History of the Bands
The origin of the Gem City Bands dates back to the early 1940s, or perhaps even the 1930s, when there was a concert band playing at the Siebenbueger Singing Society. At the same time, there was a concert and marching band at the 313th Machine Gun Battalion Club, located at 20th & Peach Streets, the present site of the Kings Rook.
Around 1950, the 313th Band combined with the existing Siebenbuerger Band and relocated to and was sponsored by the Siebenbuerger Singing Society. The band had several conductors during this time, including Adam Lehner, Joseph
Lehner (Adam's brother), and Hank Russell. The band remained at the Siebenbuerger Club for over 20 years, but because of declining interest and a shrinking membership, it was felt that a new sponsor had to be found.
The band very briefly met at the Millcreek Moose Club. In 1970, an agreement was reached with the East Erie Turners (EET) Club for the band to move there under EET sponsorship. At the Turners, the band had six different conductors, including Hank Russell, Lloyd Johns, Ralph Perkins, Ned Trautman, Gary Peterson, and Tim McKinney. The band played annual spring and fall concerts at the Turners, as well as three summer concerts at the club's outdoor facility, Turnwald. At its peak, and until the 1980s, the band drew 400 people or more for its concerts. At one point, the club even added risers to help accommodate the crowds.
In September 2003, after more than 30 years, the band and the East Erie Turners parted ways, leaving the band without a name or a home. Though unsure of the future, the full concert band and its new, smaller spin off—a swing/jazz band—still practiced at Wilson Middle School for several months, before landing at St. John's Lutheran Church. The bands resided at St. John's Lutheran Church until December 2010. After Tim McKinney's departure in early 2007, Betty McKinney served as director of the bands until December 2007. From 2008 through November 2010, Dr. Scott Tomlison served as director of both the Concert Band and Jazz Ensemble. From late 2010 through April 2018, Brian McCowin served as conductor of the Concert Band, while Jim Caspar served as conductor of the Jazz Ensemble from late 2010 through the end of 2019. In November 2018, Brent Johnson was selected as the new conductor of the Concert Band, with Brian Gresh serving as the Assistant Conductor. In March 2020, Joel Hunt, PhD., was selected as the new conductor of the Jazz Ensemble.
The bands were located at St. Mark's Episcopal Church from 2011 to March 2014, at which time they returned to St. John's Lutheran Church at 2216 Peach Street. St. John's offers a large rehearsal room, several breakout rooms for sectionals, a large storage room to house the band's growing equipment and music library, and an auditorium with a stage for concerts throughout the season.
Gem City Ensembles
Both the Concert and Jazz Band present spring and fall concerts at St. John's Church, and each group offers numerous retirement home and community performances throughout the year.
The Concert Band, consisting of 60+ members, is very versatile, playing
music such as old overtures, show tunes, traditional concert band pieces,
movie scores, and marches.
The Jazz Ensemble was formed in 2003 as a smaller, spin-off group
dedicated to performing jazz, big band and swing sounds from all eras. The
17-member Jazz Ensemble has a large repertoire that includes such jazz
greats as Sammy Nestico, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Buddy Rich.
The Flagship Steel Band was formed in 2022 as a smaller group dedicated to performing a variety of styles of music using traditional steel pans and percussion instruments. The 15-member Steel Ensemble performs on one of the four standard steel pans: Leads, Double Seconds, Cellos and Bass. Their repertoire consists of music played in Soca, Calypso, Classical, Pop and various Latin styles.
Additional small performance groups are available upon request.
- Brevillier Village
- Dufford Terrace
- Heritage Apartments
- Independence Court
- Mercy Center on Aging
- Mercy Terrace Apartments
- Methodist Towers
- Niagara Village
- Ostrow Apartments
- PA Soldiers’ & Sailor’s Home
- Parkside at Westminster
- Regency at South Shore
- Sarah Reed Retirement Center
- Springhill Retirement Center
- St. Mary’s at Asbury Ridge
- Sunrise Assisted Living
Events and Other:
- All-Season’s Marketplace
- Blasco Library Concert Series
- CB&C Innovative Tours
- Celebrate Erie
- Colony Plaza Gallery Night
- Corry’s Thursdays in the Park
- Dan Rice Days
- East Erie Turner’s
- Edinboro Maple Festival
- EHCA Spring Swing
- Erie Art Museum's Blues and Jazz Fest
- Erie Maennerchor Club
- Erie SeaWolves
- Erie Sounds of Summer Concert Series
- Erie Summer Festival of the Arts
- Erie VA Medical Center
- Erie Wild Rib Cook-Off
- expERIEnce Children's Museum
- Festival of Trees
- Gathering at French Creek
- Girard Lawn Chair Concert Series
- Goodell Gardens Founder's Day
- Gravel Pit Park
- Harborcreek Township
- House of Mercy
- Lynch Music Concert Series
- Maennerchor Club
- Maplewood High School Jazz Festival
- Millcreek Mall
- New Hope Presbyterian Church
- North East Let It Be Heard Concert Series
- Our Lady of Mount Carmel
- Penn State Behrend
- Perry 200 4th of July Celebration
- PMEA District 2 Jazz Fest
- Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church
- Shriners Hospital for Children
- St. George Catholic Church
- St. John’s Catholic Church
- St. John’s Lutheran Church
- St. Mark's Episcopal Church
- St. Patty's Day Parade
- Tall Ships Celebration
- Titusville Scheide Park Concert Series
- Union Station
- Waterford Days
- Wounded Warrior Event
- WQLN Sounds Around Town