Wind Symphony of Clovis breaks into ranks of nation’s elite bands. Not bad for a newbie.
Gary P. Gilroy, Fresno State’s esteemed director of bands, was sitting in a sort of boring music department faculty meeting when he got the email.
And what an email it was.
It informed him that the Wind Symphony of Clovis, which he founded in 2017 with fellow conductor Christine Keenan, was invited to perform at the 72nd Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference in Chicago.
That’s a very big deal.
Pictured above: Christine Keenan conducts the Wind Symphony of Clovis performs in a 2017 concert.
As one of the wind symphony’s players, Anne Hendrickson, would later describe it on Facebook: “Imagine, if you will, that the Fresno State Football team (I know this can’t happen, bear with me) was going to play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Can you even imagine? Everyone within a 100 miles would LOSE.THEIR. MINDS.”
Needless to say, the email was a lot more interesting than the faculty meeting. Gilroy couldn’t wait to tell people the news.
“We found out we were one of two adult bands selected,” he says. “It was shocking.”
He made up his mind then and there that he’d do whatever it took to get the 75-member ensemble to Chicago. The Wind Symphony of Clovis will play a going-away concert at Shaghoian Hall at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16. The following day, the musicians will be traveling to Chicago to prepare for a Wednesday concert before thousands of people.
Here’s a rundown on how all this happened:
The conference: This isn’t just any conference of music educators. The Midwest Clinic was founded in a time before easy dissemination of digital media. It was promoted by music publishers as a way to get new compositions in front of the nation’s music teachers. To this day, participating ensembles are required to play music of varying levels of difficulty. (All those elementary bands and orchestras out there need new material.) The conference still has the promotional publishing function, but it’s also evolved into a prestigious national showcase. (Fresno-area musicians have done very well in terms of the The Midwest Clinic; the Clovis North High School Wind Ensemble was invited to perform last year.)
The ensemble: The Wind Symphony of Clovis was envisioned by Gilroy and Keenan as a top-level organization made up of auditioned players who perform the highest level of music. (There are no string players in an ensemble such as this, so music is arranged differently than for an orchestra.) A high percentage of band members are music teachers from throughout the central San Joaquin Valley. Several Fresno State students are members, and a few are Fresno Philharmonic players. The age range is from late teens to players in their 70s.
The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.
The history: In terms of performing ensembles, it’s just a baby. Gilroy and Keenan (who teaches at Fresno Pacific University) founded the wind symphony in fall of 2017. “I wasn’t even sure if people would come out to audition for us,” Gilroy says. “But we had all these incredible players turn out.”
The Midwest Clinic connection: Gilroy has long been enamored with the event. He attended his first conference in 1989 as a recent music graduate.( He bumped into noted American composer Clare Grundman in an elevator, which was a “star sighting” along the lines of running into Drake at a hip-hop symposium.) Gilroy has returned to the conference many times, and he knew that eventually he wanted his new wind symphony to win a chance to perform.
The entry process: Most groups have to enter numerous times before being selected, so Gilroy figured he’d start as soon as he could. He and Keenan entered in the “adult band” category, the highest performance level (after middle school, high school and community bands). Only two adult bands were selected this year, and Clovis is one of them. To play for the conference just a year after founding is, well, pretty amazing.
The logistics: The wind symphony members are paying their own travel expenses to attend. They all have to be in Chicago by Tuesday in order to rehearse. The concert will be held at the massive McCormick Convention Center, which seats 3,000.
The program: The ensemble has a strict performance time limit of 75 minutes. The repertoire ranges from elementary level to exceedingly difficult, and much of it is new. Highlights include Timothy Mahr’s “Etched in Stone,” honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and featuring narration by Alfred Watkins, a legendary high school band director. Another noted musical name, John R. Bourgeois, will guest conduct “Inglesina,” and famed tuba player Patrick Sheridan will perform as a guest soloist in Peter Meechan’s “Land of the Living Skies.”
The final piece: Gilroy, who is a prolific composer, wrote a special piece, “Miracle on Prince Street,” for the concert. He writes in the program notes:
Upon learning of our band’s acceptance to perform at the 2018 Midwest Clinic, some of the members of the Wind Symphony of Clovis suggested that I compose a new work especially for the occasion. Knowing of the superior level of many of the players, I have to admit that I was quite intrigued as well as being somewhat intimidated, having never previously written for such an advanced ensemble. But after thinking about it for a while, I thought I better jump at the chance because I might never have it again. Early on in the project I decided I wanted to compose the work in memory of my mother, Regina Gilroy, whose maiden name was Regina Gorzkowski. After Warsaw, Chicago has the largest Polish population in the world, so I knew it would be fun to connect my mother’s Polish heritage to our important performance in the Windy City.
The 11-minute piece is far longer (and harder) than most published band music, and Gilroy is thankful that publisher Wingert-Jones Publications was willing to go ahead with such a challenging work.
The Clovis concert: Sunday’s event at Shaghoian Hall is a dry run for the Chicago event, minus the guest conductors and soloists who will be in Chicago. (Fresno State theater professor Thomas-Whit Ellis, for example, will narrate “Etched in Stone” for the local version.) It’s sure to be a festive event.
The takeaway: Hendrickson, the clarinetist who took to Facebook to proclaim her excitement, perhaps says it best: “Performing at Midwest is a dream I NEVER thought I’d accomplish. Being able to represent Fresno and the Valley on a truly international stage is an honor and a huge responsibility and makes it one of the highlights of my entire life, music or otherwise. You will be entertained, I promise.”
Wind Symphony of Clovis, 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, Shaghoian Hall, 2770 E. International Ave., Fresno. Tickets are $10 and are available at the door, the Fresno State Music Department office and at 559-278-2654.