Sunday, January 25, 2004

Region: A View from the Audience

Last night, as I mentioned before, was the Region Bands concert. While several of the participants have blogged about it, I thought I'd throw my two cents' worth in from the back of the auditorium. I won't do a tune-by-tune review or anything but just share some random thoughts.

I saw three bands: the 5A Concert Band, Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble. The concert didn't really seem too long even though I was there for nearly two-and-a-half hours. (As I said on Fizban's comments, I wasn't a "marathon vet" this year; racquetball ran too late for me to hear the Freshman Band, and I didn't have anyone in the 4A band...but I agree that anyone who attends the entire four-hour concert deserves a medal or something.) It was cool to have students in every band I saw, because they always ask for the directors and private teachers of the people on stage to stand up at the beginning, so I got to stand up each time (during the Wind Symphony portion of that, Trevor's dad shot me a "you da man!" from a few rows up).

Well, the conductors were correct: This is an awesome region. The Concert Band conductor wasn't just blowing smoke when he said that a lot of the players in his band would have made the top band in many other regions. While that band played a few more traditional-sounding band pieces, everything came off reasonably well (with the possible exception of the Gershwin tribute, but then it's hard to teach flutes and clarinets to swing in one weekend, so they sort of get a pass in my book). I also got to hear the first of two Edwin Franko Goldman marches; I was aware of the famous Goldman Band and had played several of his arrangements, but I'm not sure I'd ever heard any of his originals before. This one, the "Cheerio March," required everyone--including the audience--to sing at one point (the only word was "la"), and then the band whistled the same melody a bit later. (And yes, a day later, that overly-catchy melody is still in my head. *shudder*)

Next was the Symphonic Band. From the opening fanfare, you could tell that this band was a notch up from the last one (Dingus said he hated the fanfare, but it made the right impression out front). They also played an unscheduled composition by Warner Hutchison, a retired colleague of the conductor's from New Mexico State. I recognized Hutchison's name from my days of running the alumni program for the Sinfonia chapter, but I had never heard any of his works before; this one was quite impressive. They also did another Goldman march; this one featured a chime solo (they let him go out front, though he was perched precariously close to the edge of the stage). Their closer was a very cool new composition called "Ride," written by Samuel Hazo, a protege of the contemporary wind composer Jack Stamp. Evidently, Hazo and Stamp were heading to dinner; Hazo was supposed to follow, but Stamp drove so fast that he lost him, and the piece described the ensuing mayhem. Fun stuff... (I suppose that if Fizban or Frobird ever became composers, they could write a sequel from the night they had to follow Halfling to Matrix Revolutions. But hey, I was with him; we survived the trip, and Halfling don't drive like that no' mo'.)

The Wind Ensemble closed out the program. I was most interested in this one because it was led by Jerry Junkin, who does double-duty teaching at UT-Austin and serving as Musical Director of the Dallas Wind Symphony. I got to record two CD's with the DWS ("Fennell Favorites" and "Pomp and Pipes"--the latter on bass sax!) and was all set to become their full-time bass saxophonist, but when Maestro Junkin arrived, the decision was made to scrap all the auxiliary woodwinds (contrabass clarinet, contrabassoon, and bass sax). I don't know if it was a financial decision or an artistic one (or both?), but it did spawn a great phrase that was used to describe it: "Junkin junked the junk instruments." It's probably good that it didn't work out, because DWS concerts are on Tuesdays, which would've conflicted with a bunch of stuff at the college over the years.

At any rate, I was looking forward to watching the guy I never got to work with, and he didn't fail to please. I always enjoy watching band conductors who take an 'orchestral' approach to conducting; i.e. not always employing a strict beat pattern but rather using only the gestures that were absolutely necessary to the music. Sure, he had the best players (his 4/5 all-stater trombone section was especially powerful), but he got a lot out of them.

They only did three selections: Bernstein's "Slava!" (which featured Trevor on a soprano solo since the first-chair guy didn't have one), a Grainger setting of "I'm Seventeen Come Sunday" (Fizban remarks at the oddness of this title considering Grainger's purported pedophilia, but it's actually an old folk song most commonly heard for band in Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Folk Song Suite." Grainger, of course, messed with the melody and time considerably) and selections from Tielman Susato's "The Danserye." The latter was eight movements (of an even longer work), but it came off quite well. Since it was written before Bach wrote "the rules" for harmony that we still use as the basis for our theory today, the chords occasionally took some cool harmonic left-turns that wouldn't be used again until jazz, for the most part.

I thought about something while I was enjoying the Susato work: My music history professor made me despise Renaissance music; Junkin and his young cohorts made me really enjoy it. And why hadn't I heard of Susato before bands started playing him? It just reminded me how wrong the vocalist-heavy approach to musicology can be and how cheated we instrumentalists are by that process.

But all in all, an enjoyable concert from out front. The traditional Whataburger hang followed....and that was that.

ME: Man, I'm way overdue for an oil change; I have to go to Jiffy Lube tomorrow.
GOLD DINGUS: Hey, I'll change your oil if you give me improv lessons.
ME: Hmm...somehow I can't see that being too consistent. It'd be like, "OK, learn these changes and I'll see you again in 3000 miles."
GOLD DINGUS: *ponders that for a second* ...D'oh.

DIALOGUE OF THE DAY: (during the Wind Ensemble rehearsal, as related to me by Fizban)
JUNKIN: Trombones, your part has four f's here. What does that mean?
FIZBAN: Destroy the world!!!