This weekend, for only the second time ever, I attended the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) Winter Conference. This is held every year in Rochester, home of the Riverside Convention Center and, more importantly, the magnificent Kodak Hall at the Eastman School of Music. All of the All State Concerts happen here, allowing students from all corners of the state to bask in the full glory of their performance in a world-class hall.

I was there officially representing Hartwick College in the exhibition hall, where I met many old and new friends. I did manage to sneak away for some other important events, like the NYSBDA board meeting and a session with the members of Dallas Brass to talk about their Harmony Bridge program. As usual, I took in plenty of concerts, managing to see 5 different bands.

Friday evening, December 1: Eastman School Wind Bands directed by Mark Scatterday

Eastman Wind Orchestra

Smetana Fanfare – Karel Husa

Traveler – David Maslanka

Bells for Stokowski – Michael Daugherty

Eastman Wind Ensemble

Short Ride in a Fast Machine – John Adams

Through the Brightening Air – David Liptak (world premiere)

J’ai été au bal – Donald Grantham

Hearing a couple of America’s finest bands in one of our finest concert halls, their “home field” as it were, was truly a thrill. The Husa I’d heard many times before, but never this quick. The Maslanka, conducted by William Talley, was lyrical even in the fast parts, reflective, and true to his style. It felt to me like his Give Us This Day in reverse. The Daugherty is another standard that sparkled in the hall. The famous Wind Ensemble opened with a riveting Short Ride. In truth, there was only one musician on stage for me: the mesmerizing woodblock and bass drum player. When he got going on both instruments at once, with such grace and control, it was magical. The Liptak, a world premiere, was sinewy and dissonant, with a lot of great solo playing all around the ensemble. The Grantham started as a dissonant lullaby before going to a full jazz party and a big hymn, living up to its Cajun inspiration. It was truly a joy to hear both of these fine ensembles.

On Saturday morning, I had the pleasure of hearing Christina Helbock and the Brentwood High School Wind Ensemble over at the convention center. Their program consisted of:

Hounds of Spring – Alfred Reed

O Magnum Mysterium – Morten Lauridsen, arr. Reynolds

Lassus Trombone – Henry Fillmore, arr. Schissel

Ride – Samuel R. Hazo

These students were full of energy, which served this program particularly well. A highlight was having 4 trombonists come to the front to plays Lassus in its entirety from memory. Bravo, Brentwood!

Saturday evening had us back in Kodak Hall for the All State Wind Ensemble, directed by Ricky Fleming.

Stomp – David Biedenbender

Trauermusik – Richard Wagner

Divertimento for Band – Vincent Persichetti

Peterloo Overture – Malcolm Arnold

These students brought great sensitivity to all of their repertoire. The Wagner was especially poignant, and had obviously received a great deal of attention to intonation. The Persichetti featured two marvelous trumpet solos, as well as great forward energy from the entire ensemble. The Arnold, which I was hearing for the first time, showed the finest work these students were capable of.

Sunday morning saw the epic Symphonic Band performing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with conductor Steven D. Davis. It was all excellent, and the ending, with brass explosions everywhere and important attention to silence, left me feeling shattered and shaken in the best possible way. It was truly epic, and all of those students will remember that special performance forever.