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The Mesilla Valley Concert Band (MVCB), under the direction of Dr. William Clark, performs a free concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, in Atkinson Recital Hall in the New Mexico State University Music Building, 1075 N. Horseshoe.
The concert features a diverse program of Christmas and Hanukkah music, a Fantasia by J.S. Bach, an original march by Las Crucen David Beasley and a guest appearance by the Mesilla Valley Jazz Orchestra (MVJO). Joining Clark on the podium will be MVCB assistant directors John Schutz and Jim Young and guest conductor Rose Verlinde, band director at Mayfield High School.
A major work in the program is “Russian Christmas Music” by Alfred Reed, who was 23 when commissioned at the last minute by the U.S. Army Air Corps Band to write music to promote positive Russian-American relations at the end of the war in 1944. In just 11 days, he wrote the work that became one of his most popular pieces in a career specializing in concert band music.
Although one continuous movement, it has four distinct sections. The first is based on the 16th century melody “Carol of the Little Russian Children.” The second is an antiphonal chant in which different instruments alternate playing the theme; here, the brass introduce the melody before the woodwinds join in. The third theme, “Village Song,” is marked “cantabile” or with a singing voice. The “Cathedral Chorus” concludes the piece in a majestic chorale. The vibrant tonal colors of this piece come not only from the brass and woodwinds but from bells, cymbals, tam-tams and chimes.
The concert program includes two Christmas medleys. “And the Mountains Echoed: Gloria!” was composed by Robert Longfield, who played saxophone in the University of Michigan band under legendary director William D. Revelli. He has directed high school bands in Michigan and Florida, and in “retirement” he directs the Greater Miami Symphonic Band.
The other medley is “A Holiday Rhapsody” by Larry MacTaggart, a veteran U.S. Air Force Band music arranger, who composed this ensemble of familiar holiday melodies for the Air Force band. The piece showcases all sections of the concert band.
“The Eighth Candle” was composed by Steve Reisteter, commissioned to write this piece in 1997 for America’s oldest civilian concert band (established in 1828), the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Band. Composed of two sections, the piece begins with a hymn-like prayer followed by a spirited, accelerating dance celebrating the story of Hanukkah. Also known as the Festival of Lights, the holiday commemorates the victory of the Maccabees, Jewish warriors, over the Syrian-Greek King Antiochus. To re-dedicate the temple, the Jews needed oil for the ceremonial lights. Although they found only one day’s supply, the oil miraculously lasted through the final – eighth – candle.”
The nearly 100-piece MVCB was founded in 1987 through the joint efforts of Clark, Schutz and Mike White of White’s Music Box.
First called the Mesilla Valley Community Band, the group began with 30 participants who answered an advertisement Clark placed in the local newspaper. The band has grown to an ensemble of around 100 performers, with professional musicians, music teachers, band directors, business people, retirees and advanced students. They hail from Las Cruces, El Paso, Silver City, Deming, Hatch, Alamogordo and Cloudcroft. The band has presented more than 220 free concerts to southern New Mexicans.
Clark joined the faculty of NMSU in 1985 as director of bands. In 1994, he became chair of the music department, which grew substantially under his leadership. Clark also founded the New Horizons program for senior musicians, which has grown into both a concert band and the New Horizons Symphony Orchestra.
Schutz, an alumnus of NMSU, dedicated more than 40 years of his career to music and fine arts education with Las Cruces Public Schools. In 2014, he was named teacher emeritus by the New Mexico Music Educators Association. In 2018, he was given the Star of the Arts Award by the NMSU College of Arts and Sciences. Schutz also plays trumpet in MVCB.
Assistant Director Jim Young’s career as a band director ranged from public schools to universities in New Mexico and Colorado. Young has played percussion for 20 years in MVCB.
Rose Verlinde is an oboe and English horn player in the band, and a graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a major in music education and minor in math education.
MVJO was founded in 2011 out of an interest to put on a performance celebrating Stan Kenton’s 100th birthday, using some of the finest jazz instrumentalists in the southern New Mexico/west Texas region. The Kenton show was so well received that the group decided to continue, playing occasional engagements as schedules permit. The MVJO is spearheaded by trombonist Karl Tonander, with assistance from co-founding members Jamie Fee (saxophone) and Daniel Rodriguez (trumpet).