Two weeks ago, the Graceland Symphonic Band performed a spectacular concert called “Life is a Festival.” The band has gotten some positive recognition lately by being invited to the Iowa Bandmaster’s Association conference previously this year. As a member and advocate of the Graceland Music Department, I am constantly impressed by the competence of Dr. Erin Bodnar and the students of the Symphonic Band.
The first piece of the evening was aptly called “Festival Prelude” by Alfred Reed. The show begins with a regal crash of the brass and cymbals. This piece takes the listener on a journey of smooth passages and loud, abrasive melodies. I felt like I was experiencing a parade with bright colors and brighter music. The piece came to an end with a resounding explosion of sound.
After a short introduction by Dr. Bodnar, the band jumped into “Festival Scenes” by Yasuhide Ito. This piece was accompanied by projections of different Japanese festivals, courtesy of art professor Karen Gergley. Each section of the piece was accompanied with a different type of festival, picturing floating candles, drums and dragons. The band was playing flowing passages and motives from classic Japanese music giving the piece an iconic sound. The piece ended with an aggressive and percussive blast.
The next piece was called “Baptism, Wedding, Funeral” by Martin Ellerby. It opened in a somber way, providing a simple and beautiful introduction to the piece. When the drums and xylophone kicked the piece into high gear, it gave off the impression of a dance rhythm. The piece became more reflective in the third section, using harmony and unison to create a full sound. The piece truly follows its programmatic title.
The final piece, “La Fiesta Mexicana” by H. Owen Reen, was broken into three movements: “Prelude and Aztec Dance,” “Mass,” and “Carnival.” The first movement begins with the tolling of bells, quickly accompanied by the French horn, bass drum and snare. The visual accompaniment depicted beautiful mountain ranges, delicate flowers, and other aspects of nature and serenity. The piece is nearly ambient in its droning and fugue-like passages. The tempo picks up in what seems like a polka beat and then advances to a drum rhythm as traditional Aztec dancers perform on the projector.
The second movement started with bells tolling as well, but then the band swelled like an orchestra. This piece is a little more melodramatic and contains more dissonance than the previous movement. The band is accompanied by misty scenes of grass and old churches. Some short solos from Euphonium, piccolo and others created a nice segue for the piece. At the end was an intriguing call and response section between French horn and ensemble that resembled an “Amen.”
The final movement started with a repeated melody accompanied by colorful images of women dancing in extravagant dresses. Finally, the traditional Mariachi-style dance rhythm kicks in with the double bass and snare. This was a perfectly festive piece to end a wonderful concert. The Graceland University Symphonic Band played a great show full of lively pieces, getting the audience in a festive mood.
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