Geneseo Wind Ensemble honors native New York composers in impressive concert

The Geneseo Wind Ensemble (pictured above) performed on Friday March 23 in the Wadsworth Auditorium. Under Coordinator of Instrumental Activities Leah McGray, who conducted the concert, the ensemble played songs strictly by composers from New York State, excluding Libby Larsen. (Izzy graziano/Knights’ Life Editor)

The melodious sounds from each instrument in the Geneseo Wind Ensemble delighted the audience members and certainly put each attendee in a “New York State of Mind.”

The students put on an incredible performance on Friday March 23 in Wadsworth Auditorium and were conducted by Coordinator of Instrumental Activities Leah McGray.

The concert’s theme of New York showcased talented composers who had lived in the Empire State—excluding Libby Larsen—and had been inspired by the state.

“I try to pick pieces based on some sort of theme or connection. In this case it was the area and the fact that most of [the composers] were in New York State at some point,” McGray said. “Some of them were associated with Eastman [school in Rochester] or the city itself. It just works out really nicely that even if people aren’t from [New York] originally, when they come here this is their contribution and where they’re remembered.”

The program began with “Suite from Candide,” composed by Leonard Bernstein. The Wind Ensemble transitioned into “Introduction to the Moon,” composed by Larsen. “Introduction to the Moon” contained exciting surprises, such as poems from New York based poets that were read over the music.

“The Larsen [piece] is probably the least traditional of what we did … using wine glasses and singing. It asks for the percussionist to bow some of the instruments, which creates this ethereal sound,” McGray said.

The following piece was “The Promise of Living,” composed by Aaron Copland. The ensemble then played a piece composed by William Schuman called “George Washington Bridge.”

“A lot of the compositional techniques were different features,” McGray said. “For example, the Schuman uses polytonality, or two chords side by side that are actually transposed against each other.”

The final two pieces were “City Trees,” composed by Michael Markowski and “Lincolnshire Posy,” by Percy Aldridge Grainger.

“The Grainger [piece] is crazy. He adds in little layers of details. He adds in purposeful wrong notes. He just cuts and pastes different tunes on top of other tunes,” McGray said. “So there are some really odd features designed to offset the audience’s expectations.”

For flutist freshman Kaylee Hausrath, playing these pieces was nostalgic, but also brought about new feelings.

“I had played some of these pieces in the past and being here and playing it with such a different group of students of all different majors gives it a really unique and wonderful experience to play with people who are playing because they enjoy it,” Hausrath said.

McGray expressed how much she enjoyed all the pieces and stressed the importance of finding music that would appeal to many audiences.

“I love all of these pieces. A lot of them are pretty standard to the wind ensemble repertoire. I try not to program things I don’t like,” McGray said. “There is enough good music out there that we can do things that appeal to me and appeal to a broader range of students.” 

Hausrath emphasized the talent of the ensemble and the work that her and her fellow students put into the concert.

“As a whole, our professor told us we became really one organism. We became one as we played all of these pieces, and it’s really unique to have that experience,” Hausrath said.

McGray echoed the same sentiment, expressing pride toward her students.

“They have been impressing me every day. They just keep raising the bar higher and higher for themselves. Their listening skills and the way they respond to each other as musicians is top notch,” McGray said.

“They’ve proven themselves to be so capable in their technique by listening across the ensemble and listening to what lines are doing and starting to understand the compositional techniques,” McGray said. “They’re really elevating the music from just playing the notes on the page."