Big, brassy music

April 17, 2003|by Chris Copley

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Take a good measure of John Phillips Sousa, add a pinch of Rossini and Bach, sprinkle with Rogers and Hammerstein and pour in some Doc Watson and Duke Ellington.

What have you got? The River City Brass Band, a 28-member ensemble that will bring its brassy sound to Chambersburg for a concert on Thursday, April 24.

The concert benefits Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter. Jennifer Vanderau, community outreach coordinator said about half of the available tickets for the River City Brass Band concert are already sold. Proceeds from the concert will go to the animal shelter's operating fund, Vanderau said.


"I am told there are about 1,400 seats in the Chambersburg high school auditorium," she said. "At last count, we had sold 777 tickets. I'd love to see a sellout."

The Gilmore-Hoerner Endowment made the concert possible, Vanderau says. The Endowment provides funds to one Chambersburg organization each year; the money is designated to enhance cultural opportunities in the community.

"We were thrilled to death it was our turn this year," she says. "We were something like 13 years on the waiting list."

The River City Brass Band is based in Pittsburgh, but they tour extensively. John DeFazio is associate executive director of the band. He also plays cornet.

"The band is fun. We put on an entertaining show," he said. "Anywhere we play, people have a lot of fun listening to us."

Yes, there are laughs. Yes, there is some clowning around. But the keystone of the band's entertainment, DeFazio said, is its musical excellence.

"The people in the band are absolutely first-rate," he said. "And we do all varieties of music. Well, we don't do punk. Or rap. But we do big band, bluegrass, classical, opera overtures, marching band. Each of our concerts, we perform a variety of music."

DeFazio said the band's founder, Robert Bernat, pulled together the River City Brass Band to fulfill a mission: to bring music to the people of Western Pennsylvania. To that end, the band performs more than 100 concerts each year.

"We have eight subscription series," DeFazio said. "We play seven different concerts in (each of) eight different locations. Plus a few others, like this one in Chambersburg."

In addition to playing in Western Pennsylvania, the northern West Virginia Panhandle and eastern Ohio, the band makes at least one larger tour each year. They have toured across the United States, from New York to California, and even overseas. The band was one of five cultural representatives - including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Twyla Tharp Dance Ensemble - sent to Australia in 1988 to commemorate that nation's bicentennial.

A brass band features only brass instruments - trumpets, cornets, trombones, tubas and a sprinkling of other horns - but the sound they can produce ranges across a wide spectrum.

"People won't hear any strings or woodwinds," he said. "They're going to hear sound that sounds like a symphony orchestra or a church choir or a pipe organ. But it's all brass. The makeup of a brass band can produce a huge variety of sounds."

Whether performing opera transcriptions, classical music, bluegrass breakdowns or big band swing, River City Brass Band members take their music seriously. They take their fun seriously, too, DeFazio said.

"I've been with the band since it first came into existence, since 1981," he said. "Everywhere we go, people tell me, 'You people seem to have a lot of fun up on stage.' And we do."

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