Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Concord Band Presents a Thought-Provoking Program

Submitted to the Concord Journal—On Saturday, March 7, I had the pleasure of attending the Concord Band’s “Portraits” concert with my family, including two fifth graders and a third grader. The band, under the direction of James O’Dell, played a series of pieces that honored particular historical figures, beginning with Jack Kerouac. Dichotomy…Impressions of Kerouac began with a presentation of “Frere Jacques,” which then morphed into a 7/8 meter using fuller instrumentation, and the minor mode. This effect seems very popular with band composers lately: presenting a theme in one meter, and changing it to a modern, percussion-heavy setting with complicated rhythms. The swell of the final section evoked the impression of water, and one memorable moment was Judy Piermarini’s beautiful tenor saxophone solo.

One highlight of the program was A Movement for Rosa by Mark Camphouse, who created a piece in honor of Civil Rights Activist Rosa Parks. Jim O’Dell explained to the audience ahead of time that the music is intense, that it was designed to illustrate the challenges faced by Rosa Parks during her lifetime, and also the dignity and beauty of her character. Beginning with a single flute, the music builds emotionally and uncomfortably. At the end of the piece, we hear a stunning harmonic presentation of the unattributed American song “We Shall Overcome,” followed by an unsettling final chord with dissonance that reminds us all: We are not there yet.

With this backdrop still echoing in our consciousness from the first half, the second half of the concert continued showing powerful historical portraits, with the addition of Jordan Rich as the narrator. Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait has been performed several times by the Concord Band, but in my mind never with such feeling and expression. The woodwind harmonies were particularly luscious. The audience was called upon to think about the world in which Lincoln lived, and the ongoing challenges of a nation divided.

The climax of the concert was the finale, Of Sailors and Whales, by Francis McBeth. The music was punctuated with text from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, read by Jordan Rich, who was now speaking from an invisible location, the disembodied voice of Ishmael. Everyone expects this band to consist of great instrumentalists. However, the score calls for nearly every band member to sing, sometimes in two- and three-part harmony, in the third movement. They did an outstanding job, with accompaniment by the tuba and the chimes, and it serves as a reminder that the human voice is the most basic of all instruments. Every musician is able to sing, and these band members proved that beautifully! The rest of the piece depicted the imposing Captain Ahab, and the sailors’ terror of fighting an animal that could sink your ship with a flick of his tail.

On the way home, my elementary school students and I had a wonderful discussion about the issues raised in the concert, as well as the lovely music we experienced. I appreciated this opportunity to share meaningful topics of conversation, especially on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Selma “Bloody Sunday.” Thank you to the Concord Band for a delightful evening in every way!

Kathryn Denney is an elementary school music teacher in the Newton public schools, specializing in directing children's choir and beginning band instruction. She attended Oberlin conservatory of music, and trained as a professional horn player. She aspires to instill a life-long love of music in her students, and considers the Concord Band a prime example for her students to follow.

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