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Three Rivers festival showcases bands' commissioned works

| Thursday, May 3, 2007

Two area community bands got special results when they commissioned works for themselves.

Community Band South ended up with a work that virtually expresses its motto, "Music Is for Life," while the Somerset County Community Band got a composition tied to one of the area's most-notable moments, the crash of United Airlines Flight 93.

The bands will perform those works at the fourth annual Three Rivers Community Band Festival on Sunday. The festival features five regional bands in an effort to display the quality and variety done by these nonprofessional organizations, says Roger Schneider, one of the co-founders of the East Winds Symphonic Band.

Dean Streator, the Bethel Park resident who co-leads Community Band South, is excited about the commissioned work.

"It was really a neat experience," he says. Streator, fellow leader Jim Bennett, of Upper St. Clair, and members of the band all chipped in to commission English band-music ace Philip Sparke for "Music for Life."

Dan Croft, director of the Somerset band, is as enthusiastic about "Flight of Valor," which band members commissioned as a surprise for Croft. That work was done by James Swearingen, a nationally known composer-educator who teaches at Capitol University in Columbus, Ohio.

It is an orchestral look at the crash of the airliner seized back by passengers during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Those two works will be the featured presentations by their bands, but each ensemble will be presenting compositions their directors hope symbolize the bands and what they do.

Sometimes, deciding on a work that does that is easy.

Carl Iezzi, director of the North Suburban Symphonic Band, has no trouble pointing to Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Toccata Marziale" as the pieces for which his band would like to be remembered.

"It is a very significant piece of band music," he says. "But it's not frequently performed and, maybe most important, it sounds good."

Tony Di Ianni, director of the West Hills Symphonic Band, gives a close summation to the "American Civil War Fantasy," which will end his program, he says.

"For one, everybody knows the songs," he says. "And it has a big ending. It's the kind of thing you can end a concert with."

For Susan Sands, director the East Hills band, the choice isn't easy. Her band's section will include a band transcription of "Mars" from Gustav Holst's "Planets" and a jazz-like "Sevens," by Pittsburgh's Samuel Hazo.

"We're just trying to present a snapshot of who we are," she says. "That becomes really difficult because we have some players who are good jazz players and others who are more classically oriented."

So the two commissioned works more easily emerge in major roles for their bands.

Croft talks about "Flight of Valor" in terms of its beauty and the way "it really tells the story" in its 7 1/2 minutes.

Streator says the Sparke work takes on a role of symbolism.

"The commission really epitomizes what we're doing," Streator says, talking about the hiring of the composer, as well as the work itself. Additional Information:

Three Rivers Community Band Festival

When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Admission: Free

Where: Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Upper St. Clair

Details: 724-327-4874

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