The Guilderland Town Band: Better than ever at 50

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Bright horns: The smooth sound of the French horn adds another layer to the musicality of the Guilderland Town Band in a recent rehearsal. 

GUILDERLAND — The founder of the Guilderland Town Band, Donald Webster, will return to celebrate its golden anniversary. Webster will conduct the final piece during the band’s third free summer concert, on Aug. 1. Former band members will be invited onto the stage to play with the band under his direction on “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Anthony Maiello, artistic director of the American Festival Pops Orchestra in Washington, D.C., will be the guest conductor for the rest of the grand finale concert.

Founded in 1969, the town band has had only two directors over nearly all the time since: Webster and then Kathleen Richards Ehlinger, a Guilderland graduate, alumna of the town band, and Guilderland High School’s current director of bands. (There were just a couple of years, soon after Ehlinger took over, when the district’s current music administrator, Lori Hershenhart, filled in for her, so that Ehlinger could spend more time with her young children.)

Webster, who is now 82, started the town band after noticing that high-school musicians were using the summer as a break from playing their instruments, he said by phone this week. He got the idea from having grown up in small towns in New York and Pennsylvania that had community bands. Chuck Hotaling, who was the director of parks and recreation at the time, and Carl Walters, who was town supervisor, were enthusiastic, he said.

Webster directed the band for 31 years, and Ehlinger started in 2000, when Webster stepped down.

From the beginning, the band was open to “anybody that wanted to play, if they told me a little bit about their background,” Webster said, adding that he had had some fine students from other Suburban Council schools.

It has always been open to all ages. “The wonderful thing about it was that the high-school students saw that musical performance can be a lifetime activity,” he said.

Neighbors and colleagues

Ehlinger said she grew up next-door to Webster and always knew about the town band. She began playing with it in 1978, when she reached high school.

“It was an amazing band then, too, and it was a way to keep in touch with your friends and to continue playing even if you hadn’t touched your instrument in a year,” she said.

Over time, the band became a little more advanced, she said, calling it now “more of a mixture.” It has professional musicians and people who once were good players but have fallen away from music.

Current members include musicians who were in the band as high-school students and later left the area and eventually returned. At a recent rehearsal, Ehlinger said, she looked over and saw a French horn player she had had in the band 20 years ago.

She said another member is Guilderland graduate Michael Dorato, a trombone player with the Pittsburgh Symphony who was also recently hired to play with The Who.

The town band has “definitely grown,” and now has between 90 and 100 members, and a waiting list, Ehlinger said. “It has also gotten better, to the point where I pinch myself and say, ‘Are we really playing this?’” Last week, she said, the band sight-read a really difficult piece of classical music, “First Suite in E-flat” by Gustav Holst.

Webster readily agreed that the quality has gone up under Ehlinger. “Kathleen has done a wonderful job with the band,” he said, “and it’s definitely playing at a much higher level than when I left. They are fantastic sight-readers.”

Long-time member Rich Koch, who plays string bass, said the band used to have five rehearsals for each concert, but now has three. “People can sight-read. That’s how the musicality is,” he said.

Webster, with his wife, Mary Lynne, now divides his time between a family cottage on Lake Ontario in the summer, and Florida in the winter.

He plans to attend the first concert, on June 20, as well as guest-conducting the last piece at the last concert of the 50th-anniversary year.


Ehlinger said that music helps build relationships and that it is “priceless” to collaborate with other musicians and remain in touch with them over the years.

The season’s lineup of three free concerts at 7:30 p.m. at the Guilderland Performing Arts Center at Tawasentha Park will be:

— June 20: The first concert will feature “Golden Jubilee March” written by former longtime Guilderland High School music teacher James Corigliano and commissioned by the Guilderland Town Band to commemorate its 50th-anniversary season. Corigliano is a clarinet and saxophone player, jazz musician, composer, and conductor. Other highlights of the concert include: “Symphonic Beatles,” “Selections from Mary Poppins,” “First Suite in E Flat,” and Ennio Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” with oboe soloist Diane Baltzahar;

— July 11: Donald E. Webster Scholarship winner Zoë Stinson will perform “Concertante” on her alto saxophone, accompanied by the band. Stinson is a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said Ehlinger, describing the town-band member as a “firecracker” and “an amazing saxophone player.”

The $500 scholarship provides an opportunity for young musicians to play in front of a band and be featured, said Ehlinger. Many of the recipients have been headed into a career as a professional musician or in music education, she said, and it is “a way to give them a shot in the arm and support them.”

Additional selections at the July 11 concert include: “American Overture for Band,” “Amparito Roca,” “Ballet Parisien,” and Guilderland High School vocal teacher Claudia Golub singing “The Prayer” from the musical “The Quest for Camelot” accompanied by the band. “It’s a beautiful piece, especially with her singing it,” Ehlinger said about Golub and “The Prayer”; and

— Aug. 1: At the season finale concert, Maiello, who is nationally and internationally known, will serve as guest conductor. Maiello was Ehlinger’s band director at the Crane School of Music and she then followed him, she said, to George Mason University to do her master’s degree.

He will conduct “Olympic Fanfare and Theme,” “When the Saints go Marching In,” and, with Ehlinger as trumpet soloist, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Other selections for the concert include: “Broadway ShowStoppers” and “Armed Forces Salute.”

As the evening’s grand finale, Webster will take up the conductor’s baton for “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” and a number of former band members will be invited to play that piece with the band.

In honor of the Guilderland Town Band’s 50th anniversary, and to invest in future musicians, half of all donations raised this season will be placed in a special fund for the Guilderland School District’s instrumental music program, Ehlinger said. Money raised will be used to repair and replace instruments and to support scholarships for promising students who need assistance.


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