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The Allentown Band and Muhlenberg College, longtime Lehigh Valley institutions and long-term community friends, have embarked on a collaboration to preserve the Band’s archives, gather members’ oral histories, and develop and share digital stories about the Band’s work. The partners include members of the Band, students, and faculty in an integrative learning course involving archival science and documentary fieldwork. This site highlights the digital scholarship of students’ oral histories, digital stories, and finding aids that speak to the traditions and treasured memories of the Band.

A prominent feature of nineteenth-century musical Americana is the concert band, and the Allentown Band has, for almost 200 years, kept that tradition alive. Drawn from within a 50-mile radius of the Lehigh Valley, the band’s musicians, as different as their backgrounds may be, share one common goal: to create and preserve concert band music at a level of excellence rarely heard from a community band.

A Love of Music

All members of the Allentown Band approach their music-making in a professional manner, though most members do not make their livings from music performance alone.  Many are teachers of music in schools and private studios. Some teach a variety of subjects unrelated to music. Others are engaged in engineering, accounting, sales, insurance, medicine, and dentistry, or in various office work or building trades.  When they meet to perform, however, whether in a public park setting, retirement community, or in Carnegie Hall, both differences in experiences and daytime vocations disappear, and the love of music shines through.

A Community of Outreach

The Allentown Band’s educational outreach program serves to raise interest in the Band among elementary and middle school students through its annual youth concerts.  The Band also performs “side-by-side” concerts in which advanced high school students from seven counties participate in a public concert playing alongside members of the Allentown Band.

A Band on the Run

A typical Allentown Band schedule includes roughly 40 yearly performances. Since 1828, the venues for these performances have included everything from local church picnics, college commencements, and parks to presidential inaugurations, Carnegie Hall, and the mountains of Switzerland. Over the years, the Band has continued to travel across land and sea to bring that Sousa sound to delighted audiences.

A Hometown Tradition

West Park is a large green space located between West Linden and West Turner streets in the heart of Allentown. Its great white band shell is home to a summer concert series that annually provides a performance space for the Allentown Band.

An Integrative Course

Dr. Kate Ranieri and Anthony Dalton of Muhlenberg College’s Media and Communication Department, together with Special Collections and Archives Librarian Susan Falciani Maldonado, created a new integrative learning course connecting principles of oral history, documentary fieldwork, and story making, as well as archival theory and practice, within the context of working with the historic Allentown Band.

Through immersion in community-based fieldwork, students Danielle Burg, Riley Cassidy, Haley Hnatuk, and Emily Robinson learned different ways of knowing:  to observe, listen, and speculate; to understand what, why, and how information is preserved; and how to make the materials accessible for the community and for researchers by contributing to an online finding aid and beginning the process of sharing digital objects. 

An Expansive Archive

The ephemeral archival materials — photographs, programs, correspondence — of the Allentown Band have been painstakingly saved through the years, with the earliest items dating to the 1860s.

Students learned the principles of archival theory while creating a standardized tool, a “finding aid,” that will allow the carefully preserved Band materials to be accessible to researchers worldwide.

“The need to remember and to learn from past experience demands that we consolidate what we know in reliable ways.”

– James M. O’Toole and Richard J. Cox, “Understanding Archives & Manuscripts”

An Oral History

We embraced oral history, rather than mere interviews, to co-create the memory, narrative, and subjectivity of each band member. As an art form, oral history requires deep listening to the narrator’s lived experiences with music, with the band and with band members.

Italian historian Alessandro Portelli writes,

Oral history, then, is the history of events, history of memory, and history and interpretation of events through memory. Memory, in fact, is not a mere depository of information, but rather an ongoing process of elaboration and re-construction of meaning.

An End to our Beginning

The Allentown Band and Muhlenberg College have origins in the 1800s, yet they continue to evolve, to embrace both the traditional and the contemporary. 

In this digital environment, a tribute and record of our collaboration, visitors can expect new exhibits as well as expansions of our humble beginnings here. 

We’re excited about our future together.

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