Valley’s wind ensemble dazzles audience with first concert in over two years

In their first constraint-free performance since before the pandemic, Valley’s wind ensemble shines with classics like “Somewhere over the Rainbow”

By Edward Segal, Valley Life Editor

The trumpet players of Valley's wind ensemble perform Harold Arlen's "Somewhere over the Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz" as a quartet with one double. David Miller II stands in the middle of the stage, flanked by two musicians on either side of him. Lori Musicant (bottom left) conducts. The seats in front of the stage were filled by the clarinet, flute and oboe players through all the other songs. (Photo by Edward Segal / The Valley Star)

Taking the audience on a roller coaster of emotion with every song, Valley College’s wind ensemble demonstrated the thrill of a live performance, pouring their hearts into their instruments for all to hear.

Made up of students, guests and the occasional professor, Valley’s wind ensemble took the stage Monday night and displayed their excitement to play without masks for the first time in 2.5 years. With two percussionists and one clarinet player coming in as guest performers to aid the musicians in their concert, no chemistry was lost as the 21 instruments collaborated to produce music in a variety of genres. From American jazz to Swahili gospel music, Valley’s wind ensemble carried the 75 audience members through both familiar and culturally diverse tunes.

“It’s very emotional, coming back together,” said conductor Lori Musicant. “We became very close during Zoom, and I feel like it’s kind of a family that came back together.”

The performers opened the show with the Carnegie Anthem, a song that was fast-paced with rapid percussion accompaniment, representing the city soundscape of New York. Musicant then introduced the set list for the rest of the performance.

Mixed in with the students was Valley media arts professor Jessica Fuh, who joined this semester as the only percussionist in the ensemble. Relieving the group of having to play over a recorded percussion track, Fuh described how fun it was for everyone to come in-person and perform live.

“Live music is something nobody takes for granted anymore,” said Fuh, playing a variety of instruments, including cymbals and the xylophone, from the percussionists’ place in the back of the stage. “I certainly look forward to Monday night rehearsals. It’s my favorite night of the week.”

Fuh’s accompaniment shined through in the next two pieces: “First Suite in E-flat,” known for its combination of woodwind, brass and percussion, and “Eire,” which takes listeners through the rocky landscape and scenic villages of Ireland.

The ensemble moved on to perform highlights of the “Avengers: Endgame” soundtrack, building suspense with rapid tempo, xylophone accompaniment and a conclusive drum crescendo, leading perfectly into the intermission.

After the 10-minute break came a rendition of “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” performed solely by the five trumpet players.

Among the trumpeters playing the classic tune was third-year music production major David Miller II, who started his music career on the guitar at 11 years old before switching to trumpet in seventh grade. With gigs such as the Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl under his belt, Miller said his excitement to perform trumped his nervousness of being in the spotlight.

“Over the Rainbow is something so iconic, so beautiful, and it’s the Wizard of Oz, everybody knows it,” said Miller. “Being in the middle, the responsibility is, you have to play the piece and you ain’t got room to mess up, but I wasn’t even thinking about that. I was so glad just to enjoy the musicality of the piece.”

Following that performance was Baba Yetu, a Swahili gospel song found in a video game called Civilization IV. Starting with soft humming and increasing in tempo as it progressed, the song made the listeners feel like a powerful being was approaching.

For their penultimate performance, the musicians played “Redemption,” a song that Musicant characterized as conveying the euphoria of emerging from quarantine. The ensemble wrapped the concert up with a “medley of four tunes,” as Musicant described it, from different eras of American jazz.

Letting their emotion pour through the music, Valley’s wind ensemble demonstrated their dedication to the craft and willingness to stick through the challenges of COVID-19.