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ISSUE 117 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/27/2004

Viva la banda: Ole band returns

By Carl Schroeder
Staff Writer

Friday, February 27, 2004

The border-hopping St. Olaf Band concluded its tour of Mexico with a home concert in Skoglund Auditorium on Feb. 14. The two-hour program, conducted by Music Professor Timothy Mahr, featured two trumpet soloists and a variety of American and Mexican music.

After opening with the showy "Overture to Candide" by Leonard Bernstein, the band performed Mahrs 1994 composition "The View from the Mountaintop," a musical journey from rumbling percussive depths to dramatic brassy heights. Mahr said the piece was programmed because "during the tour, we performed many of our concerts at high elevations."

The concerts first featured soloist was Allison Hall 04, whose trumpet passages in "La Virgen de la Macarena" marked the programs first authentic Mexican flair. The lively Bernadino Monterde piece received enthusiastic audience responses throughout the tour. "I felt like a rock star [in Mexico], signing autographs and having my picture taken with people," said Hall.

The concert continued with contemporary American composer Eric Whitacres "Noisy Wheels of Joy." Whitacres colorfully orchestrated piece, a hodgepodge of half-serious musical ideas, gave pianist Jeffrey Bina 06 an opportunity to shine. Two movements of H. Owen Reeds folk-inspired "La Fiesta Mexicana" concluded the first half of the program.

The programs second portion began with "Shortcut Home," a 1998 composition by contemporary American composer Dana Wilson. Soloist John Whaley 04 then took center stage for "Prayer of St. Gregory," an introspective work by Alan Hovahness filled with poignant melodies for solo trumpet.

Following the rhythmically challenging "El Salón Mexico" by Aaron Copland, the band performed Frank Tichelis soulful arrangement of "Amazing Grace."

The concert concluded with the lively Dan Welcher composition "Zion" and a jazz-infused version of "Hello, Dolly!" by Jerry Herman. The band responded to standing ovations with several encore pieces, including the Mexican march "Zacatecas," a snare drum interlude by Jonathan Hess 06, John Philip Sousas classic "Stars and Stripes Forever," and "Kitten on the Keys" by Zez Confrey.

"The ensemble had an exceptional amount of growth during this tour," said Mahr. "We had an incredible life-changing experience."

The Mexico tour featured concert stops in Mexico City, Acapulco, Cuetzalan, Puebla, Cuernavaca, Guanajuato and San Miguel Tzinacapan. The trip also included an Interim course for band members, "Modern Mexico: Tradition and Change," which blended music performance and cultural education.

Highlights of the two-week tour included a live concert broadcast on Mexicos largest radio station, a visit to the Aztec Temple of the Sun, and a festival with the citizens of San Miguel Tzinacapan, a small town where Reid Wixson '03, Rachel Widen 03, and Aubrey Vikturek '03 are providing music education for children.

A subplot of the tour was a border mishap that left the bands percussion, low brass and woodwinds on the wrong side of the Rio Grande during the opening concert in Guanajuato. Fortunately, a Mexican university loaned the band replacement instruments, and the concert continued as planned.

Despite some cultural differences, most band members found common ground with Mexicans. "A lot of people realized their prejudices and preconceptions were way off the mark," said Mahr, who plans to return to Mexico with the St. Olaf Band in the future.

"It is not the things you have, but your family and the pride in what you do that is important," said Hall. "We saw that over and over in the eyes of the Mexican people."

Whaley said he will always remember one stirring moment after his solo on "Prayer of St. Gregory" at the Cuetzalan concert, where the towns mayor was present. "The only thing [the mayor] said in English was John Whaley, you play, I listen, I cry, Whaley said.

Music, it seems, is a universal language.

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