Legion Band to kick off Fourth celebrations

The American Legion Band will kick off a week of Fourth of July celebrations Sunday afternoon in the Amphitheater. Daily file photo.

Joanna Hamer | Staff Writer

On Sunday at 2:30 p.m., the Amphitheater will resound with American favorites as the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas, Post 264, performs its technically challenging and crowd-rousing marches, dances and show tunes.

The American Legion Band will play patriotic songs to start the Fourth of July celebrations, and display the breadth of their repertoire with classics from Gershwin and Tchaikovsky.

“We try to program for family entertainment,” said David Abrahamian, the band’s president.

There will be a little something for everyone.

The band, which also performs in parades and fundraisers, is 90 members strong, all of whom are local volunteers who organize rehearsals around their full-time jobs.

Funded in 1929 by World War I veterans and local Post 264 members, the band won the first of its 14 total National American Legion Band Competition titles in 1972.

Michael Shaw, the conductor, keeps the band in shape, just as he does with the high-school students he teaches at Frontier High School in Hamburg, N.Y. When he began there, the school band had only 26 members. The school’s program now has over 200 students.

The soloists for the show Sunday include Staff Sgt. Benjamin Albright of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, who joins the band for only two performances. Albright is a local who studied trumpet performance at the State University of New York at Fredonia, before earning master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Michigan.

The two other soloists are Albert Schlisserman on accordion and soprano Sara McMillan, both local musicians with careers in medicine. Schlisserman is an ophthalmologist working in Orchard Park, N.Y. and McMillan is a nurse at the Woman and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. Schlisserman, who has performed at the White House and President Nixon’s inauguration, brings something unusual to the program with his accordion, Abrahamian said.

Chautauqua is a stop on the American Legion Band’s summer tour, which will culminate in a bid for another National Championship on Aug. 25 in Indianapolis.

“The band always looks forward to playing at Chautauqua,” Abrahamian said — for the Amphitheater, for the acoustics and especially for the audience.