Percussion and jazz band concert drums up enthusiasm

Students, parents, and teachers filed onto the Westminster campus the evening of Thursday, Feb. 16.  On this night, a special event was about to begin and excitement crackled in the air.  As the spectators took their seats, the general trend of conversation drifted down two distinct paths: one, the Jazz Band and another, the Percussion Ensemble.  Comprising two specialized sections of the Westminster Bands, these two groups united that Thursday in one annual event: the Jazz Band and Percussion Ensemble Concert.  

“Since nearly all of us take band together,” said sophomore Trevor Henningson, “[the ensemble and the jazz band] know one another well and have the ability to work and perform well together.”

Though they did not directly interact, the two bands shared the concert and had “the ability,” said Henningson, “to complement each other.”

The musical selections between the two sections in the concert differed in style and composition, reflecting separate musical genres.

“At this concert,” said Henningson, “we performed a collection of well-known jazz songs that we have been working on since this past fall, incorporating saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and rhythm [drums, piano, and bass] sections.”

In contrast to these jazz selections, the Percussion Ensemble took a different route.

“Our ensemble piece, Glasgow Kiss, was particularly appealing because of its origin not as a percussion ensemble composition, but as a fast-paced, melodic rock song,” said junior Andrew Gorham.  “Alumnus Cooper Carter [class of ’07] arranged, or essentially transcribed the music to be played by a percussion consisting of xylophone, marimbas, vibraphones, glockenspiels, chimes, and a drum set.”

In order to make it to these finished productions, however, both groups undertook a large amount of rigorous preparation.

“By Thanksgiving break, we, the 11-12 Percussion, had decided collectively on the ensemble we thought would be both demanding, challenging, and fun to learn and perform,” said Gorham.  “In-class preparation didn’t begin until our return from Christmas break.”

“During practices,” said Henningson, “we would come into the jazz room and run through some of the charts and take note of what we needed to work on before the next rehearsal in order to make the most efficient use of the little time we had as a whole group.”

The Jazz Band played an especially difficult program that concluded with Louis Prima’s big band piece, “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

“‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ was a very, very challenging piece,” said lead trombone Raymond Monasterski. “It wasn’t until the last rehearsal that we decided that we would put the piece on our program.”

But, with the help of hours upon hours of rehearsal, the band finished with a bang that left the audience in awe.

Even alongside this preparation inside of class, in many cases, extra work was necessary.

“With limited time together as a percussion ensemble, roughly two to three hours per week, we knew we needed to work on our parts individually at home,” said Gorham.  “Working at home is where the meticulous and detail work was done to learn the part, and in class, we would bring together our individually learned parts in collaboration and work to synchronize our music and play cohesively.”

While sometimes difficult, the experience of working at home most often does not interfere with the love the concert members have for their work.

“For the band, sometimes the songs are more difficult than the norm and require solo work,” said Henningson.  “The practice required can become a bit of a burden, but the reason we all show up really comes down to the fact that we really enjoy playing music together.”

An integral portion of the preparation process for these musicians is the involvement of directors and conductors.

“Mr. Tim Howard, percussion director, has helped us tremendously to mature as musicians, making us capable of playing the advanced music,” said Gorham.  “He efficiently creates a relaxed and incredibly enjoyable atmosphere in class, all while maintaining a focused learning environment, which has developed the strong relationship shared between him and his students. “

Scotty Jones, the director of the Jazz Band, does his part in helping the band, too. “Mr. Jones is there for every rehearsal,” said Monasterski. “His unmarked dedication to the Jazz Band and to his musicians is what makes playing in the band such a special opportunity.”

After the presentation peaks, and all the major wrinkles have been ironed out, the two groups come together in front of their audience.

“The audience typically consists of parents and administrators,” said Gorham, “but in recent years, students have worked to advertise the performance and invite students by means of Facebook.”

“Around seventy people, including students, parents, and faculty,” said Henningson, “generally show up to this concert.”

When all the seats had filled, and all the lights dimmed, the concert finally commenced.  Over the course of the night, spectators observed waves of smooth jazz, contrasted with the Percussion Ensemble’s beats of Petrucci’s “Glasgow Kiss.”

“Percussion and Jazz Band did a good job of keeping [the audience] interested,” said sophomore Caroline Maguire.  “Even though they played different genres, it seemed like the whole concert was one long song.”