Formed in 1771, Salem Band holds the title of the nation's oldest continuous mixed wind ensemble. Throughout the summer, the band is embracing the spirit of America in a series entitled "Sounds of A Nation."
Tuesday evening's concert, "Presidential," explored the songs connected to our nation's highest office. What a fine and refreshing tribute to the presidency in a heated election season!
A little concert context before I get to the music: one of the most pleasant things about hearing a Salem Band concert is sitting in the Square at Old Salem. Situated on a slight incline, the beautiful square forms a natural theater. There are food and drink vendors, and plenty of tree shade (important when enjoying ice cream). Sitting on soft and springy grass, surrounded by the beautiful structures of Old Salem, it's hard not to feel at least a little bit of patriotic sentiment.
After a rousing performance of our national anthem, music director and conductor Eileen M. Young gave a sharp cue, and band came to life with the "University of Pennsylvania March" by Roland Seitz. The march was performed in honor of William Henry Harrison, who briefly studied medicine at the University. The second selection was a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, "With Malice Toward None." This piece calls for a narrator, who presents fragments of speeches combined with some historical and biographical information. It was hard to hear this piece and not think of Copland's "Lincoln Portrait," which is overall a finer composition – but no matter. The band was warm and tight, and guest baritone Leonard Rowe commanding and powerful.
There were many selections on the remainder of the concert. I'll mention some of the highlights. Helen May Butler, a contemporary of Sousa, was a pioneer as a composer, conductor, and leader of an all-female band. She was also an inspiration to Young, who mentioned the influence that Butler's legacy had on her journey toward leading a concert band. Butler's band was a favorite of Teddy Roosevelt, and her composition "Cosmopolitan America" was the official march of Roosevelt's 1904 campaign. Young's passion for the music was evident as she led the band in a fine performance.
The next piece also had a Roosevelt connection. Tierney's "Alice Blue Gown" is a tribute to Roosevelt's eldest child Alice Roosevelt Longworth, whose fashion was iconic and trend-setting in the early 20th century. In the middle of the program were two hymns, "My Soul Before You Prostrate Lies" and "Eternal Father, Strong to Save." The latter is traditionally associated with the maritime armed services of the English-speaking world, and was the favorite song of Gerald Ford. The evening's most energetic and rousing composition was Ted Ricketts's "Neil Diamond," a selection from his "Pop and Rock Legends" series of medleys. Including Diamond favorites such as "Sweet Caroline" and "Cherry Cherry," the medley was primarily chosen for the inclusion of "America," which was Michael Dukakis' theme song for his 1988 Presidential Campaign.
Salem Band is an invaluable part of North Carolina's musical history, and it's always a pleasure to hear them perform in Salem Square. If you have a free evening, I highly recommend attending one of their beautiful, fun, and family-friendly concerts. View their full summer schedule at here. Bravi to the performers and to Eileen M.Young!