Reflecting on the Past and Looking Towards the Future with Dr. Ripley
By William Dowell ’22
The Carthage Music Department has been hard at work this academic year providing the best musical experience for its students. It has adapted its ensemble rehearsals, private lessons, and even its student recitals to ensure that all students will have the opportunity to learn and grow as musicians. As the semester continues on, we reflect on the past semester and look forward to the future with Dr. James Ripley.
How has working with bands been this past semester considering the new circumstances?
I think it’s exciting that while we’ve talked about the resilience of Carthage students, I’ve just seen it completely with what we’ve been doing with the whole Music Department in the fall. The biggest challenge for the students is sometimes just what piece we are rehearsing and where we’re rehearsing it. We can’t always be in the chapel, so we’ve been in the Campbell Student Union Auditorium, JAC 142, and JAC 253 at various times. It’s been really great to see how the circumstances are challenging but don’t adversely affect what the students are able to contribute to their own musical experiences. Luckily, we were able to do some concerts that could be viewed online. We were able to do a Pops Concert, a homecoming concert, Christmas Festival, and a full concert in November. This has been a chance to do something remarkable and we’ve seen that this challenge is being met.
Speaking of the homecoming concert, you have introduced a new initiative at that concert. How has that influenced the repertoire of the bands?
It is the Black Lives Matter initiative. That is the simplest way that we can promote the work of our African American composers. The plan is to go for five years with every concert. It will probably extend beyond that, but that is what is planned with the initiative. For this concert, Concert Band is performing a wonderful jazz inflected piece by Omar Thomas. It is called Sharp Nine, which is one of the inflected notes in a blues scale. Omar Thomas is a new composer and teacher at the University of Texas in Austin. He’s written a couple other works for band that were really well received. One of those works was based on a Duke Ellington song “Come Sunday.” His music really touches the hearts and souls of the listeners as well as the players. I am really pleased that we are able to do something by him.
You know it becomes so much of a sense of the regular programming that I actually have to think about what’s been targeted. It’s been part of what we do and what we’ve done. I know in the April concert we are doing a big New Orleans piece. To complement A New Orleans Symphony by Carl Holmquist we’re doing a piece called A New Orleans Street by William Grant Still. He was represented on an earlier program, but he is really the first prominent African American composer and as such, he has written a lot of music. There’s a very cool string orchestra piece by him called the Panamanian Dances. That’d be another fun thing for our students to play sometimes.
The exciting thing is that we are exploring publication for the work David Godbold ’16 wrote for us for the first concert, And the Sun Slept. He may actually be able to elevate into the pantheon of composers for band that are being recognized for their great work. I hope that works out.
Has there been any repertoire changes due to changes in social distancing and rehearsals?
Yes, but all of the changes happened over the summer. I already knew we were going down this route and I needed to make the plans with that in mind. What I tried to do was find pieces that had an instrumentation that was flexible. For example, today I heard from one of our trumpet players that his sister has tested positive and he is not sure how it’s going to play out, but due to how the pieces are scored, we’ll miss him but we can do it without him. The music is written for multiple instruments and multiple players to be playing the same line. There’s only really four or five parts, similar to a string orchestra set up. It still allows us to do a wide diversity of pieces.
I have some considerations of what we might do around commencement time. It looks like we will be recording some things for the time when the students will actually be receiving their diplomas. I’m trying to figure out how to make this experience a positive for the players while being on the recorded loop for 8 hours. I have to figure that out.
What should audience member’s be looking forward to with this upcoming concert?
So we called this concert “Crossover” because the content is mixed music in miniature. What that means is that the program consists of a bunch of shorter pieces that blend musical styles. For example, one of the pieces for Wind Orchestra is a cross between a mambo and blues titled MAM-BLU by Jim Syler. Concert Band is doing a Bach keyboard work that was reimagined by the arranger as a British military march. Those cross pollinations of styles are what we’re looking at, either within the music or within a single work. We are playing 8 movements of a piece called Miniatures. They’re all very short and are just synopses of the composer’s friends, family, and teachers. These miniatures are how the concert formulated in my mind. It is widely divergent music and if anybody gets bored with something, within a minute and a half we’ll be on to something else.
What should we look forward to in the Future?
So we cancelled a March concert since we are not doing a spring break tour. However, our concert in April features this wonderful New Orleans piece that the Wind Orchestra plays that describes the Katrina disaster. It shows what New Orleans was like before, during and after the hurricane. It is a wonderful piece. The other part of the program will be shared with the Percussion Ensemble so there are some pieces they will play as well. One of the pieces called Drum Evolution was something that was going to be programmed last year but we decided to wait on it. It uses an electronic recorded background with the Percussion Ensemble. That is something to look forward to.
Personally, I’m excited about a work by a Canadian Healey Willan called Royce Hall Suite. Originally it was written for UCLA and their concert auditorium is called Royce Hall. This is my own arrangement of this work. It was originally published back in 1949 and was regarded as one of the really important works for Wind Band, but the composer didn’t actually do the orchestration. It was placed in the hands of the publisher’s arranger, so the movements aren’t in the right key and they changed some of the form of the pieces. They also ignored some of the composer’s suggestions on how the music should be scored. There’s one section that he describes simply as “Needs to sound like Mozart” and it doesn’t sound anything like Mozart with a euphonium. The copyright was returned to the Willan Estate and they granted me permission to do the arrangement the way the composer wanted to do it. I was given some support from the college through the Research and Scholarship Committee to do some of the work on this. This will be a brand new premier of this work. The first movement is kinda like Bach, the second movement sounds like Mozart, and the third sounds like a British march. That is going to be with combined bands; the same way that we started. I don’t know if we will be outside, but it will be the combined bands that play the premier of the piece. It’s been a joy to see this great music realized.
Friday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Spring 2021 events are open to Carthage faculty, staff, and students only. External patrons can view the concert through our Live Stream.