The University of North Carolina School of the Arts wind ensemble and chamber winds did not disappoint, welcoming many guests to the historic and beautiful Stevens Center for an evening of unique and fresh music. The ensemble was led by Mark Norman, with two esteemed guest conductors, Kenneth Amis and Tim Heath. The program for this show consisted of a variety of styles, from disjoint harmonic works to classic band-style cotillions. Each piece was carefully picked to not only ensure the enjoyment of the audience, but to tell a story.

We started the night with “A Mother of a Revolution” by Omar Thomas. A single snare player played a traditional march as the rest of the ensemble proudly took their places. This work included a lot of dissonance and uncomfortable rhythmic shifts, but for good reason. It was written with the thought of uplifting and supporting the LGBTQIA+ community in mind. The tense feeling this music portrayed highlighted the fear and worry many from this community feel when faced with discouraging or opposing people. This energetic and powerful tune was the perfect piece to start the night. Another interesting number from the program was from “Ba Yin” or “Eight Sounds” by Chen Yi. This movement features a saxophone quartet with accompaniment from the rest of the group. A fun aspect from this piece was that the rest of the ensemble was mimicking percussion instruments. This, along with the quick melodic licks from the saxes, kept the audience engaged until the last note. After listening to this piece, there is no way anyone could deny the immense talent of this ensemble.

The last tune from the first half, and a crowd favorite, was another by Thomas, “Of A New Day Begun.” As another moving and emotional work, it was written to honor the nine souls who lost their lives on the July 17th, 2015 attack at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. This piece is rooted in the Black American church tradition, thus making the well-known hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” an anchor of this work. It begins with some uneasy dissonance among the band, pulling at this fine line between spite and reverence, with faint motifs of the beloved hymn. After much strife within the music, it pays off with a beautiful homage to the hymn; the ensemble stopped playing and began stomping, clapping, and singing the tune instead. This forced the crowd to be completely silent, taking in the powerful and emotional feeling of the music. Heath, conductor for this magnificent work, led the ensemble through every swell and shift with ease as the piece came to an end.

After the intermission we were met with three very different works. Amis took to the podium for his own composition, “Bell Tone’s Ring.” He was commissioned to write this piece for a wedding, making it a love song. This performance was regal and sweet with contrasting fast and slow sections that accompanied each other well. Next came a collection of cotillions by Francis “Frank” Johnson. Johnson, a previously-forgotten composer, pioneer, and band leader, was the first African American man to have his music published and the first person to integrate a band. He was an incredible influence on the music community but was dismissed due to the color of his skin. This is why UNCSA chose to honor Johnson and his work by commissioning Amis to write new arrangements of his pieces. “Collection of New Cotillions” consists of six short, classic band movements that featured every section of the ensemble in this performance. It felt traditional in comparison to other pieces from the evening, but was still a crowd favorite.

The final piece from the program was “Give Us This Day” by David Maslanka. This tune included sections of harmonic push and pull that was met with satisfying releases of tension. It felt almost like a breath of fresh air, but still captivating and exciting. It began slow with much forward momentum that led to the peak of the piece. The overblowing from the brass section created a brightness that was not yet heard in the concert. The tune continued with a tempo switch to a faster, more rhythmic section that grabbed the attention of the crowd, before circling back to the original motif to close out the movement. The ensemble was met with a long, well deserved standing ovation to close out the night.