NYSB Annual Festival with Steven Mead

Internationally renowned euphonium virtuoso Steven Mead was the guest soloist with the New York Staff Band (Bandmaster Ron Waiksnoris) for the band’s 122nd Annual Festival. The event was held on 29 May 2009 in the new hall at Montclair Citadel, marking the first time that the Staff Band had performed in this excellent new venue.

The Staff Band started the evening with a “bang”, with the Allegro from Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks (trans. Charles Skinner). This was followed by a welcome and invocation from the Executive Officer, Major Thomas V. Mack. The band continued in a celebratory fashion with a recent work from the pen of Stephen Bulla, a quick march entitled Charlotte Celebration.

Major Thomas V. Mack welcomes the audience to the concert.
Major Thomas V. Mack welcomes the audience to the concert.

The New York Staff Band has been blessed throughout the years to be associated with a number of excellent composers and arrangers. The band’s principal trombone and composer-in-residence, Dorothy Gates, is the latest in that distinguished line. One of the highlights of the concert was the world premiere performance of her most extensive work to date, Hope. Inspired by a number of world events that occurred in 2006, including the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the crisis in Darfur and assaults in Gaza and the West Bank, Gates found herself with questions such as “Why are some children born into horrific circumstances?” and “What is my response to this injustice as a Christian?” Hope is a portrayal of her attempt to answer these questions through the means of brass band music. The piece is divided into three movements, “Conflict”, “Despair” and “Hope”. The depth of the composer’s emotion is evident throughout. Following the Staff Band’s performance, the appreciation of the audience was expressed in a moment of silence, followed by an extended ovation.

Steven Mead’s first set was next up in the program. Well-known for his charm and rapport with an audience, Mead made a brief statement, apologizing for not being in top form, having a problem with a disc in his cervical spine (possibly requiring surgery) and an allergic reaction the week before that had affected his lip. It is a mark of his professionalism that he stated that he would return to New York in the fall to re-record his solo items from the concert, so that the concert recording would be of the highest quality. His first item with the Staff Band was Ray Steadman-Allen’s classic solo The Ransomed Host.

Steven Mead joins the brass accompaniment for the Band Chorus.
Steven Mead joins the brass accompaniment for the Band Chorus.

For many years, the New York Staff Band has maintained a tradition of singing as a band. The next item featured the Band Chorus, directed by Dorothy Gates, singing O, My Jesus (Robert Redhead). The arrangement has a brass ensemble accompaniment, which on this occasion included Steven Mead along with members of the Staff Band. This item led into a devotional section of the program, with a Scripture reading followed by the thoughtful song arrangement Stars of the Morning (Kenneth Downie).

The first half concluded with an upbeat arrangement of the show tune Ol’ Man River (arr. Mark Freeh). The Staff Band’s performance featured an amazing display of skill on the drum kit by Robert Jones, who, although hidden behind the band on the stage was shown on the large screens at the front of the hall. Jones fully used both hands and both feet, literally working up a sweat (and rather dexterously removing his festival tunic as he continued to play).

The Heralds
The Heralds

Following the intermission, the second half started with two light numbers, the march Joyful News (Erik Leidz&ecute;n) and Amen, Amen (Brian Bowen). The next item was Philip Catelinet’s trio The Heralds. Written for cornets, on this occasion it was played by three euphoniums: Aaron VanderWeele, Ryan McCrudden and Steven Mead. Mead then presented another solo, There Will Be God (Richard Phillips).

The Band Chorus was up next, with a fine arrangement by Dorothy Gates of David Danced, featuring a solo verse sung by Douglas Berry. Following this, Steven Mead returned for his final solo of the evening, the challenging Harlequin (Philip Sparke), which Mead stated was one of his favorites.

Steven Mead - Harlequin
Steven Mead – Harlequin

The Staff Band’s final item was another major work by a young Salvationist composer, Turris Fortissima (Steven Ponsford). This work, whose title means “A Strong Tower”, combines both traditional and contemporary melodies, including an homage to the great classic by Dean Goffin, My Strength, My Tower.

Following extended applause form the audience, Steven Mead returned for an encore. Despite his medical issues, he gave a scintillating demonstration of solo euphonium, including multiphonics (playing more than one tone at the same time) and lip dexterity (playing with his right hand off the valves entirely). His engaging manner and quick wit was refreshing and delightful.

Christoper Ward and Steven Mead - The Stars and Stripes Forever
Christoper Ward and Steven Mead – The Stars and Stripes Forever

The first of the Staff Band’s encores was the classic Sousa march The Stars and Stripes Forever. Here again Steven Mead showed his flair for showmanship. As soprano player Christopher Ward stood up to play the piccolo solo, Mead, who had been seated on the front row with his euphonium, gestured to Ward and then joined him on the stage, playing the part as a duet. It was a fitting ending to Mead’s performances for the evening, showing that even when not in top playing form he was still able to enjoy himself and entertain the audience.

The final item of the evening was again by the Band Chorus. The song Rock of Ages is perhaps the best known song that is used by the Band Chorus, and has been used by the Staff Band since at least the 1940s.

Brass Crest Staff Report