Friday, January 20, 2006

Strike Up the Bands

I attended the local All-Region band marathon tonight; it's five bands (freshman band, 4A band, and three 5A bands) back-to-back in four hours. Since getting there required a trip north on Central Expressway during afternoon rush hour (and since my nap lasted longer than I'd anticipated...d'oh!), I didn't quite make the entire freshman portion, but I did hear their last number in its entirety. So today's post is just a collection of some random thoughts that occurred to me during the concert:
  • Once I arrived, I was there for nearly the entire thing, as I had students in every band except the 4A one (since all my schools are 5A now). During that time, I took a dinner break; if nothing else, I felt like I was opening up a seat for some 4A kid's Aunt Edna who might not have gotten a place to sit if I'd stayed.

  • The concert ran extremely efficiently, with no band starting more than a minute or two after its posted time. I've seen this concert run as much as thirty minutes behind in the past, and it makes for a long night for the directors and everyone else involved. This one was obviously set up very well, and the auditorium was big enough that nobody who went in the side entrances was left without a seat (though it did bunch up a bit in the middle).

  • Perhaps this was a direct by-product of the need to keep things on time, but one of the only negatives of the concert was that none of the conductors spoke a word until right before their band's final number. I thought at first that perhaps it was just each director's individual personality, but after three bands did that in a row, I decided that it must have been by design. I'm not saying that everyone needs to be as big of a chatterbox as I am onstage (a holdover, no doubt, from my college radio days), but when the program says "to be selected from the following," I always want to know what I'm hearing as I hear it.

  • Going to a band concert always reminds me why I'm not a band director. This isn't as negative as it might sound: I enjoy listening to the concerts, and I enjoy working with students one-on-one, as well as with jazz players in groups, but conducting a large classical ensemble really isn't my thing (though, if a college job came up that involved directing one classical ensemble along with several jazz ones, I know I'd have the wherewithal to make it "my thing" in short order). Even with the exciting new music being written for that medium today (more on that in a moment), I still heard some pieces that I had played in high school. and they were done pretty much the same way as they were when I played them. I like the freshness and unpredictability of jazz; even when I'm programming a tune that I've done before (and veterans of my combos--especially the afternoon one--will tell you that there are certainly plenty of "Kev Classics" out there), it's a completely different rendition each time because of the elements of interplay and improvisation.

    I totally appreciate the work that band directors put into their craft, even as I totally realize that I'm not the right person for that job. Again, that's not a negative at all; it just means that I know I'm in the right place.

  • Tonight also reminded me once again how much more I like "wind ensemble" music than traditional "band" music. Sure, I'm a sucker for a good march (which makes sense, seeing as how my first two widely-performed compositions were marches), but the more orchestral style of wind writing that's employed today just draws me a lot deeper into the music than most of the old band "warhorses" do. (It doesn't hurt that a lot of wind ensemble writing draws heavily from the modern film-scoring sound...which reminds me--sometime soon, I need to write the post about "How Film Scoring 'Saved' Modern Classical Music.") The effective use of the different colors of the winds, along with the expanded percussion section, really heightens the overall appeal of the genre. I wasn't familiar with a lot of the compositions I heard tonight, but I would definitely acquire some of them on CD for when I'm in a classical mood (yes, it happens).

  • I was also reminded of the importance of not judging a proverbial book by its cover. One of the bands started out by playing three traditional "band" works; it was well-done, but I was wondering if the director was just old-school and maybe a bit stodgy. Then, for their last number, they did a piece that evoked a New Orleans jazz funeral, complete with a small combo up front, mass singing of "When the Saints Go Marching In," and a finale where everyone busted out party hats and noisemakers and dumped confetti on their fellow bandmembers. It brought down the house, and it was certainly an unexpected finale to their portion of the program.

  • This may sound sappy, but 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.
A few people are always surprised to see me at this concert, but they shouldn't be; I'm all about supporting the students whenever I can. And while I'm never able to make every concert at all eight schools during the year, the Region concert is one I try never to miss, since the people who made it to this stage have put in even more work than usual to get there. In return, I can certainly sacrifice a Friday or Saturday evening to hear the fruits of their effort.

(I also blogged a Region concert a few years ago; in that one, several of the participants were also in some of our college ensembles, so the post took on a bit more of a personal flavor.)

Before long, they'll be jammin' from the womb: A few days ago, I noted the presence of a 10-year-old trumpet prodigy who was at IAJE last week. Hot on the heels of that story comes the news of another tiny trumpet titan, and he's only four.

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