Bands recognized for superior performances
Wednesday, Mar 27, 2013 09:03 am
Two foothills bands can’t help but blow their own horn after earning a top rating at a recent music festival.
The Foothills Music Society’s jazz and concert bands were awarded “superior” status at the Alberta International Band Festival in Calgary on Feb. 23. Society president John Bird said he was not surprised by the result.
“Generally, we walk out with excellence and this year with superior, which is about the best you can get,” he said.
The 19-member jazz band performed swing blues, a ballad, a Latin-infused piece and a New Orleans street beat at the Mount Royal University. The 35-member concert band played a suite of medieval court dances, an ode, a rendition of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt at the University of Calgary, grabbing the attention of the adjudicators.
“We don’t really go in with great expectations,” said Bird. “It’s not a competition as such, it’s not like we are lined up with eight other bands to do the same thing, it’s like an individual team sport. Our goal is to go in and put on a nice performance. If we happen to come out with an excellent or superior rating it’s icing on the cake.”
Following the performances, an adjudicator worked with each band going over fine points to help them improve their overall sound and blend within the group.
“The adjudicator works for you for about half an hour,” he said. “They go into finer details about how to improve and play better. That’s why we go.”
Bird said the adjudicator is a different set of ears and a second opinion for the bands.
“The adjudication is the thing that really keeps us keen,” he said. “Some of these guys have got credentials coming out of their eyeballs. A lot are from the United States working with huge colleges and universities.”
Although the Foothills bands excelled at playing together with the same amount of emphasis, dynamics and breath control, the adjudicators challenged the musicians to take it a step further.
“What the adjudicator will say is it’s very important everyone play in this particular fashion, for instance in legato fashion,” he said. “Other passages in a song might require more articulation, hitting notes with a certain amount of emphasis and playing certain notes for a certain duration. It gets pretty technical.”
Those helpful pointers help the bans improve for their next performance, this year being the spring concert next month.
“You take that away with you and next time you start working on pieces and say let’s play this with more feeling or articulation or play this passage with a little more legato,” he said. “You take away a lot with it. It’s a great experience.” Bird said the bands began practicing their pieces five weeks prior to festival, meeting once a week to perfect their sound.
“We pick the pieces that we are going to play and just work really hard,” he said. “It’s just refining the pieces, getting down to the fine details. You want to go in and put on your game face of the day and do your best and hope the adjudicators appreciate your hard work and efforts.”
Bird has been a member of the jazz band for six years and three years ago became president. Having played the trumpet in high school Bird said it had been more than 25 years since he had played but he was up for the challenge when he joined the jazz band.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” he said. “The hard part is learning to read music all over again.”
Bird said there are varying levels of experience in the bands as members either haven’t played since high school or have been playing for years.
“It does give you an outlet to go out and play,” he said. “For a lot of people it’s their only night out.”
Trumpet player Krista Conrad joined the jazz band in January and was pleasantly surprised with its talent. As a result, she said she wasn’t shocked to see the band achieve supreme status at the festival.
“I was blown away that the group was playing at such a high level for a community group,” she said. “Some people have done music professionally and some recreationally for the love of music like I am. It was nice to play with a talented group.”
Having taken a break from music for seven years, Conrad said it feels great to be back into it and working under the direction of Martin Kennedy who was also her director in high school.
“I like going out and being able to play very good music with some fabulous people in a relaxing environment,” she said. “It’s a nice group of people and a great opportunity to be playing.”
High River resident Melanie Collison, who joined the concert band nine years ago as a beginner, took up the bass clarinet.
“I was new to High River and looking to meet people and make friends,” she said. “It’s a long haul to learn an instrument and it’s been a real struggle to learn to read music.”
Collison said she persevered under the guidance of the band’s talented musicians.
“We’re fortunate to have a number of music teachers in the band, and most of the members at least played in high school, so they all carry me along, plus we have the kindest, most patient director in the world,” she said. “The real benefit of festival, though, is playing great music and being pushed to perform at a higher level.”
The jazz and concert bands perform their spring concert at Holy Trinity Academy (HTA) on April 28. The jazz band’s final performance will take place at HTA during its annual Knight on the Town dinner and dance in May.