Woodville Concert Band. Woodville Town Hall. 20 Oct 2023
Community arts is alive and well in the City of Woodville, and a significant contributor to that happy status is the Woodville Concert Band. The band comprises in excess of thirty-five eager and talented musicians, one very accomplished conductor, and an enthusiastic group of front and back-of-house ushers, roadies, helpers, administrators etc. Some wear more than one hat, but all wear great pride on their sleeves about what they do, and their sense of personal satisfaction is not misplaced. They really are a fine outfit. They are not perfect (who or what is?) and they’re a self-confessed work in progress - getting better and better - but their concerts set your toes tapping, put a broad smile on your face, and leave tunes in your head for many hours afterwards.
The band’s most recent concert is entitled A Symphony of Space, and features compositions from cinema, classical repertoire, and digital games that have a connection to the theme outer space. Perhaps there is nothing more appropriate to open the concert than the iconic opening fanfare, entitled Sunrise, from Richard Strauss’s tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was popularised by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The piece was originally scored for a large orchestra with a full complement of brass, woodwind, percussion, organ, harps, and of course strings. It’s big, so how to do it justice with a modestly sized wind orchestra? It all comes down to the quality and inventiveness of the musical arrangement. We discover towards the end of the concert, when conductor Nathan Cummins (who has a PhD in music from the Elder Conservatorium) starts to give his thank-yous, that 2001 was in fact arranged for the band by a member of the trumpet section, and it is excellent! The clarinets, flutes and saxophones take the place of the violins, and they sound terrific. It’s a strong opening to a delightful concert, and as a sort of tension reliever, it is followed by The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II, which was also used in Kubrick’s film. The flutes and clarinets are particularly fine with crisp articulation and marked phrasing that together give the waltz rhythm a pronounced definition, almost a little too conspicuous at times.
Continuing with music from film and science fiction, the Strauss is followed by a suite from the Star Wars films that features the immediately recognisable themes that we associate with the franchise. The oboe, saxophone, and the brass and reed bass instruments are imposing throughout the arrangement. In his introductory comments Cummins makes a thinly disguised joking remark about our war wracked world and how warring might not be uncommon in extraterrestrial civilisations (assuming they exist). The joke is lame, and members of the orchestra audibly groan to voice their lack of amusement. This easy and comfortable attitude pervades the evening. Good humoured affection for each other and for the music underlines all that the band members do, and it’s so refreshing.
And the good humour and banter continues as Cummins announces that the next piece is I am the Doctor from the Dr Who franchise. Before any member of the band can say ‘Of course you are!’ in reference to his PhD, Cummins gets in first and scolds them with a smile on his face and a laugh in his voice that the joke became tired after the umpteenth rehearsal! The piccoloist provided much of the impetus in the performance and, with the precision of the drum kit, kept the demanding time signature on track.
A temporary diversion from science fiction came in the form of Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity from Gustav Holst’s ever popular orchestral suite The Planets. It was popularised when its main melody was appropriated for the hymn “I Vow to Thee, My Country”. The arrangement the band uses starts out with the saxophone to great effect, but the trombone and trumpets sound somewhat exposed later in the piece without violins. Cummins remarked at the end with great relief that he and the band were glad they “got through it”, and they did, and the result was pleasing to the ear.
Probably the least successful arrangement was the theme from Star Trek, which, arguably, relies on silky violins to solidly lay down the sweeping melody to allow the trumpet (played superbly!) to truly stand out. This is followed by two pieces of game music, including Halo, in which the band vocalises very tunefully, and in which the keyboard features significantly along with controlled percussion work including excellent playing from the timpanist.
The concert rounds out with a solid and dramatic performance of Mars from The Planets, and this is followed by long, deserved, and sustained applause from a very appreciative audience. Of course, it would have been bad mannered of Cummins and the band if they sent the audience away without an encore, and this came in the form of Sogno di Volare, which is the delightful musical theme from Civilisation 6, and at its end the audience took flight into the night!
If you haven’t been to a performance by the Woodville Concert band, you really should - you won’t regret it. They are a quality community ensemble who play for the community with a lot of heart! Join their mailing list!
When: 20 Oct
Where: Woodville Town Hall