Greater Williamsport Community Arts Council.

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the Whig convention at Baltimore in 18-41 at which Henry Clay
was nominated for president. During the Civil War the band
enlisted as a group in the Union Army. During much of the
war, the Repasz Band was part of the Eleventh Regiment In-
fantry. The band was at Appomattox when Robert E. Lee sur-
rendered to General Grant.

From 1903 to 1912, the band was the official band of the
Pennsylvania National Guard. In this capacity it played at
the presidential inaugurations of Theodore Roosevelt and
William Howard Taft. In 1917, the band went to France with
the Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. Among the significant
directors of the band was the nationally known cornetist,
John Hazel, who took over that post in 1910. He played
for a time in John Philip Sousa's Band.

In 1936 the Repasz Band merged with the Williamsport Elks
Band. Renamed the "Elks-Repasz Band," it performed for all
Elks functions along with other community events. In about
I960 the Elks Club was forced to end financial support for
the band, though the band continues to perform at Elks'
functions. Upon termination of Elks Club support for the
band, it was renamed the "Repasz-Elks Band" and has re-
tained this name to the present.

The national fame of the band was due partially to the
"Repasz Band March," composed in 1896 by one of its members,
Charles C. Sweeley. Upon the 100th anniversary of the band
in 1931, the "Repasz Band March" was performed over the
radio by the United States Marine Corps Band. The Repasz-
Elks Band remains active to this day and performs for many


public functions throughout the region.

The band currently has about 60 members under the direction
of George Calapa and Albert J. Nacinovieh. A few years ago
the band voted to admit women players, which added consider-
ably to its membership. One of the band's most recent pro-
jects was initiated in 1962 by its business manager, Earl
Williams. Area high school band members were invited to
attend a Repasz-Elks Band rehearsal for an evening of fun.
From this developed an annual "Youth Concert" held in the
Brandon Park bandshell on the second Tuesday of June. Band
students from schools and colleges from throughout the re-
gion participated as players, and these concerts lasted
until 1966.


Another local band active over the last 20 years is the
Williamsport Consistory Band, begun in 1957 under the direc-
tion of J. H. Campbell. In 1962 Donald C. Berninger be-
came director. The band was formed to provide entertain-
ment for Consistory members, though today, its 6-4 members
include non-Masons. In 1963, the band took the name of the
old "Imperial Teteques" Band of the late 1800' s and early
1900 's. The Williamsport Imperial Teteques were the orig-
inal all-Masonic music organization in the U. S. and were
known throughout the country. By World War II, the only
function of the original Teteques was to escort each train-
load of draftees to the Park Hotel Station. In 194-4 it dis-

From its first public performance in the early 1960's, the
new Masonic band performed to consistently large audiences
in the Roosevelt Junior High School auditorium. In 1967
the new Scottish Rite Auditorium was completed, providing
1,200 seats. Since then, the Consistory band, along with
numerous other local and outside groups, has used the Scot-
tish Rite Auditorium to great advantage.


In the 1920' s, Williamsport spawned one of the top three
dance bands of the period: The Dave Harman Orchestra,
which ranked in importance with the Paul Whiteman and Fred
Waring bands. Dave Harman 's band originally got started in
1920 when it played at the Danso Dance Hall above the Key-
stone Theater (later the State Theater) on Third Street.
In 1924, the group went to New York City where it played for
two years at the Cinderella Ballroom. After that, it tour-
ed leading hotels around the country under the management
of the Orchestra Corporation of America. The Dave Harman
Orchestra was one of the first bands to broadcast — initially
over station KDKA in Pittsburgh. The band also made


numerous recordings with Edison, Columbia, and Gennett
(Victor subsidiary) recording companies. Symbolic of the
band's stature were the gold instruments it purchased, the
only band to do so except for Fred Waring 's.

The Dave Harman band was a forerunner of several other dance
bands that got their start in Williamsport. Joe Vannucci of
the city played for Dave Harman from 1923 to 1926. Later
he formed his own band which came to be a big favorite on
college campuses around the state. Many of Joe Vanucci's
pieces and arrangements were published and recorded. He
died a premature death at the age of 34.

Other local dance bands of the period included the George
Lewis Dance Orchestra, which played at the Sunset Park
Pavilion many times during the mid-1930' s. Sunset Park was
an amusement park situated just north of the city along
Lycoming Creek. Then there were the Capitolians which
played regularly at the Capitol Theater and for local dances.
During the 1940' s several men, including Gerry Kehler, Bill
Seitzer and Roy Griess formed a band which played at the
Teen Canteen, later renamed Handy Haven, located in the
former Blackstone Garage at the corner of Hepburn and Ly-
coming streets. Though this group played for many high
school and college dances around the region, none of the
band members made a living at it . In the 1950 ' s the Johnny
Nicolosi Band was popular throughout the area. This band
had a trailer and traveled a two-hundred-mile radius in
Pennsylvania and New York, playing at colleges, country
clubs and private parties.


From time to time efforts were undertaken in Williamsport to
establish a symphony orchestra for the performance of clas-
sical music. The first such orchestra was organized in 1915,
and performed its first concert on May 20th of that year.
The conductor of the orchestra was E. Hart Bugbee, who for
many years owned a violin shop in Market Square and gave
violin lessons. The symphony orchestra was active about ten
years and gave regular concerts annually. Over the years,
Mr. Bugbee also conducted the regional Works Projects
Administration orchestra during the Depression, and revived
the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra in the late 1930' s,
which then survived until 1945. Mr. Bugbee also directed
the Elks Chorus for 16 years and later, the Elks Club Band.
Finally, he directed the third Williamsport Symphony Or-
chestra for a short time after the death of its conductor,
Osborne House 1.

After 1945, interest in a local symphony orchestra remained
strong. In 194? the music department of the Williamsport
Area School District conducted a survey in the city and


discovered enough public support to launch a third orchestra.
In response, the school district sponsored the project as an
adult education program and provided all the equipment. The
first rehearsal was held February 20, 19-47, with Osborne
Housel, the high school band leader, serving as conductor.

Later, Frank Ziegler and Mr. Housel sought to rally greater
community support for the orchestra by forming the William-
sport Symphony Society to secure patrons for concerts and to
provide other types of assistance. The orchestra's first
concert was held November 30, 1948, when it performed Hay-
den's "Surprise Symphony," just as the first Williamsport
Symphony Orchestra had done at its initial concert 33 years
before .

During its ten years or so, the orchestra performed four or
five regular concerts each season. It brought many well-
known guest artists to Williamsport and provided a chance
for local soloists to gain experience. As services to the
community, the orchestra held regular Sunday afternoon
young peoples' concerts, provided scholarships for orchestra
members for further training, and offered free summer
concerts in the Brandon Park Bandshell. Except for the
brief period under the baton of E. Hart Bugbee, the short
but auspicious life of the orchestra came to an end soon
after the death of Mr. Housel in 1957.


Several smaller instrumental groups specializing in classical
music have existed in Williamsport, the oldest one being the
Brahms Trio, begun in the 1920' s. Since then, the personnel
has changed, along with the instruments used. The cause of
instrumental music in Williamsport gained much from the
Williamsport High School Orchestra and Band, in which many
local musicians got their start.

In 1914 the supervisor of music in the Williamsport schools,
Mrs. Lillian M. Reider, founded the Williamsport High
School Orchestra. Then in 1925 Mrs. Reider organized the
high school band, which continues in existence to the pre-
sent. When these groups first started rehearsing, there
were such complaints by high school teachers about the
noise, that the band and orchestra were forced to rehearse
in the Parish House at Trinity Episcopal Church. With the
death of Osborne Housel in 1957, the high school orchestra

In 1977, the Williamsport Area School District under its
music supervisor, Dr. Kenneth Raessler, launched a return
of the student orchestra to the high school. An ensemble
of fifteen "string players was formed. As these students and
others progress, it is hoped that a full orchestra will come


into existence.

The Lycoming College Band, having had numerous predecessors
in the junior college days, was formed in 194-8 by James W.
Shaeffer who still teaches at the college. The band current-
ly is directed by Dr. Glen E. Morgan and makes an annual
tour outside the state.

Though Williamsport no longer has its own symphony orches-
tra, a regional orchestra, known as the Susquehanna Valley
Orchestra, was formed in 1966 by several residents of the
Lewisburg/Selinsgrove area. Membership in the orchestra is
open to all residents of the Susquehanna Valley, regardless
of age or occupation. Currently, fall and spring concerts
are held in Williamsport and Lewisburg, along with regular
Children's Concerts.


Though instrumental music may have occupied a larger share of
the spotlight in the county, choral music has always been
popular in the area. Numerous public and institutional
choruses have existed throughout the county over the years,
from the Oratorio Society in the 1890 's to the Civic Chorus
of the present. This is in addition to the numerous church
choirs which have contributed much to the high standard of
choral music in the county.

The oldest choral group in the county today is the Harmonia
Gaesang which was founded in 1892 by John Fischer, as an
offshoot of the Turn Verein. Originally, the Turn Verein
was an acrobatic group within the German community of
Williamsport. It later changed to a male chorus and sang
only German songs. In I960, the Turn Verein finally came
to an end.

Both the Turn Verein and Harmonia Gaesang started doing non-
German pieces in the early 1900' s when the- younger members
no longer spoke German. At its beginning, membership in the
Harmonia Gaesang was restricted to members of St. Boniface
Church. This regulation was eventually dropped. Today the
Harmonia Gaesang has a large non-singing membership, along
with its 30-member male chorus and a separate female chorus.
Occasionally, the two choruses combine as a mixed chorus
when participating in the annual state-wide Sangerfests.
Their current director is Thomas H. Shellenberger, under
whose leadership the groups have won many competitions.

Of considerable importance to choral music in Williamsport
since 1944, has been the Civic Choir, whose name was changed
in 1977 to the Civic Chorus. The Choir was founded by
Walter G. Mclver, who along with his wife Beulah, came to
Williamsport in 1941 bo hold a summer choir school at the


invitation of Dr. Frederick Christian, then pastor of
Covenant-Central Presbyterian Church. In 1942, the Mclvers
returned to Covenant-Central as ministers of music. They
continued the summer choral school which lasted for about
ten years and was so popular that a year-round Civic Choir
was formed.

Two of the most memorable concerts of the Civic Choir were
when the choral group joined with the Lycoming College Choir
and the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra to perform Handel's
The Messiah at Christmastide in 1948 and 1949. The orches-
tra and 250 voices performed to an audience of nearly 3,000
in the Capitol Theater the first year and to a capacity
audience in the Williamsport High School gymnasium the
second year.

Musicals and operettas sparked programs of the Civic Choir
in the 1950' s and 1960's. Gilbert and Sullivan's "The
Mikado" and "Iolantha" and the Broadway shows of "Finian's
Rainbow" and "Brigadoon" were well-attended. Mr. Mclver
and his successors, Jay Stenger and Paul Ziegler, served as
musical directors of these. Drama director was Mrs. Miriam
Hunter. Playing to sold-out houses in December 1952 and 1953
was the Civic Choir's production of "Amahl and The Night
Visitors" by Menotti that featured William Mclver, boy
soprano and son of Walter and Beulah Mclver, in the title
role, with his own mother playing the role of Amahl 's
mother. Today, under the direction of Thomas Gallup, the
Civic Chorus continues to maintain a strong choral tradition
in Williamsport.

As well as initiating the Civic Choir, Walter Mclver,. after
joining the Lycoming College faculty in 1946, brought into
being the Lycoming College Choir. Under Mr. Mclver 's tute-
lage, the college choir gained a reputation for excellence
which was demonstrated in many parts of the country during
the choir's annual tours, begun in 1947. The choir toured
the British Isles as well in 1957 and 1974. Upon Mr.
Mclver 's retirement in 1976, Dr. Fred Thayer became the
director of the Lycoming College Choir.


In 1940 Williamsport elected a new mayor, Leo C. Williamson,
who quickly gained a reputation as the "singing mayor."
During his first year in office, Mayor Williamson initiated
a community sing program in Brandon Park, which then became
a popular annual tradition and lasted into the 1960's. Each
summer, the mayor led thousands of people in singing old
favorites. Many who participated derived a great deal of
pleasure and looked forward to the annual event.

Mayor Williamson also initiated annual music citations which


he gave to three or four individuals each year who contribut-
ed to the enrichment of music in Williamsport . The citations
were primarily the mayor's own doing. They were discontinued
after Mayor Williamson left office in 1951, hut were renewed
for several years when Mayor Thomas Levering came to office
in 1956. After leaving office in 1951, Mayor Williamson
remained active in musical circles until his death in 1957.
His fame spread, and in 1953, he led the singing for a birth-
day party in honor of President Dwight Eisenhower at the
Hershey Arena.


While the Williamsport High School most always had a choral
program of one sort or another, its modern choral program
began in the early 1920' s under the hand of Miss Emma Kiess.
Then from 1925 to 1956, Miss Kathryn Riggle was director of
the high school's choral department. Upon her retirement,
Miss Louise Stryker became choral director. Miss Stryker re-
tired in 1978 after teaching music in the Williamsport
schools for over 40 years.

Among some of Williamsport High School's better known musi-
cal products was Elaine Shaffer, perhaps the world's most
highly regarded flautist until her death in 1973. Her
last concert in Williamsport was given in 1971 at the Scot-
tish Rite Auditorium. She was accompanied by pianist
Hepzibah Menuhin, the sister of the famed violinist Yehudi
Menuhin .

Another Williamsporter achieved notoriety at the early age
of ten when he performed Amahl in the National Broadcasting
Company's television production of "Amahl and The Night
Visitors" by Menotti, sponsored by Hallmark. Boy soprano
William Mclver performed the title role in this Christmas
production for four consecutive years, from 1951 to 1954.
Today, William Mclver is a professor of music at the Uni-
versity of North Carolina.

A graduate of Williamsport High School and Lycoming College,
Marianna Ciraulo has gone on in the musical world to become
a singer with the New York City Opera, among other accomplish-

The cultural and artistic life of Lycoming County and
Williamsport has benefited greatly over the last fifty years
from the annual Community Concert Series, founded in 1928.
Williamsport was one of the first cities in the country to
adopt the community concert idea for bringing noted per-
formers and musical ensembles into the city for concerts.
A subscription drive is held annually in March when sub-
scriptions for the coming season's programs are sold. Past
Community Concert programs have included such performers as


Yehudi Menuhin, pianist Rudolph Serkin, the Trapp Family-
Singers, the Boston Pops Orchestra, and the Cleveland
Symphony Orchestra.

The Williamsport Music Club is another organization which
has advanced the cause of music in Williamsport since 1937.
Its members offer performances and/or discussions each month
of different musical pieces. Each Christmastide the Music
Club sponsors a community candlelight service in a local
church. This event that features the Juvenile and the Junior
Music Clubs, as well as the Senior Ensemble and soloists,
has become an annual tradition which is anticipated by the


Besides music, another branch of the performing arts is
theater, to which are closely linked ballet and opera.
Theater in Lycoming County has a long history. In the late
1800 's, not only Williamsport, but several of the county's
boroughs had opera houses, including Muncy and Montgomery.
Traveling opera companies performed in them, providing some
of the only professional entertainment available in those
days to small towns and rural areas.

Williamsport has had a series of opera houses and musical
theaters since 1868 when the Ulman Opera House opened in
Market Square. Traveling opera companies and musical
groups performed there regularly, with the Irish tenor,
Fritz Emmet, among the most popular performers. The Ulman
Opera House closed in 187-4 and was overshadowed for several
years before that by the Academy of Music, which opened in
1870 in the Elliott block at the corner of Fourth and
Pine streets. The Academy, too, was a center for traveling
musical groups of varying reputations and ability.

Then in 1892 the Lycoming Opera House opened on Third
Street east of Laurel Street. The performers there were
also traveling professionals, though occasionally extra
parts were available to members of the community. Both
musical and dramatic groups performed there, offering a
diversity of entertainment. In 1903 Fred M. Lamade pur-
chased the Opera House and remodeled it to return it to its
original standard.

John Philip Sousa's band performed frequently at the Lycoming
Opera House until it burned in 1915. The Repasz Band used
the Opera House to store its equipment and lost it all in the
tragic fire. It was upon the same site that the Keystone
Movie House (later the State Theater) "was built. This was
finally torn down in 1978 to make way for a parking lot.

In 1907 Mr. Lamade built another theater, The Family Theater,


Interior of Lycoming Opera House

Octoberfest, Williamsport Area High School

on Pine Street. In 1917 the name was changed to the Majes-
tic Theater, then to the Karlton in 193V. The Majestic
showed the first silent movies in the area. Occasionally,
vaudeville productions were offered. Towards the end of
the theater's life, the Community Concert Series held its
subscription concerts there. In 1952 the Karlton was razed
to make room for a parking lot — one of the first in
Williamsport — because the theater had become a losing fi-
nancial proposition.

Throughout the years, the junior and senior classes of area
high schools have presented dramas and musicals that have
provided not only a vehicle for young talent but also en-
tertainment for the community. At the Williamsport High
School Mrs. Edith Mann directed the plays of the 1930 's and
4-0' s with Miriam Lesher Hunter, Eugene McCramer, and Paul
Jones directing in the late 1940' s through the 70' s. All
except Mrs. Mann, who was a private elocution teacher of the
community, were or are teachers of the English department
of the school. Until the impact of television was felt in
the 60' s, full houses attended the plays.

John Ulmer, an alumnus of the high school, has been an
actor, teacher, writer and director in many areas of the
country. For six years he served as a director of Stage
West in Springfield, Massachusetts. He also was a tele-
vision actor and founded the Carnegie-Mellon Theater Com-
pany while teaching at Carnegie-Mellon University. Mr.
Ulmer currently lives in New York City and directs plays in
regional theaters throughout the country.


The dramatic arts in Williamsport have more recently de-
pended upon the talents of community amateurs. With the
demise of the theaters which catered to the touring musical
and dramatic groups, amateurs took to the stage. The ex-
ception today is the Capitol Theater which now offers its
facilities for touring artists. In the early 1930 's, prob-
ably the first amateur theater group in Williamsport,
called the Williamsport Community Players, was formed. The
group performed in the Memorial Park playhouse until the
mid-1930 's when it disbanded. After World War II, another
amateur group, the Lycoming County Playhouse, presented
plays in the old South Williamsport Junior-Senior High
School on West Central Avenue. This group offered produc-
tions during the summers of 1946 and 1947.

In 1948 radio station WRAK initiated Williamsport ' s first
locally produced dramatic radio broadcasts. The broadcasts,
known as Studio Playhouse, were produced one or two times a
month for two years. After the disbanding of this group,
several of its members created another dramatic group known


as the Thespians. This group, too, lasted for only a
short time.

Today, Williamsport is the home of three theatrical groups
and a theatrical workshop. The current Williamsport Players
was organized in 1958 and incorporated in 1959. Originally,
the group had 22 memhers. It gave its first production in
May, I960, in Courtroom No. 1 of the old Lycoming County
Courthouse. The first play was entitled "The Night of
January 16," which called for a courtroom setting. The
drama organization has performed three productions per
season ever since, and added a summer production in 1978.

In 1962 Lycoming College became the home of the Summer
Arena Theater, which drew its performers both from the col-
lege and from the community. It was also Williamsport ' s
first theater-in-the-round . The name of the group was
changed to "The Arena Theater" in 1965. By 1966 the new
Academic Center at the college had been completed, including
the new theater and stage which are designed for theater-in-
the-round productions. Charles W. Raison, a dramatics in-
structor at the college, was instrumental in the develop-
ment of the Arena Theater. In 1970 Dr. Robert Falk succeed-
ed Mr. Raison.

Today the Arena Theater performs four major plays per season,
along with several student productions and one-man shows.
Three to five plays are performed in the summer season, in-
cluding musicals, comedies and dramas. As in the past, the
Arena Theater continues to draw upon talent from the larger
community to enhance its productions and dramatic capabili-

In 1969 James Symmons founded the Drama Workshop, which he
still directs. Funded through the National Endowment for
the Arts, the Drama Workshop is an educational theater
program and offers training to high school students, college
students and adults in all facets of theater production,
from acting to lighting. This aspect of the program is
held in the summer months, when up to five performances are
given. These performances include dramas, comedies and
musicals. A junior high program in theater was initiated
in the summer of 1978, which also concludes with a perform-
ance. In the fall and winter the Drama Workshop takes its
training program to the Muncy Correctional Institution and
the Allenwood Federal Prison Camp.

The Community Theater League is the newest of Williamsport ' s
theatrical groups. Organized in 1976, it aims to provide

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Online LibraryGreater Williamsport Community Arts CouncilPicture of Lycoming County, Vol. 2 (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 18)