GCU bands taking on tougher material

April 09, 2014 / by / 1 Comment

Review by Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau

If there’s such a thing as a sophomore slump, Grand Canyon University’s instrumental music program seems to have been untouched by it.

Paul Koch, the University’s director of bands, has noticeably increased the degree of difficulty of material in the program’s second year. Yet the 49-piece Wind Ensemble answered the challenge Tuesday night with a solid, well-received set of 30 minutes at First Southern Baptist Church.

The brisk pace of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture Opus 96” made for a fine opener, and the changing tempos of Alfred Reed’s “Armenian Dances Part I” also weren’t out of the ensemble’s reach. Those works were on either side of the rich, contemplative “Hymn to a Blue Hour,” composed by John Mackey only four years ago.

The 90-minute concert, titled “SymphoRhythmic Variations,” was only the second for the band program — the first was last November — and also included the seven-piece Thunderstruck Percussion ensemble, the 18-piece Thunder Big Band and a short number by the Thunderdome Brass ensemble consisting of three tubas and a euphonium.

Koch says the wind, percussion and big-band units each will present an individual concert next school year. The instrumental music program began with the launch of the Thundering Heard pep band in the fall of 2012 and has grown since then in numbers and quality, much like the rest of the College of Fine Arts and Production.

The percussion ensemble performed J.B. Smith’s “Conga Mix” and Béla Fleck’s “Big Country” around a nice marimba solo by Morgan Ambrose on Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major.” Koch is an accomplished percussionist, and for that reason we can expect him to keep expectations high for the group.

The Thunder Big Band reprised its set of five selections played at last month’s hugely successful “Java and Jazz” at the campus Starbucks: Miles Davis’ “Four,” Eddie Harris’ funky “Freedom Jazz Dance,” Artie Shaw’s “Concerto for Clarinet” (featuring GCU instructor Tim Haas), George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from the musical “Porgy and Bess” (with alto Kaylee Atkisson on vocals) and “Moanin’” by Charles Mingus.

The big band has a host of talented players, but Josh Salgado (trumpet) and Kelsey McKee (piano) stood out as soloists on this night. Koch says the band plans to repeat “Java and Jazz” next year, and that’s good news for jazzers. It was one of the highlights of 2013-14 for the way it connected with students and brought outside talent (the Red Mountain Big Band) to campus.

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected]. 

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One Response
  1. Deann Hart

    I have been privileged to work with Paul Koch and his Wind Ensemble this last year. I am a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Music in Performance and a retired United States Marine Corps musician. What a talented bunch of musicians! I look forward to working with them again in the fall!

    Apr.09.2014 at 12:59 pm
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