The Community Arts Center in Williamsport will come alive this weekend with the presence and sounds of 120 musicians from 20 states at the 10th annual Liberty Classic Community Band Festival.
The festival is hosted by the Williamsport-based Repasz Band – 20 of whose members will be performing in this special concert event. The Repasz Band was established in 1831 and is one of the oldest community bands in America.
The Liberty Classic band will again be led by the world-renowned guest conductor, Col. Arnald D. Gabriel, USAF Band (Ret.). According to Repasz business manager, Judy Shellenberger, Col. Gabriel is now “94 years young” and “has conducted all of the Liberty Classic festivals."
Gabriel spent 21 years at the highest point of military music – commander/conductor of the United States Air Force Band, Symphony Orchestra and Singing Sergeants of Washington D.C. He began his military service as an infantryman in World War II, serving in the 29th Division of the U.S. Army. Among other honors, he was inducted into the National Band Association Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors – the youngest to ever receive that honor.
He has conducted concerts in all five states and more than 50 countries, and continues to serve as a clinician at university music festivals, as well as a guest conductor at school, college, community and military bands and orchestras around the world.
On Friday night, Col. Gabriel will lead the Liberty Classic band in a rehearsal, which will be followed by a reception. Rehearsals will be held all day Saturday, as well, with a banquet held Saturday night. Sunday morning will be a dress rehearsal, and then a free concert at 1:30 p.m. at the Community Arts Center.
“Every year we hope to fill the auditorium of the Community Arts Center and tell our family and friends to fill their car with attendees and pack the auditorium,” Shellenberger said. “The concert is only one hour of wonderful, entertaining music played by a fantastic band.”
Shellenberger said preparation for the festival starts two years out with scheduling a date. They also work to apply for grants to help with the cost of holding the festival. The repertoire of the concert is chosen by the conductor. Shellenberger said she and Col. Gabriel also select a piece that the band members choose. This year, that choice is Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral by Wagner.
According to Shellenberger, the concert will be “a mixture of great overtures, concert pieces, fun, toe-tapping music, marches and pops music.”
She does not shy away from praising the members of the band. She calls them “highly-skilled musicians.” They are given the music a month before the festival, allowing them time to learn the music on their own and arrive prepared to be fine-tuned by the director.
Jamie Chambers, of Jersey Shore, a flute and piccolo player with the Repasz Band for the last 15 years, has been a part of the Liberty Classic festival every year since it began.
“It has been the most wonderful experience,” she said. “I have met people from all over the country and have had the privilege of playing music with some of the best musicians around. This is always the best part of the fall season.”
She has especially loved playing under the direction of Col. Gabriel. She has been surprised year after year to see him return to lead with energy and passion.
“Here we are 10 years later, and he’s still going strong,” she said. “Just as sharp as ever and never misses a beat!”
“Col. Gabriel is a national treasure,” adds 35-year Repasz Band trombone musician Nancy Eischeid, of South Williamsport. “To experience how he transforms written notes into a transcendental experience is simply breathtaking.”
Shellenberger said the musicians always enjoy coming to the historic and welcoming downtown to perform. More than 25 of them have attended the festival every year for 10 years.
Next year’s festival is scheduled for Oct. 9 to 11.
Williamsport Symphony Orchestra
The Williamsport Symphony Orchestra will present a concert at the CAC on Tuesday – the first of their new season. The music will include works “from Mozart to Wagner and Strauss”.
Ana Gonzalez-White, development director at the CAC, said the orchestra as well as the local Repasz band “are true partners and assets to our community and the Community Arts Center.
“Our collaborations allow us to join forces in promoting and celebrating the arts throughout our community and the Susquehanna Valley,” she added. “We share in our understand of the importance of offering programming that is appropriate to the diverse interests and needs of our regional audience.”
Gonzalez-White said downtown Williamsport has grown over the years, including new restaurants and “the increased interest in live entertainment”.
“We have certainly seen a growth in the musical and performing arts experience in Williamsport over the years,” she said, adding that “the CAC is central to what our community has to offer.”
She said they love to host local talent each season. In addition to the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, the CAC regularly hosts musicians from the Lycoming College music and theater department, Uptown Music Collective, and recitals from local dance studios, as well as the annual Student Summer Stock that showcases area middle and high school students.
Live United in Music
Tonight, the CAC will present the Live United in Music concert, with all proceeds benefiting the Lycoming County United Way and its support of 41 community service programs in Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties.
“Ron Frick, president and CEO of the Lycoming County United Way, had a big dream for this inaugural event,” said Gonzalez-White, adding that the event is special “in that it will do more than entertain. Lives are being transformed.”
The collaboration will include a Pops Orchestra under the direction of Walt Straiton, The Uptown Music Collective, Williamsport Millionaire Strolling Strings, Williamsport Area High School vocal groups GQ and Les Chanteuses, the Music Sax Quartet from Montoursville Area High School, and Lycoming Valley Intermediate School’s Orff Ensemble.
All of that will culminate in an “energetic performance,” Gonzalez-White said, by Michael Cavanaugh, a seasoned performer handpicked by Billy Joel to provide piano and lead vocals in the Broadway musical “Movin’ Out”.
“This is sure to be an event to remember,” Gonzalez-White said.