John Frayne: UI Bands, youngsters offer up some sweet summer sounds
Summer is upon us, and the wind band can be heard in the land! Last week, over three days, I attended three band concerts — and did not hear a single Sousa march!
On the evening of June 20, a sizeable audience, spread out on the University of Illinois Quadrangle south of the Illini Union, were present at the first of the concerts sponsored by the UI Bands. The weather was lovely, a cool breeze was blowing, and toward the end of the concert the last beams of sunlight shone on the tops of trees lining the quad. Behind the audience, kids were playing soccer, and in the distance, UI students were studying the art of not fugue, but Frisbee.
This band was made up of students, graduate students, and alumni, some of whom dated back to the tenure of band conductor Harry Begian, who retired in 1984.
The concert was mainly led by UI Bands Director Robert Rumbelow. After the national anthem, Rumbelow led the band with a jolly and stimulating arrangement of folk dances by Dimitri Shostakovich. Then Miyeon Choi led a vigorous "March and Ballet Music" from Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Aida." Many toes were tapping in the audience, in sync with my own.
Other highlights included Floyd Werle's arrangement of the "Golden Age of the Xylophone," in which graduate student Jason Pace demonstrated superlative skills on his instrument. Also, guest conductor Jesse Leyva led a lively and tuneful tribute to Mexican music by Carlos Chavez entitled "Chapultepec."
At the end, the evening took a patriotic turn as Rumbelow led the band in Lowden's arrangement called "Armed Forces Salute." Veterans were asked to stand when their service's song was played. My, how our ranks have thinned!
Then, we all stood as Thacher Guild's "Illinois Loyalty" sounded forth. The assembled band sounded fine in the open air, and all who took part should be congratulated. The next outdoor band concert will be July 18.
The first session of the Illinois Summer Youth Music climaxed June 22 with a series of concerts.
The Senior Concert Band program, at 11:30, was given in the Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The proud parents and relatives of the high school students from around the state were on hand to cheer on their family members, and there was much to cheer about.
Under the dynamic leadership of Linda Moorhouse, the Concert Band gave enthusiastic readings of such numbers as "British Isles Suite" by Larry Daehn, which concluded with a tune we all knew: "Auld Lang Syne."
The crowning touch to the concert was given by Jared Spears' "At a Dixieland Jazz Funeral." Moorhouse, who came to the UI from Louisiana, recalled the 2005 tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans Saints' NFC South division title the next year. This made it even more moving when the band struck up, and also sang, "When the Saints Go Marching In." The home folks in the audience loved it!
An hour or so later, in the same hall, came the Senior Symphonic Band, led by Rumbelow and assistant conductors. To my ears, this group produced a clearer, more nuanced sound than the Concert Band.
Assistant conductor Brian Shaw led the band in Reinhold Gliere's famous "Russian Sailors' Dance," in which the three tubas growled admirably in the slow beginning, and later all joined in the frenzy. Even more rip-roaring was the performance of Shostakovich's "Galop," energetically conducted by Stephanie San Roman. If you attend band concerts, you might get the impression that the composer was a jolly fellow!
The concert ended as Rumbelow showed his compositional skills to match his conducting talents. Rumbelow's three-movement work entitled "Altered Phases" offered attractive timbres from percussion instruments. After imaginative harmonic development of his themes, the last section, entitled "Dramatic," built up a crescendo to a highly satisfying climactic blast from the ensemble.
At each concert, three outstanding students were awarded scholarships for next year's ISYM. All in all, these three concerts offered a highly encouraging picture of the UI band program and the wonderful level of enthusiasm for band performances in Illinois high schools.
On Saturday, June 29, in various locations, there will be a series of final concerts. The Junior Orchestra and Junior Symphonic Band will play in Foellinger. The concerts are free.
I am glad that I do not have the duty of asking parents not to photograph their children on stage. Better to ask the ocean tides to reverse. At the second Foellinger concert, we were told "No flash photography," and the digital camera screens were twinkling like Christmas tree lights.
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.