As their first offical engagement of 2015, on 21 February 2015, the New York Staff Band (Bandmaster Ronald Waiksnoris) ventured to southern New Jersey fo the annual Mid-Atlantic Brass Band Festival. The Staff Band was featured as the special guest band for the event, held on the campus of Rowan University in Glassboro. The festival is hosted by the Atlantic Brass Band (Musical Director Salvatore Scarpa), a perennial Championship Section contender in the North American Brass Band Association (NABBA), winning the championship in 2012 and 2013. In addition, several other visiting bands took part in the festivities.
As the members of the Staff Band arrived around 10:30 AM on Saturday, their first duty was a series of one-hour masterclasses. Selected Staff Band members provided insight and instruction on their various instruments. Many local students attended these sessions, which a class for each instrument including soprano cornet, cornet, flügelhorn, tenor horn, baritone, trombone, euphonium, tuba and percussion.
After the instrumental masterclasses, the full Staff Band gathered on stage for a 30-minute demonstration session, led and presented by Deputy Bandmaster Gordon Ward. During this period, the band displayed an eclectic array of sound, meant to welcome and enlighten the listeners to the traditional British brass band sound and style. Many brass bands in the United States use various instrumental combinations, unfamiliar with E♭ and B♭ tuba sound and the capabilities of the tenor horn. This session also explored sectional sound and emphasized the mingling of bright and dark timbre within a brass band.
Immediately following the sound demonstration, the Staff Band’s resident composer, Dr. Dorothy Gates, began an inspirational 30-minute session on compositional techniques and tendencies. Her personal story was interwoven with early works and impactful circumstances, showing how her passionate and meaningful music has come to life during her tenure with the band.
To close the full-band session, Bandmaster Waiksnoris offered a brief history lesson on Salvation Army brass band heritage and tradition. While often admired and appreciated as musical ensembles, Salvation Army brass bands are often misunderstood by those unfamiliar with the deep-rooted expression and intention of William Booth and his desire to save souls for Christ through music. As the bandmaster eloquently expressed these references to the past, it was easy to understand why the band plays with passion and energetic purpose.
Another special guest at the festival was Craig Roberts, who gave an half-hour session of advice for the visiting bands who were to compete at the upcoming NABBA Championships. Roberts has spent a great deal of time adjudicating, conducting, arranging and mentoring bands all over the world. He has worked with many of the top United Kingdom bands in various capacities. The teaching and lecture on preparation and performance in the contest context was refreshing and well-received by those in attendance.
Following a brief break in the activity, the Staff Band performed a mini-concert, which had the feeling of a primetime, full-bore music-making event. Since most of those in attendance were players in the various visiting groups, there was a sense of eagerness to discover just what the Staff Band is capable of. Mixing scriptural, hymn-like settings with jazz, classical and contemporary items, the band was comfortable just the same.
Several new works were presented during this short concert. Highlights included Phoenix (Peter Graham) and Dr. Gates’ new arrangement of Gabriel’s Oboe, arranged as a duet for soprano cornet and tenor horn. The final item was Eric Ball’s masterpiece, The Kingdom Triumphant.
With the conclusion of the concert it was time for dinner, with a truckload of pizza waiting for the hungry musicians. After this, the visiting NABBA bands had time to run through their respective test and own-choice pieces – a much-needed public test for the championship contest. Some of the memorable selections included Spiriti (Thomas Doss) and Metamorphosis (James Curnow).
To everyone’s surprise, upon exiting the building for the journey home, they were greeted with a foot of snow that had fallen during the day. A trip back to New York which would normally take two hours ballooned to five (and six or seven for certain players). However, all in all, it was worth the trip to southern New Jersey for a memorable day full of teaching, learning and banding.
New York Staff Band web site