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Concert Band and Symphony Band Concert at the IMU Ballroom

University of Iowa School of Music


Concert Band and Symphony Band Concert

             On October 11, 2011, School of Music at the University of Iowa has presented a concert of its wind ensembles, Concert Band and Symphony Band at the Iowa Memorial Union Ballroom.
Both ensembles’ performances featured two University of Iowa Faculty Conductors, Prof. Kevin Kastens and Prof. Richard Mark Heidel, as well as a Guest Conductor, Ray E. Cramer, and a Doctoral Student Conductor, Ernest Jennings. In addition, Martyrs for the Faith, by David DeBoor Canfield, featured a guest soloist, saxophonist Kenneth Tse.

             The Symphony Band has a long history. It was formed out of only 13 cornets in 1880’s and has expanded ever since, currently incorporating 500 students, both music majors and non-music majors. The ensemble has enjoyed much recognition throughout its lifetime and has performed in various venues and conventions, including Carnegie Hall, Music Educators National Conference, as well as College Band Directors National Association. In its Tuesday’s performance, Symphony Band has showcased 54 of its most talented members.

             Prof. Kevin Kastens serves as an Associate Director of Bands and as the Director of the Hawkeye Marching Band at the University of Iowa. The hall was nearly filled with the enthusiastic audience, seemingly comprised both of students and outsiders. The audience’s expectations were not betrayed, when Prof. Kevin Kastens opened the concert’s thrilling program of modern and contemporary music, with The Symphonians (1960) by Clifton Williams. This work is reminiscent of a classical graduation march, thanks to its fanfare opening, tonal structure and development of its simple melodic and rhythmic content. It was commissioned by the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America and is dedicated to the fraternity’s former president– Archie N. Jones. It is well structured and idiomatically orchestrated for a wind ensemble, and thus it serves it’s purpose of an Alma-mater song very well, particularly because it also employs an easily recognizable theme Hail Sinfonia, Come, Brothers, hail! The chorus sang, accompanied by the Concert Band, the text of the melody. The voices carried well through the texture of the wind ensemble, despite the loudness of the instruments involved.

             Fantasy on Sakura Sakura (1992) is a dramatic arrangement made by the guest conductor Ray E. Cramer, as a result of his Honorary Professorship at the Musashino Academy of Music at Tokyo. Sakura is a famous Japanese folk-song about cherry blossoms in a springtime. It employs a non-anhemitonic pentatonic scale [0,4,5,8,10]– very unique to Japanese folk music. Dr. Cramer’s arrangement was particularly interesting and dramatic, as it played with a wide range of dynamics. As there is much repetition in the melody itself, the original phrases were first featured in thickly orchestrated fortissimo while repeating phrases were in pianissimo, creating an effect of an echo or a shade. In combination with the tritone-oriented melody, this created profound drama in the piece.
             Ray E. Cramer is a nationally and internationally recognized conductor of wind ensembles, and is a recipient of many honors and awards, such as the Outstanding Bandmaster Award (1988), The MENC Lowell Mason Fellow medallion (2003), Bands of America Hall of Fame (2006) and Lifetime Achievement Award (2006). He has served as a tenure professor at Indiana University for 36 years, 24 of which he was the Director of Bands.

             Cleverly programmed Festal Scenes (1988) by a Yasuhide Ito, matched and contrasted well with the preceding piece, as both its composer and aesthetics are Japanese. The work employs four Japanese folk melodies, Jongara- Jamisen, Holai-bushi, Tsugaru-aiya-bushi, and Nebutaf-festival. The composer further enhances the folk-song material of the piece by adding two Japanese folk percussion instruments, the tebiragane and the nebuto-daiko to the instrumentation of the work. The piece is through composed with three general sections, thus having an ABC form. The work is well blended together by sustained phrases and harmonies, as well as by its expanded use of the [0,4,5,8,10] and other pentatonic scales. C-section of the piece is particularly dramatic, as its texture thickens in a creative array of exotic sounds. The ending of the piece is unusual and original, as the last note of the piece is a fortissimo strike of the bass drum, preceded by a number of closing chords. The work was skillfully conducted by a Doctoral student at the Music School, Ernest Jennings. Mr. Jennings is an experienced band conductor and educator, as he served as an Assistant Director of Bands at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as in various public schools.

          Footsteps (2010) by Dana Wilson plays around with an intriguing concept that footsteps could stand as a metaphor for various concepts. In her own words, “it can suggest everything from gently walking to mysterious uncertainty, to massive marching”. The piece is comprised of a melody played over and over the repeating percussive patterns, mimicking footsteps. The melody is developed through motivic counterpoint, but is always restated in the same way with the same orchestration, accompanied by the same rhythmic pattern, thus making the piece unnecessarily repetitive. Moreover, the intervalic content of the melody is somewhat limited, as it is comprised mainly of [0,1,3] and [0,1,3,5,7] cells, always realized with the same pitches. I wish to have heard and inversion or a modulation of the melody, so as to hear it break away from the same shape and mood.

          Moving Parts (2003), by David Sampson, explored the colorful palette of a wind ensemble through its orchestration by superimposing the melodic lines. Each melodic line was assigned to (a) specific instrument(s), thus by varying the texture, the composer was able to achieve colorful effects. The piece could have been more dramatic and original if it did not feature a type of a musical material which one can so frequently hear in many Holywood movies, as it elicits cheap emotion due to its static harmonic content. Much of the beginning employed this static and uninteresting sound, best characterized by a major seventh-chord-sonority. In its ABA’B’A form, part B was a beautiful and colorfully orchestrated melody, though way too short. The composer has corrected this shortcoming in the B’-section– it was just the right length, featuring low trombones and triadic harmonies in this sorrowful moment in the piece.

          Rest (2010) by Frank Tichelli, is and orchestral adaptation of a choral piece Mr. Tichelli wrote in memory of the victims of 9/11 attacks. Although the piece opens with cliche heroic American movie music, it develops into a dramatic and captivating climax, marked three times by the suspended cymbals during three consecutive sustained chords. Mellow orchestration of the piece holds the structures together, while long developed phrases create a sense of expanded time in this work.

             A concerto for saxophone and a wind ensemble, Martyrs for the Faith (2003), by David DeBoor Canfield, was arguably the strongest piece on the program. It is programatic and depicts three biblical/historical events that drove people to sacrifice their lives for their Christian faith. Although programatic, the music works well in isolation, featuring creative and thorough development of its thematic material, varied and captivating harmonic content and virtuosic writing for a saxophone. While it is not formally tonal, all three movement of the work are held together by pitch centricity and jazz- influenced triadic harmonies. The unusual feature of the orchestration in a wind ensemble– a contrabass– adds well to the dark colors and low-register counterpoint of the first movement. The second and third movements are comprised of captivating rhythmical patterns superimposed over the romantic melodic content and jazzy harmonies. The proportions of the piece are just right, providing enough time for the material of the piece to fully develop. The programatic element of the piece is evident throughout the work, particularly in the third movement, as it makes use of 7/8 and 9/8 rhythmic patters, mimicking the pilgrimage of the Martyrs. The multiphonics of the saxophone used in the climax resonate well with the pain of dying, which the music attempts to describe. Mr. Kenneth Tse, a renowned saxophonist and a winner of the New York Artists International Competition, played the work with much energy and character, and his command of the instrument is very impressive.

          Peterloo Overture (1968), by Malcolm Arnold, is a programatic work, too. It attempts to describe the tragic shooting of many innocent people among the thousands who met to hear a speech on political reform in 1819, in St. Peter’s Fields, Manchester. The rounded binary form of the piece opens with a romantic melody accompanied by a harp– an unusual instrument in a wind ensemble. However, the cheapness of the melodic content in the A-section, compared with the complex and well-developed musical material of the B-section is a disappointment, because it renders the piece somewhat imbalanced, as if two composers of a different stature have composed it. I wish to have heard more unexpected harmonic and timbral changes in both A and A’ sections.

             Overall, the concert was a success. It was exciting to see that a large ballroom was almost completely filled with audience throughout the concert, and to have seen quite a high level of young talent among the performers. The concert received a standing ovation, and one of the composers whose work was performed, David DeBoor Canfield, has joined the stage.

For more information about the musicians, please visit the following links:

For more information about the Wind Ensembles at the University of Iowa

For more information about Prof. Kevin Kastens, please visit:

For more information about Prof. Richard Mark Heidel, please visit:

For more information about Dr. Ray E. Cramer, please visit:

For more information about David DeBoor Canfield, please visit:

For information about the upcoming concerts at the University of Iowa, please visit:

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