I had the privilege of attending the 2016 NYSSMA conference in Rochester last week, December 1-4.  I was there as an official representative of Hartwick College, and in that capacity I met several alumni and former music professors, as well as some potential future students.  I also caught up with a few old friends and made some new ones.  As always, though, I had an eye out for the concerts and their repertoire.  The All-State ensembles were huge and magnificent, starting Saturday evening:

NYSSMA All-State Wind Ensemble, Dr. Jared Chase, conductor:

Star Spangled Banner – John Stafford Smith, arr. Jack Stamp

Magnolia StarSteve Danyew

Shepherd’s Hey – Percy Grainger, arr. Rogers

Sheltering Sky – John Mackey

ZionDan Welcher

The Stamp arrangement of the Banner is wonderful and should be done more often.  The Danyew was new to me, and made a strong impression with its constant energy.  The Grainger was perhaps the most splendidly detailed performance of that band classic that I have ever heard.  The magnificent Eastman Theater allowed the gorgeous Mackey all of the resonance it needed.  Like the Grainger, Zion benefitted from exquisite attention to detail, thanks to the presence of the composer in rehearsals.  Both he and the wonderfully musical Dr. Chase gave these students a truly unforgettable experience.

Sunday morning saw the Symphonic Band in action, directed by Dr. Scott Hanna:

In This Broad Earth Steven Bryant

Intermezzo Sinfonico from Cavalleria Rusticana – Pietro Mascagni, arr. Odom

Castle Creek Overture Dan Welcher, arr. Bissell

Luminescence – David Biedenbender (based on Johann Schop’s Break forth of Beauteous Heavenly Light)

In Storm and Sunshine – J. C. Heed, arr. Fennell

This entire program was new to me, and quite a thrill.  Hanna’s conducting was energetic and elegant, and always in service of the music.  The Bryant was a sophisticated fanfare, true to the composer’s usual style.  The Mascagni flowed beautifully and featured the flute section.  The Welcher once again benefited from the presence of the composer in rehearsals.  The Biedenbender took the theme of heavenly light from its source material and played with it, resulting in a tour-de-force for band.  The sound of the band completely changed for the Heed, emphasizing the bright timbres one would expect in a classic march.


Several school bands also played at the conference.  I had the pleasure of seeing two: the Churchville-Chili Wind Ensemble and the College of Saint Rose Wind Ensemble.

Churchville-Chili Wind Ensemble, Kevin R. Mead, conductor:

Chester – William Schuman

Colors – Al “Corky” Fabrizio

Finale from Symphony no. 4 in F minorPyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Chester is a genuine wind band warhorse, and it showed that this band made great mature sounds and had a very strong sense of time that never wavered.  The Fabrizio, a commission from this band, had its strong moments, including some delightful percussion writing.  Its second movement featured a long section of improvised blues solos.  The Tchaikovsky was familiar, and yes, I did miss the strings in several spots, but that did not lessen the impact of the stunning ending that really showed what this band could do.  I especially enjoyed watching their lead alto player, who moved very musically throughout the performance.

The College of Saint Rose Wind Ensemble, Dr. Robert S. Hansbrough, conductor:

Grand Canyon Fanfare – James Newton Howard, arr. Paul Murtha

Nocture Op. 9 no. 2 – Alexander Scriabin, trans. Alfred Reed

Impressionist Prints – Aldo Rafael Forte

Encore: Rolling Thunder – Henry Fillmore

The Howard was a flash bang, as one would expect from this film composer.  The Scriabin was pretty and sounded like Alfred Reed!  The Forte was one I had heard before and have always loved for its colorful writing and varied instrumental treatments.  Fillmore is a classic screamer, and was played with great energy and enthusiasm.  This band played nice and cleanly, especially in the woodwind section, and was quite impressive to hear.


In addition, I attended a session on “Great Transcriptions for Young Bands” with the Syracuse University Wind Ensemble directed by Dr. Bradley Ethington and Justin Mertz.  They demonstrated the following pieces, all in the grade 1.5-3 range:

Prince of Denmark’s March – Jeremiah Clarke, arr. Philip Sparke

Allegretto from Symphony no. 7 – Ludwig van Beethoven, arr. Robert Longfield

Themes from 1812 Overture – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arr. Johnnie Vinson

Music from Carmen – Georges Bizet, arr. Richard Saucedo

Dance of the TumblersNikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, arr. James Curnow

Nessun Dorma – Giacomo Puccini, arr. Jay Bocook

Nimrod – Edward Elgar, arr. Jay Bocook

Waltz no. 2 from Suite for VarietyDmitri Shostakovich, arr. James Curnow


The “etc.” part of this post comes from my visit to several Rochester-area schools after the conference ended.  One of the highlights was at the Rochester School of the Arts, where they were playing Elliot Del Borgo’s Symphonic Suite.  This piece is out of print and has never been recorded, so if you know anything further about it, please contact me – it is worth our attention!


I also attended the wind band concert at Nazareth College on Wednesday night, featuring that school’s two bands:

Symphonic Band, Steven Zugelder, director:

Caccia and Chorale – Clifton Williams

Morning Alleluias for the Winter Solstice Ron Nelson

Colorado Peaks Dana Wilson

Simple Gifts: Four Shaker Songs – Frank Ticheli

Xerxes – John Mackey

Wind Symphony, Dr. Jared Chase, director:

Shepherd’s Hey – Percy Grainger

Sheltering Sky – John Mackey

Divertimento for Band op. 42  – Vincent Persichetti

I also took some time to visit the Eastman School of Music and see their Frederick Fennell shrine.  Needless to say, it was an extraordinary week in Rochester!