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Concert series takes patrons around musical world

| Sunday, Sept. 30, 2007

The Allegheny Valley Concert Association embarks on its second 50 years offering a musical tour of the world.

The 2006-07 subscription season, the 51st of the local cultural institution, takes audiences first to the South Pacific for "Polynesian Island Magic" Oct. 14 for a celebration of the songs and dances of the islands in the Polynesian chain.

Then, it's on to Ireland Dec. 2 for the "Cahal Dunne Irish Christmas" show, spotlighting the popular Irish entertainer (who now lives in America) in a repertoire of holiday and all-season material.

A nephew of Jack Lynch, the former prime minister of Ireland, Dunne won Ireland's National Song Contest with his composition "Happy Man," which became a No. 1 hit in Europe and Ireland. Dunne has performed on PBS, and he once sang for Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter.

The Heinz Chapel Choir, sought for a booking by the concert association for several years, will perform March 30. The program includes a variety of American, British, West African, Russian, Elizabethan England, Brazilian, Gospel and spiritual songs.

The season concludes in energetic fashion April 20 with 16-time Grammy recipient Jimmy Sturr, one of polka's most popular artists, and his orchestra. Crossing genres to embrace pop, rock and country, Sturr has recorded with Willie Nelson, Bobby Vinton and Delbert McClinton.

All concerts begin at 3 p.m. in Valley High School auditorium, New Kensington.

Because of the economics of putting together a season, tickets cannot be purchased for individual performances, but must be secured as a four-concert package. Association officers continue to emphasize that a ticket for four shows can be purchased for less than the price of one performance at many Pittsburgh concert halls, and parking is free.

Adults can attend four concerts for a total of $35; students for $20.

The programs are one of the Alle-Kiski's "real gems," says Bob Sauro of New Kensington, chairman of the association's concert-selection committee. "People love the concerts, and they don't have to go far," he adds. "It helps keep live performances alive in our area."

He sees the new season as "extremely strong." "There's at least one concert everyone would want to see. There is a little bit of something for everyone," he says.

'Polynesian Island Magic'

Tuika Faumuina, owner, director and performer in "Polynesian Island Magic," who was born in American Samoa and now lives in Monroeville, promises to leave audiences with something to remember Oct. 14.

"Our show is very authentic. People who come back from Hawaii and have seen a show tell us ours is better," he says. "They say the islands are magical, which is where we get the name for our show."

Faumuina plays guitar, bass and island drums. It is a colorful show, he says, with numerous changes of hand-made costumes from the islands. "We try to keep it authentic and fun. It's educational, and it is entertainment," he says.

He believes that people are fascinated with the "relaxed, loving atmosphere" of the island culture. "It is very meaningful. And the people, like myself, we enjoy life and singing and dancing about everyday life," he says.

It's more than just a job to him, he says. "I want people to leave being relaxed and having experienced the attitude, the island feeling: the 'Nothing should bother you,' 'Everything is OK' , the 'hang loose part.' "

'Cahal Dunne Irish Christmas'

The Irish "attitude" also remains an ongoing source of interest for people, says Cahal Dunne. "There seems to be a little bit of Irish in everybody. We are known as easygoing with a philosophy that 'Any day above ground is a good one,' " he says, laughing. "The Irish assimilated very well in this country and worked very hard, and I think we are liked."

Dunne, who now lives in Hampton, earned recognition in Pittsburgh for his many years performing at the former Blarney Stone in Etna. "I have fantastic memories performing there. The owner told me I'd like Pittsburgh. Over the years, I've made a lot of friends here. I hope a lot of people I know will be at the New Kensington show." He will have Irish stepdancers with him.

He plans a varied repertoire, blending humor, American and Irish holiday numbers and a broad range of nonseasonal material, including his signature "Danny Boy." The song is more than just about him being Irish, he says. "It resonates for lots of veterans and veterans' wives in the audience," Dunne says.

"Whatever I sing, I enjoy. I don't do it just to do it. The words are very important to me. I enjoy a good love story, a good ballad. I think that gets across," he says.

Heinz Chapel Choir

Director John Goldsmith of the Heinz Chapel Choir loves seeing the reaction of people experiencing his a cappella group of 55 students from the University of Pittsburgh for the first time.

"It is always gratifying to watch the audience's faces when they first hear us, especially in our own concert venue, Heinz Chapel, with its perfect acoustics for a cappella music," he says.

The choir performs many styles in many languages, even though only six members actually can read music. Goldsmith says the ability to begin and end each piece in the same key is gratifying for these students, who do not have an accompanying instrument like the piano to keep them in tune and in the correct tonality. "A cappella music requires intense concentration and strong tonal memory," Goldsmith says.

The choir tours internationally every three years, and is scheduled to tour China in 2009.

The choir has recorded five CDs (information is available at: www.pitt.edu/_heinzcc)

"The audience in New Kensington can expect beautiful tuning, balance and blend, and a wide variety of repertoire, including folk songs, love songs, jazz, spirituals, sacred music and music from around the world," Goldsmith says.

Jimmy Sturr and his orchestra

Jimmy Sturr and "polka" might be synonymous, but the University of Scranton graduate is more than just a Johnny one-note.

The musician is known worldwide as the king of polka.

He has played some of the world's most prestigious halls, including the revered Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center and even The Palace of Culture in Warsaw. He entertained 15,000 people in a soccer stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Willie Nelson invited Sturr to join him at Farm Aid. And Sturr and his group have been presented in a segment on "Saturday Night Live." Not bad for a polka band! Sturr and his musicians, though, are considerably more than that.

"People hearing our band in person for the first time will be very pleasantly surprised. It's not what they ordinarily think about a polka band. There are many great polka bands out there," he says. "Our style is a lot livelier and a little bigger sound. We're not your typical polka band. We Americanized it a lot. We (also) play pop music and big band music. We pretty much read the crowd."

Sturr's press biography suggests that he and his orchestra are to polka fans today what Benny Goodman was to the swing crowd in 1937, or what Dizzy Gillespie stood for with the beboppers 10 years later.

"I've been fortunate enough to make a living at something I love, and very few people have that opportunity," Sturr says. "It's an exciting feeling just to know people enjoy your music." Additional Information:

Allegheny Valley Concert Association season

When: Oct. 14, Dec. 2, March 30 and April 20

Where: Valley High School, New Kensington

Admission: For the entire season: $35; $20 for students. (special packages: patrons, $45; boosters, $45; sponsors, $100; donors, $110)

Details: 724-339-3825

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