Kick off the holidays with Billtown Brass

It’s that time of the year again.

The Billtown Brass Band of the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra (WSO) will return to the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St., at 7 p.m. Nov. 24 to present “Kick Off the Holidays” with guest artists Spencer and the T-Bones, a nine-piece, trombone-heavy group rocking a broad, diverse repertoire.

The program will feature a variety of music, ranging from traditional holiday favorites to which the audience can sing along, to more spiced-up renditions of familiar songs, as well some lesser known works, adding up to an hour and fifteen minutes of seasonal music.

Under the direction of conductor Richard Coulter, supervisor of the essentials at Williamsport Area School District, the Billtown Brass took form in August 2000 when weather conditions at a concert prevented the entirety of the WSO from performing. The group consists of 25 brass instruments and three percussionists, making for a logistically friendly ensemble with a huge sound.

When asked about his reasoning behind the upcoming show’s setlist, Coulter was blunt and practical: “My fundamental belief about programming: put on something for everybody,” he said. “That means the players, the audience, and me. Each one of us has a need when we form a program and the audience has wide interests.”

Which is why the concert will open its first section (out of three) with composer Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” described by Coulter as a “great old-fashioned tune everyone has heard.”

Next up will be “Comfort and Joy,” a hip version of the classic Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Coulter said, “The piece starts off traditionally but will eventually turn into a catchy hip-hop melody.”

Following that will be “What Sweeter Music,” a contemporary Christmas carol from the British composer John Rutter.

Next is “Frosty the Snowman” featuring a tuba solo by Dr. William Ciabittari, principal tuba of the WSO, director of bands and department chair of the music department at Lycoming College, and music director of the WSO Youth Orchestra as well as the Williamsport Community Orchestra. Coulter described “Frosty,” as a “fun, fun arrangement.”

After that, the Billtown Brass Band will play a jazzy rendition of “Let it Snow” before it closes the first part of the concert with “Yule Dance,” which Coulter said is, “a heck of a lot of fun. It’s there for me and it’s the most musically interesting piece on the program because it mixes together a number of different carols – ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ and ‘Good Christian Men Rejoice’ – in a creative way.”

At the start of the show’s middle section, the Billtown Brass Band will be joined by guest artists Spencer and the T-Bones, whose material ranges from Cee Lo Green to Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder to the Temptations, The Eagles to Sam Cooke. They will play along with the Billtown Brass as well as have their own set.

Originally consisting of four trombones and a rhythm section when it formed in 2009, the band now includes the well-known Spencer Sweeting on vocals.

According to their website, “Spencer and the T-Bones is what you get when you mix a soulful singer with a rock’n rhythm section and a funky horn line.”

Before Sweeting joined, they were known as K.T. and the T-Bones. With his inclusion came additional changes such as trading one trombone for a baritone saxophone and adding a keyboard player.

The current lineup is as follows: Spencer Sweeting, vocals; Tim Breon, guitar; Lee Saville-Iksic, keyboard; Madd Radspinner, bass; Bobby Leidhecker, drums; Kevin Henry, trombone; Bill Grose, trombone; Brett Rynhard, trombone; and Larry Fisher, baritone saxophone.

The T-Bones were chosen as the guest artists because of their ever-increasing playlist, as well as many of the members’ history playing with Richard Coulter and the Billtown Brass.

“We are looking forward to this concert on several levels,” said Kevin Henry, trombonist and booking agent for the band. “This will be our first holiday concert and will give us the opportunity to expand our repertoire. Second, every time we do a new song it is like opening a present. Everything we do is made-to-order. There is no published music for our configuration of instruments.”

Their set reflects Coulter’s philosophy of not alienating anyone in the audience: “Our set will include ‘Back Door Santa’ for the funk and blues fans,” said Henry. “‘This Christmas’ for people to get their soul on; ‘Run, Run, Rudolph’ for all the rockers; and more. Anyone that hasn’t heard Spencer Sweeting is in for a real treat. These songs are perfect for him.”