Dearborn Heights Citadel Thanksgiving Concert


Sorry for the delay, life caught up to me for a bit. If you thought the bando fun was done with the Flint Citadel concert, you were sadly mistaken! Last night I was privileged to attend the Dearborn Heights Citadel Thanksgiving concert. I think I’ve been to all of them since 2008, so this would be my sixth DHC concert. I enjoy them all! The chapel was packed and then the band came onto the stage followed by their Bandmaster, Divisional Music Director Tom Hanton.

The band opened with “Hallelujah!” This festival prelude, based on the tune “Falcon Street,” was written by James Curnow for the Chicago Staff Band’s centenary, and the DHC band did it justice. They played exceptionally well, capturing the lively and jaunty style of the work. I was immediately drawn to the back-row cornets near the piece’s conclusion, who had some nice flourishes.

Bandmaster Hanton welcomed the audience to the concert and introduced the special guest of the evening: Brett Tolcher, principal trombonist of the Chicago Staff Band. Before we heard from Brett, however, we heard from his brother. The band’s principal cornet, Alan Tolcher, brought to us a solo entitled “When I Remember” from the pen of David Catherwood. For those of you in attendance at the DHC concert last year, you will remember Alan tackling the Cornet solo “Blessings,” also by David Catherwood. Just as last year, Alan demonstrated great skill and masterful technique, the band doing a great job of staying in the background and letting him shine. The band was showcased next, performing “Are You Joyful” by Dudley Bright, principal trombonist of the London Symphony Orchestra. This piece was written as an expression of joy, and the band played it as such. There were some good moments in this piece, I especially liked the John Williams-esque ending. Stuff like that always brings me joy.

We were treated to our first number from Brett: Peter Graham’s trombone solo “Fiesta!” This piece, written in a Latin American style, was perfect for Brett to showcase his highly skilled playing ability and technique. Adding to the Latin-style of the piece were ringers Bill Roberts and Collin Holman, ringers from the Royal Oak Citadel Band, who joined the band on percussion for the concert. After that great performance, Brett accompanied the Songsters (led by Heather Hanton) on trombone along with Colleen Dahl on piano in a beautiful setting of “People Need the Lord,” complete with a slideshow of pictures with the lyrics of the song. There’s so much truth in that song. Thank you, Songsters.

Following that, Brett shared a testimony about how God used his playing of a Beatles’ song (“Here Comes the Sun,” for you Beatles fanatics) to help someone, leading to the truth that God is in control of our lives and we don’t have to worry, since we are in His hands. The only thing fitting after that inspiring testimony was his elegant playing of Phil Laeger’s new arrangement of Stanley Ditmer’s “I’m in His Hands” on piano. It was a special moment for many in the audience, me especially, for that song has been instrumental in my walk with God in recent months. It is such a good reminder.

The days I cannot see have all been planned for me. His way is best, you see, I’m in His hands.

With no introduction came the next number by the band, Robert Redhead’s “Christ Hymn.” The opening bars from the horns,baritones, euphoniums, and basses were spot on, perfectly capturing the tone of sadness that the music was trying to convey. The transition into the joyous section was captured nicely by principal cornet Alan, later joined by the the brothers Dahl and young Alex Havens on Solo Cornet. With excellent rhythmic temple block playing from Bill Roberts, beautiful ensemble work from the trombones, nice Flugel Horn sound from Sarah Beavers (we need more young Flugel Horn players like her), the elegant ethereal quavers from the cornets in the middle section, and the driving bass/percussive patterns, “Christ Hymn” was definitely one of the highlights of the night. It is not an easy piece to tackle, so well done to Tom and the band for an excellent performance.

After a brief intermission, the band proved they still had a lot more to give. Their take on Martin Cordner’s “He is Exalted” was superb. Kit player Collin Holman kept the band going with his driving rock rhythm and there was some nice playing all around. Brett then returned to the solo stage and brought a beautiful trombone solo “Song to Lotta,” this time accompanied by pianist Casey Baker, who accompanied the three New York Staff Band soloists from the previous night. This gave Brett a chance to showcase his beautiful melodic playing and mastery of the trombone. It was a nice addition to the program. For me, the highlight of the second half of the program was Richard Phillips’s arrangement of “Such Love.” It began with Brett at the piano and he was soon joined by subtle entries from the horns, baritones, euphoniums, and trombones. This song has a nice melody that was passed around the band, soon entering in the cornets while Brett added his own sprinkles from the piano. It was a moving arrangement and the band demonstrated nice controlled playing and didn’t give any “personal testimonies” while playing, as it were. Nice job.

Bass trombonist and Corps officer Captain Caleb Senn came to the stage to thank both Brett and Casey for spectacular performances before bringing forth a devotional stemming from the band’s last piece, centering on God’s love. The concert ended with the band performing Bruce Broughton’s “Hillcrest” march. Being written by a composer with experience writing for film soundtracks, there were nice stylistic references to “Silverado.” The band started and finished strongly and with some energetic playing. It was a great concert. Thank you, Bandmaster Hanton and Dearborn Heights Citadel Band/Songsters on great performances!


Flint Citadel Band’s 81st Annual Thanksgiving Concert


Well it took me 81 years but I finally was able to attend the Flint Citadel Band’s Thanksgiving Concert. This extravagant event was at the Whiting auditorium, an acoustically beautiful venue in which the band has held their their Thanksgiving festivals for quite some time. The special guests this year were three members from the New York Staff Band’s Eb section: Eb Soprano Cornet soloist Christopher Ward, Eb Alto Horn soloist Timothy Ward, and Eb Bass soloist Simon Morton. A special treat this evening was another pair of guests: Lt. Colonel Norman & Diane Marshall, who previously served as the Divisional Commanders of the Eastern Michigan division. Lt. Col. Norman served as the compère for the evening.  The lights began to dim and the band marched onstage followed by Matt Rowland, bandmaster of the Flint Citadel Band since 2011. He and the band opened up with Kevin Larsson’s march “Temple 125.” This bright and up-tempo Broadway-themed march set the stage for what was going to be an exciting concert with the good technical playing and dynamic contrasts. I felt like I was on Broadway! After a welcome and prayer from Colonel Dennis Strissel, the band changed gears and brought the more devotional “Guardian of My Soul.” This meditative work links composer Darren Shaw’s own song “I worship you” with “O Jesus I have promised” (S.A.S.B #862) to the tune of Aurelia, and it gave the audience a chance to hear the band’s control and sensitive playing. As I have noted before, I can see “Guardian of My Soul” becoming one of the more famous pieces in the Salvation Army repertoire.

Lt. Col. Norman introduced the first soloist of the night, Chris Ward, who demonstrated beautiful and luscious playing in Philip Sparke’s “Flowerdale,” which is one of seven movements from Sparke’s “Hymn of the Highlands” suite. After a great performance, the band gave me a personal treat and performed one of my favorite Christmas-based arrangements: “Comfort and Joy,” from the pen of Martyn Thomas (the UK version, not the US version). This is an attractive workout for band written in the big-band style and the band did a nice job stretching out their jazzy legs, as it were.

The next solo act was Tim Ward on the Eb Alto Horn, presenting to us “Damelza” from the pen of Hugh Nash. Now I did some research and it turns out that Hugh Nash is actually world-renowned brass band composer Goff Richards, who came up with this pseudonym to see if his music was just being published because of who he was. Tim demonstrated very nice playing in this horn solo and was accompanied by pianist Casey Baker, who I neglected to mention in my live-tweets of this event for some reason. The band followed with the march from Tchaikovsky’s famous suite “The Nutcracker.” Band sergeant came up to the stage to remind us of the band’s focus and purpose in the form of a devotional which was followed by the band chorus singing “Make Me a Blessing.” The Flint Citadel Band closed the first half of the concert with “March Militaire Francois” and we were brought to an intermission.

The cool thing about this concert is that it introduced me to a plethora of great music I had never heard before. Norman Bearcroft’s majestic setting of “Joy to the World,” which the band used to start the second half of the program, was of no exception. Following this rousing intrada was an arrangement from William Himes (who half the band is related to in some way, shape, or form) that was featured in the Chicago Staff Band’s portion of ISB120; “Soli Deo Gloria.” (Glory to God alone). The band once again proves that they are no strangers to sensitive and controlled playing in this arrangement, which marries J.S. Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” with the worship song “Jesus, Name Above All Names.” The band definitely has a knack for balance and it is shown here. Honorable mentions go to cornet soloist Ted Tolcher and the horn section (who sounded like they were on top form while two of their members were feeling under the weather tonight).

Chris and Tim Ward returned onstage to treat us with a Soprano/Alto Horn duet “Pie Jesu,” and what a treat it was. Both Ward brothers showed how their playing both complimented each other and demonstrated some really masterful skill. We were then introduced to the final soloist of the evening, Eb Bass player Simon Morton. This was a special night for Simon, being a former member of the Flint Citadel Band for ten years. He and the band presented a fun swing arrangement of “Frosty the Snowman,” and Simon probably convinced more than half of the audience to drop their instruments and switch to Tuba with all the fun he was having onstage, even demonstrating a skill I’m not too familiar with: singing and playing at the same time. Impressive, most impressive. Another impressive fact about Simon is that he is an emerging composer. In fact, he will be joining me at the North American Composers’ Forum this upcoming January. He demonstrated his gift in composing by arranging Vittorio Monti’s “Czardas” for the three Eb soloists to perform. Great playing from the three members of the New York Staff Band and great arrangement, Simon! Looking forward to hearing more from you in the future.

After following a number of thank you’s and while three more chairs were added so that the three Eb soloists could join the band, B/M Rowland came up to the podium to conduct the band in its final number of the night: Dean Jones’s “Supremacy.” This major workout for band is along the same lines as his earlier “Glorifico Aeternum,” using the tune “Moscow” (Come, thou almighty King), “Above all,” and “Pembroke” (My Lord who reigns supreme). This piece definitely kept the band on their toes but they pulled off an outstanding performance and received a standing ovation. The band ended the night in the form of tradition, and under the direction of Dave Bell, the band chorus presented a choral benediction: “The Lord Bless You.”  It was definitely a wonderful night at the Whiting. Congratulations to B/M Matt Rowland and the band for an awesome concert.

Stay tuned on this space for a review of both the Dearborn Heights Citadel and the Chicago Staff Band Thanksgiving Festivals in the upcoming week.

Canadian Staff Band Annual Fall Festival Review

Those in attendance of the Canadian Staff Band’s annual Fall Festival concert at Scarborough Citadel were in no way, shape, or form disappointed. I know I wasn’t. Our band (the Eastern Michigan Divisional Band) along with the Ontario Central East Youth Chorus were the guests this time around. Boy, was it a great night! John Lam and Cathie Koehnen were no strangers to us, as they both have been guests out at CMI in recent years. With the youth chorus providing preliminary pieces as both bands took their seats, the night was underway. The host band opened up with a premiere work by Deputy Bandmaster Ken Smith, “Coronation Intrada and Fanfare,” which used “Crown Him with Many Crowns” and “All Hail the Power” to provide an exciting opener. By the end of the piece, you could tell that the staff band was on top form tonight. Following a welcome and prayer by Kevin Metcalf, the EMDB decided to show their Michigan roots by performing one of Bill Himes’s earliest published works, the festival march “The Witness.” A lot of good moments in there. Those who either participated/played at the Royal Oak Citadel 90th Anniversary concert will remember the toe-tapping march. One of the more inspiring pieces of the night was, no pun intended, the selection “Inspiration” by young German composer Ruben Schmidt, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the last composers’ forum back at Asbury. The overture used strong melodies such as “Knowing You,” “Count Your Blessings,” and “Anything for Jesus.” It definitely left an impression on the audience. Cornet soloist Emily Ewing had some spots to shine in the middle section of the piece. It was a great performance overall.

The OCE Youth Chorus changed gears a bit and presented two numbers: the more reflective “Be Still” and the up-beat “Make His Praise Glorious.” One thing I noted while listening was the rich and mature sound of the youth choir. I was definitely impressed! Bandmaster Tom Hanton then followed up by leading the EMDB in what has easily become one of my favorite pieces all-together: Captain Martin Cordner’s “Fusion.” Following “Escape Velocity” and preceding “Skydance,” this overture is the second in Cordner’s Eternity trilogy…it’s the Empire Strikes Back, if you will. It seeks to describe the joy of being united with Christ by “fusing” Albert Orsborn’s “Thy name is joined with mine” with Chris Rice’s “Come to Jesus.” This piece has a very special place in my heart and it gives me chills every time I get to hear/play it. The CSB brought an end to the first half of the concert with a world premiere from emerging Canadian composer Marcus Venables with his Christmas tone poem “Christ’s Birth.” This was the highlight of the concert for many, featuring a plethora of Christmas tunes to paint a musical picture of the night Jesus was born. Superb playing from all sections of the band (especially the trombones and horns) and the band gave the number a wonderful first performance. Well written, Marcus!

Following a brief intermission, the CSB decided to bring some more Bill Himes to the night with his “Endless Praise,” combining “I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” “Blessed Assurance,” (featuring great solo playing from principal trombone Craig Lewis) and “Joyful, Joyful.” After that, Andrew Bell, principal Euphonium of the EMDB, brought forth a rousing performance of Stephen Bulla’s “Euphonium Fantasia” (also known as “Rhapsody for Euphonium). A lot of great playing was featured from both soloist and band, despite a little rubber band mishap. Haha. The CSB followed suit with a piece I had never heard of: Len Ballantine’s “Kingsfold,” which uses the tune of the same name. I really liked it, it was very unique and not your typical fast-slow-fast band selection that you hear a lot these days. Followed by the DYC’s presentation of “Behold the Tabernacle of God,” Tom came to the microphone to introduce the EMDB’s major work of the night: Robert Redhead’s “Corpus Christi.” A lot of good moments in there, such as the fragmented rhythms of the cornets, the revered euphonium/tuba feature, Collin Holman on the woodblock, the expressive moments of the trombone quartet of Doug Engle, Rochelle Holman, Matt Coakley, and Doug Holman, and much more. Following that performance, Commissioner Brian Peddle came to bring the devotional for the night. After all, giving praise and glory to God is what all these concerts and such are for. Commissioner Peddle reminded us of the Scripture from Isaiah 41:10:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Bandmaster Hanton came to the stage to then lead the massed band feature, the highly energized “Pound the Streets” from the pen of Paul Lovatt-Cooper, a name now synonymous with brass band music. The level of energy in both bands’ playing tore the roof off! On a more serious note, please keep Paul Lovatt-Cooper in your prayers as he recovers from a recent stroke. “Pound the Streets” has no scriptural reference, so Bandmaster Lam remarked that it referenced the Salvation Army’s part in the Santa Claus Parade tomorrow afternoon and the bands’ participation in that. Kevin Metcalf then led the congregation in one last song “God, We Will Give You Glory,” accompanied by both bands. It was a great way to end what was a spectacular concert, and a great reminder as to why we in the Salvation Army use this form of ministry: to give God glory. All in all, it was a magnificent night at Scarborough Citadel and it was great hearing from all three of the musical groups.

Wacky Wednesday!

Hello all! Well it’s Hump Day, and this week is moving slower than usual because this weekend I will be traveling to Toronto with the Eastern Michigan Divisional Band of the Salvation Army (Bandmaster Tom Hanton) for a weekend with the world-renowned Canadian Staff Band of the same Salvation Army (Staff Bandmaster John Lam), which will involve a concert with them and the Ontario Central East Youth Chorus (Chorus Leader Cathie Koehnen) on Saturday night and marching in the Santa Claus Parade on Sunday afternoon. It should be a great time…I’m particularly looking forward to the premiere of a new Christmas piece from fellow composer Marcus Venables.

Speaking of world premieres, I’ve heard recently that recently completed Whom Shall I Fear? will be receiving its premiere performance from the Norridge Citadel Band (Bandmaster Peggy Thomas). Those familiar with the Salvation Army brass banding history will know that Peggy is an innovator, the first woman in any staff band and has been kicking butt as the Chicago Staff Band’s principal cornet player for more than 35 years. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with her over the past three years (four if you count her Advanced Conducting course). I’ve heard good things about the piece from those I’ve shared it with, in addition to feedback to further develop my composing skills. I’m looking forward to what will be a great anniversary weekend for the Mayfair Corps.

Delegates of the North American Composers’ Forum are asked to send a few of their pieces over to Asbury (by post, which is annoying) to be read and reviewed by the forum staff. If it is the same as the last composers’ forum, the Ron Holz and the SASF Band will be holding a draft-reading seminar performing a few of the works from the instrumental compositions and one of the choirs will do the same for the choral compositions. Out of the compositions that I have, I think I’m going to bring Chronicles of Faith (soon to be recorded by the Chicago Staff Band), Whom Shall I Fear, Bieber Fever, and possibly a new one if I can finish it in time. I’m greatly looking forward to that time of fellowship between fellow music-writers all over the continental area.

That’s all for now except that lately I’ve been listening to the masterpieces of Eric Ball and it gave me the idea to write a tone poem…not ones that are like today’s tone poems, but in the style of the old days from music like Ball’s or Ray Steadman-Allen’s, etcc. It’s just an idea for now, so more on that later.

Soli Deo Gloria

New music & new opportunities

Once upon a time, I was at CMI 2013 leaving an awesome meeting. I was then approached by the ever-popular Peter Kim, Bandmaster of the Mayfair Community Corps Band (affectionately referred to as “BMK“) to write a piece for the Mayfair Corps’ 25th anniversary celebrations in December. I happily accepted the request and have been thinking about that said date in December ever since. I didn’t officially start writing until I got home from CMI, but one idea was strongly wedged in my head: the idea that we as Christians have nothing to fear because we have God in our lives and he is our protector. So I rolled with that and a few ideas circled around my head of what I was going to do.

I intended on using Martin Luther’s battle call “Ein Feste Burg” (A Mighty fortress) and Matt Redman’s contemporary worship song “You Never Let Go.” The piece needed a name. I originally was going to call it “Fearless,” but that name is already taken in the form of a Euphonium solo by Captain Martin Cordner. My friend/fellow composer Sam Park (also writing a piece for the Mayfair 25th anniversary), suggested to look at scripture for examples. I stumbled upon the idea of “Whom Shall I Fear,” taken from both Scripture (Psalm 27:1) and a worship song by Chris Tomlin. I felt that since I was using the title, I might as well include the song too. The fusion of these three turned into a 5-6 minute overture with a few recurring themes and, you guessed it, Star Wars references!

Where would a Freddy Mbesi piece be without a Star Wars reference? Haha. The plan for this piece is to be premiered on December 8, 2013 at the Mayfair Corps. I’m looking to that day with great anticipation! “Whom Shall I Fear” will have its own page on here momentarily.

I also have been invited to attend the 2014 North American Composers Forum held at Asbury University on January 9-12, 2014. It will be a return appearance, my first time going was at the last forum in 2012…and what an amazing experience it was! My works Amazing Grace! and King of Majesty were both featured on the program during some point of that weekend. It’s truly an amazing experience to hear your music played and to work with both “famous” composers in the SA world and fellow peers who have hit the same stumbling points as you have and are all learning together. One of my fondest memories of the last composers forum was on the first night. Colonel Robert Redhead (who will be making a return appearance as well) gave a devotional centered around his major work Corpus Christi (F.S. 520), which was my very first interaction with the piece whatsoever. It meant so much more to me when I was able to perform it for the first time recently at CMI this past summer. Anyways, I am looking forward to another great time of learning and fellowship.

Stay tuned for the next update from TroyFred Productions!