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Keystone Brass Quintet celebrates 40 years

It was April of 1977, almost 40 years ago, that the Keystone Brass Quintet stepped on stage for the first time.

Looking out into the audience at York College, French horn player Steve Burg remembered seeing a decent crowd with several familiar faces. His brother had traveled from Maryland to see him perform, he recalled.

It wasn’t a full house, he said, but still, he was somewhat nervous.

This was the first time that these five musicians had ever played for an audience.

“It was pretty difficult music,” Burg said. “I worried about endurance and trying to last.”

When the quintet formed just six months earlier in October of 1976, Burg said they never considered performing for the public.

The five musicians, who also performed in the York Symphony Orchestra, just wanted an additional outlet for making music.

“Frankly, when we started, we thought we’d get together on Saturday afternoons (and play), and if we liked it we’d keep doing it,” Burg said. “We never dreamed we’d be doing concerts.”

But after opening that first show with “Die Bankelsangerlieder,” a piece commonly played by brass quintets, Burg said they were hooked.

“The fact that we felt that we were doing challenging music that pushed us to the limits and were reasonably successful at it (made us feel like) we’re going to keep doing this,” he said.

Forty years later, the quintet is still performing.

To celebrate this milestone, the KBQ – which now consists of three original members Burg on French horn, Doug Winemiller on trumpet and Mike Dietz on trombone and new members Peter Johnston on trumpet and Jim Biddle on tuba – will perform a series of 40th anniversary concerts, each featuring music from throughout the quintet’s 40-year span. Trumpet player Jason Robinson will sub for Winemiller who is on a sabbatical.

Each concert will open with “Die Bankelsangerlieder,” the same way their first concert did 40 years ago, Burg said, and will continue with music ranging from baroque to classical and romantic to modern, as well as a few marches and big band selections.

Audiences can expect to hear some of the quintet’s all-time favorites, including works from composers such as Samuel Scheidt, Arthur Frackenpohl, Victor Ewald, Morley Calvert, Modest Mussorgsky. The quintet will also perform various works arranged by past and present KBQ members.

Looking back on the last 40 years, Burg said performing with the quintet has given him quite a few memorable experiences.

As one of the first brass quintets in the area, the band started out performing at local colleges. Doing 10-15 shows a year, they performed at church services, weddings, libraries and even former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed’s Easter coloring book contest.

“That was the most unusual job we’ve ever done,” he said.

They performed for audiences both large and small, to applause and, well, not applause. Once, someone threw a shoe at them while they performed the Marines’ Hymn.

“It was in the days of Oliver North and the Iran-Contra affair,” Burg said. “I don’t know if he thought we were making a political statement or something, but he started throwing shoes at us.”

Now that the quintet has reached its 40th anniversary, Burg said there are plenty more memories to come.

“Our goal is to have it be something that goes beyond us,” Burg said. “We feel we have a stake in this. It’s something we started, and we don’t want to see it dissipate when we can’t do it anymore.”

Upcoming concerts

  • 4 p.m.March 6 at Derry Presbyterian Church, 248 E. Derry Road, Hershey
  • 4 p.m. April 9 at Gettysburg Theological Seminary, 61 Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg
  • 7 p.m. May 15 at Bausman Memorial UCC Church, 1064 Penn Ave., Wyomissing
  •  7 p.m. Dec. 10 at First Baptist Church, 3375 Druck Valley Road, York