Tuesday, April 14, 2015

top ten Tuesday: UMM concert band songs.

Remember when I waxed nostalgic about UMM jazz band and how it was the greatest college experience ever?

Well, it was.

But it probably wouldn’t have happened had I not joined the UMM concert band first.
Can you find me?
I had played clarinet starting in the fifth grade and had continued through high school. It was fun, but I had no plans to carry on in college. I would certainly have better things to do than play an instrument for fun.

At least, that was my plan until I sat down with the course catalog to plan my very first semester of classes. You know that feeling you get when you really don’t want to do something, but you know you really should? That’s how I felt when I realized that absolutely none of my classes conflicted with concert band rehearsal. It was a big commitment: 330 – 5pm EVERY SINGLE DAY. For one lousy credit. Against my better judgment, I signed up. I would be lying if I told you that my dad, a trumpet player, wasn’t utterly delighted.

On college move-in day in August 2005, my entire family came along. I, of course, was that special kind of nervous excited where you’re thrilled to be there but are also trying desperately not to throw up. After unloading my belongings into my stifling-hot dorm room, my family and I trooped over to the fine arts building. I had to sign up for a concert band audition, so I weaved through the hallways to find the sign-up sheet. My family stayed behind to poke around, and when I returned, I found them happily chatting up a red-haired trumpet-playing fellow freshman named James.
That guy!
Concert band was never more delightful than it was that first year. Our director was John Ross, an enthusiastic guy who wasn’t afraid to throw in a crowd-pleaser or two for each concert. (You’ll notice that most of the favorites on this list come from that 2005-2006 season.) It was during this year that I got to know the music majors and really became friends with that trumpet player named James. The concert band went on a band retreat in early September, which I thought was the best thing ever. (The band retreat is a story all its own.) 
This is from the fall 2006 band retreat. Yes, this totally happened.
We also had a special performance in Minneapolis that year – we loaded up Greyhound buses and arranged home-stays, and it was FUN.

But then again, everything is fun when you’re a freshman.

We got a new director when I was a sophomore. He was from Germany and wanted to play pieces that were a lot more serious than those that John Ross had us play. That was fine, but it wasn’t really my thing. These pieces were all modern and dissonant, and I almost felt bad asking my parents to come to concerts when I knew that the pieces weren’t going to be that fun to listen to. Nor were they all that much fun to play. Sophisticated I am not.

At the same time, my class schedule was beginning to get more demanding. I had settled on a major (English) and a minor (art history – which would eventually turn into a second major), and I needed to arrange my classes just so in order to fit them all in. I was up to twenty credits even before jazz band and concert band. With its demanding five-day-a-week, ninety-minute-per-day schedule, concert band just wasn’t working for me. I dropped it at the end of the fall semester of my sophomore year.

Honestly, it was really nice not having to worry about running to concert band every single afternoon and not getting done with class until 5. Most classes ended around 3, and it was an absolute delight to have that extra time in the afternoon. I was still in jazz band, so it’s not like I had abandoned music completely.

When I was a junior, I became the Arts and Entertainment editor for the college newspaper. As you may have guessed, this required me to write about arts events – like concert band. (I should mention that our director did not like us to be called “concert band” as he thought that was too low-brow. As soon as he took over, we became the symphonic winds.)

The director was always willing to sit down with me and give me a few quotes for my upcoming articles. Whenever I interviewed him, he ended each session by asking me when I was going to rejoin the band. I would hem and haw and tell him that my schedule was too packed – which it was, but I also wasn’t too inclined to go back to the grueling rehearsal schedule.

Even so, I eventually caved. I rejoined the symphonic winds in the spring semester of my junior year and stuck it out to the end: with the caveat that I would only attend rehearsals on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Mostly so I could dress in concert blacks and take pictures like this.
In the end, I clocked in with six semesters of concert band and about a zillion concerts. 
My family at my first concert...

...and my family at my last concert. We've come full circle!
As to be expected, some pieces stuck with me from those six semesters and zillion concerts. Allow me to present part two of my UMM music top tens: my top ten concert band pieces!

Shenandoah – Ticheli
freshman year
The concert band season kicks off each fall with the homecoming concert, held in concordance with UMM homecoming (obviously). Shenandoah was one of the very first pieces I played at my very first UMM concert. It was lovely and melodic and forgive my nostalgic sentiment, but I got swept away in the swelling whole notes. Never before had I performed in a concert with such a talented ensemble – remember, I was coming from a teeny high school band in rural South Dakota. Shenandoah was the tip of the musical iceberg for me. My parents came to this first concert (and all other concerts, save one), and how proud I was for them to see me sitting onstage in my concert blacks, playing this glorious piece. Of course, the lustre of concert band did indeed wear off, but Shenandoah was part of a time in my life when everything was new and bright and shiny.

Festive Overture – Shostakovich
freshman year
UMM concert band was my first exposure to many great composers – Shostakovich being one of them. Festive Overture was so lively and full of fanfare that you couldn’t not enjoy it. (Yes, that’s a double negative. Yes, meant to do that.)

Second Suite in F – Holst
freshman year
Every so often, our director would decide to put together a wind ensemble. He’d choose a piece and would then assign only one musician per part – so there would likely be only three clarinets (first clarinet, second clarinet, third clarinet), three trumpets, three trombones, and so on. Holst’s Second Suite in F was one such wind ensemble piece, and I was one of the three clarinets. (Side note: While I was excited to be a part of this wind ensemble, I quickly learned that it was far more desirable NOT to be in the ensemble. The non-wind-ensemble band members got out of rehearsal early.) I loved this suite, and it was one of the few pieces (specifically, the fourth moment) that actually made me WANT to practice. No easy feat.

Country Gardens – Grainger
freshman year
I apologize that I don’t have grand stories for all of these entries – a few of them are included simply because I liked them. (See: Festive Overture.) Country Gardens is one of those pieces. It was so bouncy and delightful that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself while playing it. If you listen to it, you’ll know precisely what I mean.

Sparkle – Perrine
freshman year
This piece brings back so many memories. I have an entire blog story dedicated to it already, but here’s the short version: Sparkle was written by a UMM alum, and we were performing its world premiere. John Ross had marketed this as a “multimedia performance”: as we performed the piece, there would be interpretive dancers in the aisles, artists onstage painting as they listened to the music, and a projector screen showing images of sparkly things. As they entered the concert hall, audience members were given pieces of paper and pencils. Right before we began the piece, John Ross requested that the audience compose a poem based on how Sparkle made them feel. My dad was in the audience that day, and he did just that. When the piece finished, John Ross asked the audience to share what they’d written – and Dad was the first (and very nearly only) person to stand up. His poem went: “Five of us came from SD/to see my daughter, Calla B/She really makes her father beam/Now, if only the Twins had a team.” Not exactly what our director had been looking for, but Dad’s poem was a huge hit with my fellow musicians. Some of them still talk about it to this day.

Rhapsody in Blue – Gershwin
freshman year
The UMM concert band had a great deal of very talented musicians, and we would showcase said musicians from time to time. Rhapsody in Blue featured a phenomenal piano player, and the rest of the band functioned as her background musicians. She was so good that it was nearly impossible to focus on my sheet music. Rhapsody in Blue is one of my favorite pieces to this day – I even wrote my final paper for a music history class on that very piece. (I got an A.)

Carmina Burana – Orff
freshman year
We collaborated with the UMM choir to perform Carmina Burana in the Morris high school performing arts venue (which was way nicer than the college’s). This was sort of a wind ensemble situation: only one musician per part. I’m not sure how I wound up in Carmina Burana, but I am sure glad I did. There’s nothing like hearing “O Fortuna” live – especially when you’re the one playing it. Our uniforms for the concert, though, were fairly ridiculous. Concert musicians almost always dress in all black, but we were given brightly colored Carmina Burana t-shirts to wear for the occasion.
As absurd as we looked, I still have my shirt somewhere.

Hounds of Spring – Reed
senior year
I don’t necessarily remember the exact dates for many of my concerts, but I do remember this one: it was October 31, 2008, and it was part of the UMM Festival of Bands. The Festival of Bands was a multi-day affair in which area high school bands performed at the college and took master classes. The UMM concert band performed, as well, and I was SO ANGRY that we were required to play on Halloween. Halloween is my all-time favorite holiday, and this was my last Halloween in college – and it landed on a Friday, no less. The stars had aligned for the best Halloween ever, but here I was, stuck playing my dumb clarinet at a dumb concert. As soon as we were done playing, I flew out of the rehearsal hall and made a beeline for sweet freedom. Truth be told, I didn’t even remember that we’d played Hounds of Spring until I saw one of James’s old programs. But I love Hounds of Spring, so there you go.

Symphony 4 – Maslanka
senior year
This is, hands down, my favorite piece from my years of UMM concert band. It clocks in at more than twenty minutes, and every single minute is absolutely thrilling. I have a recording of UMM playing this piece, and it gives me goosebumps each and every time. In this recording, James plays a piccolo trumpet solo, which I find absolutely delightful. I am at a loss as to how best to describe this piece to you – at the risk of sounding trite, I will say that words just don’t do it justice. We played this for a December concert, and it made up the entire second half of said concert. My parents and James’s parents were both going to come to hear this phenomenal piece, but as it is wont to do, the weather simply didn’t cooperate. A large and nasty blizzard prevented a good portion of our audience from reaching us that night, but the show went on just the same. And thankfully so – I have never been more excited to be a part of a symphony.
Here we are, immediately following our Maslanka performance.
See how pleased (and exhausted) we are?
Star Wars – Williams
senior year
Every now and then, we’d have a concert just for the fun of it. The semester before I rejoined concert band, they played the score from The Lord of the Rings. It went over quite well, so during my last semester, we performed the music from the original Star Wars trilogy. At the same time, there was a projector screen playing clips from the movies that corresponded to our place in the score. At this point in my life, I had – believe it or not – NEVER seen Star Wars. I knew the gist of it, but I had not watched the classic trilogy. I was unfortunate enough to be on the side of the stage that was facing the screen, so I had a hard time paying attention to my music. I was a little bit enthralled with that projector screen, especially when I saw what was under Darth Vader’s helmet. The concert hall was stuffed to the gills for this concert. Historically, UMM concert band performances had trouble gathering an audience, but not Star Wars. They actually had to turn people away and shoo people out of the aisles – likely a first for the concert band. Such is the power of Star Wars.


There we are: ten pieces that I love dearly from my tenure in concert band. Between these ten pieces and the ten from UMM jazz, I’ve got twenty songs’ worth of great college memories. How great is that?

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