Month-by-Month with the 2008-09 Concordia Wind Orchestra

Last year, I wrote this short piece to give prospective students an idea of what the CWO experience entails. It may be one year outdated, but it still provides useful insight.

Several months in the life of the Concordia Wind Orchestra, 2008-09:

August: A new school year begins. Week of Welcome is loaded with orientation activities, reunions of friends, and CWO auditions. Before classes begin, all major ensembles hold auditions to determine student placement within the ensemble. The CWO audition consists of three sections: a prepared etude, an excerpt from the upcoming years' literature, and 4 scales selected at random from the major, minor, or chromatic scales. On the first day of rehearsal, five students were congratulated for receiving perfect scores (2 freshmen flutists, and the principal clarinetist, bassoonist, and saxophonist). With student placement complete (sometimes adjustments are made during the semester), rehearsals begin in earnest for the fall concert.

September: The ensemble rehearses hard on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30-5:15. All students are required to observe the "15-minute standard," which means they are present, warming up and preparing for the rehearsal. This standard applies for call times before performances as well. The biggest surprise for returning students is that Prof. Held has actually softened up and included a 5-minute break during every rehearsal. The trumpet section is particularly appreciative.
There are no performances this month, but the CWO takes part in its annual tradition - the retreat! This year's version is especially adventurous - a camping trip in the Cleveland National Forest (our local mountains that are in Orange County - we're not just all about beaches!). Did I say this would be an adventure? Students were divided into groups and given a meager amount of cash to take care of their responsibilities. In the end, the equipment group managed to secure enough tents and sleeping bags to save on rental and generously gave their left over portion to the dinner group (hey, they wanted to have enough food!). Everything actually went off without a hitch as all the groups did an excellent jobs using their budget and coming up with plenty of food and shelter. The retreat itself was a great time. Once we survived an onslaught of bugs in the late afternoon, they went away and we had a very fun evening of food, frisbee, hacky-sack, tree-climbing, camp golf, and campfire worship. The highlight of the night probably was the tarantula that one of the students coaxed into his hat. After everyone had a chance to pet it and take a few pictures, he was off on his merry way. Everyone successfully survived the night and early morning hike led by Prof. Held's 5-year-old son, and we were on our merry way (after we successfully broke into one of the vans whose driver locked the keys away!). The final act of the retreat was to rejoin civilization, get dressed up and attend a fabulous concert by the American Winds and tuba soloist extraordinaire, Patrick Sheridan.

October: Things are really getting serious in rehearsal now with the fall concert coming up quickly (the 5 minute break stays intact, though!). This year, the Wind Orchestra is preparing an All Saints' Day concert. Probably the most challenging piece is David Gillingham's No Shadow of Turning, pushing our sound control and expressive abilities to the limit. We're also very excited to perform two of Frank Ticheli's most beloved works back-to-back, An American Elegy followed by Amazing Grace.

November: The All Saints' Day concert is a perfect example of the Concordia Wind Orchestra's mission to serve the community as a faith-centered musical ensemble. The concert is filled with challenging, inspiring, and highly-respected works placed in the context of a deeper message. The concert opens with a three portrayals of human grief - a Steven Stucky arrangement of Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Mary, an Armenian song of sadness and hope called Giligia, by Alfred Reed (accompanied by the image Armenian Sadness,by Fons Heijnsbroek) and Ticheli's well-known An American Elegy. Our faith carries us far beyond sadness though, and this is expressed in the second part of the concert which highlights faith themes of redemption, praise, eternal life, faithfulness, and peace through music selections and narration.
This memorable concert was performed on campus, at a Los Angeles church, and at our area Lutheran high school for their chapel service. An then, in a flash, it was time to think "Christmas!"

December: This is the whirlwind month! Students are frantically finishing major class projects, prepping for finals, and readying performance juries. But this is also the month of Concordia's biggest music event, an unforgettable experience for the performers and audience - our Christmas concerts. The CWO traditionally plays during the 2nd half of the concert, alternating Christmas selections (and sometimes joining) with the Concordia Choir and Master Chorale. After the Concert Handbells take that role in the first half, we have an impressively fast and efficient stage-change, replacing the handbells with the full wind orchestra set-up. We perform to five sold-out audiences each year, and the concert is an Orange County Christmas highlight.

January: One week before classes begin, CWO members report back to campus. It is tour time! After one day of intensive rehearsals, we leave for a four-day tour through California, taking us to Lutheran churches in Paso Robles, Fremont, Santa Maria, Oxnard, and Torrance. This year's tour concert takes on a unique format - an Evening Prayer worship. We have this special liturgy orchestrated by a local composer named Charles Raasch and put all of our tour repertoire in this worship format. We bring soprano Natalie Hovsepian (junior at Concordia) along to do the chanting and sing special arrangements of The Lord's Prayer and a hymn. In the end, this concert/worship hybrid was an excellent example of the Concordia Wind Orchestra's mission as a faith-centered wind band. Seven performances over four days (including one school perforamance and two morning worship services) may sound like a lot, but we still have time for many fun and educational tour excursions. Tours are more than an opportunity for performance outreach. Students also experience many things. This year, we managed a stop at the Niles Silent Film Museum (location where Charlie Chapman made it big), including a screening of a Charlie Chapman film. We also had a lively guided tour of the monarch butterflies that migrate to the Bridges State Beach, followed by a perfect afternoon at Santa Cruz beach (sunny and 70 degrees in January!). And between performances on Sunday, we stopped to tour the Getty Center - one of the world's most spectacular art museums.

February: After the tour, there was no time to rest. Rehearsals began in earnest, with only two weeks to prepare our very popular annual family concert. This year's theme is "SuperMusic for SuperHeroes." A hilarious skit accompanied our concert, with a superpower potion being developed by a Concordia professor, which was stolen by Lex Luther, who trapped Batman, Robin, and Superman, and was finally defeated when all of the kids in the audience who came dressed as superheroes zapped him with their superlollypops combined with the the newly-found power in "Superconductor's" conducting baton. This concert is a community highlight, filling the CU Center with enthusiastic families. After the concert, the patio is filled with superhero-themed kid games led by CWO members with lots of prizes for the kids. This year's concert was taped for broadcast on Irvine City Televison.

March/April: With 20 of our 28 performances behind us already, things calm down a bit for two months. Rehearsals are occupied in preparation for our spring concert and two more outings to area churches for their worship services. This year we are preparing a Palm Sunday service, so we are having Charles Raasch arrange two hymns for the Lenten season: "No Tramp of Soldiers' Marching Feet" (whose text makes several marching band references) and "My Song is Love Unknown." Charlie will join us as organist for these settings on Palm Sunday. We'll prepare other music appropriate for Lent, including O Sacred Head Now Wounded by William Latham. The Wind Orchestra is always enthusiastically-received by congregations. Having a wind orchestra in worship is a spectacular and highly expressive way to enhance worship.

May: Our spring concert arrives - a collaboration with the Art Deparment themed, "Sonic Portraits: Music and Art in Synergy." The concert includes all music that is based in the visual arts. The program has large prints of each painting depicted by the music. One of our pieces, Prism by Steve Shafer, is accompanied by a video art installment (and it has an unbelievably beautiful penny whistle solo played by flutist Megan Salgado). Performing Pictures at an Exhibition, Scenes from the Louvre, and Art in the Park challenge and inspire us, but the highlight is a new work composed by junior Christian Guebert. This piece is inspired by three paintings by recent Concordia graduate, Justin Morris.

Closing out the year is our traditional performance at Concordia's commencement ceremonies (Pomp and Circumstance way too many times!). We part ways with our graduates, ready for some rest but reflecting on what has been a landmark year in the history of the Concordia Wind Orchestra.