It all started with a drum set.
Close to 20 years ago, Charleroi resident and professional musician Mark Smith was given a battered drum set that was used at the Twin Coaches supper club in Rostraver Township back in the days when the big bands played there. Fascinated by the stories that came attached to the thrashed old trap kit, Smith began collecting other memorabilia related to the Twin Coaches, which burned down in 1977, and unearthing tales from the dwindling number of people who have firsthand recollections of the venue. Last year, some charts that were used by musicians at the Twin Coaches also fell into his possession.
“We just had so much stuff,” Smith explained last week, with much of it steadily encroaching on his living room.
Smith’s fascination with the Twin Coaches is stoking two endeavors that are being publicly launched Sunday with a free concert in Monongahela’s Chess Park at 2 p.m. The first is the Twin Coaches Orchestra Project, an effort to gather additional memorabilia and memories of the Twin Coaches, and share the music that once echoed through the club with generations too young to remember it. Also, there is the Mon Valley Academy for the Arts, which Smith and fellow founder Suzie Sparks hope will bring music and other cultural activities to the Mon Valley.
The Twin Coaches Orchestra Project is the academy’s first endeavor. It has already been officially registered as a nonprofit organization, with Smith and Sparks hoping it will blossom to include lectures, classes, special events, exhibits and more.
“We’re building a base,” Sparks said. “We hope to get people interested and involved.”
Featuring tunes from the big band era, Sunday’s concert will spotlight musicians who played at the Twin Coaches as part of a 17-piece big band. It’s something of a teaser for a larger-scale show planned for Nov. 19 at Charleroi High School.
As currently envisioned, the academy will bring music programs to schools, senior centers and other places where people gather in the Mon Valley, and eventually branch out into other areas of the arts. The organization’s primary goals, according to Sparks, are to save the music from the Twin Coaches era, create cultural opportunities in the Mon Valley area and allow musicians and artists to be paid for their work.
In the Mon Valley “there’s a definite lack of a cultural outlet,” Smith said.
For information about the Mon Valley Academy for the Arts and the Twin Coaches Orchestra Project, go online to monvalleyacademyforthearts.org.