I left the theater Saturday night on a high note! Well, maybe not as high as if I’d been one of the piccolo players on stage, but still pretty high! My young adult son and I attended the Band Extravaganza at Iowa State University. It was the second time in six years I’ve been able to attend this concert. And, I hope I’ll be able to attend again in the future. He’s been a number of times, although never as a participant. Despite the fact that he is talented musically, he never wanted to be part of the marching band – which this concert highlights.
Feeding Music to the Soul
For more three-quarters of the semesters of his undergraduate time at ISU he participated in Concert Band and Symphonic Band, as his academic schedule allowed. We enjoyed going to the concerts for these groups in which he was often featured as a soloist, either on saxophone or piano. He misses having an outlet for his music but not necessarily “the band experience” at the university level. This, from a student who could have easily majored in music! I think he knew what he was doing when he chose another path given the revelation of this feeling. Still, there is music in his soul.
He very much enjoys listening to, watching, and supporting the students involved in music at this university. The Band Extravaganza Concert featured the Wind Ensemble – the premier group at Iowa State that had just toured the UK this past summer, and the Jazz Ensemble I – the premier jazz ensemble at the university, prior to the spectacle of the Cyclone Marching Band.
Over the last six years, I’ve never been disappointed by any of the concerts at ISU. The music is fabulous, and for the premier groups, definitely challenging. The Wind Ensemble played three pieces, one by Tchaikovsky, another called Bookmarks from Japan featuring two outstanding flautists, and another very difficult piece called Blue Shades by Frank Ticheli that my son vaguely remembered playing in Symphonic Band his freshman year. The clarinet soloist was obviously very talented as she hit high notes remaining perfectly in pitch during the last piece in which she was featured. I am sure the counting in the Ticheli piece was enough to give at least some of these young musicians nightmares!
More Souls Where Music Resides
The Jazz Ensemble I was made up of outstanding young musicians as well. The ability to improvise always floors me during jazz band performances. My son was in jazz band in high school. In fact, he was in two separate jazz bands during his freshman and sophomore years. He was never comfortable with improv, but it is a standard performance expectation for musicians in such groups. So, he had to do it on occasion. Having played the soprano, alto, and bari-sax, I am sure he was analyzing the saxophone talent in this group! The second piece featured a composition of Nordic Chants and although it was somewhat boring at the beginning, the student on the soprano sax was really outstanding during his improv. He was fun to watch in the final piece, “Tom Cat” as the Alto sax soloist in which his body swung with the rhythm of the music – just like the conductor’s did throughout their portion of the concert. You could just tell there was music that resided in the souls of those musicians!
After both the wind ensemble and jazz ensemble each played three songs, it was getting closer to what the crowd had surely turned out to see – The Cyclone Marching Band!
A brief intermission featured “State Storm” a rousing group of enthusiastic pep band type performers who were seated in the stands at the balcony level in the auditorium.
The lights went down again and a drumline feature rose from “the pit!” This never disappoints! The percussionists are perfect in their timing and the neon “glow” lights always add to their performance. Soon after, the announcer gleefully announced the marching band as they nimbly ran into the theater one by one. There are no visible errors when this group performs! The feet all look the same and are all hitting the floor at the same fraction of a second. By the time they are all filed in and seated, the front row is visibly aligned perfectly! It is a sight that reflects TONS of hard work! (I know, I was in a large marching band at the measly high school level, many eons ago, and I remember the hours and hours of practice, perfecting field shows and performances!) Kudos to those in this group, the talented instructors, and visionary directors that make performances like this possible!
The music is loud and enthusiastic but still skillfully played. You never hear squeaks or mistakes. No, there are not a lot of dynamics, but it is a group that is used to playing on a large open field in a stadium, week after week, during football season. In that setting, loudness is key to success!
A Special Treat
We were treated to a medley from Wizard of Oz – special for me because I was sitting with the Wizard himself, don’t you know! (Only local people will get this.) A song from The Wiz, E.T.’s flying theme, the theme from The Greatest Show, and the show stopper itself – music from Jurassic Park that featured dancing dinosaurs! Maybe you saw a social media post that went viral after these dinos hit the field at a football game this fall! It was such fun to see in person! Here is a brief clip!
The concert always includes The Bells of Iowa State, where the students join arms to sing and sway as the band plays the melody. It is difficult not to have chills and be sucked up into the music that rocks and binds this campus community. This all was going on while the gym at the Hilton Colosseum was filled ISU Men’s Basketball fans and RV’s were lining the parking lot for a late season football game on Saturday. For us music fans, there was no competition! Music lovers of all shapes, sizes, and ages were in Stephen’s Auditorium to hear this concert on Friday night! Hands-down!
Forever a Soul Filled with Music
I left the venue thinking of how much music means to me, how much I enjoyed spending time with my son, and how lucky I was to be witness to such joy emanating from the faces of 350+ college aged musicians. I felt like I belonged, as any musician would! You see, I also have music in my soul!