Although works written for concert band often last no longer than 10–15 minutes, the Yale Concert Band will join forces with the United States Coast Guard Band on Sunday to play a piece requiring far more time and musicians than a typical concert band piece.
On Nov. 17, at 2 p.m., the two bands will play James Barnes’s Symphony No. 3, a 40-minute piece inspired by Barnes’s emotional journey following the death of his baby daughter.
“It’s such a big piece of music,” said Commander Adam Williamson, director of the Coast Guard Band. “It’s going to be a really special performance because of the musicality and emotion that’s just so inherent to the symphony, speaking directly to the audience’s soul.”
The concert in Woolsey Hall marks the fifth collaboration between the two organizations. The program will include works by female composers Chen Yi, Jennifer Higdon and Carolyn Bremer, in addition to an “Armed Forces Medley” and works by Samuel Barber and John Philip Sousa.
The Coast Guard Band, stationed in New London, is a 55-member professional ensemble that represents the United States Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security. It is one of the five major military bands. The ensemble has performed in venues including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Carnegie Hall and at every presidential inauguration ceremony since Herbert Hoover’s.
“The collaboration with Yale’s band speaks to the multimission nature of the Coast Guard,” Williamson said. “Even our motto, ‘Semper Paratus,’ gives insight into its position of being flexible and adaptable. We try to work with as many kinds of groups as possible in as many different ways as possible to represent these incredible servicepeople.”
The concert will open with two pieces performed by the Yale Concert Band. Yi, who was the first woman to receive a Master of Arts in music composition from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, composed her piece, “Dragon Rhyme,” in 2010. In the score, she wrote that the piece takes the image of a dragon — “auspicious, fresh and vivid.”
“Fanfare Ritmico” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Higdon will follow. The piece is a celebration of the rhythm and speed of life and reflects the rhythmic elements of daily actions.
“Higdon uses many interesting chords, with a multiple tonal centers at once, yet it’s still pleasant to listen to,” said clarinetist Ben Kramer ’23.
Then, the Coast Guard Band will play two pieces of its own.
Williamson said that he wanted to program smaller works to complement the enormity of the Barnes. He chose Bremer’s “Early Light” and Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.”
“Early Light” is inspired by the national anthem, yet the piece is not a patriotic tribute, but rather a connection to baseball. Bremer draws upon the anticipation she felt hearing the anthem before baseball games during her childhood. “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” is a dreamlike tribute to Knoxville, Tennessee.
The Sousa march, “Gallant Seventh March,” and “Armed Forces Medley” pay tribute to the Coast Guard Band’s identity as a military band.
“Sousa is part of the Coast Guard band’s original story as one of the three people credited with establishing it, so I always like to pay tribute to him as much as I can,” Williamson said.
The collaboration between the two bands will take place in the second half of the concert.
In 1994, the United States Air Force Band commissioned Barnes to write his third symphony. Just before Barnes began writing the symphony, his baby daughter Natalie passed away. Most of the work’s four movements reflect Barnes’s personal journey in a time of tragedy. In his notes accompanying the piece, Barnes called the symphony “the most emotionally draining work” he has ever composed.
“I enjoy the challenge of preparing our units separately and putting them together and having them work,” said Thomas Duffy, director of the Yale Concert Band.
The bands’ only combined rehearsal will take place Sunday evening, right before the concert. The directors will each conduct two movements of the piece.
According to trumpet player James Brandfonbrener ’21, the Barnes features extensive solo passages that shine a spotlight on individual players as well as give the ensemble time to rest during the lengthy work.
As the work progresses, the mood goes from deep despair to fulfillment and joy. The fourth movement pays tribute to Barnes’s son Billy, born three days after Barnes completed the symphony. It is based upon a hopeful, comforting hymn sung at Natalie’s funeral, “I am Jesus’s Little Lamb.”
Bassoonist Maddy Tung ’21 “enjoys the contrast in the Barnes between the big dramatic parts and the softer solo passages, which [they] do not often experience in band.”
“I feel quite privileged to partner with a high-functioning university band,” Williamson said. “It will be a real thrill to have that shared experience.”
The United States Coast Guard Band and Yale Concert Band were established in 1925 and 1917, respectively.