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Music is the Gift | Review by Travis  Weller

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Posted on Thursday, February 25, 2016

As a music educator of over twenty years and a parent of school age children, I don’t always attend a live concert where I don’t have a vested interest. If I am not thinking about how my own students might do, I am a proud father hanging on each note my own children perform. One might think someone in my position might take for granted what a wonderful gift music can be. On Friday evening, February 19, Dr. R. Tad Greig and his students at Westminster College reminded their parents and campus community of that very principle, and for that they deserve high praise and accolades.

Both the 40 member Wind Ensemble and 65 member Symphonic Band played on the concert delivering a fine performance of challenging, and engaging works representing the entire gambit of styles in concert band repertoire. I was proud to see two former students performing on the concert, and recognized the names of students from some of the fine band programs in Beaver, Butler, Lawrence, and Mercer counties. While some people would not equate the composers on the program with the likes of Mozart, Bach, or Beethoven, the names of Persichetti (a native of Pennsylvania) and Reed (a prolific writer of concert band music) resonated strongly with me because of the exceptional music they have contributed to the medium. Other relatively new composers also had works included on the program like Anne McGinty (a Duquense University graduate), John Mackey, Brian Balmages, and the brilliant Ron Nelson. As each different work was performed, the ensembles conveyed the intent of the composer bringing about the notes on paper to their fullest sonic possibility.

This was no accident mind you. Dr. Greig is a fine professor and band director, and I have observed his work with students from junior high to college on numerous occasions. He challenges them to become something greater than they can be by themselves, and at the same time educate them about unique aspects that only music can offer. The students weren’t exceptional at the concert because the lights on stage were up and there were people watching. The level of respect they displayed for their art, the trust they placed in each other and Dr. Greig, and the competence they developed within each ensemble were evident in their preparation prior to the concert. This was community at its finest; a leader setting high standards and being willing to work with those he leads to bring about the best possible result, and a group of like-minded people from different walks of life (majors and areas of study) committing to reaching those standards and collaboratively making it happen.

From the opening notes of Dana Wilson’s Shortcut Home to the vibrant, rhythmic energy of Ron Nelson’s Homage to Perotin, the students at Westminster College delivered an exceptional evening of music. This wasn’t a professional group – it was a group of students who went about their opportunity to learn and ultimately perform in a professional way. Unlike a professional group which may charge some sort of ticket fee, this was a free opportunity to take in live musicians do what they do best. Here again, this was the Westminster College community at its finest: students giving a wonderful night of music to their parents, faculty members, and other students. We should all be so fortunate and blessed to have this kind of opportunity delivered to us frequently throughout the year.

Westminster is not the only school locally who offers these kinds of concerts for the public to take in, but it served another reminder of what greatest can sound like when people work together. It reminds us that the fine and performing arts are an important part of culture and community, and all of us need to not push play but rather seek out those opportunities to hear a live group perform. The American Wind Band has not been around as long as the older, more refined brother the Orchestra, but in a short time it has delivered great music written by great composers that can be brought to life a new generation. This was the final reminder of community at its finest as Dr. Greig and his students paid respect to great works of the past, and yet looked ahead to new works of recent vintage.

How fitting it was that the Westminster College Symphonic Band closed their concert with Anne McGinty’s Tis a Gift (based upon the familiar Shaker Song “Simple Gifts”). Through their artistry in but a small moment of time, they provided a reminder of what a precious gift music is to our schools, our children, and our communities. Congratulations to Dr. Greig and his students on a wonderful night of music, and I would encourage all of you to seek out a concert gift at school or college in our community in the near future.

Dr. Travis J. Weller is the Director of Bands at Mercer Middle-Senior High School, and an adjunct instructor in music technology for music educators. He is a published composer of concert band music with several national companies, and has authored numerous articles in instrumental music education in leading journals and magazines.