Every year, hundreds of High School students spend long months, weeks, days, and hours with machines on their faces to get a chance to spend our weekend at a school sitting in a chair. This is really strange behavior for high school students. But each and every one of them are band kids. But the truth is band kids are weird. ( I can say that because I am one of them)I have been in the Region VII All Region band for the past three years, But this year has been my all time favorite. This year, I made 1st band and qualified for All State, but even if I hadn’t qualified, the clinic still would have been very memorable.
This years clinician, Dr. Daniel Belongia, the Director of Bands at Arkansas Tech was a truly inspiring and intelligent. During the first hour of rehearsals I decided I could sit there and l decided I could spend all day listening to him talk about music (oh wait… that is exactly what I did) and I enjoyed every moment of it. There wasn’t a single thing Dr. Belongia said that was not profound ( I actually took notes on the back of my music while he was talking). I could write a whole post on all of the things Dr. Belongia spoke of from the Moth Fable, the importance of having musical heroes, and the truth about dynamics.
The piece River Town Jubilee was written by Steve Danyew, a friend of Dr. Belongia who played with him in a few honors band and who went off to school for music and eventually began to compose music. This particular piece was commissioned by the Dardanelle High School Wind Ensemble in 2015. Dardanelle is located near Russellville and is right on the Arkansas River, hence the name “River Town Jubilee”.
The second piece we played, Moment, was different from anything I’ve played. The composer, Alex Shapiro, composes pieces for wind bands and many of them include electronic tracks. Shapiro lives in the San Juan Islands where her composing studio faces the shore where she gets her inspiration for both her musical compositions and her photography. Her piece Moment was composed in 2016 and is described as a “Pensive and emotional, the unusual, textural music of MOMENT offers reflection and stillness in an often frenetic world. Repeating notes and haunting, lyrical lines give musicians the opportunity to explore expression through subtlety. Evocative sounds conjure fleeting, contrasting images, as the wind band creates a seamless fabric woven from the union of their instruments, their chant-like voices, and the ghostly echoes of a wistful accompaniment soundtrack.” During our performance, I felt that the electric track was too loud and covered up the band. It was a very hard piece to play because of the constant changing of the time signature and the lack of the key. But playing with a track was a new and interesting experience.
The third piece of our concert was a unique arrangement Amazing Grace by William Himes and Luis Maldonado. This piece was unique in that it was never published. A similar arrangement of Amazing Grace was published by William Himes, but before it could be published, all of Luis Maldonado ‘s contributions had to be removed due to his untimely and unfortunate death. Playing this piece in our rehearsals was very moving at one point, Dr. Belongia had us all get up and move to another seat in the band so that we would be able to hear everyone else’s parts. As a clarinet player, my first thought was to move to the back middle of the band where the horns and trombones normally sit. This gave me the opportunity to listen closely to the horn section that sits across the band and played the same 8th notes lines that the clarinets do. This arrangement of Amazing Grace starts with a beautiful trumpet choir playing the traditional melody and new melody takes over with the clarinet and horn entrance. The melody returns throughout the piece in small bits until the end wear it is passed around the band until it fades into nothing. Such a beautiful piece was an honor to play and a special opportunity to play a piece that has never been published.
The final piece in the program was by far my favorite. David Maslanka‘s Illumination. Illumination is a very energetic piece published in 2013. It was commissioned for the Horace Mann Middle School in Franklin, Massachusetts and was the first piece played in their new performing arts center. Maslanka wrote the piece to capture the light and energy of youth. Maslanka said, “composing music for young people that allows them a vibrant experience of their own creative energy. A powerful experience of this sort stays in the heart and mind as a channel for creative energy, no matter what the life path. Music shared in community brings this vital force to everyone. Illumination is an open and cheerful piece in a quick tempo, with a very direct A-B-A song form.” about his work in the program notes. This is a very accurate description of the piece as a whole and it was incredibly fun to play with the best high school band across the region.
Over the course of the two days at all region, I spent a total of 15 hours sitting down and playing my instrument. During that time, I didn’t just learn the 4 pieces in our program, but I also learned some very valuable lessons from Dr. Belongia about music and life. Before we played each piece, Dr. Belongia told us a little bit about each of the composers who had written them that gave us some background on why the piece was written and what it is about. I always love learning more about the composers whose piece’s I play is a very important aspect of being a musician. If you don’t understand where the piece came from or what it represents, you can not make a connection with the piece or play it the way it was intended to be played. A musician’s job is to play a composer’s piece accurately so that the audience can appreciate both the composer’s work and the musician’s playing. It is easy to forget about the composer when playing a piece of music because you are focused on your own playing, but a listener will only see the composer’s name if they read the program. This was the first clinic that I have been to that the have not jumped back and forth between the pieces. Instead, Dr. Belongia did not move on until we had completely read through them. It was very effective and made the transitions in the piece more solid and fluid rather than only playing the pieces in small bits and segments until the day of the concert.
THE SPRINGDALE ALL REGION BAND CONCERT
This years concert went smoothly, but not without imperfections. Before the concert, Dr. Belongia spoke about concerts and how important concerts and live performances of all kinds are. He compared them to lighting a match that lasts for only a short while and provides heat and beauty that can only be experienced by those who light it and those who get the chance to see it and feel its warmth. We lit our match on stage together and it seemed to burn out too quickly. But every match burns out at a different speed. With today’s technology, every piece of published music can be found and played at a push of a button, the imperfections of a live performance is what is keeping the performing arts. Each performance has their own unique style whether it be differences in tone and dynamics of musicians or the lines and costumes of a play, each is a new experience that cannot be recreated.
Performing this concert with the best of the best high school students who also endured long, frustrating hours of practice and private lessons to be there was very encouraging. Not all of us will go on to become professional musicians or composers, but no matter what we do, music has touched our lives and will never leave us. In winter, All Region Clinic brings students from school districts across the who spend the fall months on opposite sides of football fields competing together to work together as a team. Not many sports do that. One of the most profound statements Dr. Belongia made this week was that band is the only true team because it’s not about winning or losing. No single player can support the whole band, each and every member must play to their fullest potential in order for the band to be successful. This weekend we were successful and I am so very proud of my team event if we will never get the chance to join together and play again.