Concordia University Chicago's University Band
Compiled by Jennifer Nelson (February 2010)
The Concordia University Band was originally formed by Dr. Richard Fischer with the intent of playing a few pieces at the Spring Music Festival, an annual concert featuring a few selections from most of the various ensembles at Concordia, on April 24, 1994. The new University Band was made up of members of Wind Symphony, students at Concordia who were not in Wind Symphony, Concordia alumni, and members of the community at large. There were no auditions for this group, and Dr. Fischer really had no idea of what level the players from the community or non-Wind Symphony members would be. The first rehearsal of the Concordia University Band was on December 2, 1993. After the first few rehearsals, Dr. Fischer decided this group was good enough to do an entire independent concert.
The first University Band (also known as U-Band) concert was on April 15, 1994 and was held in Geiseman Auditorium, also known as the South Gym. U-Band also performed at the Spring Music Festival on April 24, 1994. Only a few current (2009-10 season) University Band members were present for this concert: Jennifer (Gohl) Nelson flute/piccolo, Kathy Fischer clarinet and Louise Olivo-Kier tuba (in later concerts primarily oboe). Other current long time members Kristin Aasmundstad-Walsh clarinet, Paul Gruenwald trumpet, and Dick Snyder trumpet joined in the second season, and Christina Lass Moore flute, Ellen Waterman flute (soon switched to bassoon), David Reed flute, and Robert Hartney clarinet, joined U-Band the third season.
Over the years the University band has undergone many changes. In the early years, from 1994-2000, the December and March concerts were divided between the University Chorus and the University Band. In 2001 the University Chorus was disbanded, and from then on, concerts were entirely University Band. From 1996-2000, the University Band played an independent concert in the fall for Concordia’s Homecoming festivities. From 2001-2003 there were no fall concerts. Beginning in 2004, the fall concert was restored to the schedule, but this time in the form of the Family Concert, designed to appeal to children and get them excited about music. The annual late- June Patriotic concert was started in 1996. In 2005, this concert became the setting for the Concordia Ice Cream Social. Dr. Fischer has conducted every concert except for three during the 2000-2001season when he was on sabbatical. University Band trombonist and director of bands at Conant High School John Walsh conducted those concerts.
From 2003-2005, the University Band experimented with having a board of directors. Dr. Fischer sought the board’s input for ideas of how to raise U-Band’s standards, to get more consistency of members staying with the group from one concert to the next, and to have better attendance of members. In August of 1994 there had been auditions for all members to determine seating for the second season, but for years after that, anyone who had wanted to be in U-Band would just show up and play, and this sometimes led to some people just showing up when they felt like it with very inconsistent attendance. There was considerable personnel turnover from concert to concert, so many who had auditioned were no longer there, and those who were there had not auditioned. As a result, there was limited organization among the sections in regards to chair placement, who would take solo parts, and who was the section leader. Dr. Fischer and the board identified these problems as key elements that were holding the group back from realizing its potential. The audition process was re-instated in the summer of 2005, with all members playing an audition. Currently new members are admitted by audition with Dr. Fischer.
Jean Harrison Bojes, professor of music education at Concordia, began giving commentaries in outdoor concerts in the late ‘90’s, primarily because there were no printed programs at those events. Her thoughtful and trivia-filled insights to the pieces became such a hit with the audience that they began to ask why she was not doing the indoor ones too, and so she became a regular feature at all concerts beginning with the December 7, 2001 concert.
Over the years, many U-Band members have been featured as soloists in concerts, and Concordia faculty members and other guests have also soloed with the group. In April 2008 WFMT radio host Carl Grapentine was the guest narrator for Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait. In December 2007 University Band played the world premiere performance of Beneath Night’s Shadow by Reber Clark, dedicated to the memory of University Band French horn player Jerry Egan, who had passed away in 2005. This work was co-commissioned by the Concordia University Band and Elmhurst College. These are just a few of the many unique opportunities that University Band members get to experience while playing in this ensemble.