members playing four times a year at various venues.

“The Milton community is very proud and very supportive. We accept donations at all of our concerts and the amount of money that has been collected is incredible,” he added.

Each year the band performs a Patriotic Concert, Holiday Concert, Pops Concert and a symphonic concert featuring more advanced music written specifically for them.

Hosterman said the future looks bright for the band, due to its large following, and there's always something new and exciting on the horizon. “During the past five years we raised funds to allow us to commission our first piece of music,” he said with a smile.

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One note at a time

Part of the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra’s mission is to serve the community’s cultural needs by bringing quality music to an ever-expanding audience.

The Community Arts Center, at 220 W. Fourth Street where the symphony performs, is a convenient location for area music lovers. “What we like about where we perform is that we are within walking distance to all the restaurants and retail establishments and convenient to public transportation,” said Williamsport Symphony executive director Janet Harris.

As with the other bands, music plays a big part in the region’s history and the orchestra will celebrate its 50th anniversary during its 2016-17 season.

Led by music director Gerardo Edelstein, the orchestra entertains the public not only at the arts center, but also at free summer concerts throughout the region, when funding allows. “We have a senior program and it’s amazing how music brings people alive. If you’re tired, or you’ve had a rough day and you can get your body to the theater, you’ll feel relaxed and energized after the concert is over,” said Harris.

Harris said the community is very supportive of the orchestra. “Half of our support is through fundraising, both individual and corporate and we rely, to a lesser extent, on grants,” she noted.

The symphony wrapped up five concerts during its summer concert series and is planning its annual holiday concert in December and a performance in March, 2016, featuring selections from Disney movie favorites.

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The test of time

When it comes to longevity, the Repasz Band has withstood the test of time. The band’s first appearance on a national occasion came when it traveled by canal boat to Baltimore, accompanying the Pennsylvania delegation to the Presidential Convention in 1844, where Henry Clay was nominated for President of the United States.

Director Albert Nacinovich credits the community for its strong support—and that’s not just lip service. According to Nacinovich, who has directed the band for 30 years, the community demonstrated that love recently when the band was invited to play, as it did 150 years ago, in Virginia, to mark the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee and the end of the Civil War at Appomattox.  

The band reached out to the community for support to enable them to travel to the site on two buses and a truck. “We requested $20,000, and donations, ranging anywhere from $10 to $1,000, came pouring in,” said Nacinovich, adding that the band was extremely humbled and buoyed by the experience. “When they introduced us, they said that we were back again 150 years later to play ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ and for that we got a very enthusiastic reception from several thousand in the audience.”

Publicity chairman Nancy Eischeid said it was a wonderful experience for the 70-plus members of the all-volunteer band. “The event took the [National] Park Service six years to plan,” she explained. “Descendants of soldiers read original letters their relatives had written describing army life. The only people on the main stage were ones who had a direct connection to the event 150 years ago. It was very powerful.”

While many band members have as many as 50 years of experience playing with Repasz Band, one of the band’s newest members is Carl Jenkins, a Watsontown dentist who plays the trumpet.  He said it was a true honor to be part of the group traveling to Appomattox.

“In all my years of playing in bands in high school and college, I have played ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ hundreds of times,” Jenkins noted. “For me, this was the most special. The weather was cool and rainy, but appropriately so: we later learned the weather was very similar to that experienced by the soldiers 150 years ago.”

The band performs for patriotic and civic celebrations, the Little League World Series, concerts for hospitals and nursing homes in the area, and annual holiday and spring concerts.

The Repasz Band’s concept of musical service to the community is maintained through its long-standing tradition of never charging an admission fee for its concerts. The band is supported solely by concert honoraria, donations and the volunteer efforts of its members and directors.

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Stephanie Kalina-Metzger is a freelance writer based in Camp Hill. Her work appears in numerous publications around the state.

Written by Stephanie Kalina-Metzger

300 Miles from Everywhere

The goal to create a professional group of 40 musicians who tour without spending large blocks of time away from home is the idea behind the Northern Appalachian Wind Symphony, the brainchild of Lance Ohnmeiss, a Williamsport-based professional French horn player and conductor pursuing his Master’s degree in instrumental conducting at Messiah College.

An alumnus of San Francisco State University, Ohnmeiss holds a bachelor of music degree with an emphasis in music education. The former music teacher is in the infancy stages of starting a professional wind symphony in the Williamsport area. “We might be able to make this thing go,” he says wistfully. “What I’m proposing is a group that takes the music to the people, rather than always require people to come hear the music.”

One of the challenges is attracting high-caliber musicians; another is funding the group. Unlike Sousa, who traveled the country on a train, Ohnmeiss observes, orchestras don’t tour any more.

“Rather, he notes, “they stay in one area, and play five concerts in a season.  I envision doing a concert for our home base one week, then a concert in a nearby city the next week, and repeat that idea for six months out of the year.”

The great thing about Williamsport, says Ohnmeiss, is that it is 300 miles from everywhere. “We can go into Ohio, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, DC, northern Virginia, NYC, Rochester, Erie, Elmira—all the large metropolitan areas on the Eastern Seaboard. And we can have a family and a day job, rehearse in the evening, get on a bus Saturday morning, perform and be back Saturday night or Sunday morning.”

Ohnmeiss, who plays French horn with the Great Lakes Wind Symphony (Rochester), Penn Central Wind Band (Lewisburg), Milton Community Band and Repasz Band, and conducts the Williamsport Scottish Rite Imperial Teteques Band, envisions the group will perform a variety of musical styles, from Sousa-type turn of the century scores through avant-garde literature of today. One idea is to do an all-Latin music concert “because you don’t hear Latin music on the East Coast,” he laments.

Ultimately, the idea is to take the music to a population that appreciates it, instead of exhausting the support of a home audience.

 “We’ll start with colleges and schools so we can generate an audience,” he envisions. “As time goes on, I hope to increase the radius of where we perform. I want to undertake world-class music, tour, and not be on the road every day of the week.” – Erica L. Shames

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