Bethlehem Press

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Allentown Marine Band in step for ‘Pennsylvania March’ debut

Friday, September 14, 2018 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

There aren’t many compositions commemorating the Keystone State.

Sure, Pennsylvania has the “Pennsylvania Polka,” written by Zeke Manners and recorded in 1942 by The Andrews Sisters.

Another song mentioning the state, “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” with music by Jerry Gray and lyrics by Carl Sigman and recorded in 1940 by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, is actually based on the phone number of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City.

Pennsylvania does have an official state song, “Pennsylvania,” with lyrics and music by Eddie Khoury and Ronnie Bonnie, chosen by the General Assembly and Gov. Robert P. Casey in 1990.

But the Commonwealth has never had an official march.

So when his good friend John Jankowich suggested to Ron DeGrandis several years ago that Pennsylvania needed its own march, the Bethlehem resident and former Easton educator was intrigued.

DeGrandis’s “The Pennsylvania March” has its premiere performance by The Marine Band of Allentown, 3 p.m. Sept. 16, West Park, North 16th and West Turner streets, Allentown. The march will be played along with other original marches by the late Raymond S. Becker, Jr., who was the Marine Band director for 44 years. The concert is free and open to the public.

“The Pennsylvania March” is dedicated to Jankowich, who died in 2014.

DeGrandis wrote marches for the 250th anniversary of Northampton County and Crayola’s 100th anniversary. In his 30 years as music instructor at Easton Area Middle School (formerly Shawnee Intermediate School), he wrote marches performed by the school’s award-winning concert and marching bands, orchestra, and jazz band. He retired from the Easton School District in 2011.

He says after Jankowich’s suggestion, he had been “toying around” with the idea of writing a march for Pennsylvania, and two years ago started sketching out musical ideas on the piano.

“I decided to incorporate the rhythmic motif of the word ‘Pennsylvania’ throughout the composition,” he says. “It’s almost like a call and response effect.”

DeGrandis says the finished piece is written for full concert band including flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, sax, French horn, trumpets, drums, bells and more.”

Since his wife Janet plays clarinet for the Marine Band, DeGrandis took the composition to Marine Band director Tom Heinick to read through.

Heinick liked what he saw and took it to the band which played it through.

“It was so exciting to hear it live,” DeGrandis says.

Now he says the Marine Band has been practicing it and is “ready to go.”

DeGrandis says state representatives have been invited to the concert to hear the potential contender to become Pennsylvania’s official march.

“It will be quite and honor” DeGrandis says. “I would love it to be considered for the state march.”

There is some precedent for a state having an official march.

In 1987, John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” was named the national march of the United States.

While all the states in the U.S. have official songs (except New Jersey which has an unofficial state song), most do not have state marches.

However, Kansas has “The Kansas March” and Massachusetts has “The Road to Boston” as official state marches. Louisiana has two official state marches: “Song of Louisiana” and “Louisiana My Home Sweet Home.”

DeGrandis has played viola with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra for 38 years and has arranged pieces for the Allentown Symphony’s “Young Musicians String Festival” since 2014. He has composed string orchestra music for Hal Leonard Music Publishers.

The Marine Band of Allentown, founded in 1903, is a civilian band and not affiliated with the United States Marine Corps.

Information: allentownmarinebandinc.com