By Tom Travis
Michigan composer and Saginaw resident Catherine McMichael was commissioned by the Flint Wind Ensemble Band (FWEB) to compose a work commemorating the 200th anniversary of Flint’s founding in 1819. The work was to be performed during the 2020 season but due to the COVID stop the FWEB did not give a concert in 2020.
Now, finally, the 14-minute commissioned work, titled “Legacy”, will be performed at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 1 at Flushing Mayfair Bible Church (5339 West Pierson Road) under the direction of Michael Keller. The FWEB only asks for a donation as entrance to the concert.
Flint Wind Ensemble Band has been playing music for 60 years
The FWEB was founded 60 years ago by director emeritus Don Clough, according to the group’s musical director, Chris Anderson. The group is open to everyone. There are no prerequisites other than being able to perform the music being played, says Anderson.
The more than 40 members of the group range in age from 20 to some in their late 80s. “We have people who were music majors in college. We have people who only played in high school. We have people who put their instruments down for 30 years and then took them back. There is a wide range of talents and experiences,” says Anderson.
The band received the composition from the composer at the end of 2019, says Anderson, but with the shutdown of the COVID, they could not rehearse
Anderson, who plays saxophone and trumpet, teaches elementary music in Saginaw Township. He has been leading the FWEB for three years.
Evolution of composition
The composer, McMichael, began her work on the composition by examining what sounds were present in each decade represented in the work: 1819, 1919 and 2019. “In 1819, when Flint was founded, the music you heard would be Ojibwa, American songs and French traveler songs, and what you would hear in 1919 would be rag time and what you would hear in 2019 would be a big, wide, symphonic sound,” she explains,
The first movement, 1819, titled “River of the Stone of Fire” pays homage to the source of habitation – the Flint River, known to the Anishinaabe people (including the Ojibwa people) and French travelers as the Rivière de la fire stone.
The second movement, 1919, entitled “Roadster Rag” pays homage to the “Fleur de Lis” Roadster first produced by Dort Motor Car Company in 1915.
The third movement, 2019, entitled “Stalwart Souls” pays tribute to the endurance and optimism of the inhabitants of Flint today.
A car horn from a Dort-built 1917 Fleur de Lis Roadster is featured in the second movement. “My dad had a 1920 Rolls-Royce and it had an a-hoo-ga horn. Back then there were a-hoo-ga horns all around and I was like, oh my God, you gotta ‘there’s that here,’ McMichael says.
McMichael plays in a rag time orchestra, The River Raisin Ragtime Revue based in Tecumseh and Ann Arbor. “I’ve played hundreds and hundreds of rags,” she says, explaining that she wanted the “happy, upbeat” sound of the rag to be in the room. Compared to the sounds of the last movement, which, according to McMichael, “is not so much sad but moody and serious”.
McMichael says she hopes the 14-minute work shows how Flint has “persevered and overcome and continues to thrive as a city despite setbacks…I prefer to look at this piece towards the hopeful things.”
“I get a lot of my best ideas on long walks” – composer McMichael
McMichael says that when working on a composition, she rarely sits at the piano, but eventually she will work on some parts. “If you do that, you’re limited to what you can play,” she says,
But she often notes that ideas and inspirations come to her during long walks. “I find a lot of my best ideas on long walks. You are not limited by what your fingers can do. Themes can come and you can solve them.
“I’ll eventually sit down at the piano and fix things, but that’s usually not where the ideas come from,” she adds. “The ideas come from long walks, a lot of research, discussions with the client. One of the questions I ask the client, after talking with them, after this piece is performed, how do you want to feel? How do you want it to sound? »
“I love drama and imagery in my music. I want the audience to take a journey with the piece. I want them to feel differently at the end of the piece than at the beginning of the piece. I’m going to take them somewhere goes with the music. And once it’s done, it’s up to the band to perform it. I’m writing for the player. I want the player to like it. Because if they’re having a good time, so the audience has a great time,” she explains.
Describing the collaborative process, McMichael says she begins by having a conversation with the person commissioning the piece to find common ground and answer the question, What is this piece going to be about?
McMichael explains that the collaboration with the FWEB came mainly from its association with St. Lorenz School in Frankenmuth and with Michael Keller.
McMichael, a Saginaw resident, described her relationship with Flint as “peripheral.” She plays occasionally in the Flint Symphony Orchestra and has taught at the University of Michigan – Flint and Flint Institute of Music.
“It’s a place I visit and where I have friends,” she says.
McMichael’s life in music began when she was five years old. She describes herself as an “intermediate” harpist. She “touches” the violin, can play the flute “a little bit”. She claims that she cannot “get a sound out of the clarinet”, but composes music for all instruments, including voice.
McMichael is a trained pianist with a bachelor’s degree in piano performance and a master’s degree in chamber music from the University of Michigan.
“I have never studied composition nor taken composition lessons, I am completely self-taught. I started writing duets to accompany the Suzuki piano repertoire because I was a Suzuki piano teacher,” she says.
The wind ensemble group rehearses weekly in the gymnasium at Mayfair Church in Flushing. The Sunday concert will take place in the sanctuary. The FWEB used to rehearse at a local high school before the COVID shutdown, but as venues began to open in 2021, the band looked for a new place to rehearse, Anderson said. After the concert on Sunday, the group will take a break for the summer.
guest conductor Michael Keller
Keller, a former FWEB bandleader, returns to lead the band in the premiere of “Legacy” at Sunday’s concert.
“We are always looking for different things to do throughout the year. Sometimes we have guest musicians. I wanted to see if there was some sort of anniversary in 2019. I found out that Flint’s founding was in 1819, so I commissioned Catherine McMichael, a composer from Michigan,” Keller says. The FWEB has performed McMichael’s works in the past.
Keller describes the last movement, 2019, as combining all the movements into one, there are a lot of rising musical horn lines, the melody is very majestic and opens with a “powerful” timpani solo and adds layers throughout. throughout the movement and incorporates the “eagle song” of the Ojibwa people.
Keller explains that he contacted McMichael and had an initial chat over coffee at The Harvest House in Frankenmuth. Keller says she explained that the group would like to commemorate Flint’s founding in 1819. McMichael “then left and wrote for a few months, and then she called me and said, ‘Hey, I have a product that I want you to listen. “”
Keller says he went to McMichael’s in Saginaw and listened to the play. McMichael has music software that plays a simulation of his composition. They “scoured the scores together” and he offered suggestions and changes.
Keller plays trombone in the Genesee Wind Ensemble. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from Concordia University and a master’s degree from VanderCook College of Music, both in Chicago. He teaches music and choir from grades five through eight at St. Lorenz School in Frankenmuth.
EVM Editor Tom Travis can be reached at [email protected]