By Pat Abdalla, Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice
WILKES-BARRE— The crowd came for the patriotism and stayed for the soldiers singing operatic love songs.
People from around Northeastern Pennsylvania, a mix of all ages, many wearing different assortments of red, white and blue, filled the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts to hear samples of patriotic, classical and popular music, and, yes, even a bit of opera from the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus.
The groups were on the 32nd day of a 38-day tour that took them on a 3,000 mile trek around the county.
They started the evening with a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” before Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association’s John Maday, himself a military veteran, introduced the group and reminded the audience about Saturday’s Christmas Parade in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
Conductor Col. Jim Keene led the nearly 100 musicians during most the evening, and wasn’t shy about conducting the crowd as well. The performers came from 35 states, South Korea and Russia.
Sgt. 1st Class John Blair of Virginia Beach, Virginia, said during the intermission that it’s always fun to play for an enthusiastic group.
“It’s awesome. It’s a really great crowd,” said Blair, who has been in the band for 10 years. “It’s always nice to play for audiences like this.”
The first half of the performance included music from Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” and selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
The performance was sponsored by The Citizens’ Voice, and tickets were free.
The second half had a more pops feel with an “Age of Rock” medley that included music from Chicago, Huey Lewis, Simon and Garfunkel, Billy Joel and Journey.
Those hits had the crowd clapping and waving.
A touching performance of Mark Schultz’ “Letters from War” followed.
The groups got further into the patriotic groove with a rousing rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
The program culminated with a tour through the various marches from each branch of the military and “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Those songs earning a loud ovation from the crowd before an encore that included a sing along to “God Bless America.”