Westmoreland bands join forces to honor veterans in Washington, D.C.
Several community bands in Westmoreland County combined their talents for special performances last year at Seton Hill University and three years ago at Greensburg’s Palace Theatre.
This weekend, members of the bands will perform as a blended group three more times, with the added purpose of honoring Americans who have served their country in the armed forces.
The combined concert band of 41 musicians is heading to Washington, D.C., to perform at two veterans’ memorials and a veterans’ retirement home in recognition of this month’s 75th anniversary of the landing of Allied forces in Normandy.
Debbie Wolski of Wilmerding, who plays clarinet, said the weekend concerts bring back memories of playing in a military band when she served in the Army from 1986 to 1990.
“It’s just been a joy to be a part of that again,” she said. “I know how much the soldiers appreciate it.”
Charles Rowe of Monroeville, also part of the clarinet section, served in the Army medical corps in Vietnam, from 1965 to 1968. He can empathize with what World War II soldiers went through during the D-Day landing. Playing in the D.C. concert, he said, is “a chance to give back a little bit to these guys who are still around.”
The band is slated to perform up to 16 selections, many of them patriotic and inspirational, Saturday afternoon at the African American Civil War Memorial and Sunday at the National World War II Memorial, followed by a concert for residents at the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
“We are so fortunate to be able to honor those who have given so much for our country,” said Patti Marco, who has directed the Kiski Valley Community Band since its inception in 1993 and will perform the same function for the combined unit. “It’s going to be a great time and a wonderful experience for all of us.”
Also included will be members of the Jeannette and Penn-Trafford community bands and the Delmont and Scottdale concert bands who were able to make the trip. All are paying their share for the bus, lodging and other arrangements made through Scholastica Travel in Greensburg.
“We have some very good musicians going along,” Marco said. “All the (instrumental) parts are covered very well.”
The last of three rehearsals for the D.C. concerts took place Thursday evening at The Lamplighter restaurant in Delmont, which donated use of its ballroom.
For the previous joint concerts, each band performed most of its numbers separately, combining for a final number.
For the D.C. tour, all the band members will be playing together throughout the program.
“The best thing is how it’s coming together,” Marco said. “You have people who have never met for the most part who can sit down and interpret the music together. It’s an incredible feeling.”
“You just give the downbeat and everybody is raring to go with it,” she said of the familiar “The Stars and Stripes Forever” march that will be repeated from past joint band performances. She noted fewer of the members may have played an arrangement of “Let There Be Peace on Earth” that will be included in this weekend’s concerts.
The concerts will feature some fun numbers. Reflecting the World War II era, Marco said, “We’ll do three Big Band numbers, because that was the music of the time.” With a tip of the hat to their Southwestern Pennsylvania homes, the band members also will play “The Pennsylvania Polka” and numbers by Henry Mancini, who grew up in the area.
There also will be time for seeing some of the sights in the nation’s capital.
Ron Skena, who plays clarinet with the Penn-Trafford band, has been a key organizer for the combined band trip, which has been on the drawing board since March 2018.
The most challenging thing, he said, was “corralling everybody in one spot at the same time and getting everybody to share their thoughts and ideas.
“We have about 250 (collective) band members in Westmoreland County. The county is really rich in the arts and music. All these community bands, when we get together, there is just so much talent. We’re really fortunate.”
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .