The Valhalla Band was founded by James Miller '01 in 1997 in response to the significant number of students who did not make the cut for one of St. Olaf's bands but wanted to continue playing. Miller proposed to head up a band for anyone interested, and Valhalla Band was born. The band has flourished ever since, taking on more challenging repertoire as well as commissioning and debuting new works in recent years. Completely student-run and directed, Valhalla Band has long offered an outlet for instrumentalists not quite up to demands of St. Olaf's elite music program or for those looking for a more laid-back, yet still challenging and rewarding musical experience. The band holds no auditions and generally practices once a week.
Now under the direction of Audrey Duncan '07 and Gregory Sylvester '08, the band opened its fall concert with a nod to St. Olaf Band director Timothy Mahr, diving headfirst into his cacophonous "Fanfare and Grand March" with gusto. After dramatically switching gears, the band toned down for the gently melodic, if yawn-inducing, "Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral" from Wagner's "Lohengrin."
Boe Chapel's revamped acoustics benefited the band for the most part. Unfortunately, they also amplified some glaring intonation problems, especially as the woodwinds strained into their upper registers in this piece. Thankfully, Aaron Copland's bucolic romp, "Outdoor Overture," followed with a beautifully lilting solo trumpet line performed by Naomi Lee '09. The first half of the program culminated in the agitated Star Wars-esque climax of "Mars, the Bringer of War," from Gustav Holst's cherished orchestral suite "The Planets."
After a brief intermission, the band premiered an original composition by Sylvester entitled "Music Wizard." Given its somewhat uninspired title, the piece had surprising depth, emanating a brooding, atmospheric intensity reminiscent of Howard Shore's "Lord of the Rings" score. Tielman Sosato's dignified "The Battle Pavane" and J.S. Bach's brief meditation "Come Sweet Death" provided some classic filler leading up to the highlight of the night - Johann de Meij's breathtaking "Gandalf" from "The Lord of the Rings Symphony." Though it couldn't compare to the technical polish of the St. Olaf Band - which performed the same piece last year - Valhalla wisely saved the best for last. The band nailed the furiously galloping refrain and deftly evoked the magic and mystery of the piece's namesake. As an encore, the band performed "Alleluia," which faded in and out on an ethereal vocal chorus, topping off a thoroughly enjoyable night of epic music and musicianship.