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

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See you there!