Calling all band and classical music geeks! The San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band is bringing to life music no one has heard in nearly a century at its upcoming concert. The Bandâs music librarian, Kevin Tam, has resurrected an unpublished humoresque from the Sousa Archives entitled The Band Came Back. The piece was never recorded and hasnât been performed since olâ John Philip himself waved the baton in front of his own band in the early 1900s. Tamâs arrangement will premiere as the literal centerpiece of the Freedom Bandâs 35th Anniversary Season opener, conducted by Guest Conductor Bradley Connlain, at 8 pm on Friday, September 21, in San Francisco and repeated in Pacifica 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 23 (www.sflgfb.org).
Sousa is famously known as the March King, though more than half of his 320 compositions are anything but. The Band Came Back is a humoresque, which are compositions that feature musical practical jokes. Known for being a wisecracker, Sousa wrote 14 of these comic pieces decades before PDQ Bach hit the scene, but only two were ever published and only three recorded. It was the fact that 12 of Sousaâs humoresques hadnât been performed since his death that sent Tam spelunking in the Sousa Archives at the University of Illinois. But it was the showcasing of each instrumentâs voice that led Tam to pluck out this particular piece.
Premiered in 1895 by the Sousa Band, the piece opens with a solo oboe playing alone amidst a forest of empty music stands. Section by section, clarinets, flutes, trumpets, tuba join him onstage, adding solo quotations from well-known ditties like The Campbells Are Coming, Dixie and Sousaâs own Washington Post March. By the end, instruments all come together for a rousing rendition of the finale from Wagnerâs TannhĂ¤user Overture. All instruments are on stage and the fat lady, figuratively speaking, sings.
âThe Band Came Back is one of the few pieces of music that explores every nuance and niche of what a band is capable of playing,â Tam told me during a phone interview. âIt really showcases every section and the technical abilities therein.â
Tam told me his dipping into arranging began âvery organically.â Describing himself as a music preservationist rather than an arranger, Tam joined the Freedom Band on euphonium in 1998 and became its music librarian soon after. As librarian, he sought out various music lending libraries and composer archives as resources for the Band. Thatâs when he discovered Ferde GrofĂ¨. GrofĂ¨ created the original orchestration of George Gershwinâs Rhapsody in Blue for the Paul Whiteman Band, the swing band that famously commissioned and premiered that piece. Gershwin composed the two piano parts; GrofĂ¨, a saxophonist for Whiteman, orchestrated all the other voices.
Tam began listening to compositions by GrofĂ¨ and found all the same colorful instrumental voicings that Rhapsody features. âI thought, âThat should be a band piece.ââ So he set out to create parts for the Freedom Band to perform GrofĂ¨âs music. Tamâs first arrangement was the Mardis Gras movement from GrofĂ¨âs Mississippi Suite (another Paul Whiteman Orchestra original) that the Freedom Band first performed in 2007. Still enraptured by GrofĂ¨, Tam has also just arranged three movements from GrofĂ¨âs Valley of the Sun Suite, which will also be premiered at The Band Came Back.
Valley of the Sun celebrates the Golden Jubilee of the signing of the National Reclamation Act of 1902 and the Salt River Project, a massive hydro-electric project that built the Roosevelt Dam in Arizona. The occasion sounds ironically dry, but when Tam heard a rare recording of the piece, he loved the range of colors and styles the music evoked â desert landscapes, massive construction, a celebrational dance. It has all the pictorial quality of music from a Fantasia segment. The piece has only been officially performed twice â in 1952 by the Arizona State College (Tempe) Symphonic Orchestra for the original Golden Jubilee, and again in 1992 by the Phoenix Symphony celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Salt River Project. Now Tam has arranged it for wind ensemble.
Word is getting out about Tamâs arrangements of rare music. Following the Freedom Bandâs dual premiere in September, the wind ensemble from Diablo Valley College plans to perform an entire concert of Tamâs arrangements, including these two pieces and Mississippi Suite.
âThere can only be one world premiere, though,â Tam quipped. Thatâs been reserved for the Freedom Band.