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Marathon Man, Pt. 2

The games continued Wednesday where at the crack of dawn I begin work with the indefatigable Jim Kull and the ensembles at St. Charles East HS. Jim had arranged a massive (and what I would normally caution against as ill-advised) Newman-Fest, where he programmed FIVE Newman works, including Avenue X a circumstance which in no small part made me shudder with feelings of unworthiness and embarrassment.

On Wednesday, work with St. Charles East’s freshman and symphonic bands and AP Theory class was Interrupted only by a quick visit to co-commissioner Willowbrook H.S. where Bill Gilmer’s ensemble blew through AveX with a joyful noise. They had played the piece (marvelously, according to the CD I received) the week before, so whatever rehearsal I attempted was moot—these guys already had the piece down , And on Thursday after rehearsals with the St. Charles East Wind Ensemble I was shuttled off to co-commissioner Addison Trail H.S. where Mark Corey’s band, they of the hot percussion section and screaming-fast tempos played a mid-day assembly, complete with Avenue X, Uncle Sid, and a great Q&A with the students. The vibe at Addison Trail made me jealous—I found myself wishing that lo those many years ago I enjoyed such a safe and friendly environment around the band room, where students are hanging out in the office, working together to help out Mark with that evening’s concert, and just generally enjoy each other’s company.

Now that the week is over I think it safe to declare Avenue X a success. I like the piece myself (imagine that) and the feedback from the musicians and directors has been incredibly heartening. My favorite compliment thus far was ATHS director Mark Corey’s declaration that the 12-measure section at Rehearsal O was to be his new cellphone ringtone. Major thanks are due to all the commissioners for making it all happen, and to Jim, Jenny, Gil, Michelle, Bill, and Mark, for rehearsing, prepping, scheduling, hosting, and shepherding me through the rest of the week.

The end of the residency came Thursday night, which was, to put it simply. Ridiculous With Newman. With the exception of 2 pieces, the entire Newman oevre for winds was performed in Chicagoland. While Addison Trail played Avenue X and Uncle Sid, I managed to conduct my way through the St. Charles East monstrosity: The freshman rendered 1861 beautifully, the Symphonic Band brought their A-game to Moon by Night, and the Wind Ensemble (mincing no words), simply blew the roof off of the place. AveX sounded fantastic, and these guys made me look really good. The players on spring rain…, arguably the most difficult and head-scratch-inducing piece I’ve written for winds, were just gorging on musicality, and (for dessert) Chunk … well, Chunk was a party. I have never heard that piece groove as hard as it did last night, and that includes any college, high school, pro group, or anyone. There wasn’t a square phrase in the joint. And I had nothing to do. I just stood up there and smiled (and of course shook what my mama gave me) while these young guns transformed themselves into the backup band James Brown wishes he had…

Jim Kull’s ensembles also played Steve‘s Interruption Overture and Jim‘s Hopak, which led to my favorite CD label presentation ever:

St. Charles East High School Concert Bands, Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensemble
The Music of Jonathan Newman
(And Bonney and Bryant)

Eat your heart out, boys.

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