All posts by John Carmichael

About John Carmichael

Retired Director of Bands and Professor of Music at the University of South Florida Professor Emeritus

What’s the deal with the toilet paper?

I have been away from this too long, and I apologize. There have been several triggers for tonight’s blog, first and foremost among them has been the need for us to cancel our first concert. After all of the work and attention to detail . . . after doing everything possible on the legal side to make sure we are operating properly . . . after searching so long and diligently for a suitable home, we have a virus. I do not intend to make light of this COVID-19 virus in any way. People over 65 years old are in danger with most of the deaths occurring among those who are in their eighties. I am 67.5. The things that are being done in our country to avoid further spread of the virus are appropriate and necessary. Considering all of the things I have had to do and to tolerate to get this show on the road, if I could have stopped the virus, I would have. I am relatively sure that the measures being taken will have positive results down the road, but not immediately. My greater fear has to do with the next virus. They seem to crop up every year, and our ability to fight them has been consistently behind the curve while the viruses become more deadly. So, for all of you who wanted to see if we could pull this season off with a wind band that sounds truly professional, I apologize. Our next chance is May 17. That, unfortunately, is not a sure bet. We are considering adding a make-up date sometime in late September or early October.

I did go shopping this afternoon, hedging my bets I suppose. The shelves were well stocked–even the cleaning supplies. But then I hit the paper goods aisle. There was no toilet paper. Then I recalled we has a virus, but I know it is not a stomach virus. What are people thinking? I would much rather have an oversupply of hand lotion to use after I wash my hands raw with soap and water. Or, how about a supply of fine wine? It has been mentioned that alcohol kills the virus. Well then heck, let’s go for Wild Turkey 101. But toilet paper? There are so many alternatives to that product, Spanish moss not withstanding. People using that much toilet paper are going to clog their commodes. And now we have come full circle. Clog rhymes with blog, and I was then reminded what I had not done for so long. Call it writer’s constipation.

But not without difficulties

First, sorry for not writing in such a long time. The purpose of having a blog is to blog, and I have not been blogging due to the many details putting this project together. I reach a saturation point where I must move on to something else or explode my head. Perhaps you can relate. The first difficulty is, in spite of completing over 74 auditions, we still do not have a functioning band, and that means we do not have a product. Without a product, it is very difficult to raise funds, particularly sponsorships and patronage. Money is needed to set up a business address, to incorporate ($25.00), to establish 501c3 not-for-profit status, to pay for a website, to pay for professional web design, (the “to’s” will continue invisibly) a professionally designed logo, staff help, facility expenses and then, most of all, we would like to pay the players. The conductor would like to be paid eventually. So we begin this project on a “faith promise” with the hope that we will quickly deliver a high quality product that is found to be desirable by a significant number of audience members. We begin this product knowing that the seated players share the vision of having a professional wind band in Kansas City to the point that they are willing to play for no guarantee of compensation in the first year. If possible, after much focused work in the direction of producing revenue, player compensation could happen. It just cannot be promised. It is the writer’s opinion that the ensemble should not continue into future seasons without the assurance of some player compensation. It may not come close to union scale, but it must be something. In five years, if this organization is not achieving a per service remuneration close to union scale, the whole idea of a professional wind band in Kansas City must be rethought.

Those are not unreasonable goals for the future. It does look like we have found a perfect match in terms of rehearsal and concert facilities. The location is excellent. A general announcement should be made about the identity of the new home shortly. Most of the seats in the band are filled. With the exception of the oboe section, we could proceed to give a concert with the existing instrumentation (not ideal, but possible). Our board of directors is on the verge of completing the necessary paperwork for our various applications and has been a terrific source of philosophical support and physical assistance. We will be identifying firm concert dates with detailed programs soon after naming our home, and we are all looking forward to the first time we play together as an ensemble. Judging from the auditions, it is going to be an excellent band.

I will attempt to be more regular with these missives. If I fail to do anything over the next several days, it might have something to do with holidays. On behalf of the Heart of America Winds, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a Happy New Year. Well, I guess I will write again before the new year. Be safe.

Other observations

When hunting for audition excerpts that were appropriate for our situation, I explored over thirty sites, most of significant schools of music with outstanding wind ensembles. I was rather taken aback by the audition material. For many of the instruments (saxophone and euphonium excluded), the excerpts selected were orchestral, not band. From the selection pattern, it was pretty clear that the person who selected the excerpts was focusing on the most difficult parts from an orchestral composition to be performed on a concert during the ensuing semester. At a time when wind ensembles are achieving such wonderful results, why are the directors not making sure that there are some band excerpts on the audition? It may be a result of laziness, but it also seems to be a statement of how important even the directors of major wind ensembles may feel about their place in the various schools or colleges of music.

So far, no band composition has won a Pulitzer Prize. No band has won a Grammy for outstanding classical album of the year (that may be reserved only for orchestras, I have not done the research). With the tremendous influx of new music for wind band, these things will eventually change. I am not jealous of my orchestral brother and sister conductors. I am simply wanting more for the musical medium that I think has such potential for an even richer and more artistic future. I am not satisfied that we tend to keep to ourselves by saying recognition from critics and prizes does not matter (implying bias). We do have a bit of a cult, with band people appreciating band people. The only time we recruit new members, along with their parents, is around 6th grade. We are much like the cult of BOA or the cult of DCI. Those people who like those formats follow those formats, but there is no real effort to evangelize. For us to lose that cult-like status, we must appeal to a broader, more artistically educated public. Hence, the professional wind band needs to appear.

The next step for the wind band in America

Our early professional bands blew it. While orchestras in major cities were building concert halls, establishing foundations and creating concert series, the bands were traveling by train from town to town giving concerts. Yes, those concerts were wildly popular and many of the bands were staffed by the best players available. Crowds for the band concerts would often number in the tens of thousands. In some of the best bands, the instrumentalists were paid more than they would have been if they had been in an orchestra. As time progressed, the radio and record player changed the availabillity of music for the middle class household. No longer was it necessary for people from smaller cities and towns to travel to a location where a concert was being given by a traveling concert band. Sousa predicted that electronic music would cause the demiss of the professional concert band. Since the bands had not established home bases–their own concert halls–along with foundations and concert series, they ceased to exist one by one until the last traveling concert band was gone in the 1950’s.

Those were not the only problems that lead to the disappearance of the full-time professional wind band. There was the issue of repertoire. The band was the perfect medium for little gems of music known as marches. Well, not all of them were gems, but the best of them are pretty significant in the world of art music. Besides marches, the bands would play transcriptions of orchestra pieces, potpourris, popular style music and works for band and soloist. What was missing was a large body of compositions for wind band that had artistic value. Yes, there were some composed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries but not even to fill one full season of performances. And, because of the band’s association with lower quality music and outdoor performance, they were dismissed by critics as being unworthy of their attention. Because of the work of Edwin Franko Goldmen and by several composers who valued the many possible colors of the concert band, the artistic repertoire began to expand. Each decade would see more and more serious works being written for the band. At present, almost every serious composer of art music is writing for the wind band medium. This new, exciting condition is the result of several causes. First, the professional band organizatioins (ABA, CBDNA, NBA and WASBE) initiated either yearly awards for the most highly regarded composition of the year or they contacted specific composers to write music for band paid for by a consortium of universities and colleges. There is currently so much wind band music being produced each year that nobody in the field can keep abreast of the most artistic works.

The next step in the development of the wind band in America is the all-civilian, fully professional ensemble that has for itself not only a home but also a concert season that is valued by a public that enjoys art music. The big trick in making this happen is finding the money to support such a bold endeavor.