APPOMATTOX, VA – ” . . . In the evening dews and damps,” a portion of lyrics from the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” aptly describes weather experienced by members of the Repasz Band during their historic ‘Return to Appomattox.’
On April 8 and 9, nearly 70 members of the Williamsport based band plus an entourage, traveled to one of the famed Virginia Civil War sites as a nation remembered what had occurred there. As hundreds gathered, fog curtained off the area as if shielded from the rest of the world.
It was to this historic event that the Repasz Band, the only musicians at this ceremony, would provide music. Critical in the band’s success in being selected was largely due to Barry Stocker who researched records providing proof that their former bandsmen were in attendance 150 years ago during the surrender leading to the Civil War’s end.
The 2015 event was hosted by and held at the Appomattox Court House National Historic Park where the band played nine selections including the Skyrocket March, written by Claudio Graffulla, a famous Civil War Union Band leader from New York. Other selections included Dixie Doodle Dandy, American Civil War Fantasy and Amber Waves of Grain.
A temporary stage held the band and several speakers who addressed the large crowd. Most speakers were descendants of southerners present at the signing in April 1865. An exception was Al Parker whose great-grandfather was a member of the Seneca Tribe of Native Americans from upstate New York. Parker had been an assistant to General Grant.
According to keynote speaker, Dr. James I. Robertson, Alumni Distinguished Professor in History, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, “Appomattox would have remained an insignificant town had it not been for the circumstances leading to the surrender signing between Union General Ulysses S. Grant, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee.”
Threaded through remarks of several speakers was the word “Magnanimous,” referring to the humane terms ending the carnage causing 750,000 deaths.
Robertson said that, “Southern soldiers were allowed to return home after turning in their weapons, cartridges and musical instruments. Confederates were allowed to keep horses and given parole papers ensuring their safe return home.”
For at least the third time, Repasz descendant Ernest Repass and wife Linda flew into Pittsburg and motored to Williamsport joining the band for this historic event. Playing the tuba, this descendant of the band’s namesake uses a varied spelling of the surname, Repass.
On the day of arrival at Appomattox, the Keystone State travelers toured the park grounds. During that time, Ed Havrilla and his 14-year-old son Joseph of Williamsport were photographed with General Lee’s impersonator astride his mount.
The two most senior bandsmen were Robert Wise and Robert Kauffeld who are 90 years young. Both are 1943 graduates of Williamsport High School and both are in the brass section. The twosome, who were born only weeks apart, attest their longevity to playing instruments requiring lots of wind, therefore keeping their lungs cleared.
One of the younger band members is clarinetist Missy Shadle Keeler, a 2003 Williamsport High School graduate, who played with Repasz while in high school and during summers when in college. The clarinetist had been tutored by Repasz Band Director, Al Nacinovich.
Seven musicians, either current or former residents of the eastern end of Lycoming County included Michael Glucksman of Montgomery; Judy Christi, Carl Jenkins and William Corson of Muncy; Annabelle Rogers of Laporte; Lea Cale, Hughesville; and former Hughesville High School Band Director, Jeffrey Dent, now Assistant Director of the Repasz Band.
These bandsmen’s experiences are best said in their words and Trombonist Michael Glucksman said, “I was deeply honored that our community band was asked to participate in an event which set the tone for the re-unification of the United States after the end of the Civil War. A deep feeling of pride is created knowing that our band was there both during the surrender at Appomattox Court House and again to commemorate this event 150 years later.
A sense of history overpowers that place like none other I have visited. It hasn’t been built up, developed, or commercialized like others, but instead looks much the same as it did with a few brick and wood building surrounded by grassy fields with ancient trees, some of which may have witnessed the events that transpired in the beginning of April those many years ago. It was a humbling experience to walk the same paths were these men walked after days, months and years of fighting and intermingled with that feeling was a sense of unworthiness knowing that all I had to do was step off the bus after and eight hour ride.”
Trumpeter Carl Jenkins added, “I enjoy history but this was a unique experience; playing there made us a part of history. I recognize the sacrifice of those soldiers, musicians who’d played there and proud that our band has a continual existence. The speakers were impressive and I felt honored to be on the same stage with them. I spoke with a National Park Ranger who said they’d had a ‘geek doubt’ over the weather and seemed glad it was rainy and damp, the same as a century and a half ago.”
William Corson from Muncy said, “It was an honor to participate in such an historic event. Although I’d taught about the Civil War in my history classes (Warrior Run High School), it was a highly emotional and humbling experience to actually be there and play my saxophone with the Repasz Band, or as it was called then, the Eighth Pennsylvania Brigade Band.”
Annabelle Rogers, a clarinetist of Laporte replied, “It was a wonderful experience and I seconded the words of Al Nacinovich, our director.” Among those remarks the director praised assistant director Jeff Dent when he said, “My very able colleague worked in preparing the band during the winter. His amiable, reliable and talented presence has done much to build the band.” Mr. Dent is a former Hughesville High School band director whose wife and family were present at the Appomattox event.
Portions of Nacinovich’s email sent to his musicians said, “I find myself floating in a warm bath of great memories. I think you were at your best at Appomattox. Two encounters that really pleased me include the comment given by the main speaker, Dr. J. Robertson, when he came back stage to compliment us and included the thought that he had never heard, “Ashokan Farewell” played as beautifully! From an Indiana gentleman who (obviously very aware of band repertoire) inquired about “that first march you played after the ceremony (Grant Memorial) and asked if it was published. He complimented us on our ability to play a march in the ‘old school’ way which many bands nowadays were incapable of doing.”
The director gave his personal gratitude to many, including, “Thanks to the citizens of the area who financially supported us in such a wonderfully generous way.”
On April 27 and 28, the Repasz Band will be in concert at the Community Arts Theatre in Williamsport.