Behind the Music

Helen Ranieri-Cordes ’21 helps take the first steps toward digitizing the archives of The Allentown Band, a local institution.

By: Meghan Kita  Wednesday, August 8, 2018 04:46 PM

News Image
Helen Ranieri-Cordes ’21 works with The Allentown Band's archives. Photos by Bill Keller.

Imagine the documents and photos you (or your parents) accumulated before paperless billing and digital cameras. If you (or your parents) are like most people—that is, not terribly organized—those documents and photos are probably still crammed into drawers or stuffed into paper bags.

Now imagine how many more drawers and paper bags full of documents and photos there would be if you (or your parents) had been around since 1828, and you’ll have some idea of the quantity of memorabilia that’s in The Allentown Band’s headquarters, a firehouse near the intersection of 19th and Greenleaf Streets in West Allentown.

The band is much more organized: Filing cabinets and binders hold the programs, newspaper clippings, letters, photos and ticket stubs that tell the story of its long history. But the material has not been catalogued and preserved in a way that makes it accessible to those outside band headquarters. Special collections and archives librarian Susan Falciani Maldonado would like to change that.

“The idea was: As a community partner, what expertise can Muhlenberg offer to this historic local treasure?” Falciani Maldonado says.

The Allentown Band is the oldest community concert band—meaning, composed of local volunteers—in the United States. It played when the College’s first president was inaugurated in 1867, and it has performed at the last 47 Commencements. The long-term goal is to get funding to digitize the band’s archives, and the first step in that direction began this summer, with the help of Helen Ranieri-Cordes ’21, a double major in business and media & communication.

Helen worked in the College archives with Falciani Maldonado during a Documentary Research class this spring, and Falciani Maldonado recruited her to start sifting through the band’s materials this summer. Helen spent eight weeks working through framed photos and binders full of programs, mostly. The 2,400 items she catalogued are logged in a Google Sheet and organized by year.

“I have key words I type in: the band director’s name at the time, the location, anything interesting about the item itself,” Helen says. “I’m reading the programs, but really fast, just to get key details that will help someone else look it up.”

And students will be looking up assets in Helen’s database this fall: The group registered for the Documentary Fieldwork course will be working with the band on oral histories and a short documentary, and they’ll be using what Helen has organized—as well as the scrapbooks and files she has not—to inform and enhance their work.

Helen won’t be in that class: Her long-term goal is to get into public relations or marketing. Still, her work with The Allentown Band is applicable: “Being able to do community outreach helps me with personal skills,” she says. “For what I’m doing and what I hope to do, to be able to push yourself in a different way and tell a story and make personal connections will get you far.”