Celebrating the beginning of a new year gives us a chance to not only look forward to what lies ahead, but also reflect on the past. This year, 2003, marks the Allentown Band’s 175th Anniversary. While the band gears up for the occasion with special concerts and projects, we at Lehigh Valley PBS have memorialized this moment with a 30-minute documentary.
As the nation’s oldest civilian concert band, its first performance happened in Allentown, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1828. Besides playing regular concerts and appearing in local parades, the band has also performed at numerous Presidential inaugurations, traveled across the world, and helped rally troops during our country’s Civil War.
Sometimes the musicians also became traditions. Harpist, Dorothy Knauss made history in 1932 when she became the band’s first female member. Dorothy received the invitation to play from former conductor Bert Meyers who wanted a harp player because John Philip Sousa’s well-known band had one. In 1995 she stepped down from her position after spending 67 years behind the Allentown Band’s harp.
Throughout the band’s history, the conductor’s baton has been passed along to several talented bandleaders. For the past 25 years, it’s been Ron Demkee behind the podium. Ron first joined the band as a tuba player in the 1960s and then took over as conductor in 1977. Now retired from teaching the music program at Freedom High School, Ron teaches at both Muhlenberg and Moravian Colleges and is the Associate Conductor for the Allentown Symphony Orchestra.
These are just a few of the special treasures we uncovered in the Allentown Band. Join us for a closer look at this organization’s rich history and meet some more of its note worthy members. We’ll also show you how children get involved with the band, as well as take a look at its promising future.