The Motor City Brass Band performed its 400th concert since the organization started 19 years ago, last Sunday at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, 15801 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.
The audience heard reminiscing on the origins of the band, as 19 years ago someone was lying on a couch when he received a phone call, saying a brass band was just starting out, and wouldn’t he consider coming to listen to rehearsal to see what it was about, perhaps even conduct a couple performances? Director and conductor Craig Strain then went on to say the caller had remained a friend of his and active in the band in the years since, and deserved the credit for motivating the band in continually breaking new territory, such as the band doing its first concert by itself and drawing a crowd of 200 (up until then, the band had only performed with a choir or band which had invited it).
Strain then presented a commemorative award to his friend Ray Murphy on the occasion of his retirement from playing with the Motor City Brass Band after the Dec. 14 concert. Insyte was also singled out for recognition during Sunday’s show for sponsoring the band for the past 11 years.
The milestone concert, performed along with the Ypsilanti Community Choir, was also marked by a special prize drawing of the cards turned in by the audience, and a special afterglow following the concert. Allan Brink of Beverly Hills won a jar of Grandma Drena’s Soup from The Wonderful Soup Co., and Best Western Greenfield Inn offered a stay to Anne Herbert. Herbert said she especially loved the concert because her 15-year-old daughter was playing her second concert in the Motor City Brass Band, “the youngest one in there!”
The audience was given punch and cookies in the theater lobby, while sponsors were given refreshments in the mezzanine. One who has sponsored the band for four years, Dr. Don Smith of Wyandotte, liked the concert, “and I’ll tell you one thing, it was a Christmas concert with Christmas music!
“Which is something that the DSO has sort of forgotten how to do, I think they’re so politically correct,” Smith said. “Because they won’t play anything that sounds like it could be associated with Christmas things, as that holiday began.”
Smith found the band in fine form in reaching its 400th concert milesone. While adding he did not like the choir quite as well as the band, Smith did like several of the combination numbers that the band did, “I’m certainly not against combinations.” With a couple of friends in the band, Smith said he sponsors one, and “cheers for the other one, because he gets sponsors.”
The band’s opening number, “Sleigh Ride,” was called by the Strain “one of the most famous band winter piece carols,” and the conductor told the audience that the band was following up by “turning to one of the greatest composers ever,” as it performed a work composed by John Sebastian Bach (and rearranged by Ricks Van der Verde for brass band), “Fantasia & Fugue.”
“A Little Drummer” and “Angels” were performed before intermission, which were actually rearrangements by Strain of “A Little Drummer Boy” for a trio of drummers, and a rock version of “Angels We Have Heard on High” (originally derived from a French carol and the tune Gloria). The band also played a part of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” lesser known than the popular “Hallelujah Chorus,” the “Overture.”
Ariel Toews-Ricotta directed the Ypsilanti Community Choir in Amy Feldman Bernon’s “Throw Open Your Shutters!” which was followed up Morten Lauridsen’s Latin choral “O Magnum Mysterium,” the beginning of which Towes-Ricotta explained could be translated “Oh great mystery & wonderful sacrament that ever should be the newborn boy.” Then the band joined with the choir in performing “A Garland of Carols” such as “I Saw Three Ships on Christmas Day.”
After intermission, the Motor City Brass Band performed“A Christmas Festival” of eight carols ranging from “Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bells” to “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night.” Then the Ypsilanti Community Choir performed on selections from Irving Berlin (“Happy Holidays” and “White Christmas”, before the band and choir combined on Michael Praetorius’ “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming,” and the “Hallelujah Chorus,” prior to finishing up with “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
Still more Christmas music was provided Sunday by the Motor City Youth Brass Band. The youth performed in the lobby of the Michael A. Guido Theater prior to the Dec. 14 concert and during intermission, as audience members had an opportunity to shop at the Holiday Boutique in the Padzieski Art Gallery across from the theater.
The Motor City Brass Band and Ypsilanti Community Choir will follow up their Sunday afternoon “Sounds of the Season” concert at the Michael A. Guido Theater with a celebration of the “Songs of the Season” later this week. WEMU’s Linda Yohn will host the 7:30 p.m. Thursday concert in the Townsley Auditorium, in the Morris Lawrence Building on the Washtenaw County Community College campus.
Besides the Ypsilanti Community Choir and special guests Motor City Brass Band, music before the Dec. 18 concert and during the intermission will be provided by the jazz quintet BDQ. The doors open at 7 p.m., and admission and parking are free (for more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
The band will also be returning to the Michael A. Guido Theater April 19 for around its 405th or 406th performance, as last Sunday’s audience was invited to come back to hear the sixth edition of the Motor City Festival of Bands. Each year the Motor City Brass Band invites four other bands (as far away as Muskegon and Flint).
Each band will play a 20-minute concert, before all 300-400 people are brought back on stage to “do a huge mass band finale.” Retired Eastern Michigan University band director and musician Dr. Max Plank will be guest conductor of the Festival Bands, working with the bands and leading the mass band finale. For more information, visit mcbb.org or call (248) 788-6618.
The Motor City Brass Band is considered to be among the top British-style brass bands in North America, deriving from Great Britain’s 200-year-old brass band heritage. The band performs throughout the year in a variety of venues from classical to jazz, and pop to sacred. Strain has been at the helm as arranger and composer since the band’s inception (for more about Craig’s arrangements and his leading several musical organizations, go to craigstrain.com).