The words “Wind Ensemble” evoke both joy and terror in my heart. I knew I couldn’t compete with the kids that took private lessons and practiced, but I was pretty sure I could get in if I chose one of the bigger (bass clarinet) instruments that nobody else wanted to play/lug around. It was another opportunity to take the late bus. Win-win for all.
I went to the audition expecting to play something I knew and sight-read something. I had no idea it was going to be a blind audition or what a blind audition was. The year was 1973. It was not like the blind audition you see on The Voice, but pretty damned close.
When was ushered into a little empty cement-block practice room and handed a basketful of little slips of yellow papers, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Someone poked her head in and said “Take one. It is your scale.” To some degree my panic subsided; I was ill-prepared and in over my head. I played my rehearsed piece and skipped my scale: I didn’t even know what my little piece of paper meant.
Despite my gloomy outcome I did return the following year to compete again. Thus began my special fondness of wind ensembles, not because I once played clarinet, although I am sure that is part of it; I just simply love them.
I had the chance to hear (and share with my sister and her husband) The Adirondack Wind Ensemble last Friday night. Just listening to the group tuning up brought back memories of excitement, and I was doubly excited for my improved hearing. The last time I heard the NJ Chamber Orchestra I couldn’t separate the notes at all. This time I recognized the nuances and humor in the PDQ Bach selection “Grand Serenade for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussiion.” The opening Prokofiev March stirred us out of our seats and the closing “La Fiesta Mexicana” was a pleasing blend of tempo changes and percussion that cleanly evoked the recently deceased composer’s (H. Owen Reed) intent.
The most memorable part of the experience will likely haunt me for a long while: Canadian Composer Melissa Hui’s “Living Things” brought a new level of eclectic modernism with her evocative composition. It was nice to have the composer present for the world premiere of her piece, and to experience the audience reaction in real-time. They could not stop talking about it on the way out, and neither could we. As I stated when I started out, the words Wind Ensemble still evoke joy and terror in my heart.