Lycoming Arts ‘Holiday Sampler 2018’ honors Finn, McIver

A few weeks ago, the local arts community was dealt a devastating blow when Meg Finn, executive director of the Lycoming Arts Council, passed away unexpectedly while on a trip to China. Though Finn had only recently been appointed to her position at the helm of the organization, her diligent efforts to bolster the area’s rich arts scene and further improve downtown Williamsport’s image as an “arts town” won’t soon be forgotten.

Perhaps it is fitting then, that one of the last major projects Finn worked on for Lycoming Arts — the “Holiday Sampler 2018” — has been dedicated to her memory. The 17-song album, which Finn developed along with the help of Executive Producer Walt Straiton and Recording Engineers Tim Breon and Richard Rupert, features holiday classics as well as original music from dozens of local musicians. Since Finn and Straiton were working together on a special project in the Far East during her untimely passing, finishing touches for the CD were done by Bob and Aiegina Leidhecker, who, along with Caryn Powers, made the decision to include the dedication to Finn as a part of the final product.

“Meg Finn was a very gifted artist, particularly in the genres of theater and voice,” Straiton said. “The arts were part of Meg’s DNA, and fused with her love for her home community specifically, and all people in general, serving as the first full-time Executive Director of Lycoming Arts was the perfect mesh of both her gifting and human passions.”

Straiton said that the idea for the holiday album first came to him last Christmas, when he came across some old LP’s and was taken back to his formative years in Harrisburg during the ’60s, when he would get excited for the annual release of Christmas albums in both the Firestone and Goodyear Tire stores.

“I thought, ‘bingo,’ we can do this here, and Lycoming Arts would be the perfect initial recipient of the proceeds,” said Straiton. “I brought the idea up to Meg — I could see her excitement — and from there we thought we might have a winner.”

One of the tracks on the album is a rendition of “Santa Baby” done in Eartha Kitt’s traditionally-flavored original arrangement, which Finn sang herself after some “arm-twisting” from Straiton.

“She was incredibly modest, and this incredibly beautiful and talented lady did her best to hide from both the camera and the microphone,” Straiton said. “That said, she also recognized that for her to be credible as the Executive Director of Lycoming Arts, she needed to establish her legitimacy as an artist.

“The final recording was captured in only three takes in the studio, guided by the expert ears of Tim Breon as her recording engineer,” he added. “As Tim and I sat together on the other side of the recording studio glass, we looked at each other knowing that together we were part of something special, as each take was better than the one before it … To me, her performance personified the class, elegance and joyful, playful spirit of Meg Finn.”

Though the album is dedicated to her, Finn isn’t the only member of the local arts community to have their memory honored by the “Holiday Sampler.” Another extremely prominent local musician — Dr. Walter McIver — who founded the Lycoming College Choir in 1947 and served as its Director for three decades, has an original song on the CD commemorating him as well.

The tune “On the Corner of Third Street and Pine,” which was written by Steve Hulslander and performed by his band, The Susquehanna Jam Crackers, harkens back to the days when McIver would lead Williamsport’s Community Carol Sings, which were hosted by L.L. Stearns during the mid-20th Century.

Straiton said that he commissioned Hulslander for an original song for the album back in the summertime, after hearing the Jamcracker’s tune “She is Williamsport.” That very night, Hulslander wrote the track.

“(McIver) touched many lives and was a father figure and friend to hundreds of Lycoming College students,” said Hulslander. “He was a mentor to many and a truly memorable figure.”

The end result was extremely exciting for Straiton, who said that, “Steve is such a talented poet and songwriter, and he did a really great job with the song.”

Other local musicians who lended their talents to the CD include: The Alison Wonderband (“Winter Wonderland”), Williamsport High School Strolling Strings (“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”), Pepper Street Band (“Run Run Rudolph”), The Uptown Music Collective (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), The Repasz Band (“Sparkling Lights”), Williamsport High School GQ (“A Holly Jolly Christmas”), The Williamsport Symphony Orchestra (“Sleigh Ride”), Voyage (“The Christmas Song”), Ken Sarch and Amanda Gunderson (“Chanukah Melody”), Billtown Brass (“Three Kings Swing”), Kristin Fisher (“There’s Still My Joy”), Loyalsock High School Lancer Band (“Christmas on Parade”), Michael Caschera Jr. (“O Holy Night”), Gabriel and Eddie Severn (“Silent Night”), and The Suzuki Violins (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas”).

By working with the Chamber of Commerce, Lycoming Arts has been able to get the “Holiday Sampler 2018” in more than 20 stores throughout Williamsport and its surrounding communities. Straiton said that he wanted to make sure the album helped local businesses, so it cannot be found in any national retail chains in the area. Some places where a copy of the CD can be picked up include the Taber Museum, Genetti Hotel and the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau.

“My goal for the CD was to capture a snapshot of the breadth and depth of talent that resides in this region, representing a broad cross section of multiple musical genres — pop, jazz, classical, folk, blues,” Straiton said. “The nature of my work has me traveling to cities of all shapes and sizes throughout the nation, and I am here to tell you that what we have going on here musically, and with a wide variety of arts genres, far exceeds cultural environments of cities ten times our size. It’s truly incredible, and an honor to be a part of.”