July 14, 2014 -- July’s March of the Month is “New Colonial” by Robert Browne Hall.
Robert Browne Hall, also known as the “New England March King,” was so enamored with his home state of Maine that he managed to make a career as a cornet player, prolific composer, and band director for nearly a dozen different bands around the state. The Waterville Maine Military Band even became known as Hall’s Military Band. It was while Hall was the conductor of his band that he composed the “New Colonial” march, written in 1901 for the laying of Waterville City Hall’s cornerstone. He dedicated it to John Behr, the assistant director of the Germania Band of Boston. The march went on to become a standard for military ceremonies in England, so much so that many mistook Hall’s composition for an old, English march.
This performance of the “New Colonial” was recorded on Oct. 3, 1983, during the Marine Band’s national concert tour performance at Carnegie Hall in New York attended by John Philip Sousa III and then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. P. X. Kelley. The excitement leading up to the concert culminated in Mayor Edward Koch proclaiming Oct. 3 as U.S. Marine Band Day. Conducted by then-Director Col. John R. Bourgeois, the “New Colonial” opened the concert at the famed venue. In addition to the evening concert, the band also performed that morning for nearly 2,500 members of the New York City public high school bands.
The event was well-publicized across the tri-state area and the acclaim was prevalent. Mary Campbell of the Associated Press wrote, “Its program of American music was a stirring debut. ...[the band] has found the key to playing ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ as smoothly and proficiently as a group which has played it 1,000 times. At the same time, it sounds as bright, cheerful and fresh as though the band is just learning to dig into it.” New York Times music critic Stephen Holden wrote in his review, “the band’s sound is as notable for its glowing richness as for militant fervor. Much of Monday’s program was designed to show off the band’s impressive tonal precision.”
But exactly 20 days later, the newspapers wrote about the Marines from another barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Hezbollah militants drove a truck filled with explosives into the barracks, killing 220 Marines. The event stunned the world and nearly cancelled the 1983 concert tour, but the band continued its performances and witnessed first-hand the overwhelming support for the men and women of United States Marine Corps.
July’s Featured Soloist is Concertmaster Master Gunnery Sgt. Claudia Chudacoff and her rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, BWV 1041 with the Marine Chamber Orchestra conducted by then-Capt. Michelle A. Rakers.
Scholars suggest that while Bach lived in Leipzig, Germany, he participated in a society of amateur and professional musicians that gathered at coffeehouses and gardens to perform for each other and anyone else who was interested in listening. This ensemble, known as the Collegium Musicum, provided Bach the opportunity to compose new or repurpose his own secular music, as his “day job” was creating music for the local churches and directing their various choirs. The Collegium Musicum called for concerti for a number of instruments, including the violin.
Although it is possible Bach may have written more, only two violin concerti have survived in their original form and follow the form of the Italian baroque concerto. Having transcribed many of the works of Antonio Vivaldi, Bach used the same fast-slow-fast, three-movement form. And so it is the same for the Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, BWV 1041, where fast movements alternate passages of tutti and solo playing while the middle slow movement maintains a melodic lyricism of tremendous depth.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Chudacoff was quite familiar with the concerto, but this was her first time performing it with the Marine Chamber Orchestra.
“Bach is one of those composers whose music can withstand a lot—it works almost no matter what you do to it,” Master Gunnery Sgt. Chudacoff said. “But this concerto is infinitely more satisfying with the timbre of a string orchestra and harpsichord! This original instrumentation makes it possible for the solo violin to alternately blend into and stand out from the texture, a key feature of the piece.”
“I always look forward to our summer orchestra series as a chance to perform repertoire written for strings only, both familiar and new,” Chudacoff continued. “This concerto definitely falls into the ‘familiar’ category, and my goal is to help the audience to understand why it is so well-loved, while at the same time providing a fresh perspective on the piece.”
This performance of Bach’s Concerto No. 1 in A minor was recorded June 7, 2014, at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria.