September has been quite a life-changing month so far. I settled into my life in Ann Arbor, performed in a dream collaboration perhaps on the classical world’s biggest stage in Royal Albert Hall, and helped organize an emotional and inspiring tribute recital honoring the career and life of my predecessor and mentor at the University of Michigan, Donald Sinta. However, this week something struck me equally as deeply in my experience with the Utah Wind Symphony on September 23 in Salt Lake City. Only four years old, this group of professional freelancers and educators gave a rousing performance of John Mackey’s Soprano Sax Concerto with me to an audience of nearly 1100 people as part of a ‘send-off’ preview concert for the upcoming Midwest Clinic in Chicago (Dec. 20).
What struck me wasn’t simply the commitment to the level of playing, but the sheer dedication to the cause of wind band music and the deep sense of community. Led by Scott Hagen, director of bands at the University of Utah, and his wife and clarinetist, Myroslava Hagen, this group in four years has managed to achieve a level and following that rivals our nation’s military bands and other successful civic models such as the Dallas Wind Symphony, Northshore Concert Band, Lone Star Wind Orchestra, among many others. Yet, under this veneer, I learned that recently the group lost its primary financial support which now threatens the existence of the ensemble. Such disheartening news for such an amazing group of people and musicians. Amidst all the financial struggles we see with today’s major orchestras, news like this can be even more hurtful since a group like UWS comes together for the love of playing and the celebration of a very under appreciated literature, concert band music.
Band music isn’t simply trivial or purely pedagogical. It is a viable, ever-growing field of which many of today’s greatest composers have explored. More importantly, it often serves as the cultural center of most grade schools and college campuses. When we witness the rise of such an ensemble like the UWS, it helps a musician/teacher like myself remember WHY we got into music in the first place. The music. The camaraderie. The mission. These are not musicians looking for a hefty paycheck, accolades in the city’s major newspaper, or to rival the local symphony orchestra or opera company. They are performing together because they believe in the medium and the spirit of collaboration.
A vibrant community like Salt Lake deserves a successful ensemble like this to flourish for many years to come. They are not alone, as most cities/towns have some form of a community band, either amateur or professional. Get out to support these groups and their mission. It is the extension of a great American genre that never retreated after it’s rise in the late Nineteenth century.
Godspeed to the Utah Wind Symphony, and see you in the Windy City!