Finding solace in a distant star, mystery in an ancient site and magic in returning to Iowa, today’s wind-band music takes us far beyond parades and pep rallies. And in this thriving art form, Iowans produce some of the finest work. Here are three recent Iowa concert videos focused on 21st-century gems, including one composed by an Iowa native as a tribute to the school that trained her.
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“In the winter of 2009,” writes Joel Puckett, “my wife and I experienced a heartbreak that left me unsure of how to even breathe, let alone grieve.” His healing process began when he picked up a copy of “The Shadow of Sirius” by poet W. S. Merwin. Puckett says, “I have almost no idea what most of this poetry means. But I know that it fills me with a profound sadness that is, at the same time, brimming with hope.”
The book inspired Puckett’s concerto for flute and wind instruments. He says each movement offers his reflections on one of the poems. Here’s an Iowa City performance by an incredible flutist, Nicole Esposito of the University of Iowa, with the Iowa Symphony Band conducted by Dr. Richard Mark Heidel, the university’s director of bands.
Japanese composer Yagisawa sought in this 2004 work to “trace some of the mysteries sealed in the past” of Machu Picchu, the Incan citadel in the Andes. This Davenport performance features the Quad City Wind Ensemble conducted by Dr. Brian Hughes. The ensemble won the American Prize in its division in 2012, and Hughes won the American Prize for conducting in 2015 and 2017.
A graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa native Jillian Whitaker is a rising composer in Hollywood. So when she was invited to write a work for her alma mater in 2016, she “was instantly excited, filled with ideas, anxious to get started. But her professional life got so busy that the piece had to wait.
“Finally, with about a month to go,” she says, “I forced myself to just WRITE. I had a deadline now, and I needed to get it done. This is where I function best.” The result, she says, is “simply a small bit of my soul” offered “as a tribute to this magical ensemble.”
Here’s that ensemble, the Northern Iowa Wind Symphony led by Ronald Johnson, giving the premiere in Cedar Falls.