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Classical View: Allentown Band back in “Black History Month” concert

On Feb. 10, 1976, President Gerald Ford proclaimed February as “Black History Month” “to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

The Allentown Band presents “Commemorating Black History Month,” 3 p.m. Feb. 18, Christ Lutheran Church, Allentown.

“This concert features music of Black composers, culture and musicians,” says Ronald Demkee, Allentown Band Conductor.

The program includes several selections by Florence Price, the first Black woman to have her work performed by a major United States symphony orchestra.

Concert selections include Price’s “Symphony No. 1: Juba Dance,” which evokes an African-derived folk dance that was popular among slaves in the antebellum South, and “The Old Boatman,” originally composed for Price’s piano students.

Soprano Evelyn Stewart accompanies the band in the performance of beautiful arrangements of the Gospel songs “Deep River” and “Steal Away” from John Rutter’s “Feel the Spirit.”

The concert continues with “Victory Tide” by William Grant Still, a commissioned work for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. The piece played continuously, or approximately 60,000 times, during the two years of the fair.

The concert’s first half closes with Bruce Preuninger’s arrangement, “Fantasy on an African-American Spiritual” based on the familiar tune “My Lord What a Morning.”

“This piece is rhythmically interesting and really gets into a groove,” says Demkee.

After intermission, Chet Brown, Vocal Instructor-Outreach Coordinator, Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts accompanies the Allentown Band for several selections, including Robert Russell Bennett’s arrangement of George Gershwin tunes in “Selections from Porgy and Bess”; Ken Moyer’s arrangement of “Sophisticated Ellington,” including the songs “Sophisticated Lady,” “Do Nothing Until You Hear from Me” and “Mister Saturday Night,” as well as Sammy Nestico’s popular “A Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.”

Although still popular today, Ragtime music was in its heyday from the late 1890s through 1918. The most well-known composer of the period was pianist Scott Joplin.

The band performs two Joplin selections: an Alfred Reed arrangement of “The Entertainer,” and “Pine Apple Rag,” the latter arranged by Allentown Band Principal Clarinet and composer Steve Reisteter.

The concert concludes with the “St. Louis Blues March” by composer, cornetist, publisher and “Father of the Blues” William Christopher Handy.

The Allentown Band, “Commemorating Black History Month”, 3 p.m. Feb. 18, Christ Lutheran Church, 1245 Hamilton St., Allentown. Free-will donation; https://allentownband.com

“Classical View” is a column about classical music concerts, conductors and performers. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

Ronald Demkee
Evelyn Stewart
Chet Brown