The brutal battle of the Ardennes Forest took place more than 80 years ago during World War II. There aren’t many men still alive who fought and served during those freezing weeks late in 1944.
But one of them will conduct a concert at the Community Arts Center on Oct. 9.
Still active at the robust age of 97, Col. Arnald D. Gabriel, USAF Ret., will lead the 11th annual Liberty Band Festival — a Williamsport event that draws dozens of musicians from such places as Colorado, Kansas, Idaho, Florida, Texas, Missouri and Ontario.
Organized by members of Williamsport’s world-famous Repasz Band, and chaired by Repasz Business Manager Judy Shellenberger, the festival is a three-day affair, with intensive rehearsals on Friday night, all day Saturday and also Sunday morning—followed by a free public concert at the CAC at 1:30 p.m. With many out-of-towners staying downtown at the Genetti Hotel, the event also includes a banquet on Saturday night.
“This year we have 105 musicians and 18 guests registered,” said Shellenberger. “They are outstanding players that come prepared by learning their music ahead of time. Col. Gabriel works his conducting magic and turns the notes into beautiful music.”
The multi-award-winning Gabriel, who fought with the U.S. Army’s 29th Infantry Division in the Second World War, has conducted hundreds of bands—and done so in all 50 states during his staggering career. He has led so many groups through such a vast array of music that he generally conducts from memory—using no musical scores during practice or performance. Remarkably, however, this year’s program features four new pieces that Gabriel has never directed before.
Chosen partly by the conductor himself, with input from previous band members and from Shellenberger too, the 2022 concert will include the National Anthem, a Karl King march, “Irish Tune from County Derry,” Morton Gould’s “Pavane,” “Dam Busters March,” selections from “The Music Man” and Sibelius’ famed “Finlandia.”
Festival members also specifically chose a composition called “Blue Horizons.” Written for the U.S. Air Force Band—which Gabriel helmed for 21 years—the song contains snippets of numerous USAF tunes. “It is a challenging but fantastic piece of music they are eager to perform,” says Shellenberger.
Giving a shout-out to fellow Repasz members Linda Kibbe, Jim Fink and Nancy Eischeid—all of whom helped organize this year’s Liberty Festival—Shellenberger also notes that due to COVID, the annual gathering has not occurred since 2019.
“Musicians from all over the country are very excited to be returning again this year and playing for a live audience,” she said.