Historical marker salutes group’s longevity

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Repasz Band Director Albert J. Nacinovich, admires the historical marker, as Gary Parks, Executive Director for the Lycoming County Historical Society, left, looks on after its unveiling at the bandshell in Brandon Park Tuesday.

There for some of the most pivotal moments in the nation during the past 186 years, the Repasz Band played again Tuesday while receiving their own state historical marker.

Condensing nearly two centuries of achievements into no more than 75 words wasn’t easy — especially considering the band has played at significant events like General Robert E. Lee’s 1865 surrender at Appomattox Courthouse and the dedication of President Ulysses S. Grant’s Tomb in 1897. But the marker in Brandon Park provides a glimpse of the important role the band has played in the history of the county, the state and the nation.

The marker is the newest of 2,600 markers commemorating the state’s history awarded by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. It is an honor that isn’t easy to achieve.

The Repasz Band was founded in Williamsport in 1831.

Described by Joseph W. Smith III, master of ceremonies, as “one of the band’s most enthusiastic supporters,” Mayor Gabriel J. Campana added to the band’s honor by naming Aug. 1 Repasz Band Day in the city.

Campana has a personal tie to their music.

“This band played at my first inauguration as city mayor,” he said. “I am truly honored to be here today … and to be a part of their history.”

Before Dr. John F. Piper Jr., city historian and retired dean of Lycoming College, gave his keynote speech, the band played their world-famous “Repasz Band March.” Since it was first played in 1901, it has been played 4 to 5 million times and is considered on many charts to be among the 100 best marches ever written, Smith said.

When recognizing cultural icons, a community is usually celebrating political or economic feats, Piper said.

“But we are aware there’s much more than just political and economic icons,” he said. “There’s literature, art, music … today, we are celebrating this music culture to remind today’s generation and future generations of how vibrant it was.”

The Repasz Band began as the Williamsport Band in a city that wasn’t much of a city at all, Piper said.

“It was a frontier town … no real signs of industry. There was no bridge crossing the Susquehanna. Into this came the frontier music group with flutes, clarinets, piccolos and a French horn.”

But the band grew and its venues expanded from regional to national.

By 1844, the band traveled to Baltimore by canal boat with the first state delegation to the Presidential Convention where Henry Clay was nominated for President, Piper said.

Since that first national show, the band has marked the end of the Civil War, Grant’s tomb in 1897 and again 100 years later and have been at the inaugurations of both presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

While the marker was being placed in its permanent location, the band did what they do best and played patriotic marches for the crowd spread on the lawn to enjoy.