Wind ensemble challenges students with chamber music

The full wind ensemble performs “Circus Polka.” Vanguard Photo | Matthew Hintz

SVSU’s wind ensemble students tackled chamber and full ensemble music during their second concert of the semester.

The audition-only ensemble rehearsed a mix of chamber and full ensemble pieces twice a week during its two-hour class to perfect the songs. Chamber music consists of only one person playing each part opposed to the full ensemble playing.

Norman Wika, the band director, said the inclusion of chamber pieces meant each player would be heard during these pieces.

“While three of the pieces on this concert called for everybody, three others only call for small groups of players,” he said. “This put a higher level of individual responsibility on each player.”

Wika said he included chamber music to provide students with unique challenges that full ensemble pieces do not present.

“The chamber pieces required each student to be 100 percent responsible for their parts,” he said. “If they didn’t play the
part correctly, then there was no one to cover for them.”

He said each piece required a “high level technical and musical playing and extreme levels of concentration.”

“’Dance Mix’ had some very technical challenges that require fast runs and extreme ranges,” he said. “’Circus Polka’ and ‘Variations on America’ both had challenging harmonic language.”

Josette Born, a music education senior and flutist, practiced outside of rehearsals to tackle the challenging selections.

Born has played the flute for 12 years, and this was her third and final year in wind ensemble.

“We’ve done (chamber music) before,” she said. “The previous year, we did some chamber music. I like it because it’s more challenging. There’s one person on each part. It’s very exposed.”

Born said one of her favorite pieces was Michael Markowski’s “Circus Polka.”

“He wrote it for a ballet for baby elephants,” she said. “I thought that was very cool. Just playing the piece, I can imagine it. I also like ‘Icebreaker,’ by Robert Litton. It’s probably my favorite one to play. It has a lot of fugues, and it’s fun.”

Born said “Icebreaker” was the most challenging piece for her.

“It’s split between a brass quintet or quartet, and then there’s woodwinds,” she said. “We have two different parts at time, and it can be difficult to align the parts.”

Wika said “Circus Polka” was challenging for audiences to understand its unusual harmonic language.

“There is a very funny story behind the piece, and I hope the audience took the time to read the program notes,” he said. “Once they know the story, the piece will make much more sense to them.”

Wika said he had “grown to love” Michael Markowski’s “Machiavelli’s Conscience.”

“Besides being very relevant to current political issues, it’s well written and fun to listen to,” he said.

Elizabeth Bateman, a senior clarinetist and pianist, agreed with Wika’s choice.

“There were some extended techniques like flutter tonguing,” she said. “Flutter tonguing is where you roll your tongue, much like the Spanish language, and create a vibrating sound in the note. It was really fun and different to play with so many brass instruments.”

Born said she expected the audience to find “Country Gardens” by Percy Grainger to be the most enjoyable.

“It has a catchy tune to it,” she said. “I think that it caught their attention. It’s a fun piece.”

Brantley Wilson, a psychology sophomore, said she enjoyed the variety of songs.

“My favorite piece was ‘Dance Mix’”, she said. “I really liked the percussion, bass and how much it changed throughout. It was very different, but in a good way.”

Kaitlyn Farley

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