In the past few years, there's been a "cut and paste" element to this post;while every concert is different in terms of players, conductors and repertoire, there were certain thoughts that crossed my mind every year that I felt bore repeating. But this year, as I "scribbled" down my thoughts between bands on the notes feature of my phone, I realized that there were a lot of fresh things to say, so I'm not even referencing any of the previous posts this time.
So here are the things that came to mind at this year's concert:
- Not all regions have the same setup in terms of number of bands, etc., so here's a quick overview. Our region has five bands: A ninth grade band and four high school bands (which the freshmen can make as well, since the tryouts are on different days, but they have to surrender their seat in the freshman band if they do). Each band starts at a set time, which is listed in the program, so there's usually plenty of stretch time in between.
- Thanks to traffic, I missed most of the freshman band this year (which was unfortunate, because I had a student in there). But I did hear of a more effective way to get to the venue for next year (heading east out of DFW to make a Friday 6:00 concert is always a challenge).
- The conductor of the Wind Ensemble (the top band, and the last to play) and the Ninth Grade Band (the first to play) are husband and wife. I'm not sure that's ever happened in this region since I've been out here.
- I'll briefly mention something that I say every year: I prefer the newer "wind ensemble" music (highly influenced by film scoring, in my opinion) to the older, more homogenized "band" music...but that being said, anything by John Philip Sousa or Percy Grainger is still sheer perfection.
- And indeed, the newer music ruled the day this year, even from the older conductors (one of them noted that everything he programmed tonight was unknown to him five years ago!). Bravo to these folks for stretching a bit and staying current.
- One upside to the new music: So many featured saxophones! Extended alto solos, sax sections used as choirs. It's obviously cool for the students (and for those of us in the audience who play saxophone) to actually hear our instruments, instead of always doubling the French horns like back in the day.
- While the program featured many of the well-known modern composers (John Mackey, Jack Stamp, Eric Whitacre, Frank Ticheli, Brian Balmages), there were also some up-and-comers who had really enjoyable works performed tonight. I was especially impressed by these pieces: "Mekong" by Robert W. Smith; "Elixir" by Michael Markowski; "Oh! What a Morning" by Jess Langston Turner, and "Zing!" by Scott McAllister. Check 'em out; I'm sure they're on YouTube.
- One request to the organizers: Please put first names of composers in the program instead of just last names. The composers deserve that recognition, and it just looks more professional.
- I've mentioned in the past that this concert tends to run as efficiently as a Swiss train. While this didn't always happen this year, the time was made up by the end of the night, and the concert was still pretty much done by 10 PM. Squeezing five bands into four hours is still pretty impressive.
- I was happy to see that all the conductors were very much engaged with the audience, which hasn't always happened in the past. When the programs (prepared well in advance) list the pieces in random order with a "to be selected from" at the top (and the lights are lowered for the performances), it's crucial to introduce every piece, so the audience knows what they're hearing.
- Speaking of the audience, an amazing thing happened: A conductor announced in advance that the piece the band was about to play was in three movements, and nobody clapped between movements. Nobody! The conductor said afterwards that he and the band were a little thrown off by that (after all, there's always That One Guy who claps anyway).
- But I do have to admonish certain audience members for one thing: Door etiquette. If you're going to enter or leave in the middle of a piece (despite signs on every door asking you not to do so), at least wait long enough to keep the door from slamming. While one piece (the aforementioned "Mekong") had some great antiphonal percussion, lots of other pieces had it as well, thanks to the doors.
- But there was another positive audience note: For the first time, an announcement was made requesting that the concert not be recorded by audience members, as it would violate both copyright laws and TMEA regulations. And people obeyed this! It was nice to actually see the concert itself, not through the iPad of someone a few rows in front of me (watching the concert is superior to watching other people watch the concert).
- I often use this space to brag on my studio (i.e. how many students of mine are in the band), but I'm teaching considerably fewer people this year due to expanded responsibilities elsewhere. Still, I had students in three of the five bands, and it's always nice to be able to stand up when the directors/private teachers of anyone onstage are requested to do so.
- A parent asked me earlier today if I was just going to hear my students play and then leave. Not a chance! I'll stay for the top two bands no matter what; the elite college conductors who are selected to work with these bands always do a stellar job, and it's amazing to see what high school students can do in such a short time (the bands only rehearsed last night, this morning and this afternoon). This year's top groups didn't fail to impress me again.
I know what I'll be doing on a Friday night in January 2017, and I'll be sure to share my thoughts in this space once again.