A Musical Milestone: Commissioning “A Bluegrass Overture”

In celebration of the Central Kentucky Concert Band’s 40th year of making music in the Central Kentucky region, band literature great, Philip Sparke, was commissioned to write a custom overture for the band which the CKCB will premiere in concert at 3 PM on May 8th at the Lexington Opera House. But how did such a thing come to pass?FullSizeRender (1)

It was the brainchild of music-literature guru and longtime CKCB clarinetist Gabriel J. Wooley. Peter LaRue, immediate past conductor, and Ben Hawkins, present conductor of the CKCB have both lauded Wooley’s knowledge of band literature and have from time to time followed his recommendations pertaining to a little-known musical “gem” that the band might play.

Wooley had been chomping at the bit to have a piece commissioned, and the band’s 40th anniversary celebration provided just the occasion to execute the plan.

The CKCB has performed British composer Philip Sparke’s works numerous times over the years and have been enjoyed by both the band members and the audiences.

A Yorkshire Overture was performed by the CKCB a few years back,” says Wooley, “and this tune was my inspiration to have Philip Sparke create a tune that could capture the essence of the CKCB and that would be written to take advantage of the depth in sound that the CKCB is able to produce as a band.”

“Philip Sparke, in my opinion, is one of the most creative composers of our time.”

“Part of Philip Sparke’s writing ability that I adore is the beautiful middle sections and his unique use of key signatures and chords throughout the band.”

“In turn, this would allow Mr. Sparke to produce great individual parts for each instrument and by the end create a challenging tune that all would enjoy playing and hearing.”

“The CKCB represents many strengths throughout its entire organization, and having those strengths opens the door to a composer like Philip Sparke to create music that requires intense and advanced musicianship. For a composer, writing an entire score of music is no easy task, as the composer must tailor the piece to what the group has to offer for the end result.”

Wooley understands the character of the band as a whole and through its member sections. He communicated these nuances to Mr. Sparke.

“I wanted to expose the great depth of sound that our brass section can produce during a performance. Mr. Sparke actually specialized in brass band writing and instrumentation, and this allowed him to write creative and challenging parts for this section. The use of supportive counter melodies, long tones, and chords, throughout the tune really highlights what a brass section can create to support the remaining players in the group.”

“The strength in the woodwind section of the CKCB is distinguished in itself, with its ability to play some real challenging passages. I wanted this section to compliment the great underlying theme of the brass section.”

“Because CKCB offers an incredible number of percussionists, I wanted Mr. Sparke to produce beats and sounds with the use of as many percussion and auxiliary percussion instruments as possible to support the piece.”

“In the end, my goal was to have a piece that all players involved would truly enjoy and remember for a lifetime!”

From start to finish, Wooley says that it took about two years to initiate and complete the project, with one of those years being taken up with the actual writing process.

Wooley admits, somewhat shyly, that he requested the piece be named A Bluegrass Overture which he considered to be a “bold move” on his part.

“What a great honor it has been for me to help produce A Bluegrass Overture with Philip Sparke. I hope to engage in future projects of this nature for special occasions that help celebrate the legacy that the Central Kentucky Concert Band has created.”

FullSizeRenderAt the end of the dance, however, the piper must be paid. Thrilled at the prospect of having a piece commissioned especially for the band, the board of the band started brainstorming fundraising ideas for the cost of the retainer. Each member of the band pays dues, but the dues do not cover the entire costs of each season. The band depends upon donations and other sources of income. Cue longtime band member and associate conductor Les Anderson and his wife Cathy, a member of the Lexington Singers and music enthusiast in her own right.

Anderson says, “I love playing the trombone and working with the band on a piece of music when I conduct. I thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie of the band.” This led to his decision to sponsor the commissioning of the Sparke piece.

“This was a decision Cathy and I made together over the period of about a month. The CKCB has given us so much over the years through being a part of it. We decided that we wanted to give back to it in this special way. It gives us a special connection to the CKCB through this piece that will last long after we have gone.”

Anderson approves of the fruits of Wooley’s and Sparke’s labors. “It is a very special and unique piece. Philip Sparke obviously put a lot of thought and effort into it. The information that Gabriel gave him about the CKCB and our talents has been well-incorporated into the music and makes it truly unique. I think it will get a lot of use in the band world.”

Admission to the concert is free.