Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

Gustavus concert

Both of the conductors I had at Gustavus are retiring this year. Doug Nimmo led the concert band ("Gustavus Band", now "Gustavus Wind Orchestra") for 27 years, and Steve Wright conducted the jazz bands for 24. I played alto saxophone for four years in the Gustavus Band and three (I think?) in the jazz bands.

The Wind Orchestra (which I found out to my horror is pronounced "gee-woh" by Dr. Nimmo) performed their spring concert today and made it a celebration for both professors. Dr. Wright composed and soloed in one of the pieces.

It was a rather emotional event for me. Two of the pieces performed were ones I had played. The first was David Holsinger's "Symphonia Resurrectus" (the third movement of his Easter Symphony); Gustavus commissioned it and I played in the premiere in 1995. It's one of the few times in college that my parents got to hear the Gustavus Band--- they made a special trip across Wisconsin. (The only other occasion, I think, was my graduation, although when the band toured Grand Rapids much of my family who lived there attended.) The piece requires a large vocal contingent (miked to compete with the instruments!) which meant that the concert had to be held in Christ Chapel instead of the usual concert hall.

Dr. Nimmo's conducting style hasn't changed much in the 17 years since I graduated, but I would be surprised if it has. :) He will signal sometimes with a hand held close to his body. But because we were seated on the side due to the chapel arrangement, I had a clear view of what he was doing. Here's the only picture I tried taking:


The second piece is an arrangement of the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee". Dr. Nimmo told the story of our Eastern European tour stop in Stara Tura, Slovokia in January 1998. It's a small town and we played in the Lutheran church that evening. (It may be the same church shown in the Wikipedia entry.) The residents packed it full to overflowing, sitting even on the steps leading up the balcony. One of the staff members accompanying us had to sit on the organ bench next to Dr. David Fienen, the Gustavus organist who was part of our tour. We played "Nearer My God To Thee" in conjunction with a piece called "Heroes Lost and Fallen" by David Gillingham. At the conclusion of our concert, the pastor (through a translator) interrupted us before the encore and said that while he knew we probably had another piece prepared, that hymn had a special meaning to the church--- they sang it at every funeral--- and could we please play it again? Since then, "Nearer My God To Thee" has been used to conclude every Gustavus Band and Gustavus Wind Orchestra concert tour.

But in addition to Dr. Wright's piece there was another new composition, a Jack Stamp piece called "Roulette's Deception", commissioned by a couple of Gustavus alums for the concert. I thought this was a fitting celebration of Dr. Nimmo's tenure at Gustavus--- he introduced us as students to a lot of new works. Some we performed, some we just played once or twice in the practice sessions. But it was fitting that the final GWO concert for Dr. Nimmo included new music, not just familiar favorites (and since it is many students' final concert as well, it did not rob them of the chance to had the same sort of experiences I did.)

Dr. Nimmo did pick a Sousa march (and told a story about being excoriated in the Grand Rapids newspaper for a tour concert that did not include any Sousa.) It was "The White Rose"--- not one I'd played--- but one with a Gustavus connection because it includes a percussion interlude arranged by a Gustavus student (in the 80's) which has been copied and used by other concert bands, after Dr. Nimmo lent the music out.

Between a couple of the pieces, Dr. Nimmo talked about the history of the ensemble going back to the first concert tour in 1882 (by train and horse-drawn carriages!), to the 1941 tour with Percy Grainger. He asked former members of the Gustavus Band and Wind Orchestra to stand. Unsurprisingly, there was more representation from the younger cohort--- I didn't see anybody I recognized. (But I didn't stay around afterwards to see if anybody recognized me, either.)

I was more than a little nonplussed when Jack Ohle, the outgoing Gustavus president, got up to make a speech thanking the directors and others. I felt he said some things that were unnecessary and exclusionary. It's definitely considerate to thank the conductors' wives, but he should have done so in a way that did not suggest single faculty could not do as good a job.

I am very happy to have gone. To this day I listen differently because of my experience as a performer in Dr. Nimmo's and Dr. Wright's ensembles. I definitely reached my peak as a musician during those years; I have not since put the time and energy into practice and performance that's necessary to sustain excellence. But I feel like I am a different person for the time I spent in the Gustavus Band and the Gustavus Jazz Lab Band, and I will always be grateful that I had those opportunities.
Tags: music
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