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The Presidents Own

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
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Marine Band Performs "Elements" Concert

By Master Sgt. Kristin duBois | United States Marine Band | April 28, 2015

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“The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band returns to the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park with a special program that Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig built around the four classical elements: fire, water, earth, and air. Ancient Greek philosophers, to include Plato and Aristotle, introduced the idea that all things in the physical world could be connected to one of the four classical elements. Music is often the representation and inspiration of the world both around and within us and this concert explores the classical elements in classical music, from fire in Igor Stravinsky’s Fireworks to water in Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront, and earth with Darius Milhaud’s depiction of the genesis of the planet itself in La Création du monde. These elements are all tied together by the very wind that powers this grand acoustic ensemble called the concert band.   

While the ancient Greeks first presented the concept of the four elements, the Eastern Asian cultures transformed the idea into a belief in the transmission of energy between elements, to include wood and metal. These elements are represented in grand fashion in Jennifer Higdon’s virtuosic Percussion Concerto, featuring assistant principal percussion Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Rose. Higdon composed the concerto in 2005, but transcribed it for band upon Rose’s request and the Marine Band and Rose performed the world premiere of the composer’s transcription on May 10, 2009.

By creating a concerto for percussion, Higdon not only put the soloist in the spotlight, but also the wide array of instruments percussionists employ. Higdon said in her program notes, “From vibraphone and marimba to non-pitched smaller instruments (brake drum, wood blocks, Peking Opera gong), and to the drums themselves. Not only does a percussionist have to perfect playing all of these instruments, but also he or she must make hundreds of decisions regarding the use of sticks and mallets, as there is an infinite variety of possibilities from which to choose.” As patrons will see for themselves, the instruments take up a significant amount of space on stage which creates an additional challenge for the soloist: choreography. “It’s a very physical performance; the movements are almost as important at the notes themselves,” Rose admitted. “It’s just as visual as it is musical. Whenever I have performed this piece, folks always tell me afterward they were silently rooting for me to get to each instrument on time.”

Rose had the opportunity to work with Higdon in preparation for the premiere and he said that although it was intimidating, she had an uncanny way of communicating her ideas without being critical. “As popular as she is, she still is so excited that someone wants to play her music. But she allows the soloists to let their personality show,” Rose said. The intricate cadenza at the end will give Rose the perfect opportunity to display his own personality as he performs the improvised and original passage but he is most looking forward to the interaction between himself, the percussion section, and the ensemble itself. “Her music is difficult but very accessible,” Rose said. “I’m scared to death to perform it again, but as my grandfather used to say, ‘if you aren’t nervous, you aren’t prepared.’

The performance will take place at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 3 at the Dekelboum Concert Hall at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of College Park located at Stadium Drive and Route 192 in College Park, Maryland. The concert is free, no tickets are required and free parking is available.

Concert program and notes

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