UBC Bands, Vancouver Symphonies, and all the rest. Why So Sirius?

Why don’t orchestras, and concert bands name themselves something more interesting than after the city or institution they’re affiliated with? Imagine if Vancouver sports culture, instead of leaping madly from bandwagon to bandwagon in favour of the “Canucks” or the “Lions“, were instead being tittillatingly tussled between the utilitarianly titled, “Vancouver Hockey Team“, “Vancouver Football Team“, or the defunct “Vancouver Basketball Team“.  Why isn’t the “Vancouver Symphony” named something more litigious like, “Sharon, Lois, and Bramwell“? Or the “Vancouver Bach Choir” something more sonorous, in another language, and all in lower-case letters like, “musicus“, “sono precioso“, or “maestoso tasso“? Or the “Vancouver Philharmonic” name themselves something guaranteed to get people’s attention like, “Roy Torfulson’s Armada Featuring Herman Menderchuck“?

Nonsense aside, I’d really like to get into the music I heard last night at the Chan.  The UBC Concert Winds, the UBC Symphonic Winds played us a wild set of music by people who are still alive under the guidance of Dr. Robert Taylor. We had music with tunes and music that flipped the concept on it’s back and left it for the vultures. Fitting the latter, were Epincion by John Paulson, and Apollo by John Pennington.  I’m not offended by noise music but I’m pretty cautious in first encounters with music that wears the adjective. It’s the aural magic-eye effect in noise music that I find memorable about the sonic assult.  If you can get past the initial instinct to immediately hurl your stereo at the nearest trombone, there’s quite a lot of beauty to be found amongst the melee.  The very real danger, and I think I’m right about this, is ear fatigue.  The “Too-Many-Notes” adage from Amadeus is only too true when there’s only so much white noise one can be subjected to in one evening.  I think Dr. Taylor’s Big Bad Band (See?! A better name without ANY effort!) did a good job making sure we weren’t overwhelmed.

The not-to-be disparaged bacon and eggs musics on the program were two transcriptions of choral music for wind band by Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen.  I have to be honest and declare that I’m bound to be a bit harder to please here.  Lux Arumque and O Magnum Mysterium, both originally for voices, are two of the most performed and recorded pieces in the world so you can’t REALLY put off hearing them if you’re under the choral hex.  It’s great music and very receptive to an especially sensitive rendition or a surprising interpretation of the dots at hand.  Surprises creep in at the corners and the edge between vocal and instrumental music in passages like the tenebrous chords at the end of Lux Arumque that give the basses of any choir a run for their money. They’re a cinch for the freely available bass sound in the instrumental world.

I’ve been learning bits and pieces about John Mackey‘s music and I think I can count myself a fan.  A recent piece, Foundry, features a wind band led by an army of (Well… 13) percussionists wailing away at chunks of metal with sticks and mallets(An activity very close to my heart).  Dr. Taylor’s Andante Boys (Okay, I admit that one is pretty bad), performed a piece of John’s from 2009 called Aurora Awakes:  A beautiful rendition of the dark to light story.  It begins on a leafy bed of clarinets and concludes with wild upwards gestures into a gleaming E flat major chord.  The trip between is exhilarating and totally believable.  John writes pretty directly so his music almost never fails to connect with a receptive audience.

Great concert.  Where were you?






  1. Thanks for coming Chris and thanks for writing about it!

    Will need to brainstorm with Dr. Taylor some new ensemble names!

    BBB might really ring on tour!

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