Friday, January 22, 2010

The "Strike Up the Bands" Marathon Enters a New Decade

Tonight, I continued the tradition of watching the All-Region bands from my area perform in their annual concert, and I'll also continue blogging about it, as I have for the past four years. As always, there may be some "rerun" material, and this is by no means an attempt to liveblog the concert (which would have been both inconsiderate to the other attendees and a royal pain in terms of all that typing on a phone); it's just a collection of things that went through my mind as I watched the proceedings:
  • Once again, my proverbial hat is off to the organizers of the concert, which ran like a Swiss train (each band has a 45-minute slot, of which maybe 30 minutes are used; that allows bands to start at a precise time so that the families of people in the later bands can be on time). This year, even the breaks between bands seemed to go quickly.

  • Eight players from my studio were in the concert this year; that's one shy of last year, but I'm also teaching at one fewer high school than before. While three of them are seniors, I also had two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman in the bands, and several others who came pretty close could conceivably make it next year.

  • I was only there for four of the five bands tonight, as my player who had originally made the freshman band ended up making a high school band as well. (If a freshman does this, he or she automatically assumes the seat in the high school band, which is--rightfully--considered more of an honor.) This allowed me a slightly later arrival and a slightly less-wolfed-down dinner.

  • So why don't I usually show up for a specific band if I don't have a student in there? Well, I've always been concerned that my doing so might possibly prevent some proverbial kid's Aunt Edna from having a seat. But any anxiety along these lines was assuaged immediately upon my entrance, as this auditorium was gargantuan; it even had a balcony!

  • But the parking situation was as bad as the seating was good; the school is adjacent to a stadium, and I had to park near the far end zone of said stadium--a walk of about four blocks. There were other events going on at the school as well: A soccer game in the stadium and a basketball game in the other side of the school. The part of school that led to the game wasn't open to concertgoers, which made for an even longer walk to the front of the school. I'm glad this wasn't six months ago when I was hobbling around with a knee brace and a cane; even the good handicapped spaces were gone by the time I arrived.

  • OK, on to the concert: The bands played well, especially considering that they had around a grand total of nine hours' worth of rehearsal time (last night and today; one of the perks of making Region is that you get to miss school on Friday to rehearse). The only negative of the evening was that some of the musical choices made by the clinicians were somewhat less than inspiring this year. It's not surprising for the students to tell me that their band's music was "boring," but it is a surprise when I agree with them as much as I did tonight.

  • The above sentiment dovetails nicely with my annual statement of how much I like "wind ensemble music"--the newer stuff, written in a more orchestral/film score style--than "band music"--the older stuff, written more to make the individual colors more subordinate to the whole. And as always, nothing that happened tonight changed my feelings on this at all, though there's always room for a surprise or two.

  • But if some of the programming was less than inspirational, there were a few tunes that caught my ears tonight: Air (Dublinesque), a work originally for piano and orchestra by Billy Joel (yes, that one) and nicely arranged for band by a Texas band director (who went unnamed in the program; was it this arrangement?); a twisted circus march entitled Clowns, Clowns, Clowns by someone named Babrowitz (the reader will note that this writer laments the lack of detail in the composer column of the program); a rollicking Dimitri Shostakovich composition called Galop from Moscow Cheremusky (arranged by Donald Hunsberger, whose version of the same composer's Festive Overture goes back to before my high school days); and the second movement of Clocking by John Mackey, which contained some extremely cool colors, most notably the solo appearances by soprano, alto and tenor saxes (not that I'm biased or anything). And kudos to the top band for bringing new life to the old standard Chester.

  • Speaking of Chester, I'll never forget how dissonant that sounded to me when I played it in high school; our ears, they do grow up.

  • Most admirable audience behavior of the night: Nobody clapped between the six movements of Ron Nelson's Courtly Airs and Dances, despite the exact number of movements not being listed in the program.

  • Most bizarre clinician behavior of the night: One of them didn't say a single word during his band's performance. Sure, we've had clinicians in the past who didn't come to the mic until right before the last number (due to time constraints?), but after a thirty-minute set, the audience didn't even know what this guy's voice sounded like.

  • Here's a perennial: It's always cool when they recognize the teachers before every band (by having all the directors and private teachers of the students currently on stage stand up for a moment). Most of the work that my colleagues and I do is behind the scenes, and that's ok; the real reward is watching them progress over the years and develop a love for music that will hopefully last far beyond their public schooling, no matter what their major will be in college. But I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't nice to be among those standing up every year.
As I've said before, I try to make this a must-see on my calendar; I may not get to see too many individual schools' concerts, but I like to be there to support the students who have put in the extra work to earn the chance to play on this night. (And it's crazy to think that I began the tradition of blogging this concert in 2006, when tonight's seniors were in eighth grade.)

In January, I resolved to have my March played in May: While linking to the previous years' editions of this post, I noticed that I wrote last year...
I'll be the first to say that a Sousa march is three minutes of perfection--the absolute pinnacle of the genre. They may get maligned a bit in some circles for being impossibly old-school, but each one is a little gem in its own way. (Hearing four of them tonight reinforced this thought, and it also gave me a mini-clinic on how I would rescore my own march that I wrote in high school if the occasion ever came up.)
While writing that paragraph, I hatched the idea that would in fact result in that march of mine being performed at one of my schools a few months later. I'm really glad it turned out that way.

From band to Orchestrion: Pat Metheny's highly-discussed Orchestrion project drops next Tuesday; listen to some samples at Amazon.