Strike Up The Band

Wheeling Jesuit University’s growth plan includes the revival of its fine and performing arts programs through a new partnership with the River City Brass Band of Pittsburgh.

As part of the partnership, River City Brass will assist in the organization as well as directing of WJU’s brass ensemble and pep band. The WJU brass band will be an ensemble in residence and will perform with the River City Brass on campus and at Wheeling events.

James Gourlay, director of the well-known touring band, also will be the conductor of Wheeling Jesuit’s brass and pep band.

“We are excited about our partnership with River City Brass,” Richard A. Beyer, university president, said. “Launching a music program requires leadership and expertise, and we are so fortunate to have James Gourlay and River City Brass as partners in this new venture.”

“We look forward to working with Wheeling Jesuit students, alumni and staff to create a wind, brass and percussion band that will entertain and perform at campus events,” Gourlay said.

Performances will include athletic events and university special occasions such as the upcoming homecoming weekend Friday, Sept. 30, and a “Christmas Brasstacular” show Monday, Dec. 5.

Gourlay formerly led one of the world’s top brass bands, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band in the United Kingdom. He was born in Methilhill, Scotland; went to the Royal College of Music in London in 1974, then won a position with the City of Birmingham Orchestra in 1975. He was there four years and followed that with more than nine years with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. From 1989 to 1999, he was at the Opera Orchestra in Zurich, Switzerland.

“I am very excited to be working with James Gourlay,” said Wheeling Jesuit music director Robert Troeger. “James brings a very high level of artistry and professionalism, and I am pleased that he will help us continue raising the bar in musical excellence. I look forward in the near future when these ensembles and the choral ensembles already in place will become curricular and help form a bona fide, high-functioning music department.”

Local Wheeling Jesuit alumnus Don Mercer, Class of 1960, played an important role in bringing River City Brass and WJU together. Mercer’s love for music and his alma mater became a call to action when he heard about the renewed importance of fine and performing arts.

“Knowing that President Beyer wanted to increase the focus of music and the arts allowed the opportunity for me to make the introduction to James Gourlay and River City Brass,” Mercer said. “Once the maestro met the president, I knew we were going to develop something special.”

His father, the late Loran Mercer, was a band director in the Wheeling area for 30 years and led the Warwood High School marching and concert band program to state and national recognition for Ohio County Schools.

River City Brass is known all over the country for its musical excellence and determination to continue the grass-roots tradition of the American brass band.

It performs a 56-concert series in eight different venues in western Pennsylvania. In addition, the 28-piece ensemble tours extensively throughout the United States with more than 40 performances each year as part of community concert series, major symphony pops series and arts festivals.

Each performance features superb soloists and powerful repertoire from classical to pops and from jazz to marches.

“We are looking forward to performing here in Wheeling and can’t wait to work with the students and staff as we build the pep band and get started on the work of building a real brass band,” Gourlay said.

Dr. Christine Ohl-Gigliotti, dean of student development, is working with River City Brass to coordinate the band members and has received positive responses from many students, faculty and staff, as well as local alumni and friends of the university, who are interested in performing.

The pep band is currently forming and practice begins with an informational rehearsal. Wheeling Jesuit also plans to introduce a summer youth brass band camp on campus and will provide instrumental music scholarships for students starting the fall of 2012.

“Musical opportunities like a brass band and pep band will enhance our campus life not just at athletic events but across the campus and community. What makes our band unique is that RCB musicians, employees, alumni and Wheeling area community members will be playing alongside our students,” Ohl-Gigliotti said. “We thank President Beyer, James Gourlay, Don Mercer and all responsible for providing the enthusiasm and resources to make this happen.”

Wheeling Jesuit invites anyone who plays a brass, woodwind or percussion instrument to join the band at its first rehearsal in Troy Theater on campus at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28. The rehearsal will last until about 5:30 p.m. and conclude with a light reception. For more information on the rehearsal, call Ohl-Gigliotti’s office at 304-243-2350 or send an email message to her at