Naaila Hassan   [ A       JMS]

The Arts of New York

Professor Saslow

The Queens College Wind Ensemble

LeFrak Concert Hall, Queens College
LeFrak Concert Hall, Queens College

One of my first experiences with the classical music genre, my visit to the Aaron Copland School of Music in Queens College to see the undergraduate student orchestras perform left quite an impression on me. Composed of seventeen different instruments, more than fifty musicians, a conductor, and a narrator for one piece, the Wind Ensemble performed four individual pieces that varied greatly in musical style and in content. An overall theme of the four pieces seemed to be military sacrifice and pride in which most of the music was heavy in emotion and loud in dynamics.

My trip to see the students play on October 28 contrasted with my first encounter with classical music, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s performance at Carnegie Hall. Those attending the concert at Carnegie Hall, a world acknowledged center for sophisticated performing artists, were mainly wealthy elderly men and women and the music played predominantly consisted of harmonious pieces in the major key. Although the LeFrak Concert Hall in the Aaron Copland School of Music is similar in appearance and layout to Carnegie Hall, the audience at the Queens College performance consisted mainly of family members, professors, and fellow college students who were either familiar with someone in the orchestra or were music majors themselves. In addition, the concert took place during free hour at the college on a Wednesday afternoon, thus encouraging a more relaxed feel where the majority of audience members came dressed as they normally would for class. The majority of the pieces performed also varied greatly, perhaps to cater to the younger audience who probably preferred loud complex pieces over the soft simplicity emphasized at the Carnegie Hall concert.

The first piece performed, Hereos, Lost and Fallen, composed by the Ann Arbor Symphony Band, commemorated the soldiers of both America and Vietnam that were lost during the bloody Vietnam War. This piece, inspired by the American and Vietnamese national anthems, “Taps”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, and an accompanying poem written by the composer, surprised me with its sudden and loud opening that immediately captured the tense feelings of war in general. So as to convey the heavy emotions of the Vietnam War to the listener, the piece was very loud and dissonant, making good use of the percussion instruments to emulate sounds of bullets firing and explosions. Chimes were also used for most of the piece, which added an interesting surreal atmosphere to the music as it seemed to contradict with the harsh texture of most of the instruments. The chimes, an instrument usually associated with relaxation, eventually added to the tenseness and irregularity in rhythm as well. Overall, this piece was very complex with a sad harmonious undertone in the minor key played alongside the fast paced and dissonant melody, thus creating emotions of sadness, anger, and fear all at once.

The second piece, Sea Songs, written by two English composers inspired by previous English sailing songs, sends across a brisk military feel in which lighthearted melodies played by flutes and trumpets go back and forth with bold and loud parts characterized by the snare drum and cymbals. This piece opens with a sudden and fast tempo, which quickly softens to a constant harmony that shifts back into the loud fast rhythm throughout the piece. Compared to the other pieces, this performance was relatively short, upbeat, and simple and although some parts were very restful, the notable parts, in my opinion, were the sudden bold shifts to loud dynamics that seemed to demand attention between the gentle melodies of the piece.

The third piece, Lincoln Portrait, composed by Aaron Copland and others after the Pearl Harbor attacks, interestingly introduces commentary about Abraham Lincoln’s life and excerpts from his speeches. The piece, consisting of three main parts, opens with a gentle harmonic melody narrated by quotes of Lincoln that gradually crescendos into the grand and rich second section of the piece. The second part of the piece quickly quiets down as the main part of the commentary that talks of Lincoln’s biography takes place. During this narration, the music softly plays as a patriotic backdrop for the narration, occasionally increasing sharply in dynamics during key phrases or parts of the speech. Within the gaps of the narration a solo trumpet plays or a cymbals are clashed, all of which successfully instill an emotion of pride and honor for the sixteenth president. The third section’s narration summarizes the national opinion of Lincoln while the wind instruments crescendo for a final time. Drums are introduced and the piece dramatically ends with climax that lingers before quickly silencing, a majestic-like end to the piece.

The fourth and last piece, my personal favorite, was energetic and powerful, sending across a vibe of turmoil and anxiousness. Liturgical Dances, composed by David Holsinger, consists of two main parts. The simple and harmonic introductory part sets up the piece with the use of chimes and a rhythmic beat alongside the clear melody of the trombone and other wind instruments that play in the major key. The overall atmosphere of mysterious quickly shifts into thrilling and passionate as the music crescendos into the minor key while drums are introduced and the tempo increases. The piece suddenly then becomes very dissonant, complex, and loud, giving a chaotic and warlike feel to the piece. Throughout the second part of the piece the music constantly shifts from rich and clashing in which all the instruments play together to quiet as only certain groups instruments, such as the tubas, are playing at once. This constant “up down” style in the second part makes the music very dynamic and different from most of the classical music I’ve been exposed. Towards the end of the piece, the music shifts back to the major key where it ends as a resolution to the prior agitated feel.

My trip to LeFrak Concert Hall to hear the Queens College Wind Ensemble impressed me because of the variety of the wind instruments and how powerful they can be. During the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, the main emphasis was on the string instruments and thus the wind instruments became somewhat like a backdrop for the strings. The Wind Ensemble, however, changed my opinion of classical music as I now see it as a compelling form of art that can be very entertaining. Perhaps my taste of music, complex and somewhat dissonant, were not met by what was played during my trip to Carnegie Hall and because of my positive experience with Queens College orchestra, I look forward to attending future classical performances.