Festival of Bands

Allentown Music Festival, Inc.

824 Walnut Street

Allentown, PA  18102

The History of the Festival of Bands

The Current Directors of the Participating Bands (from the left)


Thomas K. Heinick of The Marine Band


Richard S. Steltz of The Municipal Band


Ronald Demkee of The Allentown Band


Robert Billig, Jr. of The Pioneer Band


The following historical footnotes were originally compiled by Board Member and President, Dr. Jack McHugh, for the Festival of Bands 50th Anniversary. Dr. McHugh passed away in 2005. In his honor, the Festival Committee believes his History of the Festival of Bands deserves a reprint with updates added from 2003 to the present.

  • Donald P. Miller, Ed Bulgrin, Paul Anewalt, and Albertus Meyers met in 1951 to discuss the formation of a mass band festival. They decided the four Allentown civic bands would contribute 200 musicians for the concerts and the first festival was planned and organized in 1952.


  • Allentown 8th Street Bridge is called “The Albertus L. Meyers” Bridge in honor of the man who was the Allentown Band’s director for 50 years.


  • The first event was scheduled in the Allentown High School Stadium for June 1, 1953. However, it rained and the  concert was re-scheduled for June 8 with an attendance of 7,500.


  • The first chairman was Paul F. Anewalt. From the beginning, the concerts (later festivals) collected money to distribute to  organizations that serviced children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


  • The oldest band is the Allentown Band which dates back to July 3, 1828. Playing concerts without interruption to this day, it is the oldest civilian band in the U.S.


  • The Pioneer Band is the second oldest band. It was organized on October 10, 1889 from an earlier group known as the Mingo Band.


  • The Marine Band dates back to January 19, 1903, when it was chartered by 22 members and was associated with Allentown’s Lentz Legion Post. Over the years, directors of the United States Marine Band have served as guest conductors.


  • The Municipal Band was organized from a group of musicians known in 1923 as the Allentown Police Band. It was reorganized in 1926 as “Klingler’s Municipal Band.” The present Municipal Band dates back in name to 1941.


  • The advertisement announcing the first Festival of Bands appeared in the Sunday Call-Chronicle, Allentown, PA on May 31, 1953  The Festival, comprised of 18 musical groups, was to be held at the Allentown High School Stadium. The four city bands played and also Allentown High School Band, Central Catholic High School Band, Central Junior High School Band, South Mountain Junior High School Band, Raub Junior High School Band, Harrison-Morton Junior High School Band, Slatington High School Band,  and Catasauqua High School Band. In addition the Ukrainian    Chorus, the Albright Marimba Ensemble, Central High School Glee Club, the Walter Marsh Dancers, the Central   Junior High School Chorus and The Lehigh Valley All-Girl Orchestra and Chorus performed. George Stahl and George Snyder also played an organ recital as a prelude to “The Big Program.”


  • More than 10,000 people crowded into Allentown High School Stadium for the second concert on June 8, 1954. The third concert was held on June 7, 1955, and sponsored by the Allentown Junior Chamber of Commerce.


  • By June 26, 1956, The Allentown Music Festival—”A Night of Music Under the Stars” was sponsored for the first time by Allentown Music Festival, Inc. and held at the Allentown Fairgrounds.


  • The first President was Dean L. Foote and Vice President was Atty. Wilbur C. Creveling, Jr. In addition to the four civic bands, several theatrical acts from TV performed and were contracted by The Johnny McHugh Theatrical    Agency (father of Dr. John  F. McHugh).


  • The Festival of Bands format featuring 200 musicians under the batons of the four directors of our civic bands was first featured at Muhlenberg College Memorial Hall, on Sunday, February 24, 1957. This format continued through 2007. The 2008 and 2009 Festivals were supposed to be performed at Allentown’s West Park in May, but inclement weather forced them indoors to the Allentown Scottish Rite Cathedral. The 2010 and 2011 concerts were played at Trexler Middle School in Allentown and were downsized to 100 musicians (25 from each band) to fit on the stage.


  • In addition to the four civic bands performing during the Festival concerts, special musical groups and individuals have been part of the Festivals. These included Lillian Briggs, local “Queen of Rock and Roll” singer (1960); Allentown Community Chorus, Wilbur Hollman, director (1961); and the Mack Chorus, directed by   Donald Winzer (1977).


  • The first conductors at the Festival of Bands at Muhlenberg’s Memorial Hall in 1957 were Harry R. Newhard (Municipal Band); Gerald J. Reinsmith (Pioneer Band); Albert Marchetto (Marine Band); and Albertus L. Meyers (Allentown Band).


  • The first Master of Ceremonies were Art Getz (1953); Sen. Johnny Van Sant (1954); Radio and TV personality Jack Pyle (1955); Sen. Johnny Van Sant (1956); James F. Chambers (1957); and Philadelphia TV “Weather Girl” Judy Lee (1958).


  • In 1959, Mrs. Ralpha Senderowitz became the longest serving Mistress of Ceremonies, announcing until 1997, a total of 39 concerts.


  • In 1998, Thomas Driggers (ARC), Seth Grossman (Vitalistic, Therapeutic Center), and Jane A. Wrisley (VIA) along with the Band Directors Jay A. Durner, Raymond Becker, Richard Hinkle, and Ronald Demkee provided the Festival’s commentaries.


  • Dr. John F. McHugh presided over the Festival of Bands as Master of Ceremonies from 1999  to 2006.


  • The Master of Ceremonies from 2007 to 2011 were Raymond S. Becker, Jr.(2007) ;The Honorable Ed Pawlowski, Allentown Mayor (2008—2009); and Rob Vaughn, WFMZ TV 69 News Anchor (2010-2011).


  • The Chairmen of the Festivals were Paul F. Anewalt & Donald P. Miller (Co-Chairmen in 1953-1954); Dean Foote (1955-1956); Ed Bulgrin (1957-1958).


  • The “Chairman” changed in 1959 to “President, Allentown Music Festivals, Inc.” They were Fred H. Schantz, Sr. (1959-1960); Paul F. Anewalt (1961-1970);  Wilbur C. Creveling, Jr. (1971-1973); E.H. Bulgrin (1974-1976); Charles H. Hoch (1977-1987); Howard T. Rex (1988-1990); Wilfred M. Post (1991-1996); Dr. John F. McHugh (1997-2006); Richard F. Hinkle, General Chairman (2003-2004); Matthew Cascioli, General Chairman (2005-2006); and Matthew Cascioli, President and General Chairman (2007-present).


  • George A. Stahl, a popular local politician and Lehigh County Commissioner, provided the Prelude Organ Music     beginning in 1953 until 1987. There was no organist in 1988, but from 1989 until 2000, the organist was Stephen   Ziminsky.


  • The popular Maestro of the Keyboard, Larry Ferrari, honored the Festival of Bands by performing on an Allen Organ during the 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980 and 1987 Festivals.


  • The Allentown Music Festival, Inc. was recognized in the Record of The U.S. House of Representatives on May 25, 1967, by then Congressman Fred B. Rooney. He stated”... Allentown Music Festivals, Inc. an organization of        individuals dedicated to the advancement of music in this community, has     registered the name, “Allentown, Band City, U.S. A.” with the Department of the Commonwealth in Harrisburg, PA. This title, I firmly believe, is one well  deserved by a city whose history has been threaded with the musical achievements of its bands.”


  • Later a proclamation by then Governor Raymond P. Shafer, conferred on   August 29, 1967, proclaimed Allentown as “Band City, U.S.A.”


  • The first mention of Allentown as “Band City, U.S. A.” was in the February 25, 1968, Festivals of Bands Program Book—the 16th annual concert.


  • A special ceremony was held on February 25, 1968 to present an official   banner, a proclamation by Allentown Mayor Ray B. Bracy, and the introduction of a special march, “Allentown, Band City U.S. A.,” composed by Raymond S. Becker, Jr., Director of the Marine Band.


  • For the Festival’s 25th Anniversary in 1977, the Committee organizing the concert numbered 51 people!  It also marked the 10th Anniversary of LARC.


  • The 1976 Festival celebrated our nation’s Bicentennial (1776-1976) with a program of patriotic music, featuring as special musicians The Freedom High School Fife and Drum Corps, under the direction of Ronald H. Demkee.


  • Two reigning Miss Pennsylvanians visited our Festival; Maureen Wimmer in 1972 and Tina Louise Thomas (later 4th runner-up in the Miss America Pageant) in 1974.


  • The 1987 Festival concert was dedicated to Charles H. Hoch, long-time officer of the Allentown Music Festivals, Inc., who died on February 16, 1987. He was 90.


  • At the 1988 Festival, the featured guest performers were from The Scottish  Society of the Lehigh Valley Bag Pipe Band, presenting a series of Scottish songs and marches under the direction of Pipe Major Scot D. Walker.


  • Howard T. Rex, former President of the Allentown Music Festivals, Inc. was   remembered on the dedication page of the 1990 program. He died July 22, 1989.


  • The 39th Festival in 1991 was dedicated to founder Donald P. Miller. His presence at the concert rendered him a rousing standing ovation from a grateful audience.


  • The 40th anniversary program was dedicated to Edward H. Bulgrin who helped organize the first meeting in 1951 to discuss the formation of a mass band concert. He served in a wide variety of capacities for the Festival for 40 years.


  • The 41st Festival in 1993 was dedicated to its President, W.M. ”Wiley” Post.


  • Ralpha Senderowitz, Mistress of Ceremonies for 39 performances from 1959 to 1987, was honored with a dedication page for the 1994 Festival Program Book.


  • Also at the 1994 Festival, the audience was treated to a performance by the Happy Boombadears playing “Big Band Polka.”


  • The 1995 Festival was dedicated to the WWII Veterans. Greetings came from such luminaries as President George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Major John Eisenhower-and even The Queen Mother of England, Queen Elizabeth.


  • Joseph Zoppi was remembered at the 2001 Festival for his participation in all 48 concerts since the concerts and   Festivals were organized-from 1953 to 2000. He was a saxophonist in the Marine Band of Allentown for 65 years.


  • Wesley and Winona Gangewere, as parents of a son with developmental disabilities were two of the most ardent members of the Festival Committee. Wes joined the Board of Directors in 1985, was appointed to Chairman in 1991, and then First Vice President in 1994. Winona was elected to the Board of Directors in 1971.


  • Mrs. Edward B. (Kim) Rentschler was associated with the Festival for many years and served in many capacities. She was looked upon as a full time coordinator of our annual event.


  • Mrs. Willard Falk, Wes Gangewere’s sister, served as Secretary of the Allentown Music Festivals, Inc.


  • In 2007, the 55th Annual Festival of Bands highlighted Ms. Dorothy R. Knauss-Allentown’s “First Lady of the Harp” for her many musical achievements and her long career playing with the Allentown Band—67 years!


  • The 2008 Festival of Bands paid tribute to the 100th Anniversary of Allentown’s beautiful West Park.


  • In 2011, The Festival of Bands recognized the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 with a program entitled “United We Stand”, the same title and theme of the 2002, 50th Anniversary Festival. Special Guest, Dan Croft from Somerset County, conducted the four city bands in two special musical pieces remembering events of September 11, 2001.  Both     Festivals, 2002 and 2011 honored the men and women of the police, fire and emergency medical services.


  • In 2011, The Festival of Bands sadly also remembered the passing of Dr. Jack McHugh., former Allen High School principal, Lehigh County Commissioner and Allentown Music Festivals, Inc. Board Member. Jack died on September 20, 2010.


  • The 2012 Festival of Bands was "A Triple Salute," recognizing Allentown's 250th Anniversary, Lehigh County's 200th Anniversary, and the Festival of Band's 60th Anniversary. It was also the first year of four that the Festival of Bands was held at Allentown School District's Louis E. Dieruff High School Auditorium.


  • The next three concerts continued with a theme format. We heard music from “The Wild Wild West" in 2013, “Big Band Swing an’ Jazz” in 2014 and “Music by American Composers” in 2015.


  • The 2016 Festival of Bands honored the 75th Anniversary of December 7th, 1941 with a concert themed "Remembering Pearl Harbor." The venue was new, the Northampton Area High School Auditorium. The High School's Jazz Ensemble opened the concert as musical guests.


  • The 2017 Festival of Bands highlighted popular "Broadway Show Stoppers" music including Broadway Show-stoppers Overture, Medley from Miss Saigon, Selections from Les Miserables, and highlights from The Lion King Soundtrack. The Northampton Area High School Jazz Ensemble was also part of the concert.
  • The 2018 concert was again held at Northampton Area High School and had a theme of "Awesome Overtures." Selections included Festive Overture, Orpheus Overture, Chester Overture and Zampa Overture. The Northampton Area High School Jazz Ensemble opened the concert as our musical guests.


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