Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year 2014!

Yes, I know, it's been many months since my last post. I guess I've been lazy and putting up quick Facebook posts instead of more thought out blog entries. Well, I'm going to make it up to you today, on this first day of 2014. Here are 10 reasons to look forward to this new year in band:
  1. January 15 is Klezmer Day! We will have three musicians visiting from the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band visiting DHS to work with SB and WE on pieces for our upcoming concert.
  2. The orchestra winds and percussion will join our strings in the second performance of A Heartland Symphony at the Illinois Music Education Conference in Peoria on January 24. I'll be making the trip with you all.
  3. There are still lots more Pep Band at basketball games!
  4. On January 30, we'll put on the second annual Jazz Combo night featuring the 2014 MAJ and TAJ debuts. This year, we'll be in the studio theater, which will be a fun new venue for us.
  5. The Winter Band Concert will take place on February 5 with all three concert bands--we'll perform our klezmer music along with other wonderful selections.
  6. The Jazz Band heads to Evanston Township High School on February 8 for the Evanston Jazz Festival, where we'll play a 3-tune set, get professional critiques, and hear a concert featuring John Fedchock, an internationally-known trombonist.
  7. A number of our students will join musicians from 9 other local schools at the North Shore Honor Band Festival on January 11. A special highlight will be a world premiere piece by guest conductor James Curnow based on themes from Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
  8. Concert Band will start their annual music on Latin American music. Get ready to become a giant mariachi ensemble, salsa band, and samba group!
  9. The Solo and Ensemble fest in March will feature a number of SB/WE chamber groups as well as soloists.
  10. Sometime this spring, I'll announce the proposed destination for the 2015 band trip. I've got some pretty cool ideas, but for now, my lips are sealed!
So there's just ten reasons why it's going to be a great 2014 with the DHS bands, and I haven't even gotten up to spring break. So now's the time to warm up those chops and wrists--time's a-wasting!

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Musical Saturday Evening

This past Saturday evening, I had the pleasure of leading a group of 12 Warrior Marching Band members in the briefest of performances for the DHS Class of 1963 at their 50th reunion. This is the first graduating class from DHS; they started as freshmen at HPHS, opened DHS as sophomores in 1960, and began many traditions that continue today. They chose our school mascot and colors, and they named the yearbook and school paper.

We entered their party room at the Embassy Suites to drum clicks--we were the special surprise they had been told about. We then played the Fight Song (about 40 seconds), I shared greetings from the current students and staff of DHS (about 15 seconds), and we finished with "Go Big Red" (about 20 seconds). Shortest. Gig. Ever.

We were well received, and some of the women did an impromptu cheer from the early 60s. It was a lot of fun, and I think we were an exciting addition to their festivities.

Then, I headed off to a friend's house for his annual backyard music fest. Sounds quaint, but it was really quite impressive. Here is the line-up:

  • a singer-songwriter performing a solo set accompanying himself on guitar and piano (not simultaneously!)
  • a vibraphone/violin jazz duo that sounded like it was straight out of the ECM studios in the 1970s
  • three tenors singing folk and pop music with guitars and basses
  • a world-renowned opera singer who has debuted several important operas over the past several decades
  • a country-rock band performing originals and covers
  • a band with the three tenors, 5 female backup singers, piano, mandolin, piccolo, guitar, dobro, bass, drums, and a horn line of sax/trumpet/trombone
I was in the last group on alto sax. We played R&B type tunes and some classic Americana. The highlight was a cover of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." We began with two percussionists, one on Afro-Peruvian cajon (a wooden box you sit on and play with your hands), and one on Indian tabla drums (the look a little like bongos but can play different pitches--you may have heard them on Beatles tunes). They are both master drummers, and their rhythmic interplay was incredible. After they traded improvised licks back and forth, the band snuck in and played the song up to its climax before fading out to the cajon and tabla again. When they finished perfectly together on the same beat (without really having planned it out ahead of time), it was one of the most musical moments I've experienced in a long time.

So you see, kids, this is why you need to keep playing your instruments into adulthood! Maybe you'll have a friend who is ambitious enough to stage his own mini-Ravinia. Then you can take part and have that transcendent experience of sharing music with good friends. That's why we do what we do, isn't it?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Pop Music Playlist for September

Happy September! Here's a Spotify playlist of songs with September in the title. Quite a variety--enjoy!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New repertoire lists have been posted...

Want to know what you'll be playing in SB, WE, or JB? The rep lists have been updated, and you can access them here: Their are links to the recordings, but be sure to check out the Spotify playlist as well. The interface is easier to deal with, and you can follow the playlist as it changes throughout the year.

First rehearsals on August 22--that's two weeks!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Percussion Safety Tips

Today I was putting together a new set of marching multi-toms, or quads, if you prefer, and I came across the following safety warnings:
Be Careful Using Sticks and Wire Brushes
Sticks and wire brushes are intended for playing the drums and should never be used to hit or to be thrown at people. Doing so can be extremely dangerous.

Broken Sticks
Fragments and splinters from broken drumsticks can fly into the air and cause injury to the player and/or to those nearby.

So kids, now we know to be careful with those sticks. My favorite warning, however, is the following:
Earthquake Preventions
A strong vibration such as an earthquake can cause your drums and hardware to shift and tip over. Stay well clear of falling objects to avoid injury.
Consider yourselves warned...

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Meteorology is an Inexact Science," or "How I Heard Four Minutes of a Concert at Ravinia"

It sounded like a great idea. The Ravinia Festival was presenting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a concert of a number of shorter works, including two with a violin soloist and three opera overtures. Two of the pieces, Bernstein's Overture to Candide and Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'une faune, are personal favorites. Since college and high school students get free admission to the lawn with their student IDs, it was going to be a cheap night of culture for our family. My wife typed "Ravinia" into and saw "0% chance of rain." I listened to the audio forecast on the Ravinia website, and the meteorologist mentioned "possible scattered showers." So, we picked up some sub sandwiches and headed off to Ravinia.

When we arrived, we staked out our place on the lawn and settled down to hear Candide, which is a wonderful, rollicking work full of fanfares, soaring melodies, and cross rhythms. Then the Debussy work began with a very quiet unaccompanied flute solo, and the rain started. Our umbrellas were at home, but we did have a blanket and a plastic ground cover. My sons and I took refuge under the plastic, which of course amplified the sound of the rain and drowned out all of the delicate harmonies and orchestral nuances of the work. The thunder didn't help much, either. I don't really remember anything about the two violin pieces because the rain wouldn't abate, and occasionally large pools of accumulated drops would rush off the edge of our plastic shelter and end up on us.

At intermission, I gave up. The rain became torrential as we packed up our chairs and table, leaving us looking like drowned rats. We walked back to the Park'n'Ride bus and headed home. By the time we got to our car in the Metra lot, the rain had mostly let up (of course). Later we found out that they let everyone into the pavilion for the second half (of course). If we had done that though, it would have been hard to enjoy the music while soaking wet, so oh well.

When we got home, I made my family sit down in the living room and listen to the Debussy. Seeing as how I use this piece in music theory class and have a wonderful handout with my insightful analysis of the work, I made them read it while listening to the music and watching the score on my son's iPad. Yes, we are an entire family of music geeks. But in the end, we had our Debussy!

I'm hoping to hear the concert on July 31 when wind soloists from the CSO perform two works by Mozart in the Martin Theater: his Serenade in C Minor, K. 388 (an arrangement of which was performed by the WE sax quintet this past spring), and the monumental "Gran Partita" serenade (a movement of which the non-orchestra WE members will play this coming year). Again, I'll be on the lawn, and again, I'll be at the mercy of the elements. Hopefully, it will be a beautiful star-lit night!

Monday, July 15, 2013

3 Minutes of Awesome! Best rock song ever...

For a rock song to be considered the best rock song ever, at least in my book, it requires the following items:
  • It must be guitar-driven. Synth rock and EDM need not apply.
  • It has to have a memorable hook, something catchy and engaging without being trite.
  • It must have a sense of chaos and danger. Rock was never about safe music.
  • There must be a bit of snarl to it, in both attitude and voice.
  • It cannot be pretentious (and there's a whole lot of pretentious rock out there).
Now there are plenty of great songs that don't satisfy these requirements. That doesn't mean they aren't exemplary in their own rights; they just can't qualify for my list of "Greatest Rock Songs of All Time." And that's okay--Steely Dan will never make the list, but I still love their music. Ditto Paul Simon.

So what's on my list? Well, for years it was just one song. I've since added a couple of runners-up, but I should probably lengthen that list. These include "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, and "Twist and Shout" by The Beatles. But the song I believe to be the Greatest Rock Song of All Time is "My Generation" by the Who. Here's why:

  • Guitar-driven? Check! Pete Townshend's windmilling guitar propels the track.
  • Memorable hook? Check! The background vocals "talkin' 'bout my generation" and Roger Daltrey's stuttered leads.
  • Chaos and danger? Check! Keith Moon's on-the-verge-of-falling-apart drumming that sounds sloppy as all get out but never loses a beat.
  • Snarl? Check! It's the classic "us vs. them" mentality, with Roger singing Pete's famous and now ironic line "hope I die before I get old."
  • Pretentious? Not in the least!
Add to that a wicked bass solo by John Entwistle, a surprising modulation, and a live show that typically wound up with total destruction. Greatest. Rock. Song. Ever.