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Armstrong Concert Band will conjure Christmas spirit at Crooked Creek Park

| Thursday, July 14, 2005

Relief -- imaginary at least -- from the summer heat will arrive Tuesday on the tuneful strains of the Armstrong Concert Band.

The 65-member volunteer assemblage, which comprises youth and adults from throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and beyond, will perform its annual free Christmas in July concert at Crooked Creek Park in Bethel. It is sponsored by Armstrong Tourist Bureau.

The repertoire that will range from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to "A Fireside Christmas," along with nonseasonal material, has been known to help the audience think of cooler times, sconductor Dennis Cramer of East Franklin says.

"I wear my Santa hat, no matter how hot it is," he adds, laughing. "We encourage people to come out with a picnic basket and enjoy the beauty of Crooked Creek Lake. Having the chance to hear the band without road noise takes one back to an earlier time."

The musicians, who sometimes decorate their music stands, and the audience have a lot of fun with this performance each year.

This concert seems to be the highlight of the summer season for the band, Cramer says.

"It is a great venue to play, and we usually get a good crowd. All our concerts tend to be fun. I enjoy entertaining audiences and teaching them about the music we play and how it fits into our culture," he says

Santa generally does not make an appearance. "He is usually on vacation this time of year," Cramer says. "The audience has to imagine my short beard as Santa on a break."

Band member Leslie Wolfe of Springdale sometimes wears her reindeer horns while playing the baritone euphonium.

"I have a warm place in my heart for Christmas music and enjoy playing it as much as listening to it," she says. The Crooked Creek performance is nostalgic for her.

"I'm originally from very near there. I used to ride my bike to the beach there when I was a kid. No matter how busy my schedule, I always make time for this concert," she says.

"It's fun to play Christmas music during the summer," says Jillian Larko of Manor Township, who plays alto saxophone.

The program Cramer has chosen is a broad one, opening with "Manhattan Beach March" and concluding with "Ashokan Farewell."

In between, in addition to the holiday tunes, there will be marches and a Blues Brother revue.

Cramer has taught music in Armstrong School District since 1977. He is band director at Ford City High School and teaches instrumental music in grades 7 through 12. He formerly conducted the Kittanning Firemen's Band, and has appeared as a guest conductor with the American Wind Symphony, the Venango County Band and Indiana University of Pennsylvania Trombone Choir.

He plays trombone with the Butler County Symphony Orchestra, performs with the Armstrong Brass Quintet and works as a freelance trombonist throughout Western Pennsylvania.

Cramer donates his time as the Armstrong Concert Band's music librarian, manager, public-relations person, treasurer and Webmaster. He has been recognized for his volunteer efforts by WQED Multi-Media of Pittsburgh as a "Volunteer in the Arts."

He believes it is important to have organizations like the Armstrong Concert Band, which was founded in 1984.

"Music is an important part of who we are. The arts reflect our society, and I am a firm believer in making the arts accessible to a wide audience," he says.

The age range in the band is 14 to 82. Teachers, lawyers, housewives, plumbers, laborers, students, college professors and other occupations are represented.

New members are always welcome, he says. They must be at least in ninth grade and have a love of playing and performing.

"Music is an activity that can cross generations, and our band is a testimony to that," Cramer says. "Older members participate for the joy in making music and relaxing, while the younger ones add the vitality and quest for more knowledge. It is a wonderful learning experience for all ages."

Larko appreciates the performance opportunity. "It gives everyone in the community the opportunity to continue their music careers if they aren't music majors, and it keeps live band music going," she says. She is grateful for the friendly atmosphere and challenging music.

"People should know how enjoyable it is and how professionally it is run," Wolfe says. "And there are so many musicians in the area that spent years practicing and perfecting their musical craft while in high school and college, then give it up because they have no where to play as adults." This band provides a welcome outlet for that expression, she adds.

It also provided a lot more for Wolfe. She met her husband, trumpeter Manny Wolfe, there . "We're the Armstrong Concert Band love story!" she says.

Future concerts include: 7 p.m. July 23, Ford Cliff borough building; 3 p.m. Nov. 27 holiday concert at Worthington Community Center. Additional Information:

If you go

What: Armstrong Concert Band's Christmas In July concert

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Crooked Creek Lake Park, off Route 66, Bethel. (Concert will be in the Independence pavilion. Turn in at park headquarters and follow the road toward the swimming area. The pavilion is on the left near two large parking areas.)

Cost: Free

Details: 724-548-5225; email: armconband@alltel.net; Web site: www.geocities.com/armconband'.

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