Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble display impressive versatility

Olivia Hendricks

Now, nearly a week after the Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble performed their first concerts of the year, listeners may have only distant memories of the specific solos, crescendos and tempo changes that wowed them last Friday night. However, it is doubtful that any listener has forgotten the two most compelling elements the ensembles brought to the stage that evening: personality and versatility.
Myron Welch, former professor of music and director of bands at The University of Iowa, guest conducted both groups that evening in place of Lawrence Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Bands Andrew Mast, who is currently on sabbatical. During the intermission, Welch said that he understood one of his roles as guest conductor to be to “bring in new repertoire” for the bands.
The emphasis on new and varied repertoire allowed the ensembles to highlight different strengths while keeping the audience engaged. Given the stereotype of bands being loud and boisterous, it was incredible to hear the different characters the bands were able to take on over the course of the evening, and even within pieces.
The first half of the performance featured the Symphonic Band. The band opened with the only band piece Samuel Barber wrote, “Commando March,” a brief and exciting composition played with exuberance and determination.
The group adopted a more nostalgic approach in order to play “Heartland Sketches,” which was commissioned in 2008 by University of Iowa alumni to honor Welch’s retirement. Mark Camphouse composed the piece to include the Iowa fight song as well as sailing themes as a tribute to Welch’s love of that avocation.
Third was Arnold’s “English Dances, Set II,” which seemed to present some tempo and tone quality issues for the group but was nevertheless a charming and folksy performance, with the grazioso movement being particularly enchanting.
The Symphonic Band wrapped up with Sousa’s “Royal Welsh Fusiliers,” which, with the typical cymbal crashes and proud marching energy, seemed to tell the audience, “Yes, we are versatile, but in the end, we are a band … give us a Sousa march and we’re in our element!”
During the intermission, Welch commented on the musical maturity and intelligence of the Lawrence performers, and he also mentioned several Lawrence faculty members he had known or worked with while professor at the University of Iowa, including Mast, Associate Professor of Music John Daniel and Associate Dean of the Conservatory and Associate Professor of Music Jeffrey Stannard.
The Wind Ensemble kicked off the second half of the performance with Strauss’ well-known “Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare,” performed with brass and percussion only. The ensemble did a nice job of bringing out the dialogues between voices; it did justice to this beautiful and regal composition. The rest of the ensemble joined in for the next piece, Sparke’s “Celebration,” which began playfully and sweetly but ended sounding less like a celebration and more like hard work. Whether change was due to the piece itself or to the ensemble is hard to say, however.
The third piece was inspired by the emotive and improvisational folk dances of Korea: Chang Su Koh’s “Korean Dances.” Flutist Erin Weigel introduced “Korean Dances” by mentioning that two important characteristics of Korean dance are a great sense of beauty and a state of “irrepressible joy, almost giddiness.”
Weigel did a breathtaking job capturing the element of blossoming, pure beauty in her solo. The rest of the ensemble brought the element of joy in such a way that the piece made even this Midwestern audience want to get up and dance.
Last, but certainly not least, the Wind Ensemble performed a piece by – guess who -Sousa. And it was a -guess what – march, “Solid Men to the Front,” to be exact. It sounded – guess how – wonderful and professional.
The piece was a whirlwind to the end, articulated carefully, with great dynamics and spirit. Just like the Symphonic Band, the Wind Ensemble proved that, though it could pull off any kind of music, from classical to Korean, in the end, there is nothing better than a good Sousa march.