Wind Ensemble Soars
This last Saturday night, April 9, Lorimer chapel was cast in darkness save for a few dim lights close to the pulpit. Audience members in the pews looked on curiously as members of the College Wind Ensemble tuned their instruments.
The intense sounds of dozens of wind instruments playing together made the small chapel shake with a fantastical intensity. The clash of notes foreshadowed a lively performance to follow, a program entitled, “Defining Heroism: Part Two.”
When Eric Thomas, Director of the Wind Ensemble, entered the chapel hall, the instruments and echoing conversations dropped to a low murmur, and the ensemble was met with several bursts of anticipatory applause. The crowd that filled the venue consisted of students from the Hill as well as large number of community members all gathered for an evening of music originating from a range of time periods.
Despite early microphone difficulty, the ensemble began the evening with an upbeat arrangement, “Watusi Drums,” composed by Dave Brubeck (b. 1920) and arranged by Livingston Gearhart. All eyes where glued on the elegant back and forth movement of Thomas’ hands as he conducted, rapidly counting the beats.
Galloping with a jazz-like progression of “repetition with a difference,” the piece was reminiscent of Jazz-Age side streets and of a general feel of progress and a sense of easy living. While anchored by percussion instruments such as drums and cymbals, it was the collective sound of the wind instruments that made the notes lace through the air, bouncing off the walls with a feel of light-hearted grandeur.
The next piece, “Bloom,” by Marti Epstein (b. 1959) was a concerto lead by Maggie Kerr on the English horn. This contemporary soundscape was heavily influence by minimalism and, instead of focusing on thematic material, as most ensemble pieces do, this arrangement was centered on “color and texture.” Ten different phases of rhythms and melodies overlapped at different times, the piece gaining and losing different sounds as it progressed. At first an echoing, single note, the piece would then shift, gaining the full-bodied brass instruments and the playful, soprano notes of the accompanying flutes and clarinets. The result was hallucinatory and harmonious hodgepodge of individual sounds to delight the crowd.
In a departure from the provocative first two pieces, the ensemble continued with a more conventional piece, “Concerto in D Minor” by Franz Doppler (1821-1883). Celia Friedman Cowan ’11 and Elizabeth Malone ’13 lead the piece with two playful, romancing flutes.
At the piece’s heart was a pendulum-like movement between full-bodied brass instruments and the lyrical, high-pitched winds. The dramatic sound lead by Cowan and Malone had bouts of warlike violence as well as of springtime daintiness, and its cessation earned roaring applause from the pews.
“Coyote Dances” by William Campbell (1759-2834) began with an ambient feel and intensified with joyful harmonies punctuated by sharp, playful rhythms. When the entire ensemble joined together, the result was a bustling and bold turn, sending dramatic flourishes throughout the chapel.
The short intermission that followed seemed necessary. The audience members generated solid applause, but quickly began to talk among themselves in a large murmur about the incredible skill with which Colby students and musicians were playing on the Saturday evening.
When the ensemble resumed with “March to the Scaffold” from Symphony Fantastique by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), the piece, led by trumpets and tubas, created a military ambiance of prancing or marching. Softer winds decorated the auditory scene, where, according to the symphony, an artist has an opium-induced dream in which he watches his own execution. Despite the dramatic image at hand, the feeling of pomp and the framing of drums and cymbals created a vivid environment full of life.
While the ensemble displayed a variety of genres, “Danzas Cubanas” by Robert Sheldon (b. 1954) was a clear crowd favorite. Guided by strong drums, clinking, and shakers, the arrangement was fast paced and playful, much like an intense dance between two people. The collective sounds of the winds created a robust tropical vibe reminiscent of Havana. Every so often the instruments would clash, giving way to classical bossa nova with flutes, maracas and an auditory depth of saxophones and trombones.
The ensemble’s final piece, “Ping, Pang, Pong,” by Joel Puckett (b. 1977) was short and dreamlike. Beginning with a wind like pang of cymbals, piercing flutes joined with a deep hum to create a fluttering vibe with the occasional percussion and jagged notes. Seeing Thomas direct the whole scene was like watching a sorcerer at work.
Dream-like chimes and sharp winds made whimsical, romantic sounds that slowed and then grew with more passion. The sounds of the ensemble made one forget that one was sitting in the Chapel on a Saturday night, but creating, instead, the feeling that one was dreaming along with the intensity of the full, dark pews.