UMSL students perform with all-collegiate concert band at MMEA annual conference
That’s all the time the members of the 2020 Missouri All-Collegiate Band had to prepare for Saturday’s performance at the Missouri Music Educators Association’s annual In-Service Workshop/Conference in Osage Beach, Missouri.
Despite the challenge, Gary Brandes, director of bands for the University of Missouri–St. Louis, was confident the UMSL students performing with the ensemble, which is composed of top musicians from colleges and universities across the state, would deliver.
“The folks who are selected for this are the best college musicians in the state,” Brandes said. “They’re expected to read music at a pretty high level.”
Senior David Sedlock tried to prepare like he would for any other audition or concert, logging as many hours practicing as he could. It was a challenge to jump into rehearsal after a long holiday break, but Sedlock was positive going into the weekend’s performance.
“It’s very intimidating knowing there’s only a short time to get so many high-level pieces of music together, but I am confident in my ability,” he said. “This is what all of my years of training and practicing have been for, so I was excited and ready for the challenge.”
Senior Emily Ries knew it would be difficult but felt there was an advantage to the abbreviated rehearsal schedule.
“Only having two days to rehearse is challenging, especially with the pieces we were playing,” she said. “However, I think having that pressure of time can really bring people to focus and work hard.”
The event is held each January at Lake of the Ozarks and provides professional development opportunities for music teachers throughout the state in all disciplines and at all grade levels.
“The foot traffic at this conference can be 10,000 people,” Brandes said. “It’s big; it’s amazing.”
It also provides a stage for numerous performances from bands and choirs at all grade levels. However, the most prestigious is the all-collegiate ensemble, which rotates each year between choir, concert band, jazz band and orchestra.
This year it was concert band’s turn, giving Brandes the chance to personally nominate eight students. Of those nominated, four were selected for the honor of performing – Katherine Busby, percussion; Michael Owens, tuba; Ries, bassoon; and Sedlock, trumpet – along with one alternate, Eric Menderski, euphonium.
Brandes felt fortunate that UMSL was so well represented. He noted that it takes something special to be part of the All-Collegiate Band. Musicianship is the primary factor, but it’s not the only one.
“I base my selections on their skill level,” he said. “I also base my selections on someone who has a pretty good work ethic and is dependable and will be down there for two days prepared to rehearse.”
Ironically, Sedlock didn’t even want to be in band when he started playing the trumpet 11 years ago. The extracurricular was forced on him by his parents, but he quickly became hooked. Considering where he started, he’s thrilled to have reached this point as a musician.
“I was ecstatic to be selected,” he said. “The MMEA conference is a perfect opportunity to network and meet people that I could be working with or for in the future.”
Ries was initially drawn to the bassoon because of its uniqueness and the “warm, dark” sound it produces. Her high school music director inspired her to continue pursuing music in college.
“Through music, he was able to create an environment of growth, learning and community in our band, and I hope to do the same for future students,” she said.
The UMSL students worked with conductor Allan McMurray, professor of conducting emeritus and distinguished professor at the University of Colorado. During his career, McMurray has been one of the country’s foremost teachers of conducting and a frequent guest conductor.
Ries and Sedlock felt inspired working with McMurray and a group of fellow dedicated musicians, which carried over to the performance.
“I was very happy with how the performance went,” Sedlock said. “There didn’t seem to be a moment when the ensemble was not 100 percent focused.”
The 40-minute performance included several concert band standards, with the centerpiece being a relatively new piece, “An American Elegy.” It was composed in memoriam of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. McMurray and the Colorado Wind Symphony contributed to the commission and premiered it, as well.
It was a haunting reminder of the meaning music carries.
“That piece is not only a memorial, but a dedication to the survivors and a celebration of life all at the same time,” Sedlock said. “Before we started the piece, we actually sang Columbine High School’s alma mater then transitioned into ‘An American Elegy.’ I think that made the performance all the more meaningful and intimate to the audience, and it gave us performers something to connect to. The music suddenly became more than just notes on the page.”
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