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Banjoist Cynthia Sayer anxious to kickoff Allegheny Valley Concert Association season

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 7:06 p.m.
Gary Spector
Acclaimed banjoist Cynthia Sayer will perform Oct. 13 at the Allegheny Valley Concert Association's season opener at Valley High School, New Kensington.
Cahal Dunne
Tribune-Review file
James Gourlay director of River City Brass, conducts the band.
Duquesne University
Duquesne University Tamburitzans performed March 23, 2014, as part of the Allegheny Vallery Concert Association series.
Gary Spector
Acclaimed banjoist Cynthia Sayer will perform Oct. 13 at the Allegheny Valley Concert Association's season opener at Valley High School, New Kensington.

Cynthia Sayer believes she has the perfect job.

The reason, explains the acclaimed banjoist whose creativity is heard on film soundtracks and in prestigious venues ranging from the White House to Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, is this: “I get to play music that makes others feel good.”

The New York City resident returns to New Kensington on Oct. 13 to do just that as the opening act in the 57th season of the Allegheny Valley Concert Association with a 3 p.m. performance at Valley High School.

This time she will be accompanied by her Sparks Fly band, an impressive quartet that includes drummer-percussionist Larry Eagle, a founding member of Bruce Springsteen's Sessions band, which won a Grammy for traditional folk music; and bassist Mike Weatherly, who has performed for President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela and with legend Pete Seeger.

Sayer is a founding member of Woody Allen's New Orleans Jazz Band. She recorded several ukulele tunes for Allen's next film, which will be out in 2014.

She has played with Wynton Marsalis, the late Marvin Hamlisch, Bucky Pizzarelli and John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, among others.

Sparks Fly is the core group on her new CD “Joyride,” a title, Sayer says, that expresses what her music is all about: “The indescribable connection you feel when everything clicks.”

The artist says she again will try to deliver, “a fun, joyful experience.”

“My music is high-spirited and accessible, and it inspires lots of toe-tapping and often some singing along as well,” she says. “People will experience soulful, entertaining and family-friendly music, which demonstrates the surprising range and versatility of the banjo, America's native instrument.”

Her swing-based program includes American Songbook standards, hot jazz, Western Swing, blues, tango, classical, vaudeville and more, with stops to visit Hank Williams, Irving Berlin and Brahms.

“It makes total sense that the banjo is popular again. Nothing sounds like it, nothing swings like it,” Sayer insists.

She recalls a “terrific, responsive” audience responding to it when she last and first visited the Allegheny Valley Concert Association seven years ago.

“I'm truly glad that the Concert Association decided to have us back. The organization is both special and important, because they are one of the oldest concert associations in the country, and their support of live music is more important today than ever,” she says.

They have managed to continue to offer quality shows for modest subscription costs even though so many others have closed their doors over the years, Sayer says.

“As a performer, I deeply appreciate this dedication to the performing arts and look forward to making good music for them again,” she says.

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or

Season line-up

A lineup of favorites awaits those subscribing to Allegheny Valley Concert Association's 2013-14 season.

“We selected performers who have been well-received. Many people requested we bring certain acts back,” says Bob Sauro, chairman of the association's concert-selection committee.

Banjoist Cynthia Sayer brings talent and showmanship to the season debut Oct. 13, he says. “She wowed the audience in her 2006 debut,” he recalls.

Irish tenor Cahal Dunne sings Nov. 17. “Cahal was here a few times before and did wonderful St. Patrick Day performances,” Sauro says.

The Duquesne University Tamburitzans, returning March 23, is always a favorite. “They have been here many times and the audiences go wild for them,” he says.

River City Brass, absent from the Concert Association stage for many years, closes the season May 4. “I went to a concert last winter, and I was blown away,” Sauro says. “Under the direction of Scotsman James Gourley, the RCBB never sounded more powerful. It will be a great performance.”

All concerts begin at 3 p.m. Sundays at Valley High School auditorium. Tickets are not sold for individual shows, but the entire season.

“We continue to try to keep our prices as low as we can. Usually, the cost of one performance anywhere else is the same as four concerts with our association. Even if someone attends only one (just over $10 for adults, $5 for students) of the four concerts, it is still a bargain,” Sauro says.

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