Something old, something new

Something old, something new

The Washburn Wind Ensemble performed its “Something Old… Something Blue” concert Friday night, Oct. 23, at White Concert Hall.

The ensemble is an audition group based around wind instruments such as flutes, oboes, clarinets and brass of every kind; supported by a sizable percussion section and a couple of string instruments. The result is a big sound just shy of a full orchestra and an exciting sound to go with it.

“The source material for [the old] pieces comes from years, centuries ago even, and it’s been reworked in a modern way,” said Mark Norman, director of bands explaining the music of his first Washburn concert. “Some are Appalachian singing hymn songs – ‘Big Singings’ is what they called them. The blues part, a piece called blue shades, has a lot of jazz elements in it. [It] has a lot of blues notes, flat thirds, flat fifths, flat sevenths, flat ninths, so the whole piece is based on those intervals and because of that it sounds like a jazz piece, but it’s worked into a classical piece.”

The program opened with Fanfare Canzonique, a rousing all-brass number that made Hail to the Chief sound weak by comparison. The fanfare was made all the more special by part of the brass section that performed in the aisle for a surround-sound experience.

Michael Averett, director of brass studies, was there to help out.

“We’re very excited,” he said. “We’re playing great literature, great variety, featuring different members of the ensemble and faculty.”

The rest of the ensemble joined the brass for the Shepherd’s Hey piece. It was inspired by English folk and dance music and seemed reminiscent of the old big orchestral dance numbers in movies such as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Then things were cooled off by the Blue Shades number, the favorite of Grace Shepler, freshman flute and oboe player.

“Listen to the difficulty of the pieces and variety of beats,” said Shepler. “I would describe the Blue Shades jazzy sound as Benny Goodman meets West Side Story. Just play it cool boy, real cool.”

Some of the most interesting pieces of the night were the Southern Harmony selections. The baritone who sang the vocals a capella was Lee Snook, a voice teacher at Washburn since 1990. Snook described the style of music as “Southern Christian, Evangelical [and] Appalachian Jesus songs.”

The pre-Civil War hymns used a call and response style, the leader would cue the congregation that followed. In this performance, Snook would sing a few verses and the ensemble responded with vocals, instruments and even some clapping that sounded like hillbilly ham-bone leg slapping.

The finale, Niagara Falls, was described in the program as a 10- minute musical ride over the Niagara River with an occasional stop at a haunted house or wax museum along the way. It was a sophisticated and challenging piece with a variety of tones, rhythms and counter points. A second set of ears would have helped to appreciate everything that was going on.

After the concert, Raford Rush, 64, father of the tenor saxophone player, said the performance went well.

“I liked it quite a lot,” said Rush. “The last one they played was a very difficult piece.”

And that same positive feeling was found throughout, perhaps best summed up by 5-year-old Eden Lester.

“I think it’s a lovely time and I’m glad to be here.”