If it’s possible for a man-made structure to soak up the Christmas spirit, then Meymandi Hall, having been visited by every known form of musical expression this season, must be the most “spiritual” venue in town. This evening was just the latest of numerous instances where it has hosted such outpourings. The Triangle Brass Band here presented its “Holiday Sing-Along Concert,” featuring also the Triangle Youth Brass Band (TYBB) and the Triangle Youth Brass Ensemble (TYBE). The otherwise excellent programming would have been well served by a bit of judicious editing for length.
Opening the evening was a group of standard carols, plus “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” by the TYBE. These players, the youngest performers of the three bands, seemed to lag at the start in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” but soon “caught up” with conductor Jon Caldwell and gave a fine account of themselves in the remaining eight pieces. David Ballantyne from radio station WCPE served as master of ceremonies and Guest Song Leader throughout the evening.
Next up, Tony Granados brought on the energetic TYBB with yet another set of seven carols plus four additional Christmas standards. These high school level players showed confidence and excellent potential during all their offerings. They treated such subjects as “Silver Bells,” “Rudolf,” and “The First Noel,” and they warned that, indeed, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” “The Little Drummer Boy” allowed the percussionists to shine before each verse. Likewise, in Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” they furnished an exciting percussion prelude. Trumpeter Carolina Perez showed promise as soloist in “O Holy Night.” The program announcer Ballantyne was privileged to join the rhythm section for this number, while the sing-along activity was temporarily abandoned.
The full-fledged Triangle Brass Band opened the closing section with Mouret’s “Rondeau,” led by Michael Votta. This piece, known widely as the “Masterpiece” theme, was possibly the musical high point of the evening. In an arrangement by Peter Graham, this stately music seemed to lend itself naturally to brass treatment as if that had been the composer’s original intent. In the sing-along numbers, Votta wisely decided to forgo the playing of a leading verse, bringing the audience in at the beginning of each song.
Votta’s arrangement of “O Magnum Mysterium” by Lauridsen showed these veteran players at their skillful best. (The program notes advised that seven of the thirty-eight were charter members of twenty-one years.) Engaging also were the four selections from Tchiakovsky’s Nutcracker, arranged by Philip Sparke. The jumpy “Trepak” presented obvious challenges to overcome, and the “Arabian Dance” was at once dark, exotic, and somber. It is just possible that this latter number sounds even better in brass than with its original orchestration.
With the printed program over, the appreciative audience called on the band for an encore. Happily they were prepared with — you guessed it — Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride!” This arrangement by Ernest Tomlinson again showed the versatility of a brass band when blessed with skilled personnel and leadership.
This section of the state is fortunate to have an organization of this caliber keeping alive and well such a fundamental art form. And it is doubly good for that organization to be training potential replacements when, as, and if needed.