In his 39-year career as a high school music teacher and bandleader, Gerald P. Barnell created traditions that still touch the hearts of Amsterdam natives everywhere.
The youngest of eight children, Barnell was born in 1909 in Amsterdam, where his father, a grocer on Florida Avenue, was a founder of Mount Carmel Church on the South Side. The Italian American family’s original name was Baranello.
In 1915, brothers Angelo, Charles and Anthony organized Barnell’s Concert Orchestra. The group played for Amsterdam’s well-to-do and performed at Saratoga casinos and the New York governor’s mansion.
The orchestra disbanded in 1922 when brother Anthony contracted a bone disease. Soon the youngest Barnell organized Jerry Barnell and His Society Orchestra, playing spots such as Jollyland, today’s Shuttleworth Park.
Gerald Barnell graduated from Amsterdam High in 1929 then earned a bachelor’s degree at Ithaca College. A violinist, he later did graduate work at Albany, Syracuse, Indiana and Columbia universities plus the Julliard School of Music.
He taught for a year at Cazenovia Seminary, which became Cazenovia College, and joined the Amsterdam schools in 1934. He taught music in the schools until 1973, serving as instrumental director leading the high school, junior high and elementary bands and orchestras.
Barnell also performed with Barnell’s Concert Orchestra and directed his own Union Orchestra. He was a member of Local 133 of the Professional Musicians Union.
He married Antoinette Morini, whose family owned a local coal and oil company, in 1940. Antoinette was an accomplished singer, dancer and actress. She and her husband frequently performed together. They had one son, Gerald Barnell, Jr., who pursued a career as a business educator at Schalmont High School in Rotterdam.
When WCSS radio went on the air in Amsterdam in 1947, Barnell produced a talent show, Youth on Parade, and hosted the Sunday Italian show with Salvatore Morini.
Barnell entertained children by making his violin sound like a bumblebee or train whistle. He had many private students, including popular Amsterdam guitarist and vocalist Rachelle Cotugno.
In the 1950s, Barnell melded the high school band with female cheerleaders and baton-twirling majorettes. Their signature number during football half time shows became “Lullaby of Birdland,” with majorettes forming a kick line reminiscent of the Radio City Rockettes.
Today’s majorettes no longer twirl batons but they still perform “Lullaby of Birdland” and other numbers with the band. The high school band is now known as the Amsterdam Marching Rams.
After Barnell retired in 1973, he taught music education at the College of Saint Rose in Albany. He died in 1998; his wife Antoinette died in 2001. During their life together they lived on Phillips Street near Henrietta Heights.
One of Barnell’s accomplishments was organization of the first All County Music Festival in Montgomery County in 1956.
DAIRY FARMER AND MUSICIAN
The Pals of the Saddle was a popular country music group of the late 20th century in the Mohawk Valley.
Stephen Lopuch led the band. Other members were Frank Lopuch, Joseph Lopuch, Eddie Jarvis and Adam Orleanski, known as Tex Adams.
The group was well known from appearances on WRGB television in Schenectady.
Stephen Lopuch also wrote songs for polka bandleader Jimmy Sturr, including Blue Jeans Polka. Sturr won two Grammy awards for albums containing songs written by Lopuch in the 1980s.
Lopuch was a native of Auriesville who lived in the town of Florida, where he was a dairy farmer and raised a family with his wife, Mary Ann.
Stephen Lopuch died in 2004 in a one-car accident in Rotterdam. He was 82.
Information for this story was provided by Joan Ready of Amsterdam.