Interview with Susan Wagner-Hartney, 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: Thank you for allowing us to interview you. My name is Kate Ranieri, we’re here in Allentown at Wenner Hall in the process of interviewing band members, and I have, so, your last name?

SUSAN WAGNER-HARTNEY: My name is Susan Wagner-Hartney.

KR: Hartney. And if you could just give us your date of birth.

00:00:45 - Early interests in music / first instrument

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Partial Transcript: KR: So, I have a few questions to ask you, beginning with -- let’s go back. Remember when you were five, or whatever year it was, when you started feeling that you wanted to play a musical instrument. What was it that inspired you to play? Tell me about your growing up years playing, then getting into the band, move into the band that way.

SWH: I grew up on a farm Bethlehem Township, Northampton County, and my parents had friends who owned a piano, and I was absolutely fascinated with this thing. I didn’t know what it was as my family is not musical, and you go and you push down on a white key and you push down on a black key, you could get all different kinds of sounds.

Keywords: clarinet; flute; piano

00:02:24 - First meeting with Ron Demkee

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Partial Transcript: My first acquaintance with Ron Demkee was when I started at Freedom High School, he was the band director there. I should say, instrumental music director, that’s a little bit more accurate. And I played in band and orchestra, wind ensemble, I did some pit work for various shows, had a wonderful, wonderful experience there.

00:04:23 - Joining the Allentown Band

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Partial Transcript: Moved back to the Lehigh Valley, late 1980s, and was playing, doing some church work. I am a church musician, do organ and choir directing and hand-bell ringing and all that kind of good material that goes along with church music. And, lo and behold, one evening, the phone rings and it’s Ron Demkee.

Keywords: Allentown Band; Lehigh Valley

00:05:16 - Changes and growth in the Allentown Band over time

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Partial Transcript: KR: I love that story. I love it. (laughs) So, tell me about the band. What kind of things did you notice about the band in the period when you first joined to where it is now?

SWH: Well, nothing remained stagnant, and I think that’s a very good thing. There are people who have been with the band forever, like Ezra, although we tease him, he hasn’t been with them since 1828, and some very talented young people who have come into the ranks, and that’s very exciting to see, to observe their enthusiasm for the material that’s played.

00:06:09 - Diverse programming

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Partial Transcript: The repertoire that we do here is just incredible, and it’s challenging. I played a lot of it prior to coming to the band, but we have pieces that are commissioned for us, like Johan de Meij and Steve Reisteter, our principal clarinetist, is a wonderful composer and does some amazing things in both his original compositions and in arranging. So, that’s very exciting to be part of that new music. And, also, another exciting thing, again, is to play some of the Sousa marches.

Keywords: Meij, Johan de, 1953-; Sousa Tradition; Sousa, John Philip, 1854-1932

00:08:46 - The future of the Allentown Band

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Partial Transcript: KR: So, where do you think the band’s going in the future? If you were to kind of, say, this is what I see in the future?

SWH: Well, my crystal ball has been in the shop for many years and hasn’t been returned, but I’ll give you my best judgment of that. It’s exciting to see new people come in, younger people. Not to say that people of my age and older -- we still have skills that are still very, very carefully honed, and, hopefully, people take their music folders home and practice because it’s not the kind of group that you can come in and sit down and read and say, “OK, I’m done,” you know, one rehearsal a week.

00:09:51 - Youth outreach programs

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Partial Transcript: I see exciting times ahead, particularly with student outreach that we’ve done with the side by side concerts, which are typically in May. Selected high school students are suggested by their band directors to come and play with us. And there’s a conductor, a guest conductor of fame who appears in 2018, it was a woman who had conducted the United States Army Band.

Keywords: Side-by-Side concert; United States Army Band; music education; tuba; youth concerts; youth outreach

00:12:29 - Side-by-Side concerts

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Partial Transcript: SWH: Some of the students come in and they’re a little hesitant, and I have the piccolo seat in the band. Piccolo is a color instrument. It’s also a dangerous little instrument. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to play. And I usually have a sweet young thing next to me with, you know, the big eyes, and just, like, “Honey, just relax and play. Just play. It will be all right, I promise you. And if we have a problem, we’ll work it out.”

Keywords: Side-by-Side concert; piccolo; youth concerts; youth outreach

00:13:49 - Changing Band demographics over time

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Partial Transcript: KR: Do either one of you have any...?

SFM: No, I... if you have any. It’s when you look at the makeup of your band itself. Have you noticed how it’s changed, say, in the last 50 years?

SWH: I can’t respond to 50 years. I could respond to the time I know. When you say makeup, give me a little bit more...

KR: In terms of male, female, white, Caucasian.

SWH: Well, at one time, it was all male. And I think that changed in the mid ‘70s. I don’t have an exact date. We have one player who was African American, actually we have two players who are African American, excuse me. A trumpet player and a euphonium player.

Keywords: euphonium; trumpet

00:16:08 - European tours

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Partial Transcript: SWH: Yes, we’ve done some European tours. I have been on three, and it’s just been marvelous to see the reaction of people in other countries. I have a dear friend who says you’re an expert if you travel 50 miles from home and carry a clipboard, so you’re not a prophet in your own backyard, and I’m amazed -- this is such a marvelous cultural institution that some people don’t know about it.

Keywords: European tours; Goldman, Edwin Franko, 1878-1956

00:16:38 - History and culture of community bands in Allentown

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Partial Transcript: this is such a marvelous cultural institution that some people don’t know about it. Many people are not aware that there are four community bands in Allentown. That’s unheard of. And when you think of, like, the Goldman Band in New York, that is no more.

Keywords: Edwin Franko Goldman Band; European tours; Goldman, Edwin Franko, 1878-1956; community bands

00:17:23 - Impact of the Allentown Band in the states and overseas

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Partial Transcript: KR: When you’re on your European tour, do you find music is the language, the lingua franca, if you will, that everyone understands the music, whether it’s -- because you’re not singing, necessarily.

SWH: We’ve always attracted people who are interested. I remember playing in France, and that was in 2008, I think, we did some informal concerts there, and people were just fascinated. They’d walk by and then they’d stop.

Keywords: Carnegie Hall (New York, N.Y.); European tours; France; Sousa, John Philip, 1854-1932; West Park; Winds Festival

00:21:18 - The Allentown Band's relationship to other local community bands

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Partial Transcript: SFM: Is there much crossover between the four community bands? Are there many people who play in more than one?

SWH: Not to my knowledge. There is a festival of bands that’s held every year. It used to be at the field house at Muhlenberg, it’d been there for years and years and years and years and years. And the funds that are raised there goes to help support organizations for people who are developmentally disabled.

Keywords: community bands

00:22:34 - Appreciating the rich history of the Allentown Band

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Partial Transcript: KR: Also the fact that you have your own culture here. Not that it couldn’t be done, but you have a long, long history here. A very rich history.

SWH: The history is just amazing. As I mentioned before, just what’s in this building alone, just the photographs in our kind of like our waiting area, there are headshots from 1911, little oval headshots, and I’m absolutely fascinated with that collage.