Symphonic Band mixes poetry and music

Nathan Lane

A modest turnout greeted the Lawrence University Symphonic Band’s latest concert, “The Poet’s Voice,” last Friday night. The band proved themselves to be more than capable, as Dr. Andrew Mast led them through a concert of diverse repertoire, ranging from the classical standard, Shostakovich’s “Galop,” to the awaited and interdisciplinary “An Introduction to the Moon” by Libby Larsen. The concert roared to a start with the Hunsberger arrangement of “Galop.” The band played without fault through the high-energy piece, maintaining tempo and intensity without the sound becoming frenetic. The piece alternated between march-like, brass-driven themes and smoother, more lyrical woodwind passages.

Of special interest in the performance was the conducting debut of Brent Hauer, a student of Dr. Mast. He led the Symphonic Band through Frank Ticheli’s “Cajun Folk Songs,” a two-movement work consisting of both woodwind solos and foreign-sounding scales, and a second brisk syncopated section. Hauer, who led rehearsals as well as conducted the performance, succeeded in getting the band to play together, coaxing great entrances from the ensemble.

The main attraction of the evening was “An Introduction to the Moon.” The piece is an experimental work that explores interactions between music and literature. The composition included a variety of unusual timbres-tuned water glasses, bowed percussion and, of course, the spoken word. Originally, the piece contained works by famous poets such as Billy Collins and Emily Dickinson to be accompanied by improvisations by soloists. This rendition, however, featured new, original works by eight Lawrence students. The piece had a generally mysterious air, in keeping with its theme and instrumentation, and moments of full ensemble harmonies and muted trumpet reminiscent of the Gil Evans/Miles Davis collaborations of the cool jazz era.

Structurally, the piece consisted of a number of poems set to a woodwind background with introductions and interludes. The soloists accompanied the poets as they read their works. Interaction seemed to be what made the piece enjoyable. One of the most memorable sections of the piece was Andrew Graff’s untitled work as accompanied by Sumner Truax. Graff’s reading was peppered with elongations and pauses that Truax filled with curious harmonies and emotive playing drawn in part from Coltrane’s Alabama.

Truax was amiable to sharing the stage with poetry: “It’s actually something I’ve really wanted to do,” he said. On the secret of his success, Truax said “We got together and decided what words to emphasize, what mood we were going for… We split the poem up into three sections.”

As if to remind the audience, that it was, after all, a band concert, the band played Arnold’s “English Dances for Band” to conclude the night. The Symphonic Band will next be performing with the Wind Ensemble at 8:00 p.m. on April 18.