Symphonic Band gives first concert of spring semester

UConn Symphonic Band performances Great Stories  in Von Der Mehden Recital Hall on March,7 2017. The concert avoided around 'Great Stories'. Conductor Dr. David Mills and narrator Dr. David Alan Stern. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut Symphonic Band gave a dynamic performance of music accompanied by popular stories like fairytales and “The Lord of the Rings” on Tuesday, March 7.

The concert titled “Great Stories” in von der Mehden Recital Hall brought a large attendance – most of the seats in the house were filled.

Under the dual batons of conductor Dr. David Mills and assistant conductor Andrew Janes, the band performed three works, two of which were composed by living composers and featured “great stories,” deriving from both simple fairytales and even epic fantasy novels.

The first of these three was Joaquín Turina, “La Procession du Rocio.” Born in Spain in 1882, Turina was a fervent nationalistic composer who took influence from contemporaries like De Falla, Ravel and Debussy. This piece depicts the procession of a religious festival in Triana, a gypsy neighborhood in Seville.

Janes led the ensemble through the exotic rhythms and distinctively Spanish melodies. The musicians contrasted the lively, dancelike atmosphere of the festival with the more stately quality of a religious ceremony, which could be heard at several points with instruments imitating church bells.

Mills took to the stage to conduct the next piece – Julie Giroux, “The Symphony of Fables.” The band performed three movements, each of which depicted a different well-known fairytale set to music.

Dr. David Alan Stern, Professor of Dramatic Arts at UConn, narrated each tale prior to its respective movement. A masterful storyteller, Stern varied his tone and accent with each new narrative, emphasizing certain lines and words for dramatic effect.

During the music, a projector behind the ensemble displayed additional text from the stories to show what specific part of the stories each section of the piece depicted. However, there seemed to be some minor technical errors, as the text did not change for an unusually long period of time during the second fable.

The stories included “The Lion and the Mouse,” “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” and everyone’s old favorite “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

In a quote in the program notes, Giroux explains that she composed the music in the style of “background” music that she had heard in movies as a child, among which were the popular Disney film “Fantasia.”

“The Symphony of Fables was absolutely fantastic,” John Spencer, a fourth-semester student majoring in classical languages, said. “I really saw the composer’s influences that she took from ‘Fantasia.’ I thought personally that the ‘Pied Piper of Hamlin’ was great. The narration that she put into it and the way that she brought out the characters in the piece was really something.”

The second half featured Johan de Meij, “Symphony No. 1: The Lord of the Rings,” which sets the popular fantasy trilogy to music. Stern returned to the stage alongside the band to narrate once more, this time spinning scenes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books.

The symphonic band performed three movements, depicting Gandalf’s arrival at the Shire and the early events of the story, the Fellowship’s journey through the Mines of Moria and their joyful spirits at the conclusion of their quest.

The symphony and the dialogue surrounding it were both written well before the release of Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations in 2001. The music was dramatic and moving, but refreshingly different in style from the much-loved soundtrack of the trilogy. The band performed with confidence and professional poise.

The audience chuckled along with some of Stern’s lines, which seemed to address an audience that would not know the story of “The Lord of the Rings” as well as many do today.


“I think the performance reflects all of the rehearsals and grilling practice we’ve had over time,” Brianna Nelson, a bassoonist and one of the performers in the band, said. “It was really exciting to take on this piece and I think the final result came out really well.”


Brian Roach is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at brian.roach@uconn.edu.