When Maestro Louis Panacciulli hoists his baton to lead his Nassau Pops in a “Tribute to the American Spirit,” on the Chaminade High School stage next Sunday, April 13, it will mark a culmination of sorts for the orchestra, which has bringing music to communities throughout Nassau County for three decades.
“I just can’t believe we’ve been at this for 30 years,” says Panacciulli, reflecting on his orchestra’s many performances at local parks and other varied venues throughout the area. The Franklin Square resident, who has been at the helm of the Nassau Pops since 1984, is devoted to music and is eager to share that enthusiasm with everyone, especially with the younger generations he teaches in Valley Stream School District 13 and as the longtime band director at Nassau Community College.
“When we started out we just wanted to get some fellow musicians together to do a few summer concerts,” he says, looking back on those early years. “We did everything in those days, from setting up to scraping the dollars together. I never thought we’d continue this long. And here we are. I’m 30 years older and we’re still going strong. Sometimes I can’t believe what we’ve been able to achieve. We’ve got an incredible group of musicians who are very dedicated and eager to give back to the community.”
That commitment to their fellow Long Islanders is essential to the orchestra’s identity. As much as the Nassau Pops wants to entertain, it is just as important for them to give back to the community. The orchestra has become closely aligned with the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau, for which they perform a yearly gala fundraising concert, and that tradition continues with their upcoming anniversary concert.
“We wanted to do something significant to celebrate our anniversary, which is a milestone in the orchestra’s life, and do something good for the community at the same time,” says Panacciulli. “At the close of each and every performance, we proudly perform our signature piece, “God Bless America,” in keeping with our belief that the greatness of this country is to be celebrated. And truly that greatness is never more clearly exhibited than through the lives of those who have served and sacrificed. Therefore, it became obvious to the orchestra that the best way to acknowledge our anniversary milestone was to honor the men and women who have given so much for this country.”
To that end, Panacciulli came up with his patriotic-themed concert honoring disabled veterans. The concert will raise funds for The Independence Fund track chair program, donating monies to be able to provide disabled vets with these high-tech all-terrain wheelchairs.
“These are not conventional wheelchairs,” explains Panacciulli. “These chairs afford the severely wounded veterans the mobility so needed in their young lives. The cost of these chairs is $15,000 each and it is our hope that through the donation of all the box office receipts for this concert, The Independence Fund will be able to help a few more warriors put back the pieces of their lives through the gifting of some chairs.”
Bill O’Reilly, who has supported The Independence Fund on his Fox News program “The O’Reilly Factor” and is a Chaminade High School graduate, will return to his alma mater to host the concert.
“It’s always been part of our tradition to talk about patriotism,” says Panacciulli. “We try to remind people during our concerts that thankfulness is an important part of being an American. That is why we play “God Bless America” at the end of each program. We live in a great country, let’s never forget that.
“We want to show our appreciation for those that protect our freedom. They gave so much of themselves, many gave their limbs away. It’s something we should always appreciate and so we want to say thank you with this concert.”
The orchestra gives its patriotic salute to the legacy of those dedicated men and women who have served in the military with an upbeat program that spans the decades of popular patriotic tunes. Highlights include “This is My Country,” “Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam,” “Flight of Valor,” “God Bless the USA,” “Armed Forces Salute,” Let Freedom Ring,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Vocalists Ann Cassin, Emily Nadler and Melanie Lipton Waddel will contribute an Andrews Sisters-style rendition of “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
“We are eager to share this afternoon of wonderful music that will fill each person with a sense of pride and appreciation for this country,” Panacciulli says.
Three special guests will be in attendance at this concert — Dillon Cannon, Chris Jones and Carl Duda, who served in the U.S. Army.
“The audience will have the privilege of meeting these brave young men who have been the recipients of these chairs, along with a special raffle of an original oil portrait memorializing this event that Mr. O’Reilly will sign for the winner,” says Panacciulli. “Please join us in support of our brave warriors.”