Despite chuckles from band members following various cat-calls from the audience, the Graceland Symphonic Band looked very professional walking across the stage. While their V- patterned organization seemed strange at first, the music that came from their instruments quickly settled any qualms I had about the lack of traditional symphonic setup.
The group began the concert with an upbeat and exciting piece called January February March by Don Gillis. After the piece, Dr. Erin Bodnar began explaining the concert’s program. The concert was called Allied Forces because the composers that wrote the pieces in the program were all from the Allied nations in WWII. Dr. Bodnar has been doing an excellent job keeping the audiences and students interested and informed about the music the Symphonic Band performs.
The next piece was a suite by Gordan Jacob that showed the versatility of the band by highlighting percussion, brass and woodwinds. The percussion section began the piece with a march-like beat while the different sections of brass and woodwinds imitated and built on each other in interesting ways. All three movements were expertly handled with a powerful start, melodic middle movement and lively final movement.
As stated earlier, each piece was written by a composer from one of the Allied nations. The next piece the Symphonic Band performed was written by an American composer named Vincent Persichetti called Psalm for Band. The piece started out meditatively with the clarinets gently passing the melody to the low brass. After several passages, the trumpets began to enter into the mix, adding brightness to the setting of the piece. The piece presented a moment of catharsis when it reached its electric climax, ending with grace.
The next composer was of French origin. Suite Francaise by Darius Milhaud presented another march-like feeling and was embellished upon by some fantastic flute soloists who passed the melody onto the rest of the sections in the band. Movement two highlighted the talents of the low end instruments rolling the melody along to the woodwinds and high brass. The third and final movement brought back the march in an elegant way with the flutes playing over the marching percussion.
The last piece in the program lineup was actually by an Australian composer named Percy Grainger. Handel in the Strand began and I could hear the image of steps walking down the street. This is an excellent example of imagery used in musical context and provided an interesting complexity in the sound of the piece. The constant prevalence of eighth notes provided the stepping effect as the audience is transported through the melodies of the piece.
Following the concert, I asked Dr. Bodnar what comments she had on the excellent job the Graceland Symphonic Band did. She had this to say:
“I am incredibly proud of the musicians in the Symphonic Band. We worked on some very challenging repertoire for this concert and made a lot of progress. I am excited that we have been chosen to perform at the Iowa Bandmasters Conference in May! Make sure to come to our April 15th concert to see featured soloists such as Robby Donarski (euphonium), Gage Bradley, Tess Michael, Phillip Richards, and Cole Gray (percussion), Widalys Cruz Gonzalez (bassoon) and Trenton Wahl (baritone saxophone).”
As a music student and appreciator, I love to see this level of excellence in Graceland’s music department. Be sure to support all of the performing arts at GU and show these hardworking students and faculty how much they are appreciated.
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