It’s that most festive time of year again for the band universe, when people from all over the world descend on Chicago for something that feels like Christmas and Mecca and a slumber party somehow rolled into one. Yes, it’s the 71st annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic. This year started particularly late on the calendar, December 20-23, so I will only be on the ground for the first two days. I will miss many fine concerts and clinics, but I’m glad for the opportunity to reconnect with so many great friends and to connect for the first time with some of the most dedicated conductors, composers, and performers in the business.
As usual, my focus is on repertoire, so I attend mostly band concerts and sessions that have to do with specific repertoire.
After a run through the exhibits that lightened my wallet a bit, I began day 1 with a concert by the Lamar Middle School & Fine Arts Academy Symphonic Winds from Austin, TX, directed by James Hairston. They played:
Hoverboard – Daniel Montoya, Jr.
Teleportation (Future of Travel) – Timothy Loest
FOUR: On a Remix of Beethoven – Randall Standridge
Dreamsong – Richard Saucedo
La Virgen de la Macarena – Traditional Spanish, arr. David Marlatt
Mystery and Mayhem – Terry White
Come Down Rain – Jack Wilds
Brazilian Bell Carol – Robert W. Smith
This group of very young people demonstrated phenomenal control of both sound and intonation. I would have loved to hear greater dynamic range from the winds and brass, especially on the louder end. The percussion section was a standout. As for the repertoire, the Montoya used intricate percussion writing combined with soaring wind and brass parts to depict a hoverboard flight. The Loest was almost too short to form an impression! The Standridge was quite interesting, using the motive from Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 as a jumping off point for a series of variations that ranged from majestic to contemporary energetic. The Saucedo was essentially a pretty minor key piano feature, easily attainable by a student soloist (as it was today). By contrast, the Marlatt was a virtuoso euphonium feature that requires a professional-level soloist, as Irving Ray was today. The White was a spooky grade 2 piece. The Wilds used an Arabic folk song, which sounded very Jewish, as its source material.
I intended to hop into the Alabama Winds concert next, but I arrived at the unexpectedly small room late and was turned away at the door because the place was too packed. Meanwhile, to my knowledge no events were happening in the usual big ballrooms upstairs. I question the Midwest board’s decision to put any big concert at all in any space outside the ballrooms, and I hope it won’t happen this way next year. I do know from several second-hand accounts that the Alabama Winds played phenomenally well, and that the Giroux piece was a highlight. According to the Midwest program booklet, this was their program:
Devil’s Drive – Brett Keüper Abigaña
Exultation – Philip Sparke
Renaissance Reimagined – Brian Balmages
Stone Gardens – Robert W. Smith
March, Hosts of Freedom – Karl L. King, arr. John Paynter
Across the Serengeti – Jack Wilds
In My Father’s Eyes – Julie Giroux
Three Bones (third movement) – James M. Stephenson
The Best of Rooms – Randall Thompson, arr. Tyler S. Grant
Magnolia Star – Steve Danyew
The next concert was back in a big ballroom, feature the Kell High School Wind Ensemble from Marietta, GA, directed by David Roth. They played:
A Glimpse of the Eternal – Aaron Perrine
Molly on the Shore – Percy Grainger, ed. R. Mark Rogers
In These Last Days of Autumn – Randall Standridge
Turbo Scramjet – William Pitts
March, Manhattan Beach – John Philip Sousa, ed. Fred Fennell
Trampoline Jump – Steve Hodges
Synthesis – Brian Balmages
Harlequin (second movement) – Philip Sparke
Pines of the Appian Way – Ottorino Respighi, arr. Antonio d’Elia/Erik Leidzen
LOL (Laugh Out Loud) – Robert Buckley
Unfortunately, I was shut out of the first piece, despite being in line within site of the doors several minutes before the printed start time of the concert. But I’ve heard the Perrine in the past, and it’s a piece I would recommend to upper level bands. I got in for the Grainger, which of course is a clarinet classic that showcases the power and versatility of the full band. This band demonstrated near complete control of their dynamics, intonation, and overall sound, not to mention great technical facility in this particular piece. The Standridge was essentially an 80s pop ballad for band. The Pitts was a bigger and noisier version of John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine, with a cadenza-like saxophone duet added in the middle. The Sousa is another classic, this one distinguished by its sort of double trio, the very last strain of which faded to niente today. The Hodges was absolutely NOT a grade 1 piece, despite what the program claimed, with intricate rhtyms and wide ranges for many instruments. It was very enjoyable, however, and would make a great grade 3 addition to many programs. The Balmages featured a grand opening and an energetic second half. The Sparke was another virtuoso euphonium showpiece, this time structured as a galop that occasionally goes lyrical. The Respighi is one the best and most appropriate transcriptions from orchestra to band. It featured the entire brass section of the Alabama Winds as antiphonal players, so I did get to hear them a tiny bit! The Buckley featured several surprising moments within its overall galop form – I look forward to finding a situation to program it in the near future.
I rushed downstairs back to that same tiny room where I was turned away earlier to try and get a seat for the Blackburn Winds from Melbourne, Australia, directed by Jemima Bunn. I was successful this time, but the room was standing room only by the time the concert got underway. That said, the sound was obviously less boomy than that of the ballrooms. This energetic band played:
Ad Lucem – Brian Hogg
Invercargill – Alex Lithgow, arr. L.P. Laurendeau
Nurture – Edward Fairlie
Molly on the Shore – Percy Grainger, “dished up for 8 hands and 4 marimbas” by Chalon E. Ragsdale
Such Small Things – Nathan Daughtrey
Sneaky Sneaky – Richard Linton
Fandango – Joseph Turrin
That I May Love – Ralph Hultgren
Divertimento (first 3 movements) – Ira Hearshen
Famishius Fantasticus – Michael Markowski
This band sounded different from all of the American bands. Their sound was certainly brighter, with some added brilliance to the tone and a full willingness to display excitement while playing, without ever sacrificing time, dynamics, or intonation. I found them quite exciting to listen to. The Hogg was a fanfare with interesting percussion parts and a surprise ending! The Lithgow is another classic march, this time written by a New Zealand composer. The Fairlie had a giant mallets feature in several spots, and was lyrical otherwise. This version of Molly on the Shore featured four marimba soloists, all of whom memorized their music, and was a pure delight to hear. The Daughtrey, written for the composer’s infant daughter, featured evocative percussion within an overall lullaby texture. The Linton was a fun grade 1 piece with an actual scream at the end! The Turrin was also super fun, with intricate rhythms and moving lyrical writing, featuring two excellent student soloists. The Hultgren, with the composer conducting, was a pretty piece that was not afraid of dissonance. The Hearshen reminded me in concept of Robert Russell Bennett’s Suite of Old American Dances, but at a further level of abstraction away from the source material. Nevertheless, each movement was very appealing and obviously evocative of the music style it purported to depict. The finale was Michael Markowski’s on-the-nose ode to cartoon music, complete with ping pong balls flying through the air and an actual air horn.
I had the distinct pleasure of attending a session titled “Music for All of Us: Reflecting Society through Repertoire Selection.” This highlighted excellent works by female and minority composers, arguing essentially that we want to expose all of our students, not just the white males, to a composer that they can identify with. Clinicians Rodney Dorsey, Jaclyn Hartenberger, Brandon Houghtalen, and Tremon Kizer came up with a recommended works list that included the following:
The Governor’s Own – Alton Adams, Sr.
The Virgin Islands March – Alton Adams, Sr.
Here We Rest – Anthony Barfield
Red Sky – Anthony Barfield
Earthshine – Jodie Blackshaw
Letters from Sado – Jodie Blackshaw
Dragon Rhyme – Chen Yi
Diamond Tide – Viet Cuong
Celebration – Adolphus Hailstork
Memphis Blues – W. C. Handy, arr. James Reese Europe
St. Louis Blues – W. C. Handy, arr. James Reese Europe
Last Stage to Red Rock – Jennifer Jolley
Lichtweg/Lightway – Jennifer Jolley
Concert Sketches – Ulysses Kay
Forever Free: A Lincoln Chronicle – Ulysses Kay
Lost Gulch Lookout – Kristin Kuster
Two Jades – Kristin Kuster
American Hymnsong Suite – Dwayne Millburn
Standard of Leadership – Dwayne Millburn
The Blue Orchid (A Tango for Band) – William Owens
Resplendence – William Owens
Paper Cut – Alex Shapiro
Tight Squeeze – Alex Shapiro
The American Scene – William Grant Still
Dancing Galaxy – Augusta Read Thomas
Magneticfireflies – Augusta Read Thomas
Legends of the Galaxy – Chandler Wilson
Sunscapes – Chandler Wilson
In addition, Alex Shapiro has created a website along with composer and electric violist Martha Mooke in which she compiles a lot of the work done in cataloging and indexing these composers and their works.
With apologies to the Cedar Park Winds, I had the great privilege to attend the WASBE reception this evening, where I once again connected with old friends and met plenty of new folks. The big takeaway from that meeting: WASBE’s 2019 conference is relocating from Tokyo to Madrid. I hope to see many of you there!
And now the evening settles in for some dinner and probably plenty of age-appropriate beverages with friends. I suspect this very long post won’t go out until morning (UPDATE – official post time is 7:22am CST Thursday morning – not too bad!). Very much looking forward to another packed day tomorrow!