Monday, May 22, 2017

One score and two seasons ago...

...a small cadre of dedicated musicians approached then Loras College professor Brian Hughes and decided that Dubuque needed a community band, joining the ranks of Bettendorf, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and even Hampton. Fifteen people--nine of whom played clarinet--attended that first rehearsal on May 9, 1995. That first season could be called "we'll play when we have enough music to play." Still, the band managed three performances spread throughout the summer, premiering at the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens; afterward, the ensemble moved into Iowa's most beautiful outdoor concert site: the Eagle Point Park Bandshell. Except for an occasional rainout (ok, lots of them in the summer of 2008), that's been "home."

Along the line, that band--called the Tri-State Wind Symphony--added other area musical groups to play on its "off" weeks and the real summer series was born. The group also has "toured" several locales, including Bettendorf (3 times), Cascade, Sinsinawa Mound (twice) and a joint performance with Maquoketa's Timber City Band at the Iowa Municipal Band Festival in Boone. It's still always pleasant to play close to home, as we will be at our first concert of the 23rd Season, June 1 at 7:30 PM at Eagle Point Park.

Programs always consist of the old and the new, the borrowed and the blue. Our musical menu will include,

Karl L. King's Invictus, composed in honor of bandmaster Merle Evans. In a sad coincidence, Mr. Evans's band and the circus it represented--the Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Circus--just folded its tents for the last time on May 21. No more will we hear the call, "Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages!"

A gorgeous and lyrical original work by Australian composer Brian Hogg entitled In Stillness.

Tahiti Trot, written by Dmitri Shostakovich. This score was the result of a bet with Russian conductor Nicholai Malko, who wagered that the composer could not create a fully orchestrated setting of Tea for Two in less than an hour. Shostakovich took 45 minutes!

A great medley of Hollywood themes arranged by Warren Barker and much, much more! Who knows? We might even play a little something by John Philip Sousa. You'll have to come and see (and hear!)

Will he show up?

We know that he'll be there...
Once again:

Tri-State Wind Symphony 23rd Season Opener
Thursday, June 1, 7:30 PM
Eagle Point Park Bandshell
Free with admission to the park ($1 per car, so fill the Buick up with all your friends!)

See you there!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Another season concludes

Herein marks my last blog post for the 2011 summer season of concerts by the Tri State Wind Symphony.  This marks our seventeenth year of music making at Eagle Point Park and other venues throughout the region and the state, including:

  • A large number of performances at the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens (including our very first concert in 1995!)
  • Two performances at the Bill Bowe Bandshell, home of the Bettendorf Park Board Band.
  • A performance in Riverside Park, Cascade.
  • A concert, along with members of the Timber City Band of Maquoketa at the tenth annual Iowa Municipal Band Festival in Boone (it seems about time for a return engagement!)
It is amazing that the ensemble has managed to achieve our current number of players as well as the consistently high quality of the group, remembering that:
  • At our first rehearsal on May 11, 1995, we had 15 players present, nine of whom were clarinetists (thank you Micki Marolf!)
  • We have no auditions.  Membership is open to any and all who feel that they can keep up with the rigors of the repertoire and the rehearsal schedule (as well as my often bad jokes).
  • Our first season included only three concerts, partly because of a rain-out.
  • A near-crisis situation in Winter 2008, when we found ourselves without a rehearsal space, percussion equipment, and much of a library from which to select music.  It is through the dedication of our Board of Directors that we now have access to Westminster Presbyterian Church for rehearsals, equipment loans from the University of Dubuque (although much of our percussion battery is now owned by the group) and the gracious access to the music libraries of both Hempstead, Senior, Bellevue and Wahlert High Schools, the Maquoketa Community Schools and the now-infamous "Kahn Vault."  Who have I forgotten?  Oh yes!  Our good friends (at least mine) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Clarke University.
Of course, there are many others to thank for helping make our summer a success (and I will undoubtedly forget someone!)  Special kudos go out to Shopko as a season sponsor, American Trust and Savings Bank, for again sponsoring our "Star Spangled Spectacular," Mediacom, for sponsoring our Fanfare competition, and the many organizations and individuals who give of their time, effort and dollars and cents to let us pull this thing off year after year.

Our final concert of the season has always been based on the players' favorites of the summer and this year's concert promises nothing less.  The program will include:

Two works by award-winning composer John Williams, his Olympic Fanfare and Theme, penned for the games of the 23rd Summer Olympiad, held in Los Angeles and a medley of two themes from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Lest we forget, 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the premiere of the initial (and I submit the best) film in the Indiana Jones trilogy.  James Southall writes that this is "one of the few film scores which has genuinely entered into pop culture."  It is unfortunate that the medley which includes both the Raider's March and Marion's Theme does not include more of Mr. Williams's stunning score.

We will also reprise Robert Jager's highly inventive Third Suite.  Readers (and listeners?) may recall the March that doesn't feel like a march (due to its time signatures, often in either 7/4 or 5/4), the waltz for a limping dancer (in a kind of 5/4 itself) and the frolicking concluding rondo.  That this work remains as fresh sounding nearly 50 years after its 1965 premiere is a tribute to the composer's skill and finesse with the forces of the contemporary wind band.

A summer concert probably wouldn't seem right without a march by John Philip Sousa and we will not let our audience down.  Although we have concluded nearly every favorite's concert with the strains of The Stars and Stripes Forever, this year the band elected to play The Invincible Eagle instead.  One of my personal favorites, this march was written in commemoration of the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo.  Sousa had originally intended to give the march the moniker The Spirit of Niagara, but, feeling that it was one of his finest compositions, settled on the title we know today, truly expressing his feelings for his beloved country.

We will offer music that is both sublime--Percy Grainger's lovely Irish Tune and Alfred Reed's stunning Rushmore--and oft-times frightening:  Selections from Phantom of the Opera.  Buffalo Dances, an amazing work by Robert W. Smith will conclude the concert--sort of (but you'll just have to wait and see, or hear...)

I have to admit that the players staged a kind of bloodless coup on their conductor this summer and mounted up enough support to present Leroy Anderson's delightful novelty, The Waltzing Cat.  This we will present, with a nod and a wink to our late, great friend, August Knoll, who could never help but giggle whenever I put that piece in the folders (I can still hear him today.)  It was Augie who quite emphatically informed both Jay Kahn and I that Eagle Point Park is not arguably the most beautiful concert site in Iowa but that it is (with definitely no ifs, ands or buts!)

We hope that all of our friends and supporters are able to join us in concluding another successful summer concert season.  Remember:

WHO?  The Tri State Wind Symphony, of course!
WHAT?  Season Finale Concert
WHEN?  Thursday, July 28, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE?  Eagle Point Park Bandshell (or Westminster Presbyterian Church in case of rain)
WHY?  Because we like you!

Hoping to see you there.

Brian Hughes, Founder/Conductor
Tri State Wind Symphony

P.S.  Oh yes, and mark your calendars for 2012!  Our first concert of season eighteen will be MAY 31!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What's next, Brian?

What's this got to do with band music?

I know that readers of this blog (are there any?) must be waiting with baited breath for information on our upcoming concert, to be held on Thursday, July 14. I know it's Bastille Day and Dubuque was founded by a Frenchman (sort of) but we've been down that road before. Besides, our library is quite limited and our collection of French music even more so! Thus, it's up to the maestro to be creative.

This kind of program has been somewhere in the back of my mind for a few years now, but I never got daring enough to try to pull it off. But now that everyone knows that I'm a little crazy in terms of programing, I think I can get away with it.

We're a summer band, so what literature do we never get to perform? You've got it: Christmas music! So, this year, it's pull out all the sleigh bells and celebrate Christmas in July! (Yes, by jove, I think he's really lost it now.

We'll be opening in the expected manner, with our now "famous" fanfare and the national anthem, but any relationship to a "normal" concert ends right there. Even though there are countless Christmas tunes and medleys, there are bound to be some repetitions of tunes and for that, I will not apologize. It is interesting to see how different composers treat a given melody in very different ways.
Claude Smith
So as to not give away the entire program, there will not be a complete run-down of the pieces, but I would like to highlight at least three works. Lest anyone think I am crazy, we will begin and end the program with the same tune--but in radically different ways.

Alfred Reed
I like to call the late Claude T. Smith, the "composer who never met an irregular meter he didn't like." The guy would write the most wonderful pieces, but would always sneak in a bar of 5/8 or 7/8 (or something equally as funky) when you would least expect it. His Symphonic Prelude on Adeste Fidelis breaks the mold: except for a measure of two, the whole piece is written in common time. Smith fans, believe it or not, it is true. Basically, it's just three verses of the tune stated once in the brass, once in the woodwinds, and finishing with the entire ensemble. Sounds simple and it probably is. That's kind of it's appeal: no flash, no splash, just good solid writing for everybody.

Somewhere in the middle of the program (I'm still sorting that out as I write) will appear a piece probably as unknown to the audience as it is to the ensemble: Alfred Reed's A Christmas Intrada. This fabulous work, written by the composer of Russian Christmas Music (we'll save that one for another time: it's fourteen minutes long!) has five little vignettes, each depicting a different aspect of the nativity: a fanfare, lullaby, procession, carol and the closing Alleluia. I don't think that there is a single borrowed melody in the whole piece which adds to its interest. Still it is written with Mr. Reed's supreme command of the power and glory of the modern concert band.

Will we play it?
As I've said, we'll be ending the concert as we began, but the wine will definitely be in different bottles, as we'll present Leroy Anderson's magnificent Christmas Festival. I cannot count the number of times I have conducted this with bands and orchestras but, quite frankly, never tire of it. My own favorite section is near the end when Anderson "morphs" Jingle Bells into Oh Come, All Ye Faithful (emblazoned by the trombones). I always know it's coming and I always get shivers and hope you do too.

Maybe this one week I'm hoping for a really hot night so we can play some cool melodies!

In case you've forgotten: Thursday, July 14, 7:30 p.m., Eagle Point Park Bandshell (and feel free to sing!)

Friday, June 24, 2011


 It has been nearly a year since I have posted anything on the TSWS blog and, quite frankly, that is unforgivable.  So, to all of our fans (assuming that there are any!) who have been awaiting my pithy commentary on our current offerings, I beg your forgiveness.

We have had a great start to the 2011 Summer Season--our seventeenth!  The very first piece we performed (even before the Star-Spangled Banner) was a new fanfare, written JUST FOR US by the gifted Adam O'Dell, a recent graduate of Senior High School and soon-to-be student at Clarke University.  If you didn't get a chance to hear A Tri-State Fanfare, fear not; we now play it at the opening of every concert.  We have many people to thank for the continued success of the Tri-State Wind Symphony and our deepest appreciation goes out to all of the individuals as well as civic and corporate sponsors who contribute their time, talent and fiscal resources to make these concerts possible.  These include, but are not limited to Westminster Presbyterian Church, The City of Dubuque, Mediacom, Shopko, American Trust and Savings Bank, the Dubuque Senior High School Bands, and the tireless efforts of our Board of Directors.

Our next concert on Thursday, June 30 promises to be a big favorite because it's our annual Star-Spangled Spectacular! American Trust, a long-time supporter of this event, is once again our concert sponsor. American Legion Post 6 will be on hand with the presentation of the colors as well as our salute for our servicemen and women with Bob Lowden's marvelous Armed Forces Salute.

Pierre LaPlante
Wisconsin composer Pierre LaPlante has ties to the Tri-States as a former principal bassoonist with the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra. For many years he has quietly been arranging a large number of folk songs from different traditions into outstanding works for the wind band. American Riversongs is a new work to our repertoire and includes Down the River, Shenandoah, Stephen Foster's The Glendy Burke, and an old Creole "Bamboula" tune that has found its way into a number of pieces, including Gottschalk's Night in the Tropics.

One expects to come to a patriotic concert to hear John Philips Sousa and, of course, we will not disappoint. Regular TSWS concert-goers know that they will always hear Stars and Stripes Forever, but this concert will offer another, lesser-known (but still wonderful!) march, The Invincible Eagle.

A few years ago we offered Dwayne Milburn's American Hymnsong Suite, a marvelous arrangement of what were originally composed for the pipe organ. Familiar tunes include Wondrous Love, Balm in Gilead, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, and a delightful march setting of When We All Get to Heaven. Astute concert-goers may even note that this suite takes on the form of a little symphony, with a prolonged first movement, a slow responsive movement, a scherzo and the closing march.

Morton Gould
Morton Gould is best known to audiences because of his American Salute, a version of "When Johnny Comes Marching Hone" written literally overnight in the 1940s. Originally an "orchestra snob," Gould was of the mind that the wind band was not a medium for serious music, until he heard the University of Michigan Symphony Band perform his Cowboy Rhapsody. Filled with familiar tunes of the old west, it marked Gould's first "real" tune for winds but certainly not his last. He would go on to publish 47 compositions for the band, including his fourth symphony, subtitled West Point. This piece is new to the band as well (we found it dust-covered and languishing in the vault at Dubuque Senior HS), but I'm sure that it will find its way into future programs (as well as however many of Gould's "gems" I can get my hands on).

2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the great film Raiders of the Lost Ark and what better excuse for a medley! Jack Bullock's arrangement includes both the "Raider's March" and the hauntingly gorgeous "Marion's Theme."

Of course there will be an annual concert staple, Alfred Reed's Rushmore, and, who knows, maybe even a few surprises. Let's hope there are none for the band (or the conductor).

So come and support live community music, something we are still very fortunate to have (count our lucky stars).

Eagle Point Park

Date: Thursday, June 30
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Place: Eagle Point Park, Dubuque

For more information on the group, keep checking us out on our web page:, or on Facebook (become a fan!) Information on your humble author can be located at his web site

See you there!

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010

Last night, Thursday July 1, brought us another gorgeous Iowa evening for the TSWS Star Spangled Spectacular. We had a fantastic and supportive audience gathered for what has become one of our most enjoyable concert presentations. Many thanks are in order to our concert sponsors, American Trust, as well as members of American Legion Post 6, who offered the presentation of the colors. This is always a very special part of the evening, as well as our traditional musical salute to the veterans who have served our country in wartime and in peace.

Next week, July 8, will bring the Colts Summer Youth Band as well as the Colts Cadets to the Eagle Point Park stage. This has become another of our summer traditions and I am certain that it will be a very enjoyable performance.

Stay tuned for word on the Tri-State Wind Symphony's July 15th performance. As we wind down our summer concerts, the music will keep heating up.

Friday, June 25, 2010

June 25, 2010

If you missed the Timber City Band concert last evening, you missed out on a real treat. Director Jay Kahn put together one of the best ensembles in recent years and the group was definitely up to the challenges of the program. You missed a score of Sousa marches, including such well-known works El Capitan, The Thunderer and The Washington Post, as well as some of Sousa's lesser known, but still captivating marches: The Invincible Eagle and The Fairest of the Fair. There was also a tribute to other march composers--Henry Fillmore Americans We and Lassus Trombone, Karl King Barnum and Bailey's Favorite, and E. E. Bagley: National Emblem. Jerry Miller presided over the proceedings with a fabulous cornet solo, Herbert L. Clarke's Over the Waves. Of course, no concert of this sort would be complete without concluding with our national march Stars and Stripes Forever. It was a great joy to be a part of this wonderful concert (yours truly was half of the percussion section and even offered an unexpected solo when one of the cymbals went crashing to the concrete!)

Again I remind readers of the upcoming Tri-State Wind Symphony concert at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday July 1. Our own "Star Spangled Spectacular" promises to be an enjoyable evening of patriotic favorites.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 22, 2010

This Thursday, June 24, brings the return of the Timber City Band to our summer concert series (at 7:30 p.m. as usual). My good friend Jay Kahn, who also serves as our concert announcer, has lined up a great ensemble and what promises to be a most enjoyable program. Jay is one of the most ingenious programmers I know, and the band will include a delightful mix of works both patriotic and novel, as the group prepares for concerts not in their home town of Maquoketa, but a special appearance on July 4 at the Tabor Family Vineyards. This is a show you won't want to miss (and the weather promises to be beautiful--after all, it's a Thursday night at Eagle Point Park!)

The Tri State Wind Symphony returns on July 1 for our annual Star-Spangled Spectacular concert, once again sponsored by our good friends at American Trust. I should also take the time to thank the other grant providers who have been so helpful to us this season. These include Mediacom and the Dubuque Racing Association. You have to be aware that only two years ago the band had no rehearsal facilities and very little equipment to speak of. Thanks to these kinds of grant dollars and the generosity of Westminster Presbyterian Church (for rehearsal facilities and storage), we're able to move forward toward becoming more and more independent. Largely our needs these days include grant dollars to assist us in increasing our music library. Band music is increasingly expensive, with the music for a given concert costing anywhere from $500 to $1000, depending on the compositions. But with the grant dollars we are able to gather, as well as our "passing the hat," our library will grow.

This week's concert will finally include a march by John Philip Sousa, his famous El Capitan. This was Sousa's number one encore march and was featured on nearly every concert that his famous band ever played. Originally composed in a vocal setting from an 1895 operetta of the same name, El Capitan was cast as a march in 1896. The original operetta was highly successful, but is seen very little these days. Fortunately, the march lives on as a delightful setting of Sousa's ability to adapt and expand.

America, or "My Country 'Tis of Thee, utilizes the same melody as the British national anthem "God Save the Queen." While the origins of the tune are largely unknown, it was apparently first performed in September 1745, making this tune the oldest selection on our concerts. John Cacavas' stunning concert slow march version was arranged especially for and dedicated to the U.S. Navy Band. It has been a part of the band's library for many years and is used on various important state occasions.

A native of Minnesota, John Zdechlik has written a large number of works for the concert band medium. Images of Aura Lee is presented as a peppy, two-step minstrel song; a somber, more serious statement symbolic of the Civil War, and a light-hearted Scottish dance. A section ensues which signals the struggles between the North and South before the conflict eventually subsides. In the last section, the song is stated in its entirety, and the piece concludes in a spirit of resolution and peace.

The sounds of the great American song book appear in Warren Barker's arrangement of Recorded by Sinatra. The "Chairman of the Board"'s greatest hits appear, including "High Hopes," "Young at Heart," "Love is the Tender Trap," "Love and Marriage." and "My Kind of Town."

The music of George M. Cohan has become synonymous with America and the Great White Way of Broadway. This music, which has inspired Americans for the last century with its rousing spirit and color, is ideally suited for the band. John Cacavas' arrangement of the music of Cohan--Star-Spangled Spectacular--includes some of the composer's most familiar melodies: "Mary's a Grand Old Name," "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway." "Yankee Doodle Dandy," and "You're a Grand Old Flag."

Bob Lowden's Armed Forces Salute has been a part of these patriotic concerts since their inception many years ago. Containing the songs of each of the services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard), it is a fitting tribute to those men and women who have so nobly served our country in peace time and in war.

A symphonic prologue for winds, Rushmore by Alfred Reed was commissioned by the Rushmore Summer Music Camp in South Dakota in 1980. It was first performed that year by the camp's symphonic band under the direction of Kenneth Bloomquist (one of my former teachers!) As the composer writes, "A brooding, mystic opening, representing, perhaps, the four great faces carved in stone gazing over the plains of America, introduces a broad melodic line that is meant to symbolize the inner strength and calm majesty represented by these four great Americans as guardians of our tradition and faith in the freedom of man. As this theme is developed, rising ever higher in the band's registers, echoes of the opening fanfares enter, leading to a combination of this theme together with "America the Beautiful," and bringing the work to a close in all the majesty and colors of which the modern concert band or wind ensemble is capable."

John Philip Sousa wrote, "Here came one of the most vivid incidents of my career. As the vessel (the steamship Teutonic) steamed out of the harbor, I was pacing the deck, absorbed in thoughts of my manager's death and the many duties and decisions which awaited me in New York. Suddenly I began to sense the rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. It kept on ceaselessly, playing, playing, playing. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever been changed. The composition is known the world over as The Stars and Stripes Forever and is probably my most popular march.