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ASU Wind Symphony’s performance at regional conference motivates, inspires

ASU Wind Symphony seated on a concert stage

The ASU Wind Symphony. Photo courtesy Kevin Joseph

April 16, 2024

ASU Wind Symphony students describe their recent performance at the College Band Directors National Association, or CBDNA, Regional Conference in Las Vegas and the journey that led them there as “unbelievable,” “unique” and “exhilarating.”

The CBDNA regional divisional conference, held every two years, provides an opportunity for schools in the different regions to present their top student ensembles.

Jamal Duncan, conductor of the ASU Wind Symphony, said the ensemble’s journey began when Jason Caslor, director of bands, suggested that the Wind Symphony apply to perform at CBDNA.

As part of the application process, groups are required to submit live unedited recordings. Duncan recorded the ensemble throughout the year leading up to the submission deadline but did not inform them in order to capture their “true” talents.

“It was a tremendous honor for us to be accepted with the other participating schools,” Duncan said.

In addition to Duncan, Caslor and the nearly 75 students who traveled to Las Vegas, ASU was represented by music faculty Christopher Creviston, associate professor and mentor of the award-winning LOTUS quartet who performed with the Wind Symphony; Deanna Swoboda, associate professor of tuba and euphonium; and Joshua Gardner, associate professor of clarinet.

Duncan said he selected the music for the Wind Symphony program from pieces that spoke to his relationship with the ensemble and other important relationships throughout his career.

One of the pieces was commissioned as a gift to Duncan’s mentor through a consortium of colleagues. Two of the pieces were written for ASU, one with the Wind Symphony as sole commissioner and one as a member of a consortium. Another was written by a member of the Wind Symphony, Jaxon Castro, who studies composition at ASU. The final piece, “Lost Vegas,” was by composer Michael Daugherty who has been important to Duncan since his days as an undergraduate.

All of the composers — Kevin Day, Steven Bryant, Viet Cuong and Michael Daugherty — worked with the students in the rehearsals and attended the performance. Student composer Jaxon Castro, a member of the Wind Symphony, was also in attendance.

“One of the biggest benefits that I wanted the students to receive from this whole experience was to be able to work with the people who actually wrote the music so they could hear firsthand things such as ‘what were you thinking when you wrote this’ or ‘what was the motivation behind this,'” Duncan said.

“Being around so many amazing composers and musicians, I experienced pieces I had never heard before, even pieces that had been recently commissioned, and it was wonderful being around so many talented students from across the country,” said Abigail Berg, a Bachelor of Music in music therapy student and piccolo player.

Duncan said that the level of preparation for the type of performance the ensemble did is much more thorough, so the students must be more in tune to what and how they are playing.  

“The main thing I learned as a future music educator is the work it requires to perform at the high level we did,” said Nate Conell, a Bachelor of Music in music education student and clarinet player. “Although the preparation and rehearsals leading up to the trip were long and intense, the end result made it all worth it.”

Duncan said that — even more so than the performance itself — his biggest hope for the students was for them to have the experience of diving really deep into the hour of music and being able to work with the composers.

“All of the composers we were performing are major composers who have substantial careers,” he said. “To have my students be able to work with the caliber of musicians that they are was the biggest takeaway I wanted.”

Johnathan Lee, a Bachelor of Music in saxophone performance student and member of LOTUS quartet who performed with the Wind Symphony, said working with composer Viet Cuong on his saxophone quartet concerto and performing at Pinecrest Academy were his favorite experiences.

“I learned more about myself as a musician, how to present myself in a professional manner and how to perform better under high-pressure environments,” Lee said. “I also learned how to collaborate with others and how much I value collaboration in the arts. It helped me realize why I came here for music in the first place, and it gives me the motivation to continue to be a part of that music-making journey.” 

Duncan said the audience’s enthusiasm about the ensemble’s performance resulted in numerous ovations that rewarded the students for all of the work they had put into their performance.

“I knew we would play well, and I knew it would be a good concert, but it was more than I could have ever hoped for,” Duncan said. “I am so grateful for the support and donations the Wind Symphony received, including the Herberger Institute Dean’s Creative Funds and the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, which made this memorable experience possible for our students.”

The Wind Symphony has one final concert on April 25 at ASU Gammage and will perform the remaining movements of Castro’s piece.

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