When Pomona Politics professor John Seery picked up his soprano saxophone to rehearse for the Pomona College Band concert last weekend, it was the first time he’d touched the instrument in 41 years.
He even played a couple of solos, and also picked up his alto saxophone during the performance. “Since in the last 41 years I had no occasion to play two saxophones on the same bill, I had retired my sax stand to the attic,” said professor Seery, “It’s a challenge for my brain and my fingers and my lungs and my mouth and my eyes – to put it all together in coordination.”
Seery was one of three faculty members who joined the band for a performance at Little Bridges last Friday and Sunday. Physics professor Alma Zook PO ’72 played the oboe and performance faculty Stephen Klein chimed in on the tuba.
The Pomona College Band performed works by Offenbach and Klein in the performance conducted by music professor Graydon Beeks, PO ’69.
The concert opened with “Mondavi Fanfare” by Roger Nixon. The band performed “Fantasia for Euphonium and Band” as the second piece throughout the performance. It is a main euphonium piece composed in 1969, with plenty of contrasting sections throughout the piece.
Andrew Acs PO ’20 performed the solo accompanied by the rest of the band. “I thought that the two performances were the best I have ever played the piece, despite having a cold both nights,” he said.
According to the program notes, “The solo part requires command of virtuoso passagework and lyrical expression, both pushed to the extremes of the instrument’s range.” The brief closing section pushes the piece to end strongly and dramatically.
In a change of tone from the other parts of the concert, six members sang the Five American sailing songs after a 15 minute intermission, “Haul the Bowline,” “Sally Brown,” “Reuben Ranzo,” “Rolling River,” and “Blow the Man Down,” without musical accompaniment.
Throughout these five songs, the members were full of enthusiasm. Through their vivid performances, audiences were able to construct scenes in their mind that matched the lyrics.
Each of the five pieces had unique characteristics. “Sally Brown,” created in the late 1830s, described the stylistic form of chanties. On the concert’s program notes, “Blow the Man Down” was described on the program as “another very famous chanty used to haul ‘topsail halyards’ on sailing ships, this version comes from residents of Carriacous, who used to sing it to launch their fishing boats.”
“The concert was amazing. I respected those performers not only those students from Claremont Colleges, but also those guests’ performers from the community,” said Lily Zhang PZ ’19 after watching the concert.
The concert also featured several other pieces, including “Etude No. 3 for Concert Band” by Stephen Klein, “Galop from Genevieve de Brabant” by Jacques Offenbach, “Down to the Sea in Ships” by Robert Russell Bennett, “Sheep-Shearing Song, Op. 38, No.1” by Eugene Goossens, “Mock Morris” by Percy Aldridge Grainger, and “Lights Out, March” by Earl Ellison McCoy.
Pomona College hired several local professionals to play instruments for the band, who are listed as “guests” on the programs. Most of these guest performers have played with the band for several years.
“Occasionally, some of those players are not available, but they can usually suggest other players who would be appropriate for the job,” said Graydon Beeks, director of music programming and facilities and professor of music at Pomona.
Besides guest performers, the majority of musician in the band are current Claremont Colleges students, many of whom are majoring or minoring in music.
“My biggest takeaway is being able to continue my studies on euphonium and to continue to grow as a musician,” Acs said.
One of the reasons Acs chose to attend Pomona was because the Pomona College Band had guaranteed a spot for students who played instruments – no auditions are required for students who want to join. He played the euphonium throughout middle and high school, and wanted to continue learning and playing in college. He has been part of the Pomona College Band since his first semester.
“The assurance that I could continue to play in an ensemble was very valuable for me, and I feel like it has paid off,” Acs commented. He also said he has improved his playing skills under Professor Beek’s supervision.
The Pomona College Band rehearses on Monday and Wednesday from 6:45 p.m. to 8:10 p.m.. On Wednesdays, the band breaks into sections, where the brass and the woodwinds split up for the first 30 minutes of rehearsal to work on sections of the piece where people are struggling the most.
Beeks is trying to give students who would only be in band one semester an opportunity to perform at least one significant piece, one newly composed piece, and one that involved a soloist. Though some only stay in band for a short period of time, there are many students who are engaged in the band throughout their entire college career. Beeks wishes to compose a best band literature that combines the all these groups to best fit the level of ability for them.
“I hope that all members of the ensemble will profit from the experience of working together towards the goal of a satisfying musical performance,” said Beeks.