by Eric R. Dina
The 99th installment of the Chicago Staff Band (CSB) Sounds of the Seasons Concert may just have exceeded its previous benchmarks of appealing to a wide audience with a cornucopia of styles and musical expressions.
The concert opener, In Awesome Wonder by Marcus Venables, evoked the music of John Williams with its thunderous percussion beginning, and was paired with a beautifully orchestrated meditation Radiance by Andrew Garcia. Principal Cornetist Beth Malovance shared a new cornet solo, Faith Pursuit, written for her by Major Martin Cordner. The eight-minute solo utilized digital echo effects, perhaps a first for Salvation Army audiences, and had as its central theme Sara Groves’ “He’s always been faithful.” Beth’s performance was superlative with her rich, dark sound, attention to detail and musical phrasing on full display. An exciting transcription of Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance rounded out the CSB’s first set.
A moving moment for many people was the CSB’s vocal, “O Love” by Elaine Hagenberg. This band sings very well and is extremely responsive to the sensitive leadership of Dr. Harold Burgmayer. The choral line never seemed rushed, with the text appropriately emphasized. Principal trombonist Brett Tolcher provided nuance, supporting the singing with an obbligato originally composed for cello. Lt. Colonel Philip Maxwell, CSB executive officer, effectively wove threads of the lyrics of “O Love” into his thought-provoking devotional.
Both major offerings by the CSB are recent pieces based on time-honored musical forms. The award-winning composition, Fearless, by CSB alumnus Andrew Wainwright, is a modern take on the tone poem genre, featuring two songs from the Salvation Army worship band transMission: “I’m in His Hands” and “Soldier’s Hymn.” Fearless is a well-crafted, technically demanding work, requiring the full attention of the band and carries a strong message for The Salvation Army today. King of Heaven, based on the hymn “Praise my soul, the King of Heaven,” is Kenneth Downie’s brass band homage to Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Every section of the band successively is featured, displaying brilliance and sensitivity, concluding with the fanfare and flare expected from a Downie opus. Both numbers fully displayed the band’s magnificent core sound and balance.
Guest multi-talented singer-songwriter and jazz trombonist Aubrey Logan won over the audience from the outset with her confident yet humble, demeanor and bubbly personality. The mix of pop culture songs and her own compositions and arrangements, including “Impossible,” “Pity Party” and the spiritual “Go tell it on the mountain” held broad appeal. Aubrey effortlessly switched between singing and playing the trombone throughout her two sets. Kudos to percussionist Bernie Dake and bass guitarist Tom Hanton for providing lively rhythm support. While the backup musicians were especially tight given their limited rehearsal time together, the musical chemistry between Aubrey and her pianist Logan Thomas was obvious.
Aubrey joined the CSB on several numbers including “One Three Nine,” which she composed and is a paraphrase of Psalm 139 interwoven with the chorus “O, how I love Jesus,” and Georges Bizet’s Habanera from the opera Carmen which exhibited her amazing full three-octave range. Her ability to navigate easily between multiple styles—jazz, southern gospel, opera and pop—gave members of the audience something to appreciate no matter their preference.
Aubrey joined the CSB trombonists to bring the crowd back from intermission with an arrangement of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” and to finish the evening she took a few choruses (12 measures of blues improvisation) on her trombone in Big Little Light that would have made the late composer, William Broughton, proud.
From top to bottom, this concert had all the trademarks of the CSB’s spirit-led authenticity and was a well-paced, enjoyable expression of witness and praise.