A Band is Born

The summer of 1981 saw the beginnings of a major change in the musical scene in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh.

It was then that three young amateur musicians decided they couldn’t possibly play one more season with the rather casual area concert band they had joined just a few short years before. These musicians were: Ed Dzenis, a clarinet and saxophone player from Monroeville who was an engineer with Westinghouse; Ron Johnson, another Westinghouse engineer who lived in Forest Hills and played the tuba; and Roger Schneider, a baritone horn player also from Forest Hills who was plant manager at American Thermoplastic Company. Their goal was a simple one – to start a high-quality community band for serious amateur musicians in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh — an “amateur Eastman Wind Ensemble” as Schneider liked to describe it.

The summer months were spent diligently networking with musical friends and family in hopes of having the necessary instrumentation ready in September to begin the new band. In fact, the very first recruiting poster used just that name for the group, in a headline urging interested musicians, “Come blow your horn, toot your flute or beat your drum with an all-new concert band!”

Both Johnson and Schneider were members of the South Avenue United Methodist Church in Wilkinsburg and they drew on this connection to arrange for a place to begin their rehearsals. Arrangements were made with the necessary church committee to begin practicing in early September in a fairly large recreation room that offered plenty of chairs and space to stretch out and only had one disadvantage– a very low ceiling. Not exactly the perfect acoustic space for the new group, but it was a start. The goal was to continue to search for a more suitable space as the weeks went by.

That church connection also proved to be an excellent one in another way. Jay Stivanson, husband of the church organist/music director, agreed to help out and conduct the new group for the first year. Jay taught music as a full-time faculty member of the Churchill School District, he played excellent oboe and he also turned out to be an excellent first conductor.

The instrumentation at the first few rehearsals was much more like that of a small wind ensemble than the full-blown symphonic band the founders were hoping for, but within a few weeks more and more musicians had been contacted and were trying out the new group. And Schneider had been able to make contact with the borough manager of Wilkinsburg and had secured regular rehearsal space in the third floor auditorium of the borough building for every Monday night. Included was storage space for music and instruments and best of all – at no cost to the band!

Things were really coming together now. The band had moved from the basement room in the church and on Monday, October 12, 1981 the first rehearsal was held in a great new space in the Wilkinsburg Borough Building. Each week brought in a few more musicians, many of who were from communities surrounding Wilkinsburg and Forest Hills. By the time the first official roster of musicians was printed on November 23, there were already 26 band members in addition to Jay Stivanson. The initial instrumentation included 14 woodwinds, 11 brass and 1 lone percussionist! Each week Jay brought in music borrowed from other groups, and the new band slowly began to develop a small, but challenging repertoire.

So the band now had musicians and a regular rehearsal space, but still no name. During the month of October, all band members were encouraged to offer suggestions for the perfect name for the new group, and finally oboist, Dick Steinbrunn from Monroeville had a “eureka” moment. His suggestion won immediate approval. “The East Winds Symphonic Band”. Now there was a name the young band could grow into! So all the pieces were now in place for the new group to begin making performance plans for the new year 1982. As it turned out, that first concert season would be very full indeed.