CCSU’s Wind Ensemble Hosts A Night of Americana

Natalie Dest, Arts and Entertainment Editor

For their final showcase of the semester, Central Connecticut’s’ Wind Ensemble concluded their months of preparation with a celebration of Americana inspired compositions to family, friends and faculty of the Department of Music. Held in Welte Auditorium this past Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., the night consisted of honoring a repertoire worthy of recognition, performed by the many talents that make up the Blue Devils Wind Ensemble.

Under the direction of conductor and professor Dr. Robert Schwartz, the purpose of this concert was to give the audience an experience of storytelling through music.

“The goal is to find music that is enjoyable for the members of the ensemble to play and perform, and for the audience to listen to,” Schwartz said. “We want the audience to be engaged and interested in the stories and sounds that one may associate with the music. This past concert had a lot to do with imagery and depicting memories or emotions that are reflective of the music.”

And storytelling they did, through the various compositions created by American composers that produced the common themes of Americana and American idioms throughout.

Introducing the night was a song titled “Miami March,” a rather fitting composition to commence the repertoire, embodying the typical “march strut” that was often included in pieces inspired by the traditions and history of the United States. With a driving cadence familiar to many marches, this immediately caught the attention of the ear, creating perfect energy to introduce the ensemble.

Once the song concluded, Dr. Schwartz took to the stage to introduce the rest of the night as a “concert to remember.” He began to describe the following song as one that is “very different from the other pieces you are going to hear. This song channels American idioms and is very reflective of spirituals, including jazz harmonies that were very popular in the time it was written,” Schwartz told the audience.

According to the program, “Ballad for Band” was written in 1946 commissioned by the Goldman Band, written using “flavor and soul of the African-American spiritual as the guiding principle in its conception.” Compared to the previous composition, this song is performed at a much slower tempo. The ensemble did a particularly well job quickly changing styles of performance and creating a balanced tone to convey this ballad.

However, it was the following introduction of well-known musician that was one of, if not, the most memorable highlight of the night. The wind ensemble and rest of the music department were lucky to have present the notable Jim Stephenson, an enthusiastic, self-taught composer with a rather broad soundscape.

Fortunately for those students involved in the ensemble and composition classes, Stephenson participated with students last week in giving them advice, guidance and his knowledge in musical education. Specifically for the wind ensemble, the students have been gearing up to perform two of his very own compositions during the concert, entitled “Stars and Stripes Fanfare” and “American Embers.”

“I have been so intrigued by his [Stephenson’s] music, it’s very refreshing to hear every one of Jim’s pieces because each one sounds completely different,” Schwartz said before bringing Stephenson up to the stage.

“Having a guest composer on campus, interacting with the Wind Ensemble, attending rehearsal and concerts is always something that is special. Going into that, I wanted to perform a concert that featured some of Jim’s music and then build the rest of the program around both of those pieces,” Schwartz continued.

After saying a few words of introduction, Stephenson was finally welcomed by a warm applause onto the stage. It was then when he described his time here at Central as one of “a real joy.”

“It’s been a real joy coming to visit the students here and coming to work with them, it’s one of the great things about being a living composer. It’s really wonderful to watch him [Schwartz] work with the students and see what they do with my music,” Stephenson said.

Leading into the ensemble’s performances of his two compositions, Stephenson briefly discusses the creative process of both of these pieces. Specifically “Stars and Stripes Fanfare” is a song that is “highly spirited and a patriotic symphonic overture with a somewhat unique twist.” Whereas, “American Embers” is more of a “beautiful treasure,” tackling real-life experiences based on the wildfires that took over Santa Rosa, California in October, of 2017.

“Both of his works, ‘American Embers’ and ‘Stars and Stripes Fanfare’ are very much American Music. Both evoke an American spirit but are drastically different from each other…Finding pieces that compliment Jim’s works was the main concern for selecting this repertoire,” Schwartz said.

Once it was time to perform Stephenson’s pieces, the wind ensemble did a great job in capturing the energy, emotion and distinct sound that comes when emoting his compositions. Both songs ended in a large applause, concluding the concert on a high note, literally.

“Overall, it [concert] had a lot of wonderful musical moments and everyone on stage brought their best efforts,” Schwartz said. “The result was a concert that was fun to present, and (hopefully) engaging to all who were involved. Jim Stephenson was pleased with the concert as well, which is another element that makes the concert even better.”

If you happened to miss the CCSU Wind Ensemble’s final concert, there will be two concerts during the fall of 2019. Students and faculty of Central’s Department of Music ask you to join them for their upcoming concerts for a night of celebration in music.