A Tale of Two Households

Any English major might be able to tell you that the title of this blog feature is a reference to the first line from the prologue to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:Riverside Shakespeare

“Two households, both alike in dignity,  In fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From
ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life…”


I was a bit enthusiastic to break out my edition of the Riverside Shakespeare to review these lines. So where am I going with this? If you’ve read the previous blogs, you know CKCB is presenting many of Leonard Bernstein’s most loved selections on May 6 at 3 PM at the Lexington Opera House. One of the most well-known of his works is West Side Story. That Broadway play itself was informed by Romeo and Juliet(R&J was itself informed by a 3,000 line long poem–thanks, Riverside–so nothing is new in Hollywood, Broadway, or Verona, for that matter.) But a great play is a great play, and great music is great music.

Les Anderson is the assistant conductor for CKCB and will be conducting Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.

Bernstein PosterSays Anderson of the selection, “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story is taken directly from the 1961 movie that won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, becoming the record holder for the most wins for a movie musical. The film has been deemed ‘culturally significant’ by the United States Library of Congress.”

When announcing the Bernstein playlist, Anderson was enthusiastic about conducting the piece.

“I saw the musical for the first time when I was ten years old, and I was awed by the music and story. That is why this performance is a ‘bucket list’ event for me.”

The band has been working very diligently on this selection. Bernstein’s mastery of sound and musical story-telling translates into very specific musical markings–entrances may be anywhere in the measure– and features many musical styles,  instrumental “special effects” and unconventional time signatures. 

Says Anderson of the difficulty of the selection, “This arrangement by Paul Lavender is true to the original music and not ‘watered down’ to make it easier for the musicians. As I told the band–this will be a growth experience for us all. The music has many challenges in the form of complex rhythms, several key signature changes, and tons of accidentals. Our players have lots of solo spots and technically difficult passages to play. The music is exciting, dramatic, and heart-rending. We hope that our performance will bring back memories of the listener’s experiences with West Side Story and its emotional impact.”

As with Anderson’s desire to perform West Side Story, Bernstein’s Divertimento for Orchestra (transcribed for symphonic band) is another selection that has been on CKCB conductor Ben Hawkins’ “to do” list. The Divertimento was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of its centennial. (Shameless plug: readers of this blog and faithful audience members of the band will remember that the CKCB commissioned a piece for its 40th anniversary–A Bluegrass Overture by Philip Sparke.)

Says Hawkins, “The Divertimento is a ‘first-timer’ for me, and a piece I have always wanted to do.”

The band is also performing Bernstein’s  Suite from Mass. Says Hawkins of the Suite, “This new arrangement of the suite struck me immediately as a great opportunity to pair the band with some fantastic players from our community, the University of Kentucky Faculty Brass Quintet.”

The CKCB is ecstatic to welcome quintet members Jason Dovel and Abby Temple on trumpet; David Elliott on horn; Bradley Kerns on tenor trombone; and J.D. Handshoe on bass trombone to the Lexington Opera House to perform Suite from Mass with the band.

Hawkins places much thought into programming the music for the concerts. He considers both the educational and aesthetic experience of the band, and the general enjoyment and spectacle of the selections for the audience.

Says Hawkins of his reasons for selecting  an arrangement based on Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers  for this concert, “Mass premiered at the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in 1971. It was commissioned by Jackie Kennedy. Although based on the Latin Mass, it introduces theatrical elements, as well as original text in English, including a snippet of verse by Paul Simon. Although I have never seen Mass performed, I was in high school in the DC area at the time of the premier, and have strong recollections of the excitement surrounding the opening of the the Kennedy Center.  A  number of revivals of the complete production have taken place during this Bernstein centennial year. I suspect that they won’t be the last. If nothing else, A Simple Song will always be in the vocal repertoire. It ranks right up there with West Side Story‘s Somewhere in its direct emotional message and melodic beauty.”

Hawkins notes for all the selections in this concert celebrating Bernstein’s 100th birthday, “These pieces represent a nice sampling of both his concert music and his music for the theater.”

Even though things didn’t work out for Romeo and Juliet, or Maria and Tony, for that matter, the CKCB guarantees a great afternoon of Bernstein. But please, if you are of the House of Capulet or Montague, or a Shark or a Jet, rumble after the concert.

Interested in joining us for an afternoon of music? The Central Kentucky Concert Band will be performing many selections by Leonard Bernstein on Sunday, May 6 at 3 pm at the Lexington Opera House. Admission to the concert is free and no tickets are required.


Bernstein: Lexington Opera House, May 6th

Leonard Bernstein would have been 100 years old this year. His composing, conducting, and character leave a legacy that will be remembered indefinitely.

The Central Kentucky Concert Band, along with special guest artists, the brilliant University of Kentucky Faculty Brass Quintet, will present Bernstein’s Overture to ‘Candide’, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story,  Divertimento for Symphonic Band,  and Suite from Mass at the Lexington Opera House on May 6th at 3PM. There is no charge for admission and no tickets are required.

Experience the mastery of Bernstein in one of Lexington’s most architecturally-significant venues.

Keep up with the band on Facebook at: Central Kentucky Concert Band.

Let Joy March Fo(u)rth

So many artists in this world are tortured. Among them, for instance, are writers Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allen Poe; artists Vincent van Gogh  and Pablo Picasso; and musicians Robert Schumann and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

One day, Tchaikovsky, with grave intent, stood in a river as it swirled around him–the black current swirling and sapping his body heat, ushering him closer to hypothermia and death. The river did not claim him that time. Tchaikovsky, in writing to one of his patrons, talked about the happiness of others:

2018 March 4th poster

“How happy they are that all their feelings are simple and straightforward. Reproach yourself, and do not say that everything in this world is sad. Joy is a simple but powerful force. Rejoice in the rejoicing of others. To live is still possible.”

I imagine this scene in a market square or a busy street—people swirling, some with faces set and leaden tracing a path to a singular destination, while others lean against lamp posts, laughing, or languid at a café sharing a drink, immersed in discourse.


Was Tchaikovsky masking his pain? Was he just trying to get a few more Rubles out of his trusty benefactor? He was, however, discussing his feelings behind the Finale in his Symphony No. 4 which is a featured selection in the Central Kentucky Concert Band’s March Fo(u)rth concert this Sunday, March 4th at 3 pm at Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium.

Dr. Ben Hawkins, CKCB’s conductor, provided a note of caution in making too strong a connection between an artist’s mental state (whatever state that may happen to be) and the art the artist produces.

“Composers create music,” said Hawkins,” And that music as often as not has no connection with any personal narrative in his or her life. Deeply depressed composers have written joyous music, and happy composers have written profoundly sad or disturbing music.”

The Finale is a joyous and manic celebration of sound that swirls around the listener, more like the ebullient street scenes described by Tchaikovsky than the cold eddies of the river in which he stood offering to forfeit his life.

We, as listeners, are partners in the emotional experience of the music. Said Hawkins, “It’s the complex web of tonal and temporal relationships within an entire piece that generate whatever response a listener might have. The great moments that sometimes transpire during a performance only happen in relation to what has happened prior to then.”

Hawkins and CKCB assistant conductor Les Anderson intend to provide many opportunities during the concert for great moments and to show the audience the manifold forms of the march.

In grand relief with the Finale is the First Suite for Band by Alfred Reed.

Anderson will conduct First Suite on Sunday’s concert. When asked about the reasons he selected the piece, Anderson said, ”…It is modern and had the two movements of two contrasting march styles with the hard-driving March and the circus-like Gallop. I also love the Rag; it is a march-like piece that adds nice contrast to the rest of the pieces on this concert.”

Continuing the dive into the marches, Anderson noted, “Reed, being a 20th century composer, uses a lot of dissonance as compared to the Tchaikovsky selection. He also writes music that is easily identifiable as American. His march is not like most of the marches you think of when you are thinking of Sousa, King, Fillmore, and other American March kings.”

Summing up the goals of the entire program, Hawkins said, “I just want the audience members to be engaged and uplifted by the music.”

The band has spent the New Year working to ensure that the rejoicing Tchaikovsky observed in the street will be present in this next concert.

There is no admission charge to the concert; no tickets are required. There will be a reception in the auditorium lobby after the concert.

Follow the band on Facebook: Central Kentucky Concert Band.

CKCB’s Next Performance: Sunday, March 4th

Sousa hasn’t cornered the market on marches. Of the ten or so marches we have planned for you, only one is by Sousa. Don’t get us wrong–Sousa is great. We love Sousa. But we also love the contemplative Trauermusik by Wagner, the grave March to the Scaffold by Berlioz, the jazzy, bouncy The March from “1941” by John Williams, and the dynamic finale to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. And we have more in store, too!

Come hear all the marches on Sunday, March 4th at 3:00 PM at Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium in the Mitchell Fine Arts Center.

It’s free. It’s fun. And all the marches are in 4/4 time–except when they’re in cut time. Or 6/8 time. Or in 1.

Sooo, let’s just say they all have time signatures.

Regardless, you’ll be tapping your feet in celebration of the marches.

Free admission; no tickets required.

2018 March 4th poster

Remembering Michael Bush

We are bound by the love of music. Of performing music. Of listening to music. Of thinking about music.

We are bound with each other by the bonds of music. Through this common bond, we develop relationships with each other that, initially, are founded on the common love of music, but are sustained through our humanity.

This summer, we were delighted to welcome Michael Bush to our community band–to our community. Michael’s hometown was Lexington, and he was taught  years ago by Les Anderson, one of our very own. Michael heeded the call of God and became a minister, recently appointed to Pisgah Presbyterian Church near Versailles, Kentucky. Michael learned about CKCB, and joined our tuba section. Quickly, Michael began contributing more than just his considerable musical talent, but in other ways, too, such as helping us update our constitution and bylaws. Michael joined a community band, but he also joined a community of band members.

This fall, Michael was called home to His side.

During Sunday’s concert, the band prayed a musical prayer for Michael and his family, as has become our custom when we lose a member in active standing with our band. Many of us knew Michael but for a moment, but his kindness, convictions of heart, and talent will continue to resonate with us.


Masters of Russian Musical Literature Featured at December Concert

CKCB poster December 2017
Fabulous poster art by CKCB member Jason Sturgill

Music is powerful. But can you imagine a time and a place where composing  a musical piece could jeopardize your and your family’s life?

That’s the position Dmitri Shostakovich found himself in after receiving criticism from no less than Joseph Stalin himself for writing music that didn’t comport with the official state musical tastes.

Shostakovich’s next work couldn’t anger the management again, and likely had to satisfy them. Fortunately, he succeeded with the Fifth Symphony. And fortunately for us, we have that symphony accessible to us in today’s world.

Central Kentucky Concert Band Conductor Dr. Ben Hawkins says of Shostakovich, “Perhaps more than any of his other pieces, the Fifth has come to represent Shostakovich’s lifelong struggle to walk the fine line between staying in the good graces of Stalin while composing music that did not compromise his great personal integrity. Few, if any, musicians in any age have worked in constant peril the way that Shostakovich did.”

Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 Finale will be a featured selection in the band’s next concert.

Says Hawkins, “I would guess that the Shostakovich Fifth is one of the ten or so most performed symphonies. It may be the most-performed 20th-century symphony, although one of the Mahler symphonies may very well claim that position. At any rate, its place in the standard orchestral repertoire is written in stone.”

In addition to Shostakovich, the band will be featuring several other Russian composers’ music. When asked what about the Russian composers attracted Hawkins to program the entire primary block of the program with their music, he says, “I like the Russians because they have a way of writing really engaging melodies, and because they all, even the most Western-influenced, bring certain melodic and harmonic inflections that distinguish their sounds from German music in particular, but even from the French tradition that did provide an important influence. One can almost always hear Russian folk coloring, and especially the great choral tradition of the Orthodox Church.”

Alexander Goedicke, another of the Russian composers featured in the upcoming concert, was a lauded pianist, composer (who had no formal training in composition), and professor at the Moscow Conservatory. The band will perform Goedicke’s Concert Etude featuring the band’s very own principal trumpet player T.J. Thomas as soloist.

Thomas, a native Kentuckian, attended the University of Kentucky on scholarship and

TJ Thomas
T.J. Thomas at a recent CKCB rehearsal

received his Bachelors of Arts in Music in 2005 and his Masters in Music Performance two years later in 2007. Thomas enlisted in the United States Army and played with the Army Ground Forces Band in Atlanta as well as the 100th Army Band out of Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The Concert Etude is a piece that demands precision to execute it properly–there is no slack allowed.

Speaking of the technical aspects of the solo passages of the Concert Etude, Thomas says, “The double-tonguing requires precision and careful coordination with your fingers as well as the band.  Also, it is important that the articulation remain light and not get too heavy in the main melody, otherwise the lyrical section will feel out of place. However, it is a fun piece to play, and like most music, it is more fun the faster you go!”

CKCB has many talented players in it and is delighted to have Thomas among them. Thomas has been a member of the band for around 8 years. Says Thomas, “I enjoy performing with CKCB because it provides an outlet to perform some pretty interesting and exciting music that we may not otherwise have experienced.  I have also made some lifelong friends in CKCB and that, to me, is equally as important as the music.”

Hear the band perform Shostakovich, Goedicke, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and more at Haggin Auditorium in the Mitchell Fine Arts Center, Transylvania University, at 3 PM on Sunday, December 3rd, 2017. There is no cost for admission, and no tickets are required.