Wind Ensemble honors Kaitlin Mahr

Sonia Emmons

The Lawrence University Wind Ensemble gave their last concert of the year on Saturday, May 17 in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. The program shared the title “Scenes from a Life Danced” with a premiere piece dedicated in memory of Kaitlin Mahr. “Scenes From a Life Danced” (2008) was composed by Timothy Mahr, Kaitlin’s uncle, and a close friend and colleague of conductor Andrew Mast.
In his introduction of the piece, Mast spoke about the exciting process of bringing a new piece of music to life, starting with opening up the brand new score — even if it comes through email as a PDF, which is usually the case nowadays. The Wind Ensemble did a praiseworthy job of bringing this meaningful piece of music to life.
The piece is in four movements, two of which featured members of the Melee dance troupe, Jamie Gajewski, Frances Steiner and Sarah Gray. The four movements are creatively titled “Greeting and Tarantella,” “A Young Girl’s Dream of Ballet,” “Janus Dance” and “Silly Walks and Departures.”
Movements two and four showcased the dancers in rather seductive roles. Mahr modeled “A Young Girl’s Dream of Ballet” after Tchaikovsky’s famous “Nutcracker” ballet suite, specifically The Arabian Dance. The English horn and clarinet brought the music its Middle Eastern character, while the dancers’ synchronized “come hither” hip and finger motions did the same.
“Silly Walks and Departures,” the last movement, featured the dancers in more playfully seductive roles. Mahr wrote that he saw this movement as “a chance to provide music for the dancers to enjoy life as Katie did, perhaps even improvising a silly walk just for the pure enjoyment of it.” The dancers certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the feeling was passed along to the audience.
To end the music, a piercing chord was chimed twenty times for each of Katie’s years.
In Mahr’s notes, he wrote that the opening section of the last movement is “jazzy, playful, and has a bit of an attitude about it, like Katie,” and this jazzy playfulness nicely connected his piece with the rest of the program.Before “Scenes from a Life Danced,” Mast introduced the first two works on the program as also containing jazz elements.
The highlight of the program was George Gershwin’s jazzy “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924), played by 2008 Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition Winner David Plank. The wonderfully hummable music seemed to pour out of his fingers as he sat tall on the piano bench (in coat tails, I might add). The dim Chapel lights, the famous opening clarinet solo, and the swirling piano solos swept me away and landed me right in a 1920s nightclub.
The arrangement for winds was admittedly less satisfying than the full orchestra version, but Mast and the Wind Ensemble did a fine job showcasing the group of talented musicians.
Since I’m already going in backwards order, the first piece on the program was Czech composer Robert Kurka’s “The Good Soldier Schweik Suite” (1956). Mast explained that the music was composed for a show that follows the foibles of a Czech Don Quixote-like character. The snare drum’s opening music magnificently set the scene: a hopeful soldier mounting his horse, ready for the adventures awaiting him. Just like in Mahr’s piece, the rich sounds of the English horn and bass clarinet lent the music an Eastern groove.
The Wind Ensemble concert provided many visual and aural delights. The audience heard a bit of nice jazz, saw some nice dancing and gave back a lot of applause.

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