Playing 'Allentown' in Allentown
I don't know if Billy Joel did us a favor or not when he wrote the famous "Allentown" song, but either way you view it, he put the city of Allentown and the Lehigh Valley on the map.
Just last week, as I was traveling, conducting concerts, someone asked me if I conducted the orchestra in the city of Allentown that Billy Joel had written the song about.
Since the release of "that" song in 1982 and over the last two decades or so, the Lehigh Valley has changed tremendously. Different industries and businesses have developed, thousands of people have moved to the area from all over the world, and housing complexes have taken over where cornfields used to reign.
With the closing of Bethlehem Steel in 1995, the Lehigh Valley moved away from its manufacturing image and became more of a center for the arts, culture and education, with its many non-profit organizations and its nine colleges, universities and centers for higher education.
Music thrives in the Lehigh Valley, led by the Allentown Symphony, Bach Choir, Pennsylvania Sinfonia, Musikfest, Lehigh University Choral Union, Camerata Singers and more.
At the Allentown Symphony, we perform our standard classical subscription series, but we also feature more than just classical music. We bring you concerts that reflect our times and music history.
A great example of this is the upcoming pops concert of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, "Piano Men: The Music of Elton and Billy," 8 p.m. May 11, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown.
The concert's performers include Joe Boucher, Chris Eastburn, Steve Ellsworth and Gary Backstron, all singers and songwriters in their own right, who have toured the United States performing the music of these two famous piano men, Elton John and Billy Joel.
The concert will be conducted by the Allentown Symphony's wonderful Associate Conductor, Ronald Demkee, who is also the conductor of the Allentown Band, America's oldest civilian band (dating to 1822).
Elton John and Billy Joel began their training as classical pianists and then branched out from there. Billy Joel's father was a classical pianist who greatly influenced his son's interest in music. Elton John, born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London at the age of 11. Both young men secured jobs earning money playing evenings in piano bars while still in their teens.
Many of us grew up with the music of Billy Joel and Elton John. I have wonderful memories of dancing to "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and the toe-tapping "Crocodile Rock," and happily singing along with songs like "Only the Good Die Young."
Pop tunes like "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," an Elton John duet with Kiki Dee, and his "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" were always on the radio and often played at the school dances.
Some of the other hit songs that will be featured in the Allentown Symphony concert include Elton John's "Your Song," "Tiny Dancer," "Rocket Man" and "Candle in the Wind" and Billy Joel's "Piano Man," "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," "New York State Of Mind," and, of course, the famous song, No. 17 on the Billboard charts for more than six weeks, "Allentown."
Billy Joel and Elton John are both fabulous musicians and songwriters, and because of their classical upbringing, their music lends itself well to a symphonic concert with orchestra. The full sounds of the strings and brass and woodwinds add a musical color and flavor that makes their songs even more vibrant in the concert hall.
Get ready for an evening of fun and nostalgic memories. If you grew up on the music and original songs of Billy Joel and Elton John, this is one concert you won't want to miss.
Diane Wittry is Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra and Artistic Director (U.S.A.) of the International Cultural Exchange Program with the Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnia.
Ticket information for concerts at Miller Symphony Hall: Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; AllentownSymphony.org, 610-432-6715