National Cherry Blossom Festival

One of the signature annual events in Washington is the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which stretches over two weeks in early spring. Part of the festival is a continuous series of concerts by various cultural, musical, dance and other groups at the Sylvan Theater, located on the National Mall just south of the Washington Monument. For the first time in its history, the National Capital Band (Bandmaster Dr. Steve Kellner) took part in the Festival as an official participant, with a 45-minute concert at the Sylvan Theater on the afternoon of Friday, 1 April 2011.

Band members (red jackets) waiting for the previous group to finish before taking the stage

Band members (red jackets) waiting for the previous group to finish before taking the stage

Unfortunately, the weather for the event was not ideal, with cold temperatures, high winds and rain. The rain had stopped by the time that the band began, but the chilly wind made it quite difficult to perform, constantly threatening to blow over the music stands (the Sylvan Theater is a bandstand, covered, but open to the wind on three sides). Despite the challenging conditions, the band played well, presenting a varied program that began with The Risen Saviour (Paul Kellner), based on the familiar hymn “He Lives”.

Although not permitted to directly present the Gospel in this setting, Bandmaster Kellner’s selections were designed to pass on the message as an expression of the cultural significance of sacred music through the years combined with a patriotic flavor, appropriate for a concert in that location. The next item on the program was William Himes’ march God and Country. This was followed by the second movement of the suite Shout Salvation (Robert Redhead), which is based on what is perhaps the most-recognized melody throughout the world, “Amazing Grace”.

Bandmaster Kellner announces an item

Bandmaster Kellner announces an item

Another Himes march, Motivation, was next, conducted by Deputy Bandmaster Matt Sims. Two classical transcriptions followed, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (Bach, arr. Leidzén) and Hornpipe from “Water Music” (Handel). The march Novarc (Stephen Bulla), which allowed the bandmaster to mention the work of the Adult Rehabilitation Centers while introducing it, continued the program. The band showed its versatility with the next item, Deep River, a swing arrangement in the style of the famous Count Basie.

The National Capital Band has always had a strong connection with the military services, having had several current and former military musicians as members throughout the years (including the current bandmaster). Stephen Bulla’s Armed Forces Salute, featuring the service songs of all of the US armed forces, is a perennial item in the repertoire and again drew an enthusiastic reaction on this occasion.

To complete the short performance, Bandmaster Kellner chose a march by John Philip Sousa, Power and Glory. While perhaps not Sousa’s most familiar work, the march is remarkable in that it represents one of the very few occurrences where he used an existing melody when composing the march – in this case, the well-loved hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers”.

Because of the timing of the event, several regular members of the band were unable to be present. The band would like to thank Malcolm Stokes, Steve Sutton, Melissa Little and Melinda Ryan for filling in for this performance. A special mention goes to Randy Jennings, who was playing his first brass band concert and first experience with the Salvation Army, sight-reading all of the music in high winds while performing as the sole percussionist.