Friday, May 20, 2016

Strike up the bands! Sounds of brass will waft over Gettysburg during annual festival

(Photos courtesy of Gettysburg Brass Band Festival)

Perhaps there is no more appropriate place for a U.S. brass band festival to take place than Gettysburg, Pa., where history and the arts intersect.

Lawn chairs, a blanket and a yearning for Americana are all that is required for those who attend the Gettysburg Brass Band Festival, which got its start 19 years ago.

“You will have all types of music played, from traditional marches and overtures, to jazz, patriotic songs and popular songs arranged for brass bands,” said Ben Jones, a member of the June 9-11 festival’s steering committee. The event is free.

Fourteen bands will perform around town and at Gettysburg National Military Park

Among them are the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, Spires Brass Band, the Rockville Brass Band and the Atlantic Brass Band. Most of the performances are at the historic Lutheran Theological Seminary.

The Wildcat Regiment Band (above), representing the 105th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, will perform at 2 p.m. June 11 on the lawn of the park’s visitor center. The band will have a “Grand Concert” at 6 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Monument.

“They have been here every year. They are very popular and an excellent playing band,” said Jones, a retired school band director who performs with his own band, Gettysburg Brass. “Those old horns are a challenge. They dress in military style from the period.”

Jones and other members of the volunteer-driven nonprofit group tout the festival’s contribution to the town’s culture and tourism.

Benfield Brass Band debuted at the Gettysburg festival

But there’s another benefit. Nearly all those in the brass bands are well out of high school.

“If you look at our mission statement, we have a ‘life after high school’ emphasis and we want to show students in high school bands there are opportunities to play after high school,” said Jones. “For the most part they volunteer because they love to play.”

Most of the groups who come to Gettysburg follow the British-style brass band model.

Jones told the Picket the musical form represents 19th-century town bands. Musicians often joined regimental bands during the Civil War.

A traditional British-style band uses cornets, which put out a mellow sound, instead of the trumpet, which makes a brighter sound. Tenor horns, trombones, flugelhorns, Eb and Bb tubas and euphoniums are featured, along with percussion.

The typical band will feature 25 to 30 musicians. The Hanover Lancers will bring about 60.

“I am a tuba player and I love the sound of brass bands,” said Jones. “It is such a gorgeous sound with a cornet.”

While the trumpet has surpassed the cornet in popularity in the past decades, he notes interest in the British-style brass band growing since the 1980s.

Last year, about 3,000 people, a mix of local residents and some visitors, attended the concerts, which featured more than 400 musicians.

Gettysburg is known for its active and varied arts scene. A local conservancy is having a barn art sale and show downtown the same weekend and the “History Meets the Arts” show will be held at Gettysburg College.

One of the brass band festival highlights is the playing of Taps at sundown at different locations on the battlefield (such as Little Round Top and Devil’s Den) and the cupola of Schmucker Hall on the seminary campus.

Jones said: “We have received comments from tourists who happened to be here… it is going dark and all of a sudden a bugler appears and sounds Taps. It is a very moving experience for them, and the bugler.”

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