For the first time ever, the Yale Concert Band asked the audience to “please turn on your cell phones.”

The Yale Concert Band — a group of about 50 wind, brass and percussion players, including undergraduates and several students from the graduate School of Music — was hosting its first performance of the year this Friday in Woolsey Hall.

The band’s piece — “Honeycomb” by composer Cody Brookshire — integrates the sounds of live musicians and electronic sounds from audience members’ cellphones generated by a new software called SynkroTakt that streams audio tracks synchronically over the Internet through web-enabled devices.

Music Director Thomas Duffy said he hopes the band’s incorporation of technology will help attract a wider audience to Concert Band performances.

“With the Honeycomb piece, I thought we might draw people in with tech interest,” he said. “I’m not sure we did, but so what? It’s a different sound, color and it’s a way of integrating the world. It’s kind of a new paradigm … you know, everybody’s welcome.”

The band has been an active voice in Yale’s music scene since 1917, performing everything from traditional wind band pieces to the experimental sounds of more contemporary musical movements.

During Honeycomb, audience members logged on to SynkroTakt’s website, clicked a few buttons and then waited for the music to start — it was that simple. Once the band began playing, sounds of low and high technological hums — like the buzz of bees — filled the room, responding to each blow of the trumpets and gliss of the flutes. Then suddenly the music stopped and Duffy laid down his baton.

“We’re having some technical difficulties; we’re going to start that over again,” Duffy said.

And so they did. This time, in a less cluttered rendition, audience members heard their cell phones buzz under the soaring sound of wind instruments bursting from the stage. Each cell phone sang a different tune, and each audience member became a part of the performance.

For Nicole Blackwood ’20, technology was a huge part of the concert’s appeal.

“Honestly, I’m usually a little bored by classical music concerts,” she said. “But this was a lot more engaging probably because of the technology. The parts incorporating electronics were really interesting because they were trying to bring a diverse young audience in.”

The performance extended far beyond the walls of Woolsey Hall and even Yale’s campus: Audience members from all over the country were able to tune in with their cell phones as active participants in the performance via livestream.

Jacob Hillman ’19, principal saxophone of the Yale Concert Band, whose mother tuned in all the way from Plano, Texas, said the band’s combination of music and technology represents an effective way to bring people together and into the performance.

“Technology gives us an opportunity to let the audience be involved in real-time and be in sync with everything … bringing the audience into the performance rather than just the audience using technology,” he said. “Technology can be whatever, it can be very insignificant — or you can use technology and it can actually affect the way you feel about the performance.”

But for Duffy, technology is just a small part of the band’s larger mission.

“Who wants to go to a concert where you feel like you’re in church?” he said. “We’re looking for [both] cutting edge and tradition. We’re one of the oldest bands in the country. And yet the fun is finding the newest things as well.”

Over the years, the Yale Concert Band has toured all over the world, to places including Ghana, South Africa and Mexico, using music as a means to shape the social fabric of global communities and foster an international appreciation for music.

“Part of it is that we play music,” Duffy said. “But that’s just a means to an end.”

Although the Yale Concert Band has managed certain degrees of international success, Duffy said the band still finds difficulty resonating with students on campus.

“Most people think of band as something they sat through in high school — rock band, marching band, jazz band — and they’ve been pretty wretched experiences,” he said. “[But] if I can get people to come, and I don’t know if they’ll come back or not, but if for at least once, maybe they’ll enjoy it.”

The Yale Concert Band will hold its next performance on Saturday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in Woolsey Hall alongside the Yale Glee Club and the Yale Symphony Orchestra.

Isabel Guarco |