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Highlands alum gives back with musical benefit

| Thursday, April 26, 2012, 12:50 p.m.

This is an emotional time for Lou Pisani.

The former Highlands band director not only is returning to the place he taught for almost four decades, but he also will play trumpet with his son, Louis Jr., for the first time.

"I've never played horns together with him onstage," says Pisani, who worked 37 years at Highlands School District before retiring in 2001. "This is once in a lifetime for me. I'm proud and intimidated, but that's the way it's supposed to be."

Pisani will join past and current members of Highlands' music department for the Highlands Gives Back benefit concert at 7 p.m. Friday at the middle school auditorium.

Instead of admission, donations of cash, nonperishable food items, or new children's socks and underwear will be collected.

All donations will benefit three local charities: the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches Food Bank, Highlands Area Meals on Wheels and the Alle-Kiski Hope Center.

Pisani's longtime band, the Al Louis Orchestra, also will play a set.

"That school has a lot of history for me. I still look at it as Har-Brack," Pisani says. "I really didn't want to go because I know how well these guys play. My son has played with Tommy Dorsey, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis; I've met a lot of big names thanks to him. He said, 'Look, Dad you have to go.' I said, 'I'll do it, Louie, but you're costing me a lot of embarrassment.' Most of these guys I had in school and I don't have the chops they have now."

This is the third year for the concert, spearheaded by middle-school band director Lee Lynn and high-school director Matt Beresik. Both will play in the "Alumni Big Band," joining Pisani Jr. and other Highlands graduates such as Andy Sirota, Fran Balog, Dan Wagner, Tom Ockree, Bob Riddle, Paul Walker, Bill Tillman, Jonathan Love, Vic Garzotto, Erich Lascek and current choral teacher Renee Shreffler.

"The talent we have from this one school is almost freakish, I have no other way to describe it," says Lynn, who began the concert three years ago under the urging of former custodian Frank Lynn (no relation). "So many of these guys that are playing had gigs already and some are giving up pretty good money to be here. They know what it means for the community and the fact that all these school districts are cutting back on music and the arts, and, if you do that, you're basically putting out robots."

That's where the "gives back" part comes in for Lynn, a 1987 Highlands graduate who plays saxophone.

"I was really poor growing up, and it was the band that kept me off the street and the Highlands Band Boosters that made it possible for me to go on trips," Lynn says. "The administration has been incredibly supportive. When the (alumni) come back and the kids hear them, that lines up connections and the kids never stop talking about it. For people to see what Highlands had in its heyday, jaws will drop on the first note."

And that thought is not lost on Lou Pisani.

"Music is a stress reliever. You don't remember your mortgage payment, nothing, and that's the thrill of it," Pisani says. "These guys are there on their own time, they're not making anything. The pay is in your heart."

There also will be a 50/50 raffle at intermission. The winner will be drawn at the reception after the performance and the winner does not need to be present. There will be a gift-basket raffle to raise funds for other local charitable causes. Anyone wishing to donate a basket for the raffle should call 724-226-0600, ext. 176.

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