GCU Bands Show They Can Carry a Tune (and a Concert)
Review by Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
When your first concert gets a standing ovation, what do you do next?
Knowing Paul Koch, that won’t be a problem. Grand Canyon University’s director of bands has been in hurry-up mode for well over a year now, somehow making the launch of an instrumental music program look (and sound) easy.
Last year, there was the business of assembling the Thundering Heard pep band from scratch. This year, while adding members to the Heard and prepping them for the start of basketball season, Koch had the job of rehearsing GCU’s Wind Ensemble, Thunderstruck Percussion and Thunder Big Band for Tuesday night’s inaugural instrumental concert at First Southern Baptist Church, adjacent to campus.
Technically, the 90-minute program wasn’t a debut. Last spring, the Thunder Big Band and the larger Symphonic Band — basically the Heard in dress-up clothes — performed as add-ons to the Music Department’s annual Awards and Commencement Concert (and promptly stole the show). But this was the first stand-alone concert for GCU’s bands, and it was an unqualified success, worthy of the ovation at the end.
The 34-piece Wind Ensemble, which actually was making its debut, kicked off the evening with a grand rendition of Alfred Reed’s “A Festival Prelude.” Three subsequent pieces included a lush version of the familiar “Shenandoah” that captured the listener from the very first note and Robert Sheldon’s “As a Wind From the North,” which provided a finish with a flourish.
The ensemble’s set was followed by three numbers from the new, nine-member Thunderstruck Percussion unit, opening with John Beck’s “G-Force” (played by a trio on white plastic buckets) and closing with Nathan Daughtrey’s “Sizzle!” (the best drum solo you ever heard times five, for each of the percussionists onstage). Much of Koch’s training is in percussion, so we can expect GCU’s bands to be exceptionally strong in that area.
Then came the 19-piece Thunder Big Band with a Latin-flavored set featuring compositions by Pat Metheny, Jeff Jarvis and Luiz Bonfa. The swinging band sounded great, finishing with Bonfa’s challenging “Black Orpheus,” which Koch used as an opportunity to teach the audience a little about jazz. The director had Kevin Emmery play the melody (or “head”) on flugelhorn, then invited the crowd to listen for its variations throughout the piece.
Josh Salgado (trumpet), Mitch Tingey (alto sax), Travis Larson (trombone) and Kelsey McKey (piano) distinguished themselves as soloists for the band, which is good enough already to make you want to run out and download a bunch of big-band music to your iPod.
It’s easy to give credit to Koch, who has limitless energy and is fun for the students to be around. He’s cool without even trying to be. But the musicians seem to genuinely enjoy one another, and the concert was full of the knowing glances and inside-joke smiles that only camaraderie can bring. That might seem small, but it makes a difference in how they play.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.