Southmoreland grad playing music at Hersheypark
Rick Firestone realized how much fun he could have in music at a young age.
The 2011 Southmoreland High School graduate has been playing an instrument since the fifth grade and his musical participation continues on a big — and somewhat unique — stage.
Firestone, 21, is a member of the five-piece Hershey-park Band, which can be seen “whipping up a fresh batch of tunes every day!” (As it says on the Hersheypark website).
“We just go out and play music for the park (patrons),” Firestone said recently. “We entertain them with choreography, dancing and general goofiness.”
The Hersheypark Band is in its first year under that name. The band of five features Firestone on the saxophone, as well as two trumpeters, a drummer and a tuba player. The quintet plays six days a week, five times a day (not on Mondays) at the park, alternating weeks with the Slide Brigade, a group of five trombonists.
On weeks the Hersheypark Band is not at the park, the fivesome takes its act to the Hershey Lodge, the Hotel Hershey and the Hersheypark Camping Resort.
“Each day, we play five 30-minute sets,” Firestone said. “We stroll around and we interact with the crowd. If we draw a big enough crowd we play some heavier songs and get into some heavier choreography as well. We have sets that we play. We have various bits, but if someone asks us to play a song and we don't know it, we play the Can-Can.”
For him, it's all about having fun with music, especially the feelings of satisfaction and gratification that come from the interaction with the park-goers, especially the kids.
“They absolutely love it,” Firestone said. “Going up to a kid and asking them how their day is going and high-fiving them, their eyes light up. It means the world to them. It's hard not to smile.”
Michele Zamperini, Southmoreland's choral director, said Firestone just became involved with the chorus toward the end of his high school career, but still had plenty of success.
“He excelled magnificently,” She recalled. “He was a valued member of Highlander Choir (the auditioned/advanced group). He was selected by audition to participate in district, region, as well as the All-State vocal ensembles.
“My most memorable “Rick Moment” that I tease him about to this day is that he was my first Southmoreland student to make states and he declined, because he wanted to make first chair on the saxophone, and you must accept the first ensemble you qualify for at the state level. Needless to say, he did get that first chair, and went on to major in saxophone in college where is excelling beautifully. Rick is one of the hardest working music students that I have had the pleasure of teaching at Southmoreland, truly dedicated to his craft.”
Those interested in joining the Hersheypark band must audition to be selected. This was actually the second time Firestone auditioned. To be selected is quite prestigious.
Dan Fisher, area manager of resident show for Hersheypark, said the park hired slightly more than 100 people for positions as performers and technicians from the thousands that auditioned.
Those who are chosen usually fit a certain criteria.
“You have to have a great personality and you have to be a decent human being,” Fisher said. “If there is a person who is a 10 on the talent scale, but a 7 in great attitude or a 7 with talent and a 10 on the great attitude scale, I'll take the 10 in great attitude every single time. That's what we're trying to accomplish here. We're trying to make this a great experience for our guests.”
Apparently, Firestone fit the bill.
“He plays well,” Fisher said. “First and foremost, to be able to play the gig, you have to be able to do the job.”
Firestone of Scottdale got into music in the fifth grade, getting involved as many do at that young age.
“I did it because a lot of my friends did it,” He recalled. “But I realized how much fun it can really be.”
The saxophone is his instrument of choice because of the versatility of the instrument, whether one is playing rock and roll, jazz or classical to name a few musical genres.
“In my opinion, it resembles the human voice very well,” he said.
But an appreciation for music has always been there for Firestone, who said his grandmother introduced him to the Beatles when he was young and “it kind of snowballed from there.”
Speaking of the “Fab Four,” the group's song “Come Together” is on the Hersheypark Band's playlist, as well as tunes like “Don't Stop Believin'” by Journey and a Beach Boys medley.
Firestone is majoring in music education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania with his eye on teaching in the future. He also hopes to someday get a master's degree in performing.
But for now, he's getting the opportunity to perform and it seems like he's having a blast.
“I get to play my instrument as a job,” Firestone said. “It doesn't ever feel like work. There's the added aspect of entertaining through music, interacting and dancing. It's unlike one I've ever had before. I don't think I'd rather be anywhere else.”
Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.