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Edman Chapel - Wheaton, IL

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Written by Fred Mbesi

The Chicago Staff Band’s annual “Sounds of the Seasons” concert has been a long-standing post-Thanksgiving tradition for many. Now in its 101st installment, the “Band with a Sacred Message” continues to showcase musical excellence with spiritual vitality as its mission. This annual festival was a landmark event, as it was the first with newly-appointed Chicago Staff Bandmaster Brett Tolcher at the helm. Tolcher skillfully took the CSB through Steven Ponsford’s scintillating opener “Let There be Light.” This piece aptly set the tone for what the audience was in store for and why we gathered together with the phrase: “Here I am to worship!”

Following a rousing welcome from Commissioner Brad Bailey, Andrew Wainwright’s “My Soul, Rejoice” introduced us to the first soloist of the night: Principal Cornet, Beth Malovance. Featuring a delay pedal, the piece did a wonderful job of showcasing Beth’s virtuosity, range, and breath control. The band followed this up with “Christ is All,” the first of two items by Martin Cordner. This was a refreshing setting on the eponymous hymn in a style reminiscent of John Williams, which was received well by the audience. These three opening items showed the band to be in good form.

Emmy-winning artist & “The Voice” winner Jordan Smith was the special guest of the evening and he brought such a high level of musicality to the festival. He chose to open his first set with an original song: “Only Love,” which reflected on the power that love can offer in dark & difficult times. Right from the onset, the audience was captivated by Smith’s vocal aptitude. A precious time of corporate worship followed; the succulent voices of Smith and the congregation singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” soon filled the halls of Edman Chapel. What a wonderful moment this was! For the close of his first set, Smith wowed the audience with his dexterity in “Great You Are.” As an added bonus, the CSB accompanied him on an emotionally stirring rendition of Rick Vale’s “Artist of My Soul.” It was amazing how naturally Smith’s voice created a beautiful blend with the band and piano, played elegantly by Caroline Wajda.

This collaboration, serving as a preview of coming attractions for the latter half of the evening, was a highlight for many in attendance. Commissioner Bailey, who has been emceeing the program, shared some reflections on God’s faithfulness, which was the perfect tie-in to the CSB’s next offering: Martin Cordner’s “Semper Fidelis.” This extended work was well-handled by the band, complete with cascading triplet figures, carefully crafted phrasing, and great solo work from Beth Malovance and Principal Euphonium, Tom Hanton. The piece featured two contemporary worship songs: “Everlasting God” by Brenton Brown/Ken Riley, and “This I Believe (The Creed)” by Ben Fielding/Matt Crocker, with references to the aforementioned “Great is Thy Faithfulness” sprinkled throughout.

The first half of the program was brought to a rousing conclusion with the arrival of twenty-three young brass players & percussionists from Champaign County, Moline, and Decatur to the stage. They were met with enthusiastic applause as they presented William Himes’ “Classics in Brass,” accompanied by the CSB. Special thanks to NCI Divisional Music Director Peter Kim and his leadership team for their investment in the lives of these young people. Bandmaster Tolcher expressed the growing need for music and arts programs & leaders across the territory as a great avenue to win souls for Christ.

The second half opened with Paul Sharman’s “Star of Wonder,” a new, bright & driving arrangement featuring the carols “The First Noel” and “We Three Kings.” This was followed up by music of such beauty: “O Magnum Mysterium” (O Great Mystery). Control was the name of the game here and the CSB rose to the occasion in this deceptively difficult piece. Our vocal soloist then returned for a second set, featuring two songs of contrasting styles. The first was a big-band setting of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” which again showcased Smith’s wide vocal range and his tasteful scatting. Shifting to a more reflective ballad, Smith presented David Foster & Linda Thompson-Jenner’s “Grown-Up Christmas List.” This beautiful song expressed the hope for peace and of a better world, communicated gracefully by the vocal soloist.

Commissioner Bailey approached the podium to announce the next CSB soloist: Auxiliary Captain Paul Bowyer on the Eb Bass! Donning a white tunic & jet-black top hat to match, Bowyer presented Sandy Smith’s solo & variations on that old Christmas classic “Frosty the Snowman.” Bowyer dedicated his impressive rendition of the solo to his wife, Aux. Capt. Jennifer, in honor of their thirty-third wedding anniversary. Bowyer’s extended cadenza highlighted his technical prowess and creativity, throwing in quotes of songs including “You are my Sunshine” & “Hail to the Victors!” Honorable mention goes to CSB percussionist Sam Leka, whose lively and measured approach to the trap set guided both band & listeners alike through the different styles the piece had to offer. Kevin Norbury’s “Gaudete!” was the most technically demanding item of the evening. This overture brought together three Christmas carols: “Coventry Carol,” “Gaudete,” and “Unto Us a Boy is Born” in a somewhat-unconventional style. High-octane technical passages from every section were on display, resulting in a thrilling & focused performance.

Jordan Smith returned to the stage once more, this time joined by a 43-piece community choir formed from Salvationists from the neighboring areas. Under the skillful direction of Wheaton College’s own Assistant Professor Donte Ford, Smith and the chorus joined in presenting a new setting of “All is Well” and leading the congregation in singing “Joy to the World.”

The evening came to a close in tradition, as the CSB alumni joined the stage to sing the “Choral Benediction” under former Bandmaster William Himes. Congratulations to Bandmaster Tolcher and CSB on a spectacular evening of quality music-making and worshipping the Lord.

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