They resurrect big band numbers, strum our patriotic heart strings, harmonize with angelic choirs and revive toe-tappers from Broadway to the Beatles. They're the River City Brass Band, a 27-year-old musical treasure that is trying to come to grips with some dissonant finances.
On Wednesday the band's management and musicians reached an agreement in principle on new contract terms that would stabilize its future. If adopted, the union-represented 28-member band and the seven employees of the administrative staff will take a 15 percent pay cut through June 2010. The group will also cut the number of rehearsals beginning in the fall.
The brass band, which performs throughout the country, specializes in concert series that reach multiple audiences in Western Pennsylvania -- not just those who can make their way to a Pittsburgh performance hall. Its typical season features 49 concerts in different venues, including the Byham Theater, Downtown; the Palace Theater, Greensburg; the Pasquerilla Arts Center, Johnstown, and finer school auditoriums in Monroeville, McCandless, Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair and Beaver.
The River City Brass Band says that in the course of a year, 40,000 listeners attend its regional concert series, with thousands more turning up at its other performances. That would suggest the organization is achieving success in meeting its mission -- not just to entertain but "to propagate and perpetuate musical culture" and to have "as its central obligation service to the people of Western Pennsylvania."
Once the musicians' agreement is sealed, the River City Brass Band can turn its attention to other challenges, like slumping ticket sales, raising revenue and finding a music director to follow Denis Colwell. When those notes are struck, it'll be music to our ears.