Ringgold Band returns with a 170th anniversary spring concert

I can’t wait to play with the historic Ringgold Band again for their 170th Anniversary Spring Concert on April 24th at the Scottish Rite Cathedral Theater in West Reading.

A few months ago, I got together with Ringgold Band manager Chuck Ebersole and arranger Tom Shade for a brainstorming lunch where we discussed several thematic ideas for the concert. After many lively conversations, we decided that it would be interesting and fun to offer the public a concert that started with the orchestra’s roots in the music of March and then progressed through different styles of music, including including folk, swing, Broadway musicals, pop, and even rock ‘n roll.

To that end, audiences will be treated to music from John Philip Sousa, Louie Prima Sr., Rodgers and Hammerstein, Elton John, The Beatles, Sir Paul McCartney and others. Several songs on the program will offer the public the opportunity to sing along.

Imagine the thrill of having a thousand or more people singing Sir Paul’s famous ‘Na-na-na, na-na-na-na’ chant during the climactic ending of ‘Hey Jude’ backed by the entire Ringgold Band. I think it will be memorable.

This concert will mark the second time I have played with the wonderful folks at Ringgold, and in a real sense it marks a return to the footsteps of my maternal grandfather Samuel Martorana, who played French horn on first chair with Ringgold, l Italian-American Reading Instrument. Orchestra and the Reading Symphony Orchestra decades before his death.

During his time with Ringgold he occasionally conducted the orchestra. He performed with the orchestra for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inauguration in Washington, D.C. He was also one of the Ringgold musicians rehearsing with Sousa the night Sousa left rehearsal to rest at the Abraham Hotel Lincoln and died.

At this time, larger-than-life celebrities or politicians were often sent to their gravesites via funeral train. Sousa’s funeral train left Reading’s Outer Station on a cold, gray March morning, and my grandfather had taken it upon himself to organize a farewell orchestra.

Musicians from bands across the region came to play and pay their respects, along with hundreds of citizens, to the March King as he made his farewell journey from Reading to the great unknown. My grandfather was also a prolific composer who was frequently mentioned in the pages of the newspapers of his time.

Inspired by all this, I wrote a musical story for the Ringgold Band, and we will perform it on April 24th. The song is written in the style of folk music that corresponds to the American Civil War era when the band was first formed as the Ringgold Artillery Brass Band.

Much to their own safety, due to Southern sympathizers along the rail line who had begun attacking trains heading south from the north with throwing stones or worse, the newly formed orchestra was part of of a group of soldiers who responded to the president’s call. Abraham Lincoln to come and defend Washington, DC, which was waiting in fear of invasion and attack by the Confederate army. It was an act of aggression that never materialized, but the Ringgold Artillery Brass Band flourished and evolved into what we now know as the Ringgold Band.

Here are some of the lyrics to the story in song:

“Ballad of the Ringgold Artillery Band”

“In eighteen hundred and fifty-two, a whole new group was formed

To honor dear old Reading Towne, the brass and drums rang

At one thousand eight hundred and fifty three they had taken on a new name

Thus, the Ringgold Brass Band was formed and headed for glory.

Old Abe made the call to serve the cause of freedom

For men and women, boys and girls to keep their freedom

We joined with grit and moxie far beyond pale

Then, depart for Washington on the old steel rail.

Raise the horns guys, gather the drums!

Walk on the tunes of the Yankee cause, shoulder your arms

‘Cause there ain’t no wayward boy around that can beat us at our game

We are the first defenders to proudly carry the name of Samuel Ringgold!

If you come to the concert, you can hear Ringgold’s whole origin story in this ballad. Funded in part by the Reading Musical Foundation and other much-appreciated sponsors, tickets for the concert are on sale now at ringgoldband.com

In July, the Ringgold Band will also make their first concert appearance on the main stage of the Kutztown Folk Festival, America’s oldest folk festival.

Dave Kline is an award-winning writer, photographer, host and producer, singer-songwriter, travel guide and community advocate. Contact him at [email protected]

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