Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Demkee marks 40 years as Allentown Band conductor

If anyone deserves a lifetime achievement award, it's the Lehigh Valley's own Ronald Demkee, who, for four decades, has served as conductor of the Allentown Band. He's worked with outstanding musicians, guest soloists, and guest conductors. He's reached thousands of students through an education outreach that includes annual youth concerts and side-by-side concerts, and let's not forget the patriotic musical tributes he organizes for our military servicemen and women, past and present. Demkee is ending his milestone anniversary year on a high note, with "Songs of the Holidays" on Sunday at 3 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, 3231 Tilghman Street, Allentown.

This final concert of the year will be conducted by the Allentown Band's Assistant Conductor Donald Albright and presented in collaboration with the Lehigh Valley Men's Chorale, directed by Denise Parker. According to Demkee, the program of holiday favorites will include "Sleigh Ride," "Sussex Mummers Christmas," "Silent Night," "Goin' to Bethlehem," "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," "White Christmas," "Little Drummer Boy," and many more. Tickets, at $10, will be available at the door.

"Forty years! I can't believe that it is already four decades that I have had the good fortune of serving as conductor of the Allentown Band," Demkee said. "So many wonderful memories! In addition to working with the amazing musicians in the band, I have been blessed to work with outstanding guest soloists, including Frank Kaderabek of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Patricia Risley, Metropolitan Opera, Daniel Rodriguez, "America's Tenor," and so many more."

Demkee also has worked with guest conductors, including Frederick Fennell, Donald Hunsberger, Francis Macbeth, Jason Fetig, Bryan Shelburn, and Loras Schissel, senior musicologist of the Library of Congress.

The Allentown Band not only has worldwide recognition, but it is recognized as the oldest civilian concert band in the United States. Its legacy is identified by its impact on and contributions to the greater Lehigh Valley's cultural arts and education scene.

"Two of the things in our education outreach of which we are most proud are our youth concerts designed for elementary students, reaching up to 2,000 young people per year, and our side-by-side concerts that include up to 50 high school students playing in an annual concert side by side with the Allentown Band," Demkee said.

Perhaps one of the most tangible projects accomplished by the band, he said, is "Our Band Heritage" series of records, which have now reached all 50 states and 24 countries. He added that the band just completed "Volume 31 – A Tribute to John Williams."

Diane Wittry, music director and conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, called Demkee "a good friend and a valuable member of the artistic team at the Allentown Symphony." In addition to being the associate conductor and also the tuba player, he served as the personnel manager of the ASO for more than 30 years.

"His cheerful attitude and amazing administrative skills helped everything to run smoothly behind the scenes," Wittry said. "He has also done a great job as the associate conductor of the ASO, working closely with our guest pops artists."

Demkee just came off a weekend conducting the Allentown Symphony Orchestra for the Repertory Dance Theatre's performances of "Nutcracker" at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown. It's an annual event that he's been involved with for many years.

Through his work with the Allentown Band, Wittry said he has brought "national recognition and attention to this area through his artistic excellence. Congratulations to Ron for all that he has done. He is a great colleague and friend."

Chet Brown, vocal instructor and outreach coordinator at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts in Bethlehem, said he's been fortunate enough to work with Demkee and the Allentown Band for the past seven years as a guest soloist.

"From the Fourth of July at ArtsQuest to the annual holiday dinner, it's always a joy," Brown said. "His love of music and his dedication to the band are infectious. Thank you, Ron Demkee, for all the wonderful memories."

Gary Hartney, 2017 Salute the Troops concert chairman and member of the Bethlehem Morning Star Rotary Club, has worked with Demkee through the years.

"Thank you to Ron Demkee for making the Bethlehem Morning Star Rotary Salute the Troops concert a huge success," Hartney said. "Ron's input over the years has helped grow the attendance of this annual event. He was very helpful in getting the Northeast Middle School Band and Select Chorus to participate in this event which gives the middle school students a chance to play along with music professionals and learn to give back to the community by helping to raise funds to help homeless veterans... It is a real honor to partner with Ron... He is a true patriot."

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The 49th consecutive production of "The Nutcracker" will be performed by the Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley and the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet on Saturday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., in Baker Hall at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.

Live music will be by the Southside Sinfonietta, conducted by Eugene Albulescu, and the Nutcracker Treble Choir, with school children from across the greater Lehigh Valley.

Dancing the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier will be Beckanne Sisk and Chase O'Connell, respectively, principal artists with Ballet West. Aynsley Inglis will dance the role of the Snow Queen.

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The Pennsylvania Youth Theatre is presenting "A Christmas Story, the Musical" through Sunday at the Charles A. Brown Ice House, 56 River Street, Bethlehem.

The musical, based on the classic film, is set in the 1940s in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana, where nine-year-old Ralphie Parker is on a quest for the ultimate Christmas gift – an official Red Ryder.

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Just in time for Christmas, there's a new book that provides "a visual look into the past" about a wonderful hometown in the Lehigh Valley, and that's Alburtis, Lehigh County. 

Kevin Shoemaker, president of the Alburtis Lockridge Historical Society, announced the release of "Alburtis... A Stroll Through the Past," a 172-page, softbound history of Alburtis. The book contains historical photographs and maps of the villages of Alburtis and Lock Ridge and traces their merger in 1913 to become the borough of Alburtis. Old photographs, taken in 1906 by Charles and Linnie Ross, are compared with images of the same scenes as they appear today. There's even a section on "special news stories of interest” from 1870 to 1929.

The history was written by Allen Oswald, a founder of the Alburtis Lockridge Historical Society, with proofreading by Jean Oswald and Kevin Shoemaker. Allen Oswald has been researching and writing about the history of Alburtis and Lock Ridge for the past 50 years.

Gregory Roth provided the current digital photography, with editorial direction from Scott Stoneback. The Media People Inc. produced the book, with printing provided by EBC Printing of Trexlertown.

The book, at a cost of $25, is available at Alburtis Borough Hall, 260 Franklin Street, while supplies last.


Lehigh Valley's own Wizards of Winter will perform a holiday rock opera, "Tales Beneath a Northern Star," on Sunday at 4 p.m., at the State Theatre in Easton. The 12-member ensemble features former members of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and Rainbow, Alice Cooper, and Ted Nugent bands.

The story is based around the music of the Wizards of Winter's self-titled CD and albums, "The Magic of Winter," and "A Christmas Dream." New music from an upcoming album also will be featured.

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Broadway veteran Don Stephenson is starring as Ebenezer Scrooge in the new comedy, "Ebenezer Scrooge's Big Playhouse Christmas Show," through December 31 at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope.

The show is written by the Broadway team of Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen, and is directed by Josh Rhodes. The authors have comically re-imagined and rebooted the story. Terrorizing the good citizens of Bucks County, Ebenezer Scrooge rediscovers the spirit of Christmas. Five actors play nearly three dozen roles.

Stephenson appeared on Broadway in "The Producers," "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," "Titanic," and "Rock of Ages," to name some. He is joined by Evan Alexander Smith (Broadway's "Amazing Grace"), Kate Wetherhead (Broadway's "Legally Blonde"), James Ludwig (Broadway's "Monty Python's Spamalot," original cast), and Tracey Conyer Lee (off-Broadway's "Bedbugs!!! It's a Musical").

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The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass will perform "Holiday Brass" on Sunday at 7 p.m., at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown. The group celebrates peace and the unity of the human spirit through a variety of holiday music, including "Joy to the World," excerpts from Handel's "Messiah," "A Jazzy Nutcracker Suite," "Stan Kenton Christmas," and even a holiday sing-along.

Marsalis  is principal trumpet with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, artist-in-residence at Temple University, and conducts various master classes across the country and abroad. Dedicated to reaching out to the world's youth and inspiring them to reach for their dreams, his group has appeared on the world's most prominent stages (separately and together).

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The Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum in Allentown continues to keep alive that iconic structure that once stood in the city's downtown – Hess's Department Store -- on Saturday at 1 p.m., with a slide-lecture presentation.

"No store in America could surpass the magic of a visit to Hess's Department Store, especially at the holidays," said Joseph Garrera, the museum's executive director.

The program will include more than 1,000 vintage photographs as it recreates the spirit of awe and excitement that once drew national celebrities to Allentown, including Johnny Carson and Rock Hudson. Authentic film footage from Hess's glory days also will be shown.

Let's never forget the times Santa arrived in town, either by helicopter and by parachute, and even by flying saucer!

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A full-scale holiday rock orchestra concert will be given by Twelve Twenty-Four on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., in the Musikfest Café at SteelStacks in Bethlehem.

The six-piece rock band has a multi-piece string section and a variety of vocalists who deliver rock-edged holiday music as well as their own holiday creations. The concert also includes songs from the band's 2012 release, "Light in the Dark," and its 2010 debut CD, "Miracle on Rock Street."

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Holiday music can be heard on Friday at 7:30 p.m., when the Frank DiBussolo Philly Reunion Group performs at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown.

The group includes DiBussolo on guitar; James Del Orefice, piano; Dave DePalma, woodwinds; Bruce Kaminsky, bass, and Bruce Klauber, drums.

DiBussolo has worked with such greats as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross and Bob Hope, and as a soloist with the bands of Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, and Lester Lannin, to name some. Locally, he has served on the faculties of Moravian College and Lehigh University.

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A variety of choral works will be performed by The Camerata Singers at their Christmas concert, "Vespers for the Passing of the Year," on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church, 3231 Tilghman Street, Allentown.

The program will include "Five Hebrew Love Songs" by Eric Whitacre, "The Passing of the Year" by Jonathan Dove, and a piece composed by the Camerata Singers' music director/founder Dr. Allan Birney. Also included will be works by Johannes Brahms, Giacomo Carissimi, and Heinrich Schuetz, plus more.

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