Friday is the Fourth of July, which means it's a good a time to strike up the band. Or in this case, bands, since four local bands have Independence Day programs on tap. So get those lawn chairs planted and flags waving.
The Allentown Band, under the direction of Ronald Demkee, returns to the Levitt Pavilion at SteelStacks in Bethlehem at 7:30 p.m. There will be lots of Sousa, numerous tributes to American composers and performers, and, of course, many salutes to our armed forces.
Joining the band will be Allentown soprano Evelyn Stewart and Philadelphia-area vocalist Chet Brown. They'll both be featured in selections from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," and Brown will solo in "God Bless the U.S.A." and in Sammy Nestico's "Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr." Stewart will be in the spotlight for "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "God Bless America."
Aaron Copland will be celebrated with a medley of such favorites as "Fanfare for the Common Man," "Appalachian Spring" and "Rodeo," while Leonard Bernstein gets his due with selections from "West Side Story," "On the Town" and "Candide." Sousa favorites include "Hail to the Spirit of Liberty," the "Liberty Bell March" and "Semper Fidelis." Of course, "Stars and Stripes Forever" will wrap up the show.
The Pioneer Band of Allentown will present its Fourth of July concert starting 6 p.m. in Emmaus Community Park. It's a wonderfully diverse two-hour program with the lofty theme of honoring the armed forces that have defended our freedom, from the Revolutionary War to 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. The band will be conducted by Robert Billig Jr. with assistant conductor Brian Smith.
The Revolutionary War and Civil War periods bring us "American Pageant" by Thomas Knox, "Chester," composed by William Billings in the late 1700s, considered the first American choral composer, and Clare Grundman's "Concord March," a fantasia on early American classics such as "White Cockade," "Yankee Doodle" and "America."
In commemoration of D-Day, we'll get "At Dawn They Slept," Jay Bocook's tribute to the fallen at Pearl Harbor. World War II music includes John Williams' "Midway March" and lots of musical memories from the home front, including "Thanks for the Memories," "It's been a Long, Long Time," "Bell Bottom Trousers," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else but Me)" and "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition," always a show stopper.
For 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq we'll hear the sobering "Flight of Valor" by James Swearingen, a piece commissioned by the Somerset County Community Band to commemorate the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 at Shanksville/Somerset County. "God Bless the U.S.A." will feature guest soprano soloist Susan Smith.
The band also will perform general tribute selections, and interspersed throughout the program will be such popular marches as "The Stars & Stripes Forever," "National Emblem," "Americans We" and Sousa's "Rifle Regiment."
If you have a tough time deciding which band concert to attend, you're not alone. The Marine Band of Allentown and the American Legion Band of Bethlehem share six players, so even they have a difficult decision to make.
"Our two bands have a friendly rivalry going on," says George Fennell, director of the American Legion Band. "On Oct. 19, we will present our second annual 'Battle of the Bands' Concert featuring the Marine Band of Allentown versus the American Legion Band of Bethlehem near the border of the two cities at St. Peter's Lutheran Church on Hanover Avenue and Tioga Street. The theme will be music of the Civil War, and the battle starts at 3 p.m."
The American Legion Band of Bethlehem will perform starting 7:30 p.m. at Bethlehem City Hall Plaza. The program will start with the original American Legion Band Opening Theme and Star-Spangled Banner written by the band's director emeritus, Ray Huston, who led the band for 66 years. The National Anthem will be sung by local arts supporter John Cornish. That will lead into John Philip Sousa's "Riders for the Flag" march, which he dedicated to the U.S. Cavalry in 1927.
Victories of all sorts will be celebrated by Sweringen's "In Times of Triumph." Popular tunes include "Danny Boy" and the band's own arrangement of a medley of songs from "The Music Man," featuring its low brass section in "76 Trombones." "Fourth of July" highlights many of the popular songs associated with the holiday. Band president Mitch Huston will read Gen. Douglas MacArthur's final speech to the graduates of West Point: "Duty, Honor, Country."
The band's tenor soloist Jonathan Mosebach will lead the audience in singing Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." The marches "Stars and Stripes Forever" and "March Grandioso" will round out the program.
This and the Allentown Band concert conclude just in time for the fireworks in Bethlehem.
The Marine Band of Allentown, directed by Tom Heinick, will start its concert at 7:30 p.m. on Linden Street at the west end of J. Birney Crum Stadium in Allentown, at the city's Red, White and Blue street festival. The concert will end at 8:45 p.m. just before Allentown's annual fireworks display.
Heinick says to expect crowd favorites, including music from movies, musicals, marches, and of course, patriotic music. Selections from the band's "Early 4th of July" program Tuesday at Allentown's West Park included a number of Gershwin favorites, home front musical memories of World War II, and a tribute to Louis Armstrong along with patriotic fare.
July 4 with the Reading Symphony Orchestra
Great music and great fireworks join forces in a free concert by the Reading Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Constantine, at 8 p.m. Friday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading. The program features many patriotic selections, a salute to our veterans, and favorites from "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" to Beethoven's 5th Symphony, the "William Tell Overture," the 1812 Overture, and much more.
The patriotic concert also will feature solos by Met Opera tenor Charles Reid and a special appearance by the Berks Youth Chorus. The night will conclude with a fireworks display. Rain date is July 5.