The North Carolina Brass Band, under the direction of Dr. Brian Meixner, gave the first of two concerts to close out their 2021-22 concert season, performing music that celebrates the Old West in R.J. Reynolds Auditorium. The NCBB drew from film, theatre, and ballet works in their program, and they started the night off with an obligatory performance of Rossini’s William Tell Overture - which featured Meixner galloping onto the stage on a child-sized inflatable horse. This would not be the last iconic piece on the program, though, as the rest of the concert was filled with works by some of the great film composers like John Williams, Alan Silvestri, and Elmer Bernstein, along with pieces by other famous composers like Aaron Copland and Rodgers and Hammerstein.

A major element that the pieces on this program captured was the sheer size of the American West, which is what gives the region its sense of wonder and gives its visitors a desire to explore it further. But, it also has its more fun and exciting aspects, and the NCBB was able to capture this duality quite nicely. This could be heard in how the group performed Williams’ overture from the 1972 film, The Cowboys, or from the medley of Silvestri tunes from Back to the Future III, both of which balanced the wide expanse and joviality of the West and western films. On the other hand, the West hosted many gunfights, and the group brought this out in their performance of themes from Bruce Broughton’s Tombstone score. The West could be action-packed and lonely at the same time for an outlaw, which was heard in the juxtaposition of militaristic and surprisingly delicate treatments of this music by the NCBB. The area also has a great Latin influence, heard in a performance of James Horner’s score from Mask of Zorro, emphasizing sharpness and fluidity. Needless to say, the NCBB’s versatility was on full display.

A special shoutout should be given to one of the NCBB’s tuba players, Michael Robinson, who composed his own piece for the program, “Robinson’s Authentic Old-Fashioned Frontier Roundup,” which featured a medley of campfire songs and folk tunes like “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.” For me, this piece brought back the tongue-in-cheek question The Blues Brothers raised about the blurred distinction between Country and Western music, which made Robinson’s work one of my favorites in the concert. All it was missing was the Rawhide theme to really get the crowd going.

I was most surprised by how many of the tunes I knew already - I just did not know the source until now. A good example of this was the collection of Ennio Morricone’s music from old Spaghetti Westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, whose themes have been used directly or imitated in countless beer commercials and other media. Another would be Copland’s “Hoe-Down” from his ballet Rodeo, whose tune I find myself whistling on random days, but was also in the old “Beef – it’s what’s for dinner” commercial. With all this in mind, the NCBB’s concert was not only enjoyable and a fitting end to their concert season, but educational for me personally. And, of course, I am always going to be a supporter of bringing American music to the concert stage.

The North Carolina Brass Band will be performing “NCBB Goes West” for the final time on Sunday, May 22 at 3:00 p.m. in the UNC Greensboro Auditorium.