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As nearly everything in Japan does, the concert began exactly on time with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner followed by Kimigayo, the Japanese National Anthem. The first piece on the program was Frank Tichelli’s arrangement of Shenandoah. It begins reverently, and then slowly grows to a glorious and dramatic climax. The band pulled out all the stops, and gave a truly stirring performance.
One of the highlights of the performance was Rhapsody for Band. The piece, conducted by Col. Takeda, uses quite a lot of traditional Japanese percussion instruments. Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Eby had the challenge of playing a very large percussion solo on the hyoshigi, an instrument that he had never played prior to coming to Japan. He did splendidly in performance, though I know he was quite nervous.
The final piece on the first half was Dance Folatre by American composer, Claude T. Smith. He is known for writing wind band works that are challenging to play, and Dance Folatre was no exception. Col. Takeda conducted the piece at a tempo that is best described as mach schnell. It forced the musicians beyond their comfort zones and onto the edge of their seats. The piece is full of effervescence and joie de vivre, and those feelings came across in the performance. There was also quite a bit of nervous energy as Col. Takeda pushed the ensemble to the redline as far as tempo is concerned. It brought about a tremendous amount of excitement for the audience, and they showed their appreciation with generous applause.
Following intermission, Lt. Col. Keene took the podium again to conduct selections from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, arranged for band by Sgt. Maj. Douglas Richard. The work drew heavily on the talents of two soloists from the central band. In the first movement, there is a very large trombone solo. It is fortunate that the Central Band has one of the finest trombone sections I have ever heard. The solo was played with elegance and dignity and was a joy to listen to.
The second movement has a really big flute solo that is meant to be played by a performer standing outside of the ensemble. One of the Central Band’s flutists stood behind and above the band, in the choir loft behind the stage. Japan has a deep history of traditional flute playing. It is an instrument that the Japanese have been playing in some form or another for thousands of years. Somehow, that history is evident in the flute players in the Central Band. The slow solo in the Bernstein was profound, beautiful, and effortless.
The rest of the piece grows to an exciting, mixed meter conclusion that is reminiscent of West Side Story. Since the West Point Band created the arrangement, I’m sure nobody at the concert had ever heard it prior to that day. But once they heard it, they loved it. The audience roared with applause after the piece was finished.
Check back soon for the rest of our adventures with the Japanese Central Band.