Friday, January 23, 2009

Strike Up the Bands (Marathon Version)

Tonight was the All-Region Bands concert in the region where I teach--an event which I have blogged about for the past three years. Anyone who reads this post every year may notice a bit of a rerun aspect to it, but I always have a new observation or two:
  • Once again, this concert ran like clockwork, with each band starting precisely on time. Though none of the bands used the entire 45-minute allotment of time, the breaks provided time to stretch and schmooze with some of my students' parents a bit. (Since a lot of the school bands' individual concerts are on nights when I teach college, I don't get to attend nearly as many of those as I might like, so I don't always get to see the parents except in summer, and, once the kids get their drivers' licenses, not even then.)

  • I had nine students make the bands this year, which ties my 2007 mark but falls short of the twelve I had make it a year ago. My students were in all the bands except the freshman band--someone did originally make that band, but also made the high school band, which supersedes the freshman result--though I forgot that I had no freshmen until my arrival. That would have given me a little more time to find someplace to eat (we were at the same "boonies" school as two years ago), but it did allow me to receive a set of mythical "five stars" awarded by the final band's conductor to anyone who made it through the entire concert.

  • Though the concert has always gone according to a certain set of guidelines, there were some even more formulaic elements tonight: Most of the bands started out with a short fanfare, all but one included a Sousa march, usually as an encore-like finale (and the one that didn't play Sousa did a traditional Russian march instead), and the director didn't come to the microphone until after the second or third selection. (My only quibble with this was that the program said "to be selected from the following" before each listing of tunes, so if a band played two unfamiliar pieces before the conductor spoke, we were left guessing as to what was being played, or at least assuming that the order listed in the program was correct.)

  • Though all of the conductors made mention of of how good the students were, and how it flies in the face of what is usually said about young people in the news media (I've done this myself both as a clinician and at jazz camp), one of them said something that amplified this point: It's too bad that the media weren't there to chronicle this mass of model youth, repeated five times over throughout the evening. But if some teens had knocked over a convenience store or scrawled graffiti on a bridge, the media would be all over that story. I guess it's up to us "citizen journalists" (i.e. bloggers) to keep the positive fire burning for the young people of today, because there really are a lot of good stories out there.

  • I'm reminded that, for at least the past three years, I've meant to write a post entitled "How Film Scoring Saved Classical Music" or something of the sort. Tonight is not that post, though I'll reiterate that the modern "orchestral" style of writing for band is still more appealing to me than most of the old "warhorses" that bands used to play a few decades ago. Writers such as Jack Stamp, Samuel Hazo and Brian Balmages are, to my ears, just writing more exciting music and getting more innovative combinations of sounds out of the instruments than the older composers. In a nutshell, I prefer "wind ensemble" music to "band" music, and yes, there's a difference.

  • But that being said, the top band tonight did an outstanding job with eight of the thirteen movements of Carmina Burana (even if you don't know classical music at all, you've heard the "O Fortuna" movement of this in a movie or something; give it a listen and see). That arrangement may have been published in 1967, but tonight, it crackled with energy in a way I'd never heard before. (And my proverbial hat is off to players and conductor alike for pulling this together in less than 24 hours!) Obviously, there's something to a few of those old chestnuts that's not always readily apparent.

  • And not to dilute my "wind ensemble is better" thoughts anymore, but 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.)
At this concert, the directors and private teachers of whomever is on stage at the moment are asked to stand for a moment (as well as the parents, who are rightfully asked to do this ahead of us). It's always nice to be recognized like this, because most music educators--especially those of us who go from school to school--toil in quiet anonymity most of the time. (That being said, one set of parents attempted to give me quite a bit of the credit for their kid's success; I reminded them that I give out similar information across the board, but it's up to the students to take it and run with it. ) It's a night that we can all celebrate a little, which makes it totally worth whatever effort is required to attend.

No comments: