Interview with Ezra Wenner, August 9, 2018

Muhlenberg College: Trexler Library Oral History Repository
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00:00:00 - Interview Introduction

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Partial Transcript: KATE RANIERI: So today is August 9, 2018. We’re here in Allentown at Wenner Hall, and my name is Kate Ranieri. I’m interviewing Ezra Wenner. Is it Wenner, is that right?


KR: If you could just for me state your name and your birth date, I would appreciate that.

EW: Ezra Wenner, August 4, 1927.

00:00:39 - Early interests in music / first instrument

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Partial Transcript: KR: And thank you very much for giving us of your time to let us hear from you and your experiences with the band. I would like to start, though, by asking you how you got into music back in the day when you were what age, and how young were you, what got you interested in music, and then we’ll kind of move through how you got into the band.

EW: Well, I started playing in May of 1938. I was in what was then South Whitehall High School, which eventually became part of Parkland School. But at the end of the school year my fifth grade, they had school instruments that were available, and at the end of the year there was a trombone and a baritone that was available.

Keywords: Allentown Marine Band; Lehigh Valley; trombone

00:03:26 - Joining the Allentown Band / soloist

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Partial Transcript: And in the fall of 1942, I joined the Allentown Band and joined as soloist. In those days, you soloed at most concerts. We had kind of a core band, and we had about three or four regular soloists, so you would solo quite a bit during the year. I did that. I was soloist for over 50 years with the band. I was section leader for over 60 years, and in 2015 they named the band hall Ezra Wenner Hall. (laughs)

Keywords: Allentown Band; soloist

00:04:22 - Composition and demographics of the Allentown Band

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Partial Transcript: As far as the composition of the band’s concerned, when I first joined, we had roughly about 40 members. But as I mentioned, it was a core band, and you played every job. Today the roster is into the sixties, and we still go with 35-40 members on a job, and the one thing nice about today, we have depth in all of the sections.

Keywords: Sousa, John Philip, 1854-1932

00:06:27 - The Band's schedule

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Partial Transcript: As far as the band’s schedule is concerned, when I joined the band, most of our jobs were church or Sunday school picnics, and a lot of it was out in Berks or Lancaster county. It seems that we lived on the bus all summer. We did a lot of afternoon and evening concerts, so it was a long day, and our season basically was from Memorial Day until Labor Day.

Keywords: Berks County (Pa.); Lancaster County (Pa.)

00:07:27 - Youth and Side-by-Side concerts

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Partial Transcript: We do different kind of concerts today. We do the youth concerts, which they bus students. Usually I think it ranges from maybe fifth to eighth grade, something like that. But we do two concerts down at Symphony Hall, and it’s surprising. We have 1,200 kids in the audience, and you can hear a pin drop.

Keywords: Miller Symphony Hall; Side-by-Side concerts; music education; youth concerts; youth outreach

00:08:32 - Audience interest and attendance at concerts

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Partial Transcript: We have played at Carnegie Hall in New York City a number of times. We’ve played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, and we’ve done four European tours. The band still maintains quite a good schedule, 40-50 engagements a year, which is pretty good.

Keywords: America's Band City; Carnegie Hall (New York, N.Y.); European tours; John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (U.S.); West Park

00:10:26 - Jobs outside the Allentown Band

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Partial Transcript: KR: Thank you. Of course. So the band was not your only job?

EW: No. No, I played in many different organizations. I played in the symphony for about 50 years. I did a lot of dance work with dance bands, a lot of show work, local theater work, did a lot of circuses, ice shows -- let’s see, what else? Maybe brass groups, that type. So I’ve played about everything except rock. (laughs)

00:12:12 - How the Allentown Band has changed under Ron Demkee

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Partial Transcript: SFM: And I guess my other question, more seriously, is having been with the band for such a span, how does Ron differ, what has he continued, what has he changed in the 40 years that he’s been the band director?

EW: In the 40 years that he’s been a director?

SFM: But he was involved before that.

EW: Yeah. I think the most obvious thing is we do a lot more difficult music than we did years ago, which a lot of the new music that’s coming out is very contemporary and has a lot of key changes, a lot of meter changes, and so it’s a lot more difficult music than we would attempt to do years ago, which, of course, like I mentioned, we have clientele that a lot of them are music teachers and, you know, have a background in music. When I first joined the band, I don’t know if there were any music teachers in it.

00:14:04 - Playing new music / 190th anniversary concert / Johan de Meij

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Partial Transcript: KR: So when you were talking about the more sophisticated, a little more complicated music they’re playing now, what was your reaction? I’m assuming you were with Johan de Meij. His music, was that more difficult, do you think?

EW: I didn’t understand your --

KR: The composer that was your guest composer for the Fourth of July, was that considered difficult?

EW: When you first played it, it was kind of difficult, but it all kind of fell into place. And that’s true with most of the music, you know. You have to play it a little bit and kind of get into it, but after a while it all makes sense. (laughs)

Keywords: Meij, Johan de, 1953-

00:15:08 - The future of the Band

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Partial Transcript: KR: Where do you see the band going in the future? Like, do you see it continuing as it is or maybe some big seismic shift or just staying the course?

EW: Well, I think it will basically stay as it is now. I’m sure new things will come along, and we’ll be doing them, but I don’t see a real drastic change. Of course, you can’t tell in 20 years what’s going to happen.

Keywords: Albertus Meyers