Music touches county students

They began with a traditional New Orleans Dixieland funeral march that started with a mournful melody and finished with a bright and happy celebration of life.

The variety in that tune was reflected by the selections of music throughout the rest of the phenomenal concert by Rodney Mack’s Philadelphia Big Brass.

The music ranged from Johann Sebastian Bach to Elvis Presley and Earth Wind and Fire.

Mack said he wouldn’t tell the audience the name of the next song, bur told the students to “listen to the bass line.”

He received the reaction he knew was coming when the group struck up “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson.

The concert was presented Wednesday in the Struther’s Library Theater to hundreds of enthusiastic seventh and eighth grade students, including homeschoolers, from the Warren County School District.

Ann Mead, director for the Warren County Summer Music School, said the concerts are part of the school’s community outreach program.

She said the program is presented in collaboration with Penn State Erie, bringing in one of the artists from PSU Behrend’s Kay Logan’s Series.

After the concert, she said, “I was amazed how they (the students) were getting into the music, moving in their seats. It was a very appreciative audience.”

Mack kept the audience involved by getting the students to keep time with their hands and voices, by telling jokes and teasing the audience.

“We play a lot of different styles, all different forms of music. We like to mix it up. Everyone is classically trained from various conservatories. Jose (Sidja) played with Gloria Estefan, and others with Prince,” Mack told the students.

“We try to tailor our concerts to the audiences.” He said after the concert, noting the group will be playing a world premier in Chattanooga for the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, then taking it across the country. Later, they will play a tribute to Wagner and Verdi in Philadelphia.

He added, “In the last couple of years we played in China and South America.”

Chris Castellanos and Sidja, two of the musicians in Wednesday’s concert are co-owners and play in Boston Brass,a similar ensemble.

Castellanos said, “A lot of the top brass group musicians know each other, and when schedules don’t conflict they get together and play with Rodney.”

The concert concluded with a spine-tingling rendition of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” which earned the musicians a standing ovation.