Friday, January 24, 2014

It's Region Band Marathon Time Again

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 eleven years in which this blog has been in existence, the post has been very similar each year, with only minor edits, but like last 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 twelve in all from my studio--four freshmen, a sophomore, four juniors and three seniors (plus one more senior who plays another instrument but studies jazz saxophone with me). The fact that four out of the ten saxes in the freshman band are my students certainly bodes well for the future, I think. I was also pleased to have my studio represented in all five of the bands tonight; it had been a year or two since that had happened.
  • This concert is set up to run like clockwork--there is a 45-minute slot allotted to each band, and while a few bands started later than their posted times for the first time in a while, the whole concert still finished before its anticipated 9:45 ending. While the nearly precise schedule 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 a year ago 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.)
  • 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), and this was very much reinforced for me tonight. While most of the groups leaned toward modern music, one band played nearly all older compositions, and to these ears, there's a definite difference between the two. I guess the best way I can describe it is that the older stuff was written so that things would blend together into a more homogenous sound ("like a big organ" is a common description I've heard),whereas the modern stuff (whether influenced by film scoring or not, it's the best way I can describe the sound) takes advantage of a much larger timbral palette, with different sections playing off each other and combined in unusual ways, along with a greatly expanded percussion section, with an emphasis on mallets, piano, and so on. To me, the sound just pops compared to the older works.
  • Speaking of modern, this was a new one for me: One of the bands played a piece written for winds and laptop! I've always been a fan of electronic sounds, and the ones used in this piece were tastefully done. The piece is called "Mothership" by Mason Bates; that's a name I'll be looking out for in the future.

    And who knew that you could make the All-Region band on laptop? How cool would it be to serve on that judging panel? But just imagine practicing the music for four months and then having your battery die during auditions. You'd have to carry extra batteries in your pocket the way we saxophonists carry spare reeds. (But seriously, the laptop appeared to be played by a director, or a very old-looking senior.)

  • While the audience was rather good about not clapping between movements, there were still some concert etiquette problems, mostly related to people walking in during a performance and (only occasionally) letting auditorium doors slam. I'm not sure how well this could be enforced; a big sign telling people not to enter might work, but otherwise, it would require monitors, and I'm not sure who would do that job; directors wouldn't want to miss hearing their students play, and students themselves would be put in the awkward position of having to tell adults what to do. Not sure what the answer is here...
  • The "theme" in our region for many years to get the top two directors from a major university to be the directors for the top two bands, but this year was different (though the directors of the second and third bands had former and current ties, respectively, to Texas A&M-Commerce. 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.

    (And a thought hit me tonight: Perhaps one of the reasons that these bands sound more like college bands than high school ones--besides the obvious fact that they're being conducted by college directors--is that the bands are often quite senior-laden. That means in around eight months, many of the people on stage will be playing in college bands.)

  • I only have two mild bits of criticism of the concert: For the first time that I can remember, the parents, directors and private teachers of the students on stage were not asked to stand before each band's performance. In the private teaching world, we often do our jobs behind the scenes, and I have to admit I really missed having the one opportunity (besides this concert's middle school counterpart last weekend) to stand in support of my students. I was also surprised that, while the players who made Area were recognized in the program, those who made All-State were not singled out this year. To me, that's all a bit unfortunate.
  • Quote of the night, from the concert coordinator/emcee, noting that few things in education can compare to the All-Region concert experience: "It's not as if, when you're named to the All-Area football team, that you get together and play a game after eight hours of practice." Well said.
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!

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