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A different kind of concert


Dear Friends,

Good morning. The Quakertown Band’s 142nd annual concert is now history. “Portraits of America” played to a full house 10 days ago and everyone was surprised.

It wasn’t because 53 musicians were on the stage (ranging in service to the band for one year: Danielle Russer, Elijah and Matthew Gruver … to William Brosius, 44 years; Lynn Hasson, 47 years; Randy Edelman 51 years; and Maynard Cressman, 62 years).

And the surprise wasn’t about the quality of the musicianship … as patrons have come to expect, the band was thoroughly prepared and performed exquisitely. No, the surprise came from the program. Usually, Quakertown Band concerts include marches, overtures, and arrangements from famous musicals.

But this concert was very different because it held one common theme. “Portraits of America” featured a mix of patriotic fanfares, contemporary jazz compositions, and powerful sacred music which were exciting ... at times somber and contemplative ... but were above all, a hopeful celebration of the American spirit.

In one of the selections, “Blue and Green Music,” the stunning artwork of Georgia O’Keefe is central to the music. And to emphasize O’Keefe’s belief that there is music in painting, two Quakertown High School artists with their easels occupied the stage.

Josie Rowley, a senior (and saxophone player) and Riya Sembhi, a sophomore (and saxophone and bass violin player) actually painted during the band’s performance. The two artists continued to paint in the lobby during the rest of the two-hour performance. Though unexpected, their participation provided a nice touch.

So did the six players who left their instruments but not their voices as the second half of the concert began. “An American Elegy” was composed in memory of those who lost their lives at Columbine High School, 20 years ago. The six instrumentalists became a small chorus and sang the Columbine High School alma mater. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The band played two Aaron Copland pieces. The first, “Fanfare for the Common Man” was first performed in 1942 when America was at war. The title was drawn from a speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president, Henry Wallace, the father-in-law of Gordy Wallace, late of Buckingham and Solebury townships, and grandfather of Bruce Wallace, recent condidate for Congress.

The second, “Lincoln Portrait,” (also composed in 1942) was inspired by several Lincoln speeches: two in December 1862, when the Civil War was going badly for the North; one in 1858 prior to the war, when Lincoln stated, “I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.”

And the final theme came from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Conductor Joseph Santanello chose a piece written by Quakertown composer Ken Moyer (grandson of former band director, Ralph Moyer Sr.). Ken Moyer’s arrangement of Harold Arlen’s “Favorites” included songs made famous by singer Judy Garland, “Over the Rainbow” and “Get Happy.” They were sung by baritone vocalist, Keith Spencer. Spencer also narrated the Aaron Copland “Lincoln Portrait.”

As the Quakertown Band played “The Blue and the Gray Civil War Suite,” I thought about my dear friend, the late Francis Ballard who rowed with me for 40 years. We often sang “Aura Lea” as our sculling double rested underneath the Columbia Railroad Bridge on the Schuylkill River. As the band played “Aura Lea,” I recalled the words soldiers from both the North and South sang around separate campfires during that terrible Civil War.

“Aura Lea, Aura Lea, Maid with golden hair; Sunshine came along with thee, and swallows in the air.”

Sincerely, Charles Meredith

P.S. Founded as the Germania Band in 1877, the organization changed its name to the Quakertown Band during the First World War with Germany. Anything with a German connection was deemed unpatriotic. Originally the band was all male but has been coed for decades. The band plays a summer scheduled with many appearances in Middle and Upper Bucks from June through October.

I’ll pass the schedule along when it’s announced. The Quakertown Band’s reputation ranks equally with the Allentown Band (1828) and the Ringged Band 1858 (Reading).

By the way, Grumbles met last week. As most of you know, Grumbles is a structureless organization of people like me who like to complain about everything.

We discussed a meeting I attended at Franklin and Marshall College with Terry Madonna (F&M’s political affairs professor and pollster). Our granddaughter’s boyfriend is a senior at F&M and he organized a panel about civil discourse. About 100 students, faculty and friends attended.

Besides Madonna (the moderator), Nancy Mills the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party and Val DiGiorgio, chairman of the state Republican Party shared the stage. More on this next week.