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Groundhog Band Festival Unites
Musicians from Four Area Schools

Former MASD band director Lepsch to serve as guest conductor

By Bonnijean Cooney Adams
The Tube City Almanac
February 06, 2020
Posted in: Entertainment, McKeesport and Region News

If you go...


Groundhog Band Festival

Where: McKeesport Area High School Auditorium, 1960 Eden Park Blvd.

When: 7 p.m. Monday (Feb. 10) Friday (Feb. 7)

Tickets: $2 for adults, $1 for students

UPDATED: Due to inclement weather and a number of school delays, this event has been moved from Friday (Feb. 7) to Monday (Feb. 10).

Former McKeesport Area Band Director George Lepsch returns as guest conductor when the Groundhog Band Festival continues a tradition now involving four area high school symphonic bands.

On Monday (Feb. 10), musicians from host McKeesport Area will be joined by participants from Serra Catholic, Clairton, and West Mifflin Area following a practice that culminates in a 7 p.m. concert in the high school auditorium.

McKeesport Area Band Director Drew DeCarlo said his predecessor Karen Cole started the festival eight years ago as an opportunity for neighboring band members to join forces performing a variety of pieces and to expand their experience meeting other high school musicians.

DeCarlo said this year Lepsch was invited to conduct the concert, and had the ultimate decision on what music will be performed.

“The final call was up to me,” Lepsch said, “But I got input from others. Jeff Kesser (West Mifflin Area’s band director) was my student teacher, and I leaned on him.”

The program consists of “The Klaxon,” “Confluence,” "Salvation Is Created,” “Veteran’s Salute,” and “Celtic Air and Dance.”

DeCarlo said the music was made available in January, so most of the musicians had approximately a month to practice it. It started as a festival that fell right around Groundhog's Day, so that's where it got its name. McKeesport Area Band Boosters are lending a hand when the students come to the high school to rehearse for six or seven hours during the day, he said, then for the evening’s concert, which is open to the public.

Lepsch said the selections provide a variety of music that is challenging to the students while appealing to a broad audience.

“The Klaxon” is a standard Henry Filmore march, he said, plus there is a collection of Irish folk melodies and a Russian piece.

“Probably the most exciting is ‘Confluence,’ “ Lepsch said. It is a commissioned work that refers to the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, he said, but has additional meaning for this concert as a confluence of musicians from four districts.

Lepsch said it is challenging to find a balance in the selections for the festival. “You want to make it interesting for the students with challenges they would normally encounter in new music, but not so it is too difficult. There’s another balance in the nature of the music itself.”

Jesse Bush, in his third year as director of Serra Catholic’s band, said he has met Lepsch many times at McKeesport music functions and rehearsals.

“I think it's pretty interesting that he used to teach at Serra and McKeesport,” Bush said. “ Mr. DeCarlo is also a Serra grad. I've been helping out with the McKeesport band for the past 10 years teaching marching band and lessons.

“This is a great opportunity for the Serra students to play in a larger ensemble. I am always very thankful for how much Mr. DeCarlo and the Tiger Band supports the Serra music program,” he said.

Bush said “Salvation Is Created” probably is his favorite selection for this concert. “That piece was used as a warm-up when I was in high school marching band. It brings back many fond memories.”

David Geckle, who has directed Clairton’s band for 20 years, said his district has participated four or five times, took a few years off, then came back.

“It’s great for my students to get out of Clairton and experience a whole new dynamics with other performers,” Geckle said.

“Confluence,” he said, is his favorite on the program, “with a nice, local flavor. We take a song or two and play them in our spring concert. I let the kids vote on what they want.”

Bonnijean Cooney Adams is a contributing writer. She can be reached at adamsclick@aol.com.

Originally published February 06, 2020.

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