Concert, symphonic bands perform first spring concert

The concert band took the stage first in a night of music and entertainment. Photo by Brandon Key.

Sounds of classic music literature from two major ensembles filled the halls of the Bardo Arts Center on WCU’s campus as members of the community gathered to attend the first Concert Band and Symphonic Band concert of the semester on March 1.

Both of these ensembles consist of WCU students. The concert band is composed of mostly non-music students, while the symphonic band is mostly music majors. The first one is relatively new – it was created in the spring of 2015 because of high interest of both music and non-music majors wanting to be in concert ensembles. The audience was mostly other WCU students, but a lot of family members of the performers were present and most of the auditorium was full.  

The Concert Band opened the night with “Reverberations” by Brian Balmages. Its dramatic feel and high speed made it an energizing way to start the concert.

They performed a total of four pieces under the baton of the director of bands at WCU, Margaret Underwood, conducting the first two pieces for the Concert Band, and director of athletic bands, David Starnes, conducting the final two.  

The “Yorkshire Ballad” by James Barnes was a slow piece, one that set a tone of wide-open fields. Underwood described the piece as having a “Downton Abbey” feel.

The next piece was a different, more modern rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Frank Ticheli. This version of “Amazing Grace” had similarities to the original song, written as a Christian hymn and published in 1779, but had its own style that focused on meaning instead of music.

“Frank Ticheli wrote this piece more about the words and meaning of ‘Amazing Grace,’ rather than on the melody. He, and a lot of people, believe music can tell meanings in ways that words can’t,” explained Starnes before beginning the piece. This performance of “Amazing Grace” featured the woodwinds extensively.

To help illustrate the idea of music being able to carry past words, a WCU student and flute player in the ensemble, Brianna Cunningham, performed sign language with the piece, showing the audience what it means for music to transcend words.

Brianna Cunningham performed sign language for the audience during “Amazing Grace.” Photo by Brandon Key.

The final piece from the Concert Band was titled “Variations on ‘Scarborough Fair’” by Calvin Cluster. This piece was dynamic in its tempo and style and was an appropriate way to end a concert full of variety.

The Concert Band has students from a variety of music backgrounds and skills, with some students performing for the first time in the ensemble.

“My first concert performance here at Western was a success. It was fun, we had a decent-sized audience and I can’t wait for the next one,” said Tyler Upchurch, a saxophone player in the concert band.

Following a brief intermission, the Symphonic Band took the stage to continue the night of music and did it much in the same way: with variety. Starnes conducted all of the pieces for the Symphonic Band.

The first piece performed was “American Overture for Band” by Joseph Wilcox Jenkins. It was a march-style piece, written by Jenkins while he was the arranger for the U.S. Army Field Band.

The second piece was “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl.

“Ave Maria is a staple of choral music,” explained Starnes. “It’s lyrical and has many layers.”

The final piece of the evening was a 4-movement work about different districts of Paris called “Paris Sketches – Homages for Band” by Martin Ellerby. The piece was described by Starnes as being color-driven and bright.

Starnes took a moment to tell the audience about the difficulty of the piece, saying that the performers were dedicated to this piece and wanted to work on it and be able to perform it, no matter how difficult it was.

Despite the piece’s difficulty, no one stumbled and the ensemble took the audience on a journey through the streets of Paris, showing us the glamour and energy of a normal day in the city.

“I’ve performed with this ensemble several times and I enjoy it every time,” said WCU sophomore and saxophone player, Mark Vollmer. “It makes me want to keep getting better as a musician.”

The concert and symphonic bands will be performing another concert near the end of the semester.