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How a tiny Pa. boro got a big orchestra of its own

Plus, did Philly really depose a McDonald's mascot?

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Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

March 17, 2023
Inside this edition: Amish bank, drive-in movie, made in Pa., Jack D. Ripper, Uncle O'Grimacey, Saint Patrick's Day, and small-town symphonies.
🏆  TEST TIME: If you’re confident you followed the news closely this week, there’s only one way to prove it: Put your knowledge to the test with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
Which Pennsylvania-based bank was formed by local Amish and non-Amish investors in 2013, making it the first bank in the U.S. to open following the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act and related reforms?

A. PNC Bank 
B. First Commonwealth Bank
C. Bank of Bird-in-Hand
D. Dollar Bank

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
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Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One movie worth watching: April Wright's 2017 cinematic love letter to outdoor movie theaters focused on the 73-year-old Mahoning Drive-In. Her follow-up film is a pandemic-era addendum and streaming now.

» One vote worth casting: Voting has begun in the PA Chamber of Business and Industry's Coolest Things Made in PA tourney. There's Pampers, Musselman's applesauce, the Duolingo app, and more.

» One name worth knowing: Lots of questions followed a Pittsburgh-area news station's interview with a cop named Jack D. Ripper from Penn Township in Butler County. Yes, it's really his name.

» One story worth sharing: Billy Penn delves into the premature demise of the McDonald's Shamrock Shake mascot Uncle O’Grimacey — reportedly discontinued after a Philly portrayal that included praise for the IRA.

» One photo worth seeing: A statue of St. Patrick showed up on a Pittsburgh Redditor's dog walk, resulting in this excellent photo

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Top Dems knew about Zabel allegation in 2019

» Shapiro's plan to lower high cell phone taxes

» Penn State braces for layoffs, cuts amid deficit

» Hospital's revoked tax status a 'warning shot'

» Five tips to win a Pa. open records fight

» Join a panel on Pa.'s uneven election policies
A man conducts a symphony orchestra.
Maestro Walter Morales. (Courtesy of Edgewood Symphony Orchestra)

How does a small Pennsylvania borough get its own full-size symphony? 

In the case of Edgewood, home to 3,000 people and the nearly 70-member Edgewood Symphony Orchestra, it came from a neighbor.

The symphony began in next door Wilkinsburg, also situated on Pittsburgh's eastern flank, where several nearby Westinghouse plants fueled a population boom in the 20th century.

After 45 years leading the ensemble through several iterations, founder Eugene Reichenfeld decided to retire and dissolve the band in the late 1980s, leading the players themselves to mount a rescue.

With Edgewood offering more support, they moved there and to what may still be the smallest community in the U.S. to have its own symphony.

The players are volunteers or "high-level amateurs." 

They have day jobs: Butchers, priests, mayors, surgeons, teachers, software engineers, and more have all graced the roster.

Many could have been professional musicians — some even trained for it — but opted for more traditional (read: stable) career paths. 

"We decided to make a living another way but are still very passionate about music and very good at our instruments," said flutist Peggy Greb, who is vice president of the orchestra's board and a realtor by day.

Player Natalie Ann Kasievich added: "I studied [music] all the way from four to 18. I was in youth orchestra and all of these things, and it's part of your identity, and you kind of lose it when you get to adulthood." 

Kasievich is a violinist with the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra (ESO) and executive director of the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra, a professional ensemble based in Greensburg.

Not all of the Edgewood orchestra's members live there. If they did, the symphony alone would comprise nearly 2.5% of the borough's total population. Some live an hour or more away and make the trek for once-weekly practices at a local Presbyterian church. 

"Every Tuesday for the past, you know, 36 years I've looked forward to practicing with the Edgewood symphony," Greb added.

The group plays four concerts a year. Members must audition to join. There is a sub/waitlist for those willing to hold out for an opening. 

There are other, larger Pennsylvania boroughs with community orchestras, Ambler and Lansdowne to name two. Milton in Northumberland County was the smallest community in the U.S. to support a full orchestra before that group folded following the outbreak of World War II.

Across the country, orchestras found in unlikely places today are sometimes remnants of 1935's Federal Music Project, a New Deal program that sent thousands of out-of-work musicians to communities nationwide, where some formed orchestras and brought live classical music to Americans who had never experienced it that way before.

Many such orchestras have since gone the way of the dinosaur. It is, needless to say, hard to keep an orchestra afloat these days. 

In Edgewood, the orchestra's annual budget is small, around $50,000. That's up from $10,000 or less when it started 36 years ago.

Some people in the tiny borough are still unaware that it exists, recalling a 2019 Washington Post article with the title: "People are upset when an orchestra closes. If only they went to the concerts."

(Grants remain an integral piece of ESO's funding puzzle.) 

Members who spoke with PA Local say the Edgewood orchestra has never been better than it is right now under musical director and conductor Walter Morales, one of the outfit's few paid employees.

Marilyn Myers, the "mother of the ESO," had a direct hand in its post-Wilkinsburg evolution and said of Morales: "He's a spark plug; very motivating," but not in a terrifying Terence Fletcher sort of way.

Greb expanded on this: "I told [Morales] last year, and I know it touched him a lot, that I played better for him, not because I'm afraid of him but because I don't want to disappoint him. A lot of us feel the same way." 

Morales, a native of Costa Rica, who came to the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra by way of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, isn't taking sole credit. "Musicians need confidence, they need to be in a group to feel encouraged to play and inspire something. The players have a — it's a wonderful support system that we have in place, and I think it encourages people to give their very best and play at the highest level they can."

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor 

The Edgewood Symphony Orchestra's next show — featuring works by Aaron Copland, George Walker, Howard Hanson, and John Adams — happens May 6.

Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED!
Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

"A peculiar goal is that maybe 100 years from now, written evidence is found proving there was a Philly Pen Circle."

—Michael McGettigan, founder of a new club for Philadelphia fans of fancy pens and vanguards of analog in our current digital age

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
On the tracks in Lemoyne with @debarcjenksSend us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A vivid sunset reflecting off otherwise darkened railroad tracks.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
The Bank of Bird-in-Hand was the first new U.S. bank after the Great Recession-inspired Dodd-Frank Act took effect in 2010. 

A 2015 Wall Street Journal profile says: Bank of Bird-in-Hand caters mainly to the local Amish community, though it welcomes other customers, too. The bank doesn't offer online banking, but its sole branch does have a drive-thru window that can accomodate a horse and buggy. 

Eight years after that article was written, the bank's website says it now has six locations total in Lebanon and Lancaster Counties. 

It also has "mobile" banking in which the branches come to you.

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all gifts will be DOUBLED!
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