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Salem Band continued their 250th anniversary celebration with their annual winter concert, held at Hanes Auditorium on the campus of Salem College. Performing since 1771, Salem Band is the oldest continuous mixed wind ensemble in the nation. Fittingly, the concert featured a number of pieces tied to American nostalgia, while also looking forward to their promising future. The first piece was "Hymn to the Dawn" by Kimberly Archer, which set the tone nicely for the rest of the program. I was happy to hear how the band did not overplay like many concert bands do, but instead took advantage of the smaller size and instrumentation of a concert band setting and the colors they could create with it. In "Hymn to the Dawn," they did a great job of blending to create rich waves of sound.
The next piece was Andante et Allegro by Joseph Edouard Barat featuring University of North Carolina School of the Arts trombone student Elijah Van Camp-Goh as a soloist. Here, the droning, repetitive Andante section nicely set up the surprise of the Allegro, and Van Camp-Goh did a good job of "singing" within the very operatic solo and accompaniment texture. Robert Russell Bennett's Suite of Old American Dances followed, which contained many of the sweet, nostalgic harmonies that we so often associate with Americana – fitting for a band so strongly embedded in America's musical history. The band then played a piece they commissioned from Patrick J. Burns, composed "in celebration of their 250th year of making music and history together." Burns wanted to honor Salem Band's history by starting with a trombone choir, the same way the band started in 1771, and taking the piece through many moments where their future was put into question only to be followed by moments of triumph.
The only piece in the program that was not up to par was Gershwin's An American in Paris, where the band just seemed out of sync, and there was not much of the sharpness or clarity needed to effectively perform Gershwin's music. They returned to form, though, with William P. Latham's Proud Heritage March and Leroy Anderson's "The Rakes of Mallow" from Irish Suite. Music director and conductor Eileen M. Young said the Anderson piece specifically was meant to put some humor into the program, repeating the same theme faster and faster until at the end, "we're all smiling." The program closed with "The Empire Strikes Back (Finale)" by John Williams and a second piece by Burns, "Benediction." It is hard not to be moved by Williams' music, as he has written some of the most famous and timeless melodies of all time, and the band executed them perfectly. "Benediction" was a wonderfully calm way to end the performance, reminding me a lot of the Archer piece from the beginning of the program, but this time the waves settled instead of rising.
Salem Band is older than the United States itself, and it has survived every president and war the country has seen. It is amazing to see that they are still putting on successful concerts, and it is clear that, even 250 years in, they have a bright future ahead.