This week saw me and two of my Hartwick colleagues headed to Atlantic City for the Eastern Division conference of NAfME, the National Association for Music Education. This huge event, representing 12 states and Europe, was hosted and managed by the New Jersey Music Educators’ Association. Nestled among a host of diverse performing group, from choirs to Orff groups to steel bands, the wind bands represented some of the best talent in the region.

 

I did not arrive in time for the first band: the Randolph High School Wind Ensemble, directed by Dawn Doubler Russo.  They played:

Yosemite Autumn – Mark Camphouse

Incantation and Dance – John Barnes Chance

The first concert I got to see was by Norwin High School, directed by Tim Daniels, on Thursday morning:

Famishius Fantasticus – Michael Markowski

Three Folk Song Settings for Band (mvt. I and III) – Andrew Boysen, Jr.

Pageant – Vincent Persichetti

Circus Days – Karl L. King, arr. Schissel

This band was extremely polished and well rehearsed, and they brought a great deal of feeling and musicality to this varied repertoire. The Markowski is a cartoon soundtrack complete with a Mahler hammer. The Boysen only reveals its folk song sources at length. The Persichetti is a favorite of mine, and I was thrilled to hear these young people give such a fine and committed performance of it. The King was a very nice closing showpiece for this excellent band.

Norwin shared this concert with the Ridge High School Band, directed by Daniel Zugale:

Pineapple Poll (mvt. I) – Sir Arthur Sullivan, arr. Charles Mackerras & W. J. Duthoit

Give Us This Day: A Short Symphony for Wind Ensemble – David Maslanka

The Sullivan is a witty romp – see the link above for more. The Maslanka begins as one of the most reflective pieces in the repertoire and progresses to a conflicted, energetic second movement.

 

Thursday afternoon featured another paired band concert, this time starting with the North Hills High School Wind Ensemble, directed by Leonard Lavelle and Christopher Ballentine:

Metro Dances – Travis J. Weller

Children’s March – Percy Grainger, arr. Erickson

Chester – William Schuman

National Emblem March – E. E. Bagley, ed. Fennell

This band dazzled with their unified sound and mature musicianship, much of which seemed to flow from their elaborate and intricate warm-up routine. As for their repertoire, the Weller is a commission by North Hills, following in a tradition of theirs dating back to 1965 – see their impressive list here. They certainly had the horses in their bassoon section (and elsewhere) to do justice to the Grainger, as well as the Schuman. The Bagley is one of the classic marches of all time – it required extremely mature and nuanced playing which they provided.

The second half of the concert featured the Montclair State University Wind Ensemble under the direction of Thomas McCauley. They brought a whole other level of repertoire:

Symphony No. 2 (“Genesis”) – David Gillingham

Concert Suite for Alto Saxophone and Band – William Bolcom

Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral – Richard Wagner, arr. Cailliet

The portions of the Gillingham that they played were alternately reflective (“In the Beginning”) and tempestuous (“The Floodgates of Heaven”). The two movements of the Bolcom, featuring Thomas Kurtz as soloist, were full of soul and virtuosity. Elsa was amazing as always: only a more resonant room could have made it any better.

The paired concert on Friday afternoon opened with the John P. Stevens High School Wind Ensemble under the direction of Andrew DeNicola and John Zazzali:

Second Century – Alfred Reed

American Overture for Band – Joseph Wilcox Jenkins

Variants on a Mediaeval Tune – Norman Dello Joio

This excellent band gave detailed and mature performances of all of this classic music. The only one I hadn’t heard was the Reed, which was a very straightforward concert march in the mold of Sousa or King.

They were followed by The College of New Jersey Wind Ensemble, led by David Vickerman:

Symphonic Dance no. 3 “Fiesta” – Clifton Williams

Serenity – Ola Gjeilo, arr. Wilson

Red Line Tango – John Mackey

The Gjeilo is a slow adaptation of a choral piece which featured lovely chords and beautiful playing. The Mackey was his breakout piece for band back when he first transcribed it from its orchestral original. It is powered by an energetic chromatic motive mixed with a clear tango rhythm.

By Friday evening, I was spent, so I did not see the concert by the Nassau-Suffolk Performing Arts Honor Band, directed by Many DeShrage. Their repertoire, though, looked quite interesting:

Skydive – Chris Bernotas

At Morning’s First Light – David Gillingham

Patapan – Shelley Hanson

Walking to the Sky – Robert Buckley

Fanfare Hayabusa – Satoshi Yagisawa

By Saturday morning, we were on our home, therefore missing the amazing (according to others’ reports) All-Eastern Band, conducted by Dennis Fisher, and their amazing slate of classic and modern repertoire:

Celebration – Bruce Broughton

Riften Wed – Julie Giroux

Overture in 5 Flat – Julie Giroux

Melodious Thunk – David Biedenbender

Overture to Candide – Leonard Bernstein

Hands Across the Sea – John Philip Sousa, ed. Brion/Schissel

In all, it was an impressive conference loaded with excellent playing and a commitment to the best repertoire and positive experiences for students. Thank you, everyone at NAfME and NJMEA for hosting and putting this on!