A 400-member audience sprang to its feet Thursday night after hearing the Evans High School Wind Ensemble I play Excalibur: Legend of the Sword.
The spring concert at Warren Baptist Church was the first time the piece was publicly performed in the United States.
Evans High Band Director Richard Brasco commissioned Ohio composer David Shaffer to write a score that captures the spirit of Evans High, its band and its mascot, the Fighting Knight. Shaffer conducted the finale and also conducted another piece he composed, When Angels Weep, and two other ensembles from the Evans band.
"Just the fact that we've got a piece of music written for us is awesome, but to be able to play it with the guy who wrote it for us is just incredible," said Andrea Gaston, the ensemble's oboe player.
And there were other special moments that evening.
Brasco was presented an outstanding career award from the American School Band Directors Association. It was presented by Brasco's former student Chuck Deen, who is now band director of Silver Bluff High School and a board member of ASBDA.
Band members had their own surprise for Brasco. Before performing The Barber of Seville (the catchy tune made popular in the Bugs Bunny episode where Bugs shaves Elmer Fudd's hair), band members presented Brasco with a set of bunny ears which he was asked to wear while he conducted the piece.
And he did.
The band premiered Excalibur in January at Westminster Concert Hall in London, where they received a standing ovation. The band was in London to march in the city's Mayor's Parade on New Year's Day.
Shaffer arrived in town Wednesday to begin practicing with the three bands.
"This is the fun part of the process," Shaffer said after rehearsing with the Wind Ensemble I Thursday morning. "Writing it is sitting at a piano for six to eight hours at a time. This is the pinnacle of the process. This is such a fine band."
Even in rehearsal, Shaffer was editing the score, excising a cymbal crash that "just didn't fit."
That same day, Excalibur was being recorded by a professional band in Washington D.C., a recording which will be used by the publishing company to sell the sheet music. It is projected that 3,000 copies will be sold world-wide following its release this summer.
Shaffer, director of the Miami (Ohio) University Marching Band, has written more than 250 compositions and arrangements that have been performed all over the world. He's received an award in music composition for 12 consecutive years from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
Commissioning music for high school bands is a practice that's becoming more common, Brasco said. It gives composers a chance to introduce new material, and it allows students to interact with the creators of the music they play.
"These are our textbooks," Brasco said. "It's like encouraging a novelist to write new novels."
Excalibur is a musical story of the knight, the sword and the lady in the lake. Musically, it features three characters who are repeated through the 7-minute piece. It also includes a Gregorian chant which is sung by band members. The Latin chant translates to "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy,' and ends with 'Grant us peace."
The Evans Band boosters raised $3,000 to pay for Excalibur, which took Shaffer about three years to write.
But if you ask the students who performed the piece Thursday, what was bought was priceless.
"I will look back on this and know that the band I played with is forever immortalized in a piece of music that hundred of people will play," said bassoon player Hollie Duffie.
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