The Concord Band played a very exciting concert last Saturday, for a decent crowd of escapees from the third game of the World Series. Music Director Bill McManus has honed a very good band into a super one, over his twelve years on the band's podium. He and his Assistant Conductor, Paul Berler, inspired the band through some very challenging music in this concert.
Wham!! on the bass drum to start Roger Cichy's Fanfare for a Festive Day. That set the mood, didn't it? Fanfares served in the past to announce the beginning of the concert—to quiet the audience down. Now-a-days, fanfares rouse us to the spirit of the concert—as did this one. I especially enjoyed the march, the fugue and the horn section throughout this short burst of sound.
After thanking us for attending, Bill McManus and the band played Daniel Lutz's Dichotomy... Impressions of Kerouac—a Concord Band commission with support of the Lowell Cultural Council. Kerouac was a "beat" French Catholic, and this music echoed that. It mixed together jazz, Frere Jacque and mixed meter of 7/8, 7/4 and 7/2 (the seven sacraments)—all into a challenging composition for the band. Bill had no trouble conducting this tricky mixed meter. And the band had no trouble following Bill—listening, listening, listening to each other. At one point, Kerouac's life floated along a river of bubbles, created when the upper-wind players noodled along, each at their own tempo. I enjoyed the ethereal percussion, flute and oboe, the jazzy brass, and the tympani flourish at the end. One particular highlight: Judy Piermarini wailed on a tenor-sax solo (brava, Judy).
Next a calming interlude: On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss, composed by David Holsinger. Cameron Owen just shone in this organ-like song, with his horn sound floating above the rest of the band, including a subtle low-clarinet undercurrent.
Paul Berler then led the band in Norman Dello Joio's Scenes from "The Louvre"—five aural Renaissance portraits that won him an Emmy for the 1964-65 television season. Paul Berler's intensity on the podium fascinated me, and apparently inspired many in the band. "The Portals" began with orchestra bells and featured low brass, especially the tuba section: Mark Petersen and Charlie Ricci. "Children's Gallery" bounced along with wonderfully consolidated clarinet tone, very high trumpet and a piccolo surprise. I enjoyed the piccolo/bassoon duet towards the end, brought to life by Laura Finkelstein and Erin Cram. "The Kings of France" included a nicely-in-tune duo with clarinet and oboe (David Purinton and Vanessa Rene). And David Purinton blessed "The Nativity Paintings" with a very sweet lullaby. The snare drum began the last portrait, "Finale."
To elevate us all towards the sky, Bill McManus returned to conduct Spirit of Flight by John O'Reilly—by special permission of the US Air Force. Up to this concert, only the USAF Academy Band had performed this work, which they commissioned for the Air Force's sixtieth anniversary. Young pilots know the feelings of flight: exhilaration, serenity and excitement. This music captured those feelings. Very fast trumpet and a saxophone licks exhilarated us in the audience. Oboe, bassoon and saxophone then lulled us serene. Then the off-rhythms and rhythmic drive of percussion, the clarinets, and the lower-then-upper brass ended the music with great excitement.
Did I mention intonation? I was astounded at how precisely the band tuned up (in the basement to an electronic tuner) and how intently they listened to each other as they played. Listen, listen, listen. Only that produces good intonation (none of this "my instrument was tuned at the factory"). And a side-benefit, as well. Intent listening to everyone else removes the "focus" from oneself and thereby reduces nervousness. The Concord Band has learned this well from its conductors over the years—and especially from Bill McManus.
After intermission, the band played a transcription of Rossini's Italian in Algiers Overture. Band transcriptions often give the most difficult string music to the band's clarinet players—too high and too fast. I have personally suffered through many unpleasant dreams after playing such transcriptions. Here, the Concord Band's clarinet players suffered as I have and, overall, played these passages very cleanly while maintaining their intonation. Bravo, David Purinton and your whole section. This composition also abounds in delicate solos for individual wind players. I especially liked those solos by Barbara Weiblen on flute and Erin Cram on bassoon.
At this point in the program, the Concord Band presented its Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously to Barbara Cataldo, flutist with the band for more than 32 years. Barbara's two daughters accepted her award and thanked the band for honoring their mother.
In a performance dedicated to Barbara Cataldo, Jean Munro next performed Rhapsody for Flute by Stephen Bulla. A member of the band since 2004, Jean has taught music in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine—and is now a Sales Support Engineer at Progress Software in Bedford. I especially enjoyed Jean's music-making in the rhapsody's slow section. Her tone is warm, smooth and well focused even in the flute's lowest notes. And she controls her vibrato with subtlety. Rather than continual, un-ending vibrato, Jean uses it to emphasize and support her dynamics—like good classical singers do. Congratulations, Jean, on your solo last evening.
The band then continued with Dello Joio's Satiric Dances, commissioned by the band in 1975 and now played worldwide. Bill McManus said the band is "fond and proud of it." The first dance emphasized the lower brass players, who all deserve individual praise for their solid playing. The second dance featured upper winds, high bassoon (perhaps a tenor-oon?), pungent piccolo and lyric oboe. A moving clarinet part and very fast bongo-playing concluded the third dance.
No Sousa march to end, however. Instead, the band encored a very complex Claude T. Smith arrangement of the chorale-prelude God of Our Fathers. Some portions did have a march "ring" to them. The baritone horns sang out very majestically. Muted trumpets and trombones added their unique color to the sound, as did a long piccolo solo. Do hymns have toppings? If so, then the French horns topped this encore.
The Concord Band now has some fifty commissions and works written expressly for it. What a boon to the band literature. This concert starts a two-year celebration of the band's upcoming 50th anniversary. Over two years, the band will repeat many of its commissions—starting with this concert's Dichotomy and Satiric Dances, and culminating in the premiere of a newly commissioned work by Roger Cichy.
So why play in a community band? Well, the excitement of this concert is certainly one reason. And the joy of playing an old favorite, all notes completely at your fingertips, so that you can immerse yourself and flow along with the music you are making (a virtual Zen state). And the satisfaction of newly tackling something very hard, working at it very hard, and succeeding at it. And the fun of a "team sport" without anyone losing. We all have our reasons, these among them.
And then why attend a community band concert? Perhaps to stomp your feet during a rousing march. Perhaps to re-live your own band experience and emotions. Perhaps to share in the on-stage excitement of your friends in the band. Perhaps to support the arts in Concord. We all attend for many reasons, including "just the fun of it." Those of us at Saturday's concert understand this.