It’s not easy when close friends and colleagues die. For members of the Tacoma Concert Band, deciding how to honor them was straightforward: They’d commission a new piece of music in memoriam.
That piece — “Wind Sketches,” by British composer Philip Sparke — will make its world premiere Saturday night at the band’s concert “Premiere.”
“I was asked not to make it a memorial, (a) somber piece,” wrote Sparke in an email. “In fact, the commission is the tribute, not the piece itself.”
The commission, paid for with thousands of community-donated dollars, was made in honor of five band members or associates who have recently passed away: trumpeters Michael Anderson, Bryan Beale and Jim Schultz, trombonist Roger Gard, and treasurer Joan Lane, whose husband still plays in the band.
“The commission is vital,” explains Nancy Musser, wife of the band’s founding director, Robert Musser. “It’s in memory of some very fine people and musicians.”
Yet it’s not easy writing a memorial piece.
“It’s always a difficult line to follow,” says Sparke, who’s written other such compositions. “Do you write a sad piece, or a joyful tribute? It can be tricky, but music can sometimes do both at the same time: A reflective piece can also be uplifting rather than simply mournful. Only music can achieve this, I think.”
In the end, Sparke went with a piece that plays on the very nature of the instruments the musicians played. Called “Wind Sketches,” the three-movement work is inspired by the human relationship to wind, written — appropriately enough — for wind instruments. The first movement, Sparke says, is a march with “the flavor of a sea shanty,” reflecting the path offered by the Atlantic’s trade winds. The second, “Becalmed,” is static, echoing both a marooned ship and a bereft relationship. “Riding the Storm” is an exuberant finale, describing both the exhilaration and destruction of powerful forces.
“Wind Sketches” is the latest in a line of commissions the band has undertaken. One of these — American composer Robert Jager’s “A Sea of Glass Mingled with Fire” — was premiered by the band in 1998 to great acclaim, and will be rekindled this weekend in a newly revised form.
‘SEA OF GLASS’ RENEWED
Inspired by the glass art and technique of Tacoma-born artist Dale Chihuly, “A Sea of Glass” tells the story of Northwest glassmaking in three movements: The first, an homage to the fiery furnace glass is melted in, opens with a blasting waterfall of sound that gives way to rippling winds and bells, followed by a samba-like rhythmic current under an undulating melody.
Jager, who visited a Tennessee hot shop and watched some PBS videos of Chihuly’s work before composing, was taken by the skillfully choreographed teamwork that makes glass art happen.
“It was like a ballet,” he said. “It develops slowly, then everything has to happen right away.”
Years later though, Jager felt that fast, deliberate action wasn’t fully described in the piece — and he rewrote it. He also developed the second movement more: a slow piece of translucent wind chords floating Debussy-like over glockenspiel and bells. The third, a jazzy piece of sassy trumpet riffs inspired by the music Chihuly’s Boathouse hot shop team listens to (and beginning with a Led Zeppelin-based drum solo), he left alone, except for a slightly elongated ending.
“I let Bob Musser know I’d revised it, and he said he liked the original,” Jager recalls. “But I said, ‘Trust me, it’s much better.’ Now he agrees it’s a much better piece.”
While Jager’s not the kind of composer that endlessly rewrites, he says he does revisit works done 30 or 40 years ago and changes them to suit the style he now writes in.
“My language has changed,” he explains.
Has Chihuly ever heard the piece his art inspired?
“I’ve never had a comment from him,” Jager says. “I don’t know if he ever heard it. I would love to know what he thinks.”
The band’s concert also will include popular works by Aaron Copland and Carl von Weber, including a solo by the winner of the band’s annual Student Soloist Competition, Puyallup bassoonist Katie Scheerer.
Tacoma Concert Band’s ‘Premiere’
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma
Tickets: From $16; free for those 18 and younger