SMC hosts annual Band Clinic Day

Published 4:55 pm Monday, February 6, 2023

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DOWAGIAC — Southwestern Michigan College’s annual “Clinic Day” Feb. 3 featured four area school bands critiqued just in time for polishing March Southwestern Michigan Band and Orchestra Association festival programs.

Clinician Dr. Kenneth Thompson of Ohio’s Bowling Green State University coached Katy Essex’s Marcellus High School Concert Band, Paul Stanton’s Schoolcraft High School Concert Band, Kelly Rosselit’s Berrien Springs High School Wind Symphony and Connie Wicklund’s Niles High School Symphonic Band.

Wicklund pulled double duty, playing flute in SMC’s Symphonic Band. For Director of Bands Mark Hollandsworth’s musicians it was an opportunity to road-test selections for “Legend,” their winter concert at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17.

The Symphonic Band, Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Combo will present some of the most legendary works of the genre. Gustav Holst, Leonard Bernstein and Percy Grainger are representative of the composers of classic wind band literature. High school guests will contribute a capstone performance culminating the 2023 SMC Trumpet Clinic Day.

“I challenge you to listen for layers,” Thompson said, “and remember there is a difference between volume and dynamics. Keep asking yourself, ‘How loud am I playing and how loud does it sound?’ If you play low notes versus high notes at volume six, the high notes will sound louder, so you have to adjust. In a march, we want to hear a conversation between the top of the hour glass and the bottom of the hour glass.”

Marcellus performed Grainger’s “The Lost Lady Found,” so Thompson shared his research into the Australian composer who lived in the United States from 1914 until his 1961 death.

“You walk into Grainger’s house in White Plains, N.Y., the stairwell upstairs was right inside the front door,” Thompson related. “Part of his house went this way, part went that way. When someone would turn up at his house and ring the doorbell, he would leap down the stairwell and try to open the door knob with his foot. In the 1920s and ’30s, he was probably the most famous musician in America. He was one of the best piano players on earth.”

Thompson dipped into a deep bag of musical metaphors for analogies to passages he evaluated, from bar codes, race cars and road stripes to the psychology concept of gestalt, where an organized whole is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.

Thompson was driving home a point about grouping notes when he explained that Social Security numbers contain nine digits that are also clustered three-two-four, just as 10-digit phone numbers can be interpreted as three sets of three, three and four numbers.

“Music is arranged that way,” he said. “Every note has three parts — initiation, duration and termination. Musical style exists in two places — the initiation and the termination. Groups at this ability level let duration influence the other two. As music becomes more sophisticated, what you need to play is not in your music stand, but somewhere else in the room.” He discourages toe-tapping to better be able to discern other sections’ “layers. Every time a part enters, it adds another layer. Figure out where you need to listen.”

Clinic Day, introduced on Valentine’s Day in 2020 and canceled by COVID-19 in 2021, resumed last year in the theatre of the Dale A. Lyons Building on the Dowagiac campus. It is co-sponsored with Quinlan and Fabish Music Co., Stevensville.

Each band receives a similar experience of an hour on stage, playing festival selections, with the remaining time receiving tips from Thompson, who has conducted with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for 15 years.

SMC President Dr. Joe Odenwald, bouncing between the Dowagiac campus and Welding/Robotics Day at the Niles campus, welcomed visitors. He admitted he doesn’t play any musical instruments, but noted his 4-year-old son is weeks away from his first piano recital.

 “We’re very proud of our performing arts program and the work Mark and (Director of Choral Activities David Carew) do,” Odenwald said. “You can’t have a college without the arts. I spent four years at an engineering school and was starving for music, theatre and art by the time I got to southwest Michigan 5 ½ years ago. SMC is a comprehensive college with opportunities no matter what you want to do.”

“Wherever you end up after high school,” Hollandsworth said, “I hope this isn’t the end of your road musically. We have 350-400 people here between our band and yours who are all musicians, whether you do it to make friends and have great experiences, or you end up making a living at it.”