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Good Cause: Allentown Symphony drives benefit at NB Automotive Center

Music was the driving force behind a cool and unique event that featured classic cars, concerts and more to benefit the Allentown Symphony Association (ASA).

“Classic Cars and Concerts: A Drive-In Theater Event to Kick Off the 2021 Symphony Ball” drove into the spotlight the evening of Oct. 1 at The NB Center for American Automotive Heritage, Allentown.

The Allentown Symphony Association presented the evening, a one-of-a-kind drive-in theater experience where those attending admired classic cars on display while noshing on classic hors d’oeuvre and sipping mocktails and viewed videotaped performances by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra on the big screen.

Event sponsor Bennett Automotive had a few new Maseratis on display as well. The 1930 Graham that was originally owned by Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary was one of the cars displayed. The car graced the cover of “Album 1700,” the trio’s seventh studio album released in 1967. The album cover was placed on the backseat.

More than 150 guests, some solo, others in groups, in 80 vehicles attended.

This year marks the symphony’s 70th season, and though ASA officials could never have imagined celebrating that milestone in the middle of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the evening proved to be an engaging, wonderful event with CDC, state and local COVID-19 protocol in place, including wearing face masks and social distancing.

Projected on the drive-in movie screen were videotapes of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra in concert, talks with musicians, and comments by Diane Wittry, ASO Music Director and Conductor.

Those attending had the chance to win a ring valued at $1,300 donated by Northampton Jewelry.

Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown, is the home of the ASO.

“Traditionally, the Allentown Symphony Orchestra performs over a dozen concerts per season at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown, bringing thousands of patrons from the local community,” said Lucy Bloise, ASA Vice President Partnerships and Special Events.

“Due to the impact of COVID-19, seating has been restricted at Miller Symphony Hall during the 2020-21 Season. This impact has caused cancellations and postponements of many scheduled concerts. It is expected that the 2020-21 season will only see a very small percentage of the normal patron audience,” said Bloise.

Bloise said the “Classic Cars and Concerts” event originated with the Symphony Ball Committee. “It is a unique fundraising event initiated because of the pandemic. The purpose is to foster engagement and connectivity with our audiences in a safe environment and provide support for the continuing efforts of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra’s education and community engagement programs.”

Said Wittry, “We’re fortunate that Service Electric has filmed our concerts for the past three years, so we already had footage of concerts. I give huge credit to the committee for coming up with this whole new event.” She also voiced thanks for The NB Center and “its incredible sound system.”

Those attending could tune into to the event’s audio on their vehicle radios.

Wittry chose selections from George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” and “Porgy and Bess” because she wanted to feature the Allentown Symphony Chorus.

Wittry discussed the importance of the ASA’s educational and outreach programs, including El Sistema Lehigh Valley, which provides under-served and special needs youth a free opportunity to develop life skills by participating in daily music instruction, large ensemble experience and performances, and academic tutoring in a safe and nurturing environment.

Said ASA Executive Director Al Jacobsen, “As executive director of the Allentown Symphony Association, I’m so proud of the effort of so many volunteers and staff who made this happen. It took a small army of people to put this together for the benefit of the association.”

Jacobsen gave kudos to The NB Center, which he said has been a “great friend of the Allentown Symphony.” He also thanked Service Electric for filming the concerts; Allentown Symphony staffer Kevin Kiernan, who put the video together, and “our fabulous orchestra and chorus.”

“My message is one of thanks. I hope everyone enjoys the event,” Jacobsen said. “It’s the first public event we’ve had since early March, and it’s wonderful to fund-raise and bring people together in a safe way.”

Katie Dyer has been a member of the Allentown Symphony Chorus for about a decade and has loved every minute of it. As she strolled through the classic car display, Dyer voiced her admiration for Wittry and Eduardo Azzati, chorus master, who prepares the chorus.

Dyer said she worked in conjunction with Wittry circa 1995-1996 through Wittry’s Allentown Symphony Youth Concerts. Dyer, now retired, was a music teacher in the Northampton Area School District, and the program links the concerts with complementing teacher lesson plans.

“It’s so exciting tonight to get a bit dressed up and check out everyone’s masks,” said Dyer, who was featured in the video on the big screen.

“Good Cause” is a column about galas, benefits and fund-raisers. If you have an item for “Good Cause,” or would like to request for your event to be covered, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

ABOVE: “Classic Cars and Concerts: A Drive-In Theater Event to Kick Off the 2021 Symphony Ball,” Oct. 1, The NB Center for American Automotive Heritage, Allentown. A 1935 Hupmobile is in foreground.
Allentown Symphony Association Executive Director Al Jacobsen and Allentown Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Diane Wittry at “Classic Cars and Concerts.”
LEFT: Katie Dyer, member, Allentown Symphony Chorus. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS BY TAMI QUIGLEY