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Christine Qian Symphonic Winds (P4)

Concert Review Paper


On Tuesday, April 13 at 7:30 PM, I saw the United States Army Field Band play a concert at Forest View Educational Center. The band consists of one piccolo, four flutes, three oboes/English horns, three bassoons, one e-flat clarinet, 11 b-flat clarinets, 2 alto/bass clarinets, four saxophones, seven trumpets, six French horns, four trombones, one bass trombone, two euphoniums, three tubas, one string bass/electric bass, one harp, one piano, one timpani, and four percussion. The ensemble was primarily conducted by Colonel Thomas H. Palmatier, with Major Bruce R. Pulver, Captain Leonel A. Pea, Chief Warrant Officer Gordon K. Kippola, and Command Seargeant Major J. Loran McClung acting as assistant conductors of various smaller ensembles within the United States Army Field Band. The Soldiers Chorus was also featured at this concert, which explained the numerous songs featuring singing in the program. Second in the program, right after the Patriotic Prologue, was Riders For The Flag, a march composed by John Philip Sousa and edited by Frederick Fennell. Due to the fact that the band went right into the piece after Patriotic Prologue was finished, I was unsure of exactly where the song began. The march probably opened with flutes, piccolos, and horns lightly playing a dance. The dance was very staccato and circus-like, and the piccolo and flutes demonstrated a high level of technique with the accuracy and control of the high and fast notes. At first, the flute and horn introduction was at a mezzo piano dynamic level, which steadily increased to mezzo forte, and finally forte, where the cymbal crashed, announcing the climax and end of the first theme. The chorus of the march was then introduced by the low brass, which played heavy and marcato in contrast to the short, flighty piccolo theme. While the low brass played the theme of the march, the higher woodwinds trilled overhead, and the trumpets played a softer answer to the low brasss call. After repeating this theme twice, the trumpets carried on to play the melody; the transfer of melody to trumpets was made obvious by the fact that the rest of the band dropped to a mezzo piano, if not piano, while the trumpets carried on playing at the dynamic level established in the chorus prior. The trumpet feature then crescendoed to a mezzo forte as the arrangement threw in more instruments, entangling the melody in a sort of chaos. Following soon afterwards was a minor-sounding flute feature, which was then followed by a repeat of the march introduced initially. The piece ended on a repeat of the march at a forte with very little fanfare. Overall, the band demonstrated great articulations. However, with the exception of the initial mezzo piano and the sudden drop in dynamics when the trumpets had their soli, there seemed to be very little dynamic contrast and change in tempo. The piece evoked the image of a constant party that suddenly stops. Two songs later, the United State Army Field Band took on Morton Goulds American Salute, yet another song of patriotism. For this song, the band had Dr. Mallory Thompson, the Director of Bands at Northwestern University, as their guest conductor. The piece opened abruptly, with intense triplets tongued in accented staccatos. This intense opening then faded no virtually nothing. Snares then bring in a section where a quiet but distinct bassoon section starts playing; the part is noticeable due to the silence of the rest of the band, and the theme is reminiscent of that of ants marching. A trade-off between flutes and trumpets then follow. The trade-off then leads into a very short oboe solo, which is then passed to the horns. Adding spice to the composition is a sinister twist that then occurs in the woodwind section, and this sinister melody is amplified and made bombastic by the horns. The entire band then rises to a very loud sforzando and backs off immediately into a dramatic silence. The same

theme then sees another variation played on the trumpet, and then theres a section where the woodwinds play a downward scale. This led to a soft flute melody which then became an exchange between the flutes and the horns. This exchange then led a crescendo where the timpani and the snares helped build the intensity. A lull then occurs, fooling the audience into thinking that that was only a fake climax, only to crescendo to the end, finishing the piece with a characteristic forte. Later in the concert, sandwiched between two vocal pieces, was Eugene Goossenss Concerto op. 45 for the oboe, for which Sergeant First Class Daniel Brimhall played the solo. The piece began with a mystical clarinet flourish, like a gust of magical wind that left a maiden, characterized by the oboe, curious and wandering. The oboe then went on to flourish up and down with a note pattern that was seemingly atonal but had a mystical feeling to it, establishing dialogues with the flute. Overall, the first theme was legato and mezzo forte with constant modulation in the dynamics. A sudden bassoon arpeggio added a momentary suspense, as if trouble was on the horizon, but the overall mood remained undisturbed; the oboe continued to play its upward flourish at about a mezzo forte dynamic level with a slow, pliable. After the second mysterious, staccato arpeggio from the bassoons, the rest of the band came in, and a new theme was introduced. This theme was minor, dark, like a grotesque dance of gremlins with its minor tonality and staccato, dancelike rhythms played by the rest of the band under the flourishing oboe. Then followed a moment of peace, achieved by a major chord, which quickly dissolved into the old tonality. This concerto has its merits in the level of technique and dynamics demonstrated on the oboe, but to me this piece just seems to drag on and on endlessly. More than half of the piece seems to be the oboe flourishing up and down with little or no modulation in dynamics, and the end came on suddenly, and was a relief. Chesapeake Bay March by SSG Adrian Hernandez, a march, opened up the second half of the concert. Appropriately, it was opened by the low brass, and the band quickly settled into an offbeat march, with the melody being played by the flutes lightly and articulately and the rhythm established by plodding quarter notes on the lower instruments. Again, the march sounded carnival-like and festive. It was played with marcato articulation at about a relative mezzo forte level. (This level in the concerto would have warranted a forte or maybe even a fortissimo.) There were several crescendos from mezzo forte to forte, and as the notes get higher, the band had a tendency to crescendo. After a sudden blast from the brass, the entire band backed down to a mezzo piano for a trio with trombones and flutes. The low brass then played the theme and crescendoed, building intensity. This intensity carried over to the percussion break, an unforeseen twist in the march. After the percussion break was a return to the carnival-like march with an interesting use of accidentals. As with the first march, the end came abruptly, without warning, but it was a typical loud, bombastic ending. Overall, I wasnt too impressed with this band, which Mr. Moore touted as one of the best bands in America. My opinion might have been influenced highly by the song choice; whereas I generally prefer romantic symphonies which usually hail from Europe, most of the songs here were composed right in the United States, and the music of the US is largely characterized by the music written by Sousa for the marching band and jazz music, neither of which appeal to me particularly. The concerto, which seemed to be the bands attempt at showing a more expressive, softer side, was at the other end of the expressive spectrum; while the concerto demonstrated the fact that the band knew how to play mysteriously and expressively rather than boisterously, it was almost at the other end of the spectrum, where it was almost difficult to enjoy. The Army Field Band itself showed great versatility in style, articulation, and dynamics, but I would have enjoyed the concert more if there were less mindless marches and more slow, expressive pieces that did not involve singing.