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Rhode Island’s Musical Treasure: The American Band

Saturday, July 06, 2013

 

The 60 dedicated members of the brass ensemble The American Band will play two shows in Rhode Island this month.

There are few things more all-American than a band, and Rhode Island is home to one of the oldest all-volunteer community bands in the country. Appropriately named the American Band, the ensemble is a community band with 60 volunteer members. With weekly Thursday night rehearsals, the band performs about 15 concerts a year from the months of September through July.

“It’s a special kind of group,” said Brian Cardany, Interim Conductor. “They play for the love of it and also share the music for the community.”

The American Band will be performing twice in Rhode Island this month: July 7 at the Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol and July 18 at Glen Manor in Portsmouth. This summer, the band will be performing two pieces to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War: American Salute by Morton Gould and American Civil War Fantasy by Jerry Bilik.

GoLocal spoke with Brian Cardany on the band and why its performances should be added to your summer list.

What is The American Band and its background?

The American Band is an auditioned, adult community band with about 60 members. The band is one of the oldest of its kind in the United States, having been originally established as the American Brass Band of Providence in 1837. The well-known cornet player and bandleader, David Wallis Reeves, took over the band in 1866, adding woodwinds to create a modern concert band. In 1978, Dr. Francis M. Marciniak, Director of Bands at Rhode Island College, reorganized the ensemble in its current form. Dr. Gene Pollart took over as conductor in 1996, after the untimely death of Dr. Marciniak. Dr. Pollart just resigned his position in April, and I (as the Assistant Conductor since 2007) am now acting as the Interim Conductor until they make a permanent appointment.

Who are the band members? What is the selection process?

Although many of the band members are professional musicians and/or music educators, many of them are accomplished amateurs who work in a variety of professional fields. All members must pass an audition to become a member of the ensemble, and membership is controlled to ensure a properly balanced instrumentation. Any one interested in potential openings should contact me or someone else in the band. Members must be at least 18 years of age.

What are the typical pieces performed? Any favorites?

We perform a wide variety of repertoire, in order to represent the many facets of the wind band heritage. Our summer programs tend to be potpourri "pops" concerts, with Broadway musical medley's, patriotic music, marches, and other light works. During the rest of the year, we tend to focus on core wind band works, as well as contemporary works written for the modern wind ensemble. Although it is impossible to choose a single favorite piece, some of the notable compositions we have performed include Emblems (Aaron Copland), Sketches on a Tudor Psalm (Fisher Tull), Selections from "West Side Story" (Leonard Bernstein), and Selections from "Porgy and Bess" (George Gershwin).

What are some of your upcoming performances after the summer?

We plan to do a benefit concert at North Smithfield High School on November 24, and a performance with the URI Southern New England Honor Band on January 18, 2014.

What was your most memorable performance with the band?

I have always enjoyed our performances at the Boston Festival of Bands in Faneuil Hall, which occurs in early June each year. Another notable performance was our appearance at the Music Educators National Conference when it was last held in Providence in 2009.

What makes your band different from other bands? What makes it unique and interesting?

One thing that distinguishes the American Band is its high performance level. Most community bands do not require an entrance audition and accept members of all levels of ability and experience, which provides its own special value to the community. But auditioned adult community bands such as the American Band are able to perform more difficult music (providing a larger available repertoire) and generally sound like a professional ensemble.

The band also has a distinctive culture that has developed over the past 35 years, since it was reestablished in 1978. We still have several members who have been involved throughout, who carry an institutional memory of Dr. Marciniak's founding principals and practices, and there has also been a steady influx of newer members who bring their own perspectives. My sense is that the culture of the American Band tends to be fairly relaxed and open compared to that of other ensembles of comparable quality.

For more information on the band, click here. If you want to hire The American Band for an event, contact Brian Cardany at bcardany@uri.edu or at (401) 874-2799.

 

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