The Cal Poly Music Department is starting the season off with a twist — the department is collaborating Friday evening for the first Parents’ Weekend Ensemble Showcase, which will feature all of the major performing arts ensembles in the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center (PAC).
Traditionally, this weekend is reserved specifically for a choir concert. However, the department said it made sense to start this year off with a “sampler” showcase, displaying all of the major performance groups — the Cal Poly Symphony, Choirs, University Jazz Band I, Arab Music Ensemble and the Wind Ensemble.
Director of Choirs Thomas Davies said it’s a nice way for students to get comfortable performing early on in the quarter and also serves as a new department event.
“This is now a representation of our department, where it’s just not all on my program to pull off this concert” Davies said. “Which was fine — we could still do that — depending on weekend, it could be that again in the future. But I like this idea that we’re all kind of collectively doing this concert together. It makes it a department event.”
Symphony Director David Arrivée agrees and said it’s nice to take the pressure off the choir to put on a concert so early in the quarter.
“(The choirs) have to prepare a whole concert in five weeks, which is really hard,” Arrivée said “Then they turn around and do their fall concert.”.
Arrivée said he likes the idea of a showcase of the department.
“We don’t have something in the beginning of the year to say, ‘Here is the music department,” Arrivée said. “It’s such a no-brainer; it’s weird that we haven’t tried this before.”
Most groups will perform pieces that will also be played later in the quarter. The concert will begin with the symphony performing Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor,” which was made popular by the movie “Fantasia.” Interestingly, the symphony will not perform Bach’s original music but an arrangement by Leopold Stokowski.
“He took it, orchestrated it for our symphony and, where the orchestra can expand, he makes it really big,” Arrivée said. “For example, instead of two clarinets, we have three clarinets and a bass clarinet. It’s a really fun piece. It’s very difficult because it was totally not written for their instruments. So they’ve got these things to play that are kind of unnatural, but at least it’s a cool piece.”
The choirs will follow with six pieces, performed both by the University Singers and PolyPhonics.
PolyPhonics will sing “Hymne au Soleil,” or “Hymn of the Sun” by Lili Boulanger as well as “Camptown Races” by Jack Halloran. The University Singers will sing David Mooney’s “Danny Boy” and “Beautiful City” by André Thomas.
The choirs will then combine for two final pieces, “Irish Blessing” by Graeme Langager and “Make Our Garden Grow” by Leonard Bernstein.
Following the choirs will be the University Jazz Band I directed by Paul Rinzler, performing three tunes: “Jumping at the Woodside” and “Duet” originally by Count Basie, as well as “Oye Como Va,” composed by Tito Puente and made famous by Carlos Santana.
“They make an interesting contrast for the audience,” Rinzler said. “They present certain music challenges, and it’s good for the band to work on.”
After the jazz band, the Arab Music Ensemble will perform three famous pieces — “Bi-Alladhi Askara (By The One Who Enraptures),” a traditional piece, “Yay Yay Ya Nassini (How You Have Forgotten Me)” by Elias Rahbani and “Nur Al-`Ayn (Oh, Light Of My Eye),” with words by Ahmed Shatta and music by Nasser Al Mizdawi.
Andrew McMahan will conclude the concert with the wind ensemble, making his conducting debut as the newly appointed wind ensemble director. McMahan said he is not nervous but excited for the students to perform well.
“There is just nothing to be nervous about because they’re going to play well and it’s going to be fun; it’s going to be an enjoyable experience,” McMahan said.
Unlike the other ensembles, two of the three pieces McMahan chose for the showcase will not be repeated at a later concert. McMahan said he chose these pieces because he wanted to give the audience a taste of traditional wind band music.
“Sort of like for your literature class, you read books that are standards. These are standards. These are things that everybody should know,” McMahan said.
The wind ensemble will perform the second movement of “1st Suite for Military Band” by Gustav Holst, a transcription of “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” and conclude the night’s showcase with Henry Fillmore’s “Rolling Thunder,” which is a circus march.
“What makes this unique is a lot of people have heard marches. Circus marches are unique in that they are fast,” McMahan said. “It’s just crazy fast. So this is something you’d play when all heck breaks loose.”
McMahan said he chose these pieces because they’re not too heavy of a load for the students to tackle, but it will still be enjoyed by listeners.
“A lot of time when we’re preparing for a concert, we’re doing new music, heavy music, big pieces,” McMahan said. “This kind of music standards the audience will absolutely love.”
The show is Friday in the PAC at 8 p.m. Tickets are available in advance at pacslo.org, the PAC box office or at the door. General admission is $13 and $15, senior admission is $12 and $14 and student admission is $8.