I got home late last night with my family after an incredible weekend with the students and directors of the Louisiana District 1 Band Directors’ Association in Ruston, LA. The directors there were absolutely world class, the students were wonderful to work with, and the end result is that I am ABSOLUTELY EXHAUSTED.
When we first passed out “Pursuit” to the Concert Band students on Thursday night, many of them just looked at the part and laughed. Several of them told me that it was the most difficult piece they had ever performed. I knew that might be the case on the front end, but I am usually not one to shy away from a challenge. And apparently they weren’t either. We had a lot of fun rehearsing the piece in less than two days, and the performance was very enjoyable. It had its hitches along the way (that’s the trademark of a “2nd” honor band situation), but I was still very proud of their efforts and their willingness to get better every moment.
Of course, the other pieces we played were magnificent as well. “Terminal Velocity” by Michael Oare is always great fun to play. It has great colors and melodies that get tossed around the band, and these students ate it up.
Next we played “Foundry” by John Mackey, and THAT was a treat. The brash tone color of instruments that’s required to make the piece work kindof shocked several of the kids. Their band directors have been working for years to eliminate that “blatty” sound, and here I was saying “STICK YOUR TONGUE OUT THE BELL!!!” …sorrynotsorry.
Next came “Rain” by Brian Balmages, which is possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music to be performed by honor bands in the last decade. The warm colors and instrument combinations made these kids show their musicianship that so often is put on the back burner. We need more pieces like this in high school wind band literature! Maybe I’ll get on that.
After that came the premiere of “Pursuit,” which I already wrote about. It’s difficult for me to describe how incredibly rewarding it is to write music and rehearse it with a group and perform it in front of an audience. It’s like making up a game that every loves playing, or writing a poem that high school sophomores memorize for a class but stays with them for years. Imagining musical moments and asking high school students to make them happen is a remarkable way to spend your time.
Finally, we ended our portion of the concert with “Montana” by Jan van der Roost. I performed this a few years ago with another band, and I still think it might be one of my favorite non-traditional marches ever. This group really did a great job with it, and it is not written for mediocre players! It’s difficult, and big, and full of glorious harmonies that are often not used by composers. It was very rewarding for me and there’s no doubt the kids enjoyed it as well.
A special shout out to Chris King, Director of Bands at Caldwell Parish High School, as well as all the directors of District 1 for inviting me to write a piece and conduct the Concert Band. It really was a world-class experience!