Monday, October 30, 2006

Fall Concert Review

Review of Concord Band concert Saturday October 28, 2006

By Pamela J. Marshall

The Concord Band delivered a splendid concert last Saturday, with fine playing of a program that shined a spotlight on guest composer and conductor Elliot Del Borgo.

Music Director William McManus opened the concert with "Majestic March" by Tchaikovsky in an arrangement for band that showed off the Concord Band's skill in the traditional march literature, although this was a new arrangement for band. The full sound, dominated by brass, gave way to a singing melody by the saxophones and clarinets in the middle section, with filigree from the upper winds. A hint of the Marseillaise melody made me wonder about this work's connection to Tchaikovsky's familiar 1812 Overture. Overall the Band delivered some very neat playing, with well-balanced percussion touches throughout.

Assistant conductor Paul Berler led the "Psalm for Band" by Vincent Persichetti, who was Mr. Del Borgo's teacher. The moving "Psalm" dates from 1952 and made beautiful use of the different instrumental colors available throughout the Band. The very exposed opening was a bit tentative with imperfect intonation, but as more instruments joined in, the problem disappeared and didn't return. The overlapping phrases of constantly changing instrumental colors culminated in some grand chords of brass answering winds. The tempo quickened for a final section that wove the ealier chorale melody into the texture.

For me, the high point of the program was "Of Sailors and Whales" by Francis McBeth, written for the California All-State Band in 1990. Bassoonist-turned-narrator Nathaniel Hefferman led off each of the five sections with a quote describing one of the characters of "Moby Dick." Mr. McBeth brought great imagination to this work, including having the musicians transform themselves into a choir for the third movement, accompanied only by low brass and a ship's bell. The Band's members demonstrated that they also sing quite well. There have been many musical treatments that evoke water and the ocean, and I felt that Mr. McBeth's was both original and rooted in the tradition of Wagner's Rheingold-long, low notes as the anchor, with phrases swelling upward and downward; first a single chord, like the opening of Rheingold, then expanding harmonically. The swirling sound of a long row of metal wind chimes added an extra shimmer. The final movement, titled "The White Whale," began with fanfare material and was a tour-de-force for the Band, which they handled masterfully, bringing to life the passions that inspired the music. The piece elicited bravos from the audience, deservedly so.

In the community spirit that I've come to expect at Concord Band concerts, the Band's president awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously to longtime member Jerry Welts. The trombone section, with help from the percussion, honored him with a toe-tapping rendition of Welts' arrangement of "Trombumba Bossa."

The second half of the program provided the audience with an overview of guest composer Elliot Del Borgo's band music. He often works with folk tunes, and Music Director Bill McManus and Assistant Conductor Paul Berler led two examples of these: "Slavonic Dances" and "New England Suite." These numbers were traditional-sounding band pieces with brass and woodwinds used in a solid-sounding but conventional way.

The setting of five tunes in "Slavonic Dances" caught my interest more than the "New England Suite." The saxophone section shined in the second tune, and the band was very comfortable with the uneven rhythms in two of the tunes, a signature feature of Eastern European melodies. The fourth lyrical tune had fresh, interesting harmonies, and the trumpets sparkled in the last tune in brief descending pyramids of notes. We also heard Mr. Del Borgo's beautiful arrangement of the "Intermezzo" from Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana," with expressive woodwinds playing over a wash of gentle brass.

Bass clarinetist Elliot Finkelstein and his wife Bette commissioned the final work on the program. It was Mrs. Finkelstein's idea to commission a piece in honor of her husband's 70th birthday. The result, "Israeli Triptych" by Elliot Del Borgo was a lively and interesting setting of three familiar Israeli tunes: "Hanukah Song, " a richly harmonized "Hatikvah," and energetic "Hava Hagilah." The introduction was polished, almost a movie-style fanfare. The composer did a lively setting of "Hanukah Song" and developed it with canonic, overlapping entrances, bringing fresh interest. In "Hava Nagilah," the enthusiastic and accurate tamborine playing gave special color to the dance. I enjoyed the contrapuntal treatment of the melody and the uneven rhythms of the middle section. The melody returned in its original rhythms for a lively ending.

At the conclusion the composer made generous and well-earned compliments to the Band and presented a score to Mrs. Finkelstein. Mr. Del Borgo works with many young bands and he told me it was a treat for him to work with musically mature adults, who could respond quickly to musical suggestions. A band member commented to me that working with him was very rewarding because he communicated great musicality and invited them to stretch musically, to play each musical line expressively, and to stay focused and involved.

The Band played a less familiar Sousa march, "High School Cadets," as an encore. Afterward, long-time concertgoer Beth Diamond, daughter of percussionist Dan Diamond, declared that this was the Concord Band's best concert ever. She has attended since she was two years old, so she has a longer overview than I have, but I do agree that the Band's playing was superb in a program of interesting and challenging pieces, with the occasion made special by the newly commissioned work.

Pamela J. Marshall is a composer from Lexington and a horn player in the Concord Orchestra. Her music, along with online music reference material, is available from Spindrift Music Company (

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Brookline doctor commissions new piece for The Concord Band

Brookline-based ophthalmologist Dr. Elliot Finkelstein, along with his wife Bette, has taken his second passion, music, to a whole new level. He recently commissioned a new piece for The Concord Band, one of New England's top community concerts bands, in which he plays bass clarinet.

Elliot Del Borgo
The work is titled "Israeli Folk Suite" by American composer Elliot Del Borgo. It will be premiered at the band's fall concert on Saturday, Oct. 28, at The Performing Arts Center, 51 Walden St., Concord, and will be conducted by the composer. The piece was commissioned by both Finkelstein and wife Bette in honor of Elliot's 70th birthday and was a gift from Bette to her husband.

Finkelstein had put his clarinet aside after high school to pursue his medical degree and ophthalmology practice and to raise a family. He did not take up the instrument again for 48 years. About five years ago, at Bette's urging, he decided to start playing clarinet again.

Finkelstein joined The Concord Band in the third clarinet section in 2001. A resident of Newton, Finkelstein is an ophthalmologist with a Brookline-based practice, which he has shared with his daughter, Dr. Macie Finkelstein, for the past 13 years. With an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, he received his doctor of medicine degree from Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Mo., in 1967.
A past-president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, he is currently affiliated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Lifetime Service Award to Jeremy Welts

Jeremy Welts
In 2002, the Concord Band Board of Trustees introduced the Lifetime Service Award to honor individuals whose participation, over a significant span of time, has made a fundamental difference to the Concord Band. An Honor Roll has been created and is displayed prominently in the 51 Walden lobby to keep these individuals in our collective long-term memory. On October 28, 2006, the Concord Band Lifetime Service Award will be given in memory of Jeremy Welts.

His Award plaque will read as follows:
From 1963 until 2000, Jerry Welts was what music directors hope for: outstanding musician, mentor to younger players, selfless section leader and effective Board member. Bill Toland, Music Director during most of Jerry's time with the Band, recalls that Jerry's trombonists were rotated among parts to keep playing interesting for all of them, but always so that an appropriate player was assigned to each part. For a number of years, Jerry took responsibility for lugging and setting up the Band's very heavy sound system. He also arranged Trombumba/Bossa for trombone choir and band, performed in 1998. We are pleased to honor the memory of Jeremy Welts for his many contributions to the Concord Band.
Past Award recipients have been Bill Burdine and William Toland (2002), Carl Getz and Robert Turkington (2003), Gene Parish and William R. Phelan (2004) and Ed Richter and Bill Siebert (2005).

Past Award recipients have been Bill Burdine and William Toland (2002), CarlGetz and Robert Turkington (2003), GeneParish and William R. Phelan (2004), and EdRichter and Bill Siebert (2005).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Interview: Music Education and the Concord Band

Dr William G McManus
Music Director
Dr William G. McManus, Music Director of the Concord Band since 1995, has been Director of Fine and Applied Arts in a very successful Massachusetts public school system and is now Chair of the Music Education Department at the Boston University College of Fine Arts. His perspective, we thought, on how the Concord Band relates to music education would be of great interest to our readers.

CB: How would you assess the general health of public school music education in the Commonwealth? 
WGM: “Generally, music education programs are strong in the public schools in Massachusetts, especially in suburban school districts. Many communities can boast fine comprehensive music programs. The band, choral, orchestra, marching band, and jazz festivals sponsored by such organizations as the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association (MICCA) and the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) remain very strong. The District and All-State Festivals sponsored by the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) are spectacular. On the flip side, there are too many communities cutting back or eliminating music programs. Music programs in the cities and in rural areas of the Commonwealth are especially limited.”

CB: It’s probably safe to say every member of the Concord Band began his or her career as an instrumentalist in elementary school. Do you feel that it is better to start off a young child on a band or orchestra instrument or on the piano? Why? 
WGM: “It really depends upon the age and interest level of the child at the time. A five- or six-year-old could begin taking piano lessons or lessons on a small size violin, much as many students do in Suzuki programs in Japan. This same child could not begin lessons on a band or orchestra instrument because s/he physically would not be able to play the instrument. Most nine-year-old children are physically ready to learn a band instrument.”

CB: In your career as a music educator you’ve had the opportunity to observe music teachers in action for the past few decades. Are they different in any important ways now from when you began your own career? 
WGM: “Music teachers tend to be more specialized than when I began my career. General music teachers often develop expertise in one of several different approaches to teaching music such as Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, or Gordon. Today there are many instrumental teachers who specialize in teaching jazz. Jazz ensembles and jazz choirs did not exist in schools when I began teaching. Many other music teachers are expert in the use of music technology which also did not exist when I began my career.”

CB: For non-professional wind and percussion players who want to continue playing beyond high school or college, the community band represents that opportunity. What is your view of the significance of the community band? 
WGM: “There is no question that the community band is an extremely important musical performance opportunity for nonprofessional musicians. Together with community orchestras and choruses, they represent the primary, and in many cases, the only opportunity for non-professional musicians to perform in a large ensemble. Community bands in particular also play an important role in preserving the heritage of band music and they are an important source of public entertainment.”

CB: And now for the question we’ve all been waiting for, would you please comment on the Concord Band in particular among community bands relative to music education. How is it different? As its Music Director, what goals have you set for the Band in your second decade? 
WGM: “The Concord Band is unique among community bands for a number of reasons. Its long tradition of commissioning new works is commendable. Few other bands can boast of this achievement. The band also has a long tradition of inviting truly outstanding guest soloists and conductors to perform with the Band. These opportunities provide very rich experiences for our members and our audiences. I plan to continue these practices and do everything I can to maintain the very high performance level of the Band. Perhaps most unique is the dedication and loyalty of the members of the Band. My primary goal is to reward that dedication by continuing to provide outstanding musical experiences for the Band members and wonderful concerts for our audiences.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Guest Artist Spotlight: Terry Everson

Guest Artist Terry Everson
Terry Everson is an internationally renowned trumpet soloist, active as performer, educator, composer/arranger and church musician. He first gained international attention in 1988, winning (on consecutive days) both the Baroque/Classical and 20th Century categories of the inaugural Ellsworth Smith International Trumpet Competition, with further success as First Prize laureate of the 1990 Louise D. McMahon International Music Competition.

Mr. Everson has premiered major works by composers John Davison, Stanley Friedman, Jan Krzywicki, Elena Roussanova-Lucas, and Gary Ziek. His collaboration with pianist Susan Nowicki has produced two complete recordings of numerous notable modern works, as well as single entries on two discs devoted to the works of Davison and Krzywicki; he has also recorded as soloist with the New England Brass Band, the Lexington Brass Band and the Eastern Wind Symphony. He is a Life Member of the International Trumpet Guild, having served as Conference Host in 1998, and was recently appointed Music Notation Specialist for the Guild’s quarterly Journal.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Winter Concert features Composer Percy Grainger and Trumpeter Terry Everson

Composer Percy Aldridge Grainger
The Concord Band will present its annual Winter Concert at 51 Walden Street in Concord on Saturday, March 4, 2006, beginning at 8:00 p.m. The concert will feature guest trumpet soloist Terry Everson and the music of composer Percy Aldridge Grainger.

Music Director Dr. William G. McManus will open the concert with the Mad Major March, a distinctly British march by Kenneth J. Alford. Alford was as famous in England for his marches as Sousa was in the United States.

In recognition of the recent passing of Alfred Reed, one of the greatest band composers of the twentieth century, the Band will perform Reed’s lovely composition Music in the Air! The Concord Band has performed numerous compositions by Alfred Reed over the years and had recently commissioned Dr. Reed to compose a piece for the Band, which the composer had not yet begun.