David Rodeback's Blog

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Monday, December 18, 2006
Wasatch Winds Wow

Okay, that's too much alliteration, but they wowed me tonight at their Christmas concert.

I go to community groups' concerts in American Fork with higher expectations than I used to, but I still expect some flutters in the brass or woodwinds, a missed pitch or even a missed note here and there . . . and there and there and there and there and there . . . as well as an ample measure of disarray in the middle and some fraying at the edges (whatever that means). In short, I anticipate more than one or two opportunities to remind myself that these are amateurs from the community, not professionals, and to enjoy them for what they are, not fret about what they are not (such as the Utah Symphony).

John Miller's Wasatch Winds provided very few such moments tonight, against many opportunities to marvel, "This is a community band?" I won't rehash my thoughts on the value of community ensembles, except to say that I think that value is considerable. In any case, the quality of this rather new group's performance was impressive. It would also have been surprising, under any other director.

Assistant Director Jermie Arnold appears to be a worthy protege of American Fork's deservedly vaunted bandmaster. He conducted two numbers. If you're into watching the conductor's movements on the podium, you might notice that in that respect Arnold exceeds his master and actually may be ready for the big leagues. (I know, that's not really a crucial criterion.) He's not comical or melodramatic; he's just easy to watch. Far more importantly, the Wasatch Winds sound superb under his baton, too.

I myself played in a lot of bands for a decade or so of my life, but fewer orchestras. So I don't feel qualified to pass judgment on the question whether a good, tight sound is easier to achieve in a band than in an orchestra. I've heard that it is. So I will resist the temptation to compare the quality of the Wasatch Winds with that of the American Fork Symphony. Both groups have their strengths, and I'll leave it at that.

Let's review the audience for a moment, shall we? The American Fork High School auditorium was nearly full of people of all ages. They were enthusiastic and reasonably well behaved, too. (If you're a frequent reader, you might wonder about my now-two year old and his deportment. But we left him home this time. No, not alone.) The audience delivered a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the concert. Not every such ovation is well deserved, but this one was.

What I said in reviewing the recent American Fork Symphony concert is true: It's nearly impossible to have a Christmas concert without playing some Leroy Anderson -- and why would you want to, really? Like the Symphony before them, the Winds began with Anderson's "A Christmas Festival," this time scored for symphonic band, of course. (I think I prefer it that way.)

A pair of other pieces followed, each well played, and each including some very familiar themes. Then Miller announced that he heard a solo in church yesterday, loved it, and thought it belonged in his concert. I thought Leonard O'Riley's vibraharp solo was fun and interesting, on grounds of variety and quality. The audience as a whole responded enthusiastically, commanding a curtain call he didn't seem comfortable giving afterward.

My favorite piece of the relatively short concert was Alfred Reed's "Russian Christmas Music." This may have something to do with my long-standing Russophile sentiments, or it may be mostly because it was an excellent piece of music, superbly played despite (because of?) its difficulty. This was the piece that put the "standing" in my ovation at the end.

I was sufficiently taken by this piece that I went home and looked Reed up in Wikipedia, to see if he's actually a Russian. (The suite is that convincing.) Apparently, he is not. But there is an interesting story to be told of "Russian Christmas Music." Reed wrote it in 16 days in 1944, for a nationally televised concert, after a Prokofiev piece was dropped because it had already premiered in the US. It is now a standard in the symphonic band repertoire . . .

Our Wasatch Winds did it justice. Helen Sausedo did some particularly fine solo work on the English horn. (That is an oboe, more or less, but with significantly enhanced self-esteem and a slightly deeper voice.)

The 45-minute concert ended with a snappy rendition of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." This Christmas standard was played well enough to be fun, but went just a bit too fast for the band to preserve its tight sound throughout.

Finally, a word about the printed program -- or, knowing me, more than a word.

First, it shows admirable evidence of having been proofread before publication. This is an excellent thing, if, alas, somewhat unusual.

Second, where the program listed the members of the Wasatch Winds, it also listed the occupation of each, which was a nice touch in itself and also emphasized the broad community-based nature of the ensemble. In truth, I wished that a certain flautist's occupation had been given as "Blogger" instead of "Homemaker," because she's American Fork's best blogger, DaltonGirl. (In fact, she recently blogged about the band.) But now I'm just nitpicking.

Director John Miller says this was not the last Wasatch Winds concert of the winter. I hope to see you at the next one.

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