By Fred Mbesi (Regional Music Director, Pendel Division)
The New York Staff Band’s annual Christmas festival has been a highly-anticipated and well-attended event for years, with this year being no exception. After a morning of ministry at the Manhattan ARC, the 34-piece band paraded into the beautifully-lit Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church to the soundtrack of roaring applause from a packed house! B/M Derek Lance brought the band to their seats and led them in their first item of the night, Dean Jones’ “Sounding Joy,” a majestic piece featuring “Joy to the World.” This was followed-up by Peter Graham’s “The Shining Star,” showing from the get-go that the audience was in for a real treat.
After a cheery welcome and prayer from the band’s Executive Officer, Lt. Col. James LaBossiere, the next item on the program was an excellent rendition of William Himes’ “Three Kings Swing.” This big-band inspired chart featured Principal Cornet Brindley Venables on top form. In fine contrast, we had the privilege of welcoming the Montclair Citadel Singing Company, led by Emilee Bennett. They performed “Follow That Star”, with the added bonus of adorable choreography! Michael Davis is the composer of the next item featured by the Staff Band, “O Little Town,” which is a Pastorale based on the eponymous Christmas carol.
Following a few congregational songs, the band presented what was a highlight of the evening: “Advent Hymn” from Canadian composer Philip Rayment. This was a stirring and ethereal setting of “O Come, Immanuel,” giving the band another opportunity to display expressive and sensitive playing. This set the stage for a devotional thought from Lt. Col LaBossiere and the Band Chorus (S/L Aaron Harris) continued in the reflective atmosphere with “Mother and Child.” This new setting of “Silent Night” is from Major Thomas Mack of “By His Hand” fame and features Andrew Boynton (GNY) as a soloist. To close the first half of the concert, the band presented a sparkling rendition of Paul Sharman’s “On Christmas Night.” This is a well-crafted, three-movement festival arrangement on the Christmas carol “It came upon a midnight clear,” with plenty of references to other notable carols about Christmas night. This piece was enjoyable to listen to and gave the band a chance to shine on many different fronts.
The second half kicked off with two fun and entertaining items: Ruben Schmidt’s swing arrangement of “O Come, Little Children” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” arranged for band by Frank Bernaerts. Both were well-received by the audience as the Montclair Singing Company returned to the stage. They performed an impressive rendering of “Silent Night” before leading the congregation in “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” accompanied by the Staff Band. Another Canadian composer, Craig Woodland, was featured by the band with his “In A Manger.” This reflective carol setting is a fine addition to Christmas repertoire and, along with the aforementioned “O Little Town,” was recently published in the latest American Band Journal issue. The final and most substantial piece on the program was Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s cleverly-titled “A Christmas Finale,” featuring a collection of Christmas carols and was met by a standing ovation from the audience. As a special treat, the band featured what this reviewer believes to be one of our movement’s most recognizable marches as an encore: Erik Leidzen’s “Christmas Joy.”
Thank you, New York Staff Band and Montclair Citadel Singing Company, for a wonderful night of worship and celebrating the gift of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.