Good Life

8 Questions with State College Area Municipal Band Conductor Ned Deihl

Conductor Ned Deihl and the State College Area Municipal Band will cover a variety of music in their May 10 performance at State High.
Conductor Ned Deihl and the State College Area Municipal Band will cover a variety of music in their May 10 performance at State High. CDT photo

Mothers and music work well together — and not just because of the cheap alliteration.

Candy, flowers and a live concert may be the winning combination for children of all ages looking to score some easy points this Mother’s Day at the State College Area High School South Building auditorium.

Conductor Ned Deihl and the State College Area Municipal Band will perform a rousing tribute to maternal instincts, complete with marches and the occasional polka.

Deihl recently talked about the history of the band and what to expect at the freeMother’s Day concert.

Q: You retired as director of bands at Penn State in 1996 and now you’re the conductor of SCAMB. What compels you to keep making music?

A: My love of bands and leading bands goes way back and still propels me forward. I started clarinet in fifth grade and have been loving music, especially instrumental, ever since. I was privileged to be conductor of the Symphonic Band at PSU for 20 years and after retirement found Muni Band to be an amazing opportunity. ... Now I also play in a big band (Keystone Society of Swing) and teach a handful of clarinet and sax students in my home studio. What better gig for a retired band director than to be conductor of SCAMB. I really enjoy working with these people.

Q: What do you think is the optimal relationship between a conductor and a group of musicians?

A: A good balance of camaraderie and disciplined rehearsals, I would say. (We) are proud of what we achieve in six or seven rehearsals for each of our four indoor concerts — Veterans Day, Winter, Spring and Mother’s Day. Many of the players even practice their parts at home. A concert is the culmination of weeks of practice and band members feel a real “high” after a great performance, like athletes winning a big game but having an aesthetic experience as well.

Q: How big is the band currently?

A: The band numbers around 75 — great instrumentation and balance with good leaders in every section. We don’t have much surplus, and when people need to be absent, there are holes in the band. I do miss the 100 percent attendance we had at Penn State, but realize our people may have conflicts — illness, business travel, parent duties. Fortunately, few ever miss a concert. We have a stage full at High School South, our home base. Our audiences have quadrupled, our library has greatly expanded and we’re playing a more advanced repertoire.

Q: How do you go about selecting the music for each performance?

A: We strive for variety on each program, and we do play everything from orchestral transcriptions — “war horses” — to modern contemporary music, but we always include one march. Our goal is to make our performances musical; the music comes first. We have people with great technique on their instruments, something we like to occasionally challenge.

Programming is tricky — playing music that the band likes, music that the audience likes, and music that the conductor likes, not always the same pieces. For example, Horn players understandably hate marches, always playing the characteristic “peck horn parts” off the beat, the “pah” of the “um-pah.” Most players like to be challenged technically, but our first goal is to always make it musical and audience friendly.

Q: The band has a diverse membership that comes from all over central Pennsylvania, including music teachers, band conductors and even someone from the field of rocket science. How do all of these different backgrounds and voices contribute to the identity of the band?

A: Muni Band members range from age 21 to 80-plus. A couple of recent college grads just joined the band. The octogenarians (including myself) probably have longevity because they draw energy from the band. A couple of elderly band members need assistance getting to and from rehearsals, but they’re determined to keep playing. And to them I say, “Play on!”

Members come from all walks of life, including a nuclear scientist who plays an excellent horn and says “It’s not rocket science.” Currently we have a visiting scientist from Japan and his wife, both playing in the band. Players have joined us from China, Japan and France and one originally from Norway. (They tell us about the great bands in Japan and Norway). Players also come from Lock Haven and Lewistown, Huntingdon and Clearfield. They receive no compensation and usually show up even when the roads are bad.

Q: Out of all of the gigs that you guys have played, do you have a favorite? Why?

A: One of my all-time favorites, of course, was playing at Association of Concert Bands National Convention in 2006 in Williamsport. We played a big program and it was a super performance. In the audience were hundreds of community band members from all over the country. We were honored to be accepted as a performing band for this convention. The invitation resulted from our audition — with programs and CD recordings as submission materials. Fewer than half the applicants were accepted for performance. Thus the “Award-Winning Band” caption on our website.

Q: What kind of music should audiences expect to hear during your Mother’s Day show?

A: For the upcoming Mother’s Day Concert we’re pleased to have special guest soloist Dr. Tony Costa from the Penn State School of Music faculty. He’s doing a terrific performance of Artie Shaw’s “Concerto for Clarinet,” a swinging piece from the 1940s that our audience, mostly seniors, will really enjoy. Dr. Costa is a very versatile musician, playing everything from the classics to klezmer to swing. I would like to see more young people in the audience for this concert. Every student who ever played clarinet would find this performance inspirational.

The concert also features Ticheli’s “Blue Shades” (a big cross-over contemporary piece mixing classics and jazz) and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Sound of Music.”