UConn Concert Band celebrates spirit of American tradition to full audience


The symphonic band performs in the Von Der Mahen performance hall on Tuesday, Apr. 17. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

The symphonic band performs in the Von Der Mahen performance hall on Tuesday, Apr. 17. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

The UConn Concert Band paid homage to defining icons of American culture for a nearly full audience in von der Mehden Recital Hall Tuesday evening.

The program was titled “An American Tradition” and included tributes to jazz and American writer Herman Melville.

The program opened with “7’s,” by Samuel R. Hazo, a piece whose foundation emerges from traditional jazz. The piece was fast-paced and filled the hall with a melding of sounds of legendary jazz composer George Gershwin and more modern-day composer George Goodwin. The title “7’s,” emerges from an interesting coincidence that lies within each of the composer’s names—they have the same initials and same number of letters within their first names.

The second piece by W. Francis McBeth was titled “Of Sailors and Whales.” The piece is based off of the famous novel, “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville and featured five parts each depicting a major scene from the book.

To help tell the story, Rik Emery, a sixth-semester physiology and neurobiology major, was invited to the stage to provide narration throughout the piece.

The first part, “Ishmael,” opened with a chorale whose melody was passed across different sections of the ensemble. Eventually the piece picked up in tempo and in timbre toward a more fanfare-like sound.

As the piece moved through the rest of the parts, the music became darker, richer and more rhythmically percussive. Along with the text, the music from the band brought listeners to the state of intensity and turmoil, resembling Captain Ahab’s experience approaching the great whale, Moby Dick.

After intermission, the band welcomed guest conductor, Emily Collins to the stage to conduct “Rain” by Brain Balmages. Collins, currently the band program’s administrative assistant, has been an important asset to the UConn band program throughout the years, from serving in leadership positions with the marching band to returning to UConn as a graduate assistant while studying clarinet performance.

“I found [working with Emily] very refreshing, as I have only interacted with her on an administrative level and she’s always been a joy to talk to even about your day,” fourth-semester economics and psychological sciences major Gaby Rodriguez said. “I hadn’t realized she used to be a band director for a middle school, but she did a wonderful job and I’m hoping that she gets to conduct more in the future.”

“It was great to have the opportunity to get to know [the students] better musically,” Collins said. “I already know the students are hard-working and a pleasure to be around, but it was amazing to learn about what fantastic musicians they are in addition to everything else they do.”

Contrasting from the relaxing yet enlightening tone of “Rain,” the program was followed with “On an American Spiritual” by David R. Holsinger. The piece was upbeat and full of musical color but and was majestic and strong, depicting the story of the Easter from which the piece was based on.

Closing the concert was “Variations on a Korean Folk Song” by John Barnes Chance. The piece was broken down into five variations each based off of the concert-A-major pentatonic scale, a popular scale used in Eastern art music. It was based on a Korean folksong called “Arirang,” which the composer heard while in South Korea with the U.S. Army in the 1950s.  

Each variation took its own unique identity, while still retaining an aspect of the original folk tune in some way.  Progressing the five variations, there were stylistic changes through tempo, mode, and timbre, but eventually circled back to a final restatement of the melody exactly as it was introduced in the first variation, but with a powerful sound from the whole ensemble as the height of the piece and a powerful ending.

“I really enjoy the concert band concerts because I get to see many of my marching band friends on instruments that they don’t normally play during the marching season,” sixth-semester secondary math education major Martha Gancarz said. “The band is also huge, which brings such a powerful sound to the room.”

Lucy Littlefield is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucille.littlefield@uconn.edu.

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