Saturday, January 19, 2013

Region Ruminations

No matter how seldom I may blog these days, I always find things to say on the night that I've attended the All-Region Bands concert every January. The region where I teach is known for having strong band programs, and the result is a fine evening of music, even though the kids have had less than 24 hours (last night and most of the school day today) to rehearse the music. And while I've blogged about Region for almost the entire ten years in which this blog has been in existence, the post has been very similar each year, with only minor edits (I somehow neglected to post last year, but 2011's post may be found here), but this year, I seem to have come up with several new ideas. As always, this doesn't pretend to be a review of the concert, just whatever random thoughts popped into my head as I was listening.
  • Let's get my own numbers out of the way first: There were eight in all from my studio--five freshmen, a sophomore, a junior and a senior (plus one more junior who plays another instrument but studies jazz saxophone with me). The fact that five out of the nine saxes in the freshman band are my students certainly bodes well for the future, I think.

  • This concert is set up to run like clockwork--there is a 45-minute slot allotted to each band, and everything started within a minute of the posted time. While this meant that, for "marathoners" like myself who stayed for the whole thing, there were some fairly substantial lags between bands, it worked out perfectly for the families of the students in the later bands, who may have just been there to hear their own kid's band. But the fact that five bands--one freshman band and four high school bands--can complete a concert in less than four hours, year after year, is indeed impressive.

  • Thinking about the above, it occurred to me for the first time that this event really isn't one concert--it's five mini-concerts. There was a more substantial amount of turnover between bands than I recall seeing before, but that may well have made room for everyone, though there were seats to spare during each band. (I've never done the math to figure out whether anyone's auditorium could hold a cumulative audience, but I have my doubts, especially if kids stuck around to watch their friends in later bands.)

  • In many ways, this concert hasn't changed much over the years. But here's one way in which it has: During one band, I looked up a few rows to see a parent recording the concert on his iPad. Granted, that's less obtrusive than a big honkin' video camera (a few of which were there as well), but it was funny to watch a small facsimile of the concert in real time on a tiny screen like that.

  • One of the conductors programmed his own composition, which he claimed received its final edits on the plane ride to Dallas. I'm trying to remember if we've ever had a composing clinician in this region before; surely we've had Holsinger or Ticheli at one point. (Also, the composing conductor went baton-less for the composition right before his, but picked up the baton for his own piece. Anyone have a big philosophical statement about baton vs. no baton? It's been a while since I've picked one up, of course...)

  • What's up with weird lighting things going on at this concert? Two years ago, the dousing of the house lights resulted in the stage lights going off as well...while a band had started to play! This time, the lobby lights went dark for a while; it was funny to watch everyone proceeding cautiously through the hall by cell phone light. Also, the house lights here apparently had no dimmer switch; it went, rather jarringly, from very bright to very dark within a nanosecond.

  • I got to thinking about the whole idea of how to set up a band. It was different with every conductor tonight (with the exception, of course, of obvious things like the flutes in front and the percussion in back). Most other musical ensembles--big band, orchestra, chorus) have a fairly standard setup, but the band is subject to not only the whim of the conductor, but perhaps the pieces being played (to possibly create a "stereo" effect of different motifs being passed from section to section).

  • I still like the new "wind ensemble" music better than the older "band" music (and I have yet to make my post about how film scoring saved classical music), but there were certainly plenty of composers making great, symphonic music for band before John Williams and his progeny came on the scene. Two of the best of the "old" composers writing in a "new" way--Vittorio Giannini and Ron Nelson--were represented tonight.

  • One of my favorites among the "old" works is Ralph Vaughan Williams' "English Folk Song Suite." Both the MC and the conductor who programmed this work pronounced Vaughan Williams' first name as "Rafe"--just as I've heard with the English actor Ralph Fiennes, but never with anyone else. RVW was always just good ol' "Ralph" to us. (Also, if you're familiar with this work, ask me about my programmatic interpretation of the second movement--it's very dark. Also, the first theme in the third movement sounds a lot like "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Gets a chuckle out of me every time...)

  • The "theme" in our region has been to get the top two directors from a major university to be the directors for the top two bands. This year, the guys came from Oklahoma State, and they did an outstanding job. While all the bands did well, the top two, being made up mostly of kids who made at least Area if not State, take things to a whole new level. It's hard to believe that they're high school kids who had less than two days of rehearsal to put this together.

Did you really make it through this whole post? Congrats; you're a marathon winner in much the same way as those of us who stayed for the entire concert!
I'm sure I'll be writing a similar post next year. Stay tuned!

No comments: