Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mark Wolbers UAA Clarinet Recital - The Naked Clarinet - Fantastic! Off to Tour Southeast Alaska

I've got to say that one of the chief joys of my life has been teaching at campuses of the University of Alaska Anchorage in Palmer, Eagle River and on the main Anchorage campus, since 1995.  The main part, all along, has been working with 16 years worth of Alaska kids, eager to finish their education and go out to meet life's career and character challenges.  But along with that, has been the joy of working with so many dedicated professionals, putting so much on the line for these young students, hour after hour, day after day, for years.

I like to say that the day I don't learn something from my students is the day I need to go find another line of work.  Fortunately, I've been learning more than usual from my students lately.

And of my colleaugues from whom I've learned a lot over the years, Dr. Mark Wolbers, the head of wind studies and director of the UAA Wind Ensemble, has probably taught me the most.

When I first met Mark, he had recently taken up the baton at the sometimes struggling wind group there, and I had just taken over the Mat-Su College Community Band from my friend Neal Long.  Although I had gotten excellent conducting training and education, it had all been back in the 1960s and early 70s.  This was the mid-90s, and I was beyond rusty.

I watched Mark conduct his young group a few times.  Then, in 1997, I began playing in his band.  I'm still playing in it.  Every Tuesday and Thursday I learn something new about one aspect or another of rehearsing and group performance.  I've probably been in about 900 rehearsals and 90 concerts with Dr. Wolbers now.

Between 1997 and 2007, every time I rehearsed my band in Wasilla, I brought something into my toolkit as a conductor I had learned from Mark.  Some tools were small, like cutting off fermatas (when the conductor holds the arm up and musicians stay on one note until stopped).  Others were bigger, like the ways to dissect a problem section in a piece, and convince people that they can actually do a tricky passage with aplomb.

In 2006, I gave my band a year's notice, and left the Mat-Su College Community Band because I felt the growing gulf between my radical liberalism and the band members' overall turn increasingly to the right was holding the group back from its potential.  I thought there would be few new conducting opportunities for me.  Fortunately, Tai Wai Li, the director of the Anchorage Civic Orchestra, where I play tuba and (occasionally) trombone, needed a replacement for his 2010 and 2011 spring concerts and asked me to direct them for him.

Conducting an orchestra is different from conducting a band or wind ensemble in some major ways, but the same general rules apply.  Again, my 900 lessons from Dr. Wolbers payed off.  He even came to one of my dress rehearsals to observe, because he wouldn't be able to come to the concert.  I was touched.

Sunday Afternoon, at the UAA Arts Building Recital Hall, Mark gave a long, rich recital of music for unaccompanied clarinet.  The first half was devoted to music for the standard B-flat and A clarinet.  After an intermission, he performed three sets of pieces for the E-flat alto clarinet.

The hall was packed.  The selections were demanding.  He didn't miss a note, a beat or a nuance.  After the concert was over, Mark got his well deserved standing ovation.

He's going to be taking this recital program on the road next week to Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Ketchikan.

Here is one of the pieces he performed today (in an earlier recording).  Hommage a Manuel de Falla by Béla Kovacs:

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