Flint Citadel Band’s 81st Annual Thanksgiving Concert

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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.

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