Sunday 2 January 2011

The band that grows my breakfast

If you imagine that this is where New York is, said Clifford N. Towner, holding up his left hand to about the 10 position on a clock face, and then if you imagine this is where Los Angeles is, stretching his right hand to around the 5 position, then where we all live is just around here!, this time left hand palm out right between the two.
Mr Clifford N. Towner is Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Bands at Morningside College, and he made this clear as a bell explanation of basic geography of the USA when he came to my school in 2009 to conduct a concert by the Morningside College Symphonic Wind Ensemble. I had explained to him that my students know pretty well where New York and Los Angeles are, and that many of the children in the audience have visited those cities, either with their parents or on trips organised by my school, but that the location of the band’s home town, Sioux City, Iowa, would be a mystery to most of us.
Once we got over the geography, the concert started. I was really impressed by the selection the band played: at the core were the works of some great American composers, including John Philip Sousa and Scott Joplin, which were played with great flair and style and set a happy, festive tone to the concert. These works were played by the whole ensemble, 23 players in all. Then came the surprises as the concert included a series of works for small groups: Flute Trio, Clarinet Quartet, Woodwind Ensemble, Percussion Trio and Brass Ensemble. These chamber groups not only brought a delightful variety to the programme, but also gave an opportunity for us to hear works by a wide range of composers. These included some recent works by contemporary composers like  Jeff Smallman, really nifty percussion playing in a piece by Murray Houllif, and a clever nod to the host country in Caesar Giovannini‘s 1998 piece called Canción Española.
My personal favourite among the chamber items was the rendition of Frank Siekmann’s arrangement of Bela Bartók’s music in Bartók for Brass, from 1966. This music is very challenging, and the arrangement brings out the best of Bartók’s use of irregular rhythms and crunchy harmonies. It was a really great performance, and a unique chance for my students to hear this work.
So, congratulations to Mr Clifford N. Towner and his excellent Morningside College Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and thanks also to Wens Travel for making the arrangements so brilliantly for the group to arrive in perfect conditions.
And now I know, thanks to Mr. Towner, that when I eat my corn flakes every morning, the grain they are made from was sure as oats grown in the fields and prairies around the home town of  Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa.

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