Washington, DC -- The American Bandmasters Association (ABA), founded in 1929, recognizes outstanding achievement on the part of concert band conductors and composers. The current membership (invitational) comprises approximately 300 band conductors and composers in the United States and Canada and 80 associate members.
At 8 p.m., Friday, March 10, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band will perform at the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Performing Arts in Lexington as part of ABA’s 83rd annual convention. The concert is free and open to the public, but tickets are recommended. Ticket information is available here.
The Marine Band has retained a connection with ABA since its inception. In 1929, former Marine Band Director John Philip Sousa, America’s foremost bandmaster, joined the movement created by Edwin Franko Goldman to maintain a high standard of artistic excellence for the concert band. Sousa served as the honorary life president, and many Marine Band Directors since have been extended the invitation of membership to the association.
“The American Bandmasters Association represents a history of tradition and service to our profession,” explains Dr. Timothy Rhea, director of bands at Texas A&M University and current ABA President. “As we look to our founder, Edwin Franko Goldman, we continue to refine our mission of promoting the concert band and its repertoire. In addition to recognizing exceptional musicians through invitational membership into the association, we are able to collectively pool the resources associated with these master conductors and composers through projects that will benefit all in our profession.”
During this special event, several members of the association will have the opportunity to conduct the Marine Band. Rhea will open the program by conducting Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, transcribed by Marine Band production chief/staff arranger Master Gunnery Sgt. Donald Patterson. Guest conductors for the concert are selected among the membership of the ABA, with emphasis often given both to newly elected members and past presidents of the association.
“This year we have both represented, and I wanted to be sure to try to include conductors who had not previously had a significant opportunity to lead the Marine Band during their careers,” noted Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig.
Dr. Terry Austin, director of bands at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, will conduct Peter Meechan’s Song of Hope, featuring guest soloist Ryan Anthony, principal trumpet of the Dallas Symphony. Meechan, a popular composer in the wind and brass worlds, wrote the piece specifically for his friend after Anthony’s diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Anthony was diagnosed in 2012 after noticing chronic pains in his ribs while playing the trumpet. Following a successful stem cell transplant he started The Ryan Anthony Foundation, a non-profit organization using music to promote cancer research. His cancer is in remission.
“As a patient of incurable cancer I find the idea of ‘hope’ essential in life and no better vehicle than music to both share and feel such an emotion,” explained Anthony. “I find this song can reach any individual regardless of their situation as we all need hope. The music is both peaceful yet strong, simple but still full of color. Let the music lead your thoughts and emotions, providing hope and inspiration.”
Along with sharing the podium with seven guest conductors, including Dr. Paula Crider, director of bands emerita at the University of Texas, Austin; Capt. Matthew Clark, director of the Royal Canadian Air Force Band; and Marine Band Assistant Director Capt. Ryan J. Nowlin, Fettig will lead the ensemble in three significant works for band. This includes the 2016 winner of the Sousa/ABA/Ostwald Award.
Since 1956, the Sousa/ABA/Ostwald Award has stimulated the creation of many important new compositions for concert band. The 2016 winner, Paul Dooley’s Masks and Machines, was commissioned in honor of Gary Green’s retirement from the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, and according to the composer “contains three contrasting character pieces featuring Renaissance brass music, Baroque fortspinnung in virtuosic mallet percussion, lush oboe, clarinet and bassoon solos, and machine-like flute rips.”
“I am looking forward to all three pieces I will conduct, as each has a special place in the program,” notes Fettig. “Masks and Machines is a wonderful addition to the original band repertoire. We will also play a movement of the new Symphony No. 2 of James Stephenson, which was composed for ‘The President’s Own’ and premièred just this past December at The Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic. Lastly, we will have a musical tribute to the great composer Karel Husa, who passed away in December. He was a true gentleman and a wonderful artist and collaborator.”
Another Sousa/ABA/Ostwald Award winner, John Mackey’s The Frozen Cathedral, will make an appearance on the program. The guest conductor, Dr. John Locke, director of bands at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, collaborated with Mackey on this piece, which utilizes unique instrumentation and aural colors to portray the character of Alaska’s majestic icy peak of Denali. Due to the extensive percussion requirements on this piece, three percussion students from the University of Kentucky will have the opportunity to perform with “The President’s Own.” The piece has special meaning to the conductor; it was dedicated to Locke’s late son, J.P., who had a fascination with Denali State Park.
While the Marine Band enjoys close relationships with many current and former ABA presidents, none has been quite as intimate as with Col. John R. Bourgeois, USMC (ret.). Bourgeois served as the Marine Band’s 25th Director from 1979–96. In his retirement, Bourgeois has become a prolific arranger and guest conductor.
During this program he will conduct his own transcription première of Jacques Offenbach’s rarely heard Overture to Voyage to the Moon.
Keeping with ABA tradition, the final piece on the program will be Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” which is always conducted by the incoming president of ABA. That honor will go to Gary Smith, associate director of band emeritus of the University of Illinois.
“Since its founding, the American Bandmasters Association has had a special influence on the development of bands and band music as well as recognizing the work of many leaders of the profession,” Fettig explained. “Toward the end of his life, John Philip Sousa was at the heart of this effort in the ABA’s early days and the Marine Band has always enjoyed a close relationship with the association. We are delighted to have the opportunity to continue to both honor that history and play a leading role in celebrating the unique contribution that bands continue to make to American life, art, and culture.”