Submitted by Sondra Shamrell.
Returning for its 39th season, the Tacoma Concert Band (TCB) brings accolades and awards from its international tour to the British Isles this past July as well as welcoming its new conductor, Gerard Morris. With a focus on friends and relationships, the four concerts in the 2018-2019 season showcase the talents of this premier symphonic band and honors the legacy of esteemed conductor emeritus Robert Musser.
The TCB’s founder and conductor emeritus, Robert Musser, passed off the baton at the end of the last season, but not before the band garnered a first-place award for Best Band at the South of Ireland Band Championships in Clonakilty, Ireland on July 7, 2018. In addition, the band won the award for Best Performance of an Original Composition for its performance of Alfred Reed’s “Punchinello,” and the brass section secured an award for Best Brass Section in the competition. Upon returning stateside, Maestro Musser bowed off the stage of the band he founded thirty-eight years prior, and the director of University of Puget Sound’s bands, Gerard Morris, leaped into the role.
Morris holds a Bachelor of Arts in music from Western Michigan University, a Master of Music Education from University of Colorado Boulder, and a Doctor of Music in conducting from Northwestern University. In fall 2009, he joined the music faculty of University of Puget Sound and in 2016 became an associate professor. Currently he serves as interim director, director of bands, and department chair for winds and percussion. At the collegiate level, he conducts the Wind Ensemble and Concert Band as well as teaches courses in conducting and music education.
On Wednesday nights, however, Morris doffs his professor’s cap and bounds onto the podium at the Tacoma Concert Band rehearsals. With an eye and ear attune to details, he delves in and focuses the band’s award-winning sound. “[Rehearsals] have been very exciting and energetic,” Morris Northcutt, board president and principal trumpet player of TCB mentions in a CityLine interview on Nov. 22. Northcutt remarks that Morris spends a great amount of time in rehearsal helping the band understand the music before any notes are even played so as to better the musicians’ overall connection to the pieces. It appears to be a strategy well-received, as the marketing chair of TCB and principal percussionist, Lisa Cepeda comments during the same interview, “It is a different energy…the focus is definitely fresher and there’s a lot of excitement.”
Morris’ focus this season on the spirit of friends and relationships is fitting, given the close family-feel of the band. In the Nov. 22 CityLine interview, Morris states, “My intent this whole season is community, creating relationships, exploring relationships with people—the people that we love—and expressing ourselves through this art form.” The energy and intensity Morris brings to TCB is described by co-principal clarinetist Bryon Taylor when he states that Morris has “an incredible amount of passion and love for music. He is not afraid to tap into his emotions and passion for music, and it becomes contagious for the players. He is an eternal optimist who delivers a strong message of positivity, love and friendship in every rehearsal.”
Morris’ enthusiasm cultivates a higher level of playing from this already superior band. With an eye for detail, Morris pulls sounds out of the fabric of the musical tapestry by encouraging active listening to all parts across the band, while still giving the freedom for expressive playing, whether individual, as a section, or the band as a whole. As Jim Hunt, a first trumpet player in the group since the band’s inception in 1981, notes, “[Morris] has increased emphasis on dynamics and balance while making the members of the band feel very comfortable…his enthusiasm for the music that he directs is reflected in his rehearsals and is resulting in some very exciting performances.”
The band began this season with a crowd-winning performance as over 600 people attended the first concert at the Rialto on Oct. 13 and showed their appreciation with standing ovations at the conclusion of the first half as well as the end of the concert. The theme of the first concert illuminated Morris’ central theme this season as the band performed works by composers who’d written pieces in honor of close friends, including Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the “Enigma Variations.” Internationally recognized French horn player, Gail Williams, a mentor and good friend of Morris himself, captivated the audience with a virtuosic performance of Richard Strauss’ Concerto for Horn No.1.
The season continues with the holiday concert, “Let It Snow,” at the newly-renovated Pantages Theater on Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m. As Morris notes, “’Let It Snow’ is going to be like a holiday celebration of friends and family, both current and those that have passed, because the holidays are always about our memories of the past and so we want to make this a really special night for people to explore those memories.” The concert is sure to delight all ages as it pulls favorite musical selections, including Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” and a festive sing-along, while also providing some more intriguing pieces such as David Maslanka’s “Liberation.” A visit from Saint Nick, as read by Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello, may indeed make the jolly man in the red suit appear in person!
Into the new year, the band continues with a “Military Salute” on Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m., which will also feature the winner of the student soloist contest. Free tickets will be available to active-duty military members, their immediate family as well as to all students 18 and under. Rounding off the season, Tacoma Concert Band will perform “A Night at the Movies” on April 6, 7:30 p.m. with free tickets available for students 18 and under. Tickets for all concerts can be purchased through the TCB’s webpage www.tacomaconcertband.org and at Tacoma Arts Live (formerly the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts), www.tacomaartslive.org, 253-591-5894. Tacoma Concert Band can also be followed on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.