Arts concert review

Family Weekend concert keeps audience riveted

MIT Wind Ensemble (MITWE), MIT Jazz Ensemble, and MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble perform live to audience of parents and students

MIT's Annual Family Weekend Concert
MIT Wind Ensemble, Festival Jazz Ensemble, and Vocal Jazz Ensemble
Conducted by Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr., Kenneth Amis and Laura Grill Jaye
Kresge Auditorium
Oct. 28

After just six weeks of practice, MIT Wind Ensemble (MITWE), MIT Jazz Ensemble, and MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble performed their annual Family Weekend Concert in front of a packed Kresge Auditorium, to the delight of students and their visiting loved ones. Pulling from a diverse collection of pieces, the three ensembles had the auditorium riveted from start to finish.

The major theme of the night’s performances was gratitude. Dr. Frederick Harris Jr., director of MITWE, delivered a moving speech thanking the parents in the audience for supporting their students in their musical careers, especially during the early stages of learning when the music maybe isn’t the best. He also thanked music teachers for investing in their students’ futures and bringing their students up to a level that enabled them to play in such an ensemble.

MITWE president Charlotte Wickert ‘23 also spoke with great feeling about her experience with MITWE. She discussed her desire to join a community at MIT to keep creating music with others, and she explained how she didn’t realize what wonderful opportunities the ensembles would turn out to be. MITWE and MIT Jazz Ensemble have had the chance to play a diverse array of music and collaborate with professional Boston-area musicians, and Wickert expressed gratitude for the opportunities the ensembles have afforded her. 

MITWE kicked off the concert with Serge Prokofiev’s Festival March, conducted by assistant conductor Kenneth Amis. This piece was an excellent choice for an opener: it was clean and sharp, and balanced moments of both hardness and lightness in a fluid way. This was followed by Shafer Mahoney’s Sparkle, at which point Dr. Harris came on stage to direct. The flutes at the beginning of the piece really did sparkle, and the back and forth between the flutes and clarinets was reminiscent of a conversation. The piece was light and fluttery throughout and provided an excellent contrast to the more hard-hitting pieces on the program. 

The showstopper of MITWE’s performance, however, was the combination of The Thunderer(by John Philip Sousa) and After the Thunderer (a movement of a symphony by Ira Hearshen). Before the two pieces, Dr. Harris asked for something rather unusual: that the audience refrain from applauding until both pieces were finished, as the ensemble would be performing a “musical illusion” to transition into After the Thunderer. The latter piece borrows heavily from The Thunderer, which has a signature melody that repeats all the way through to the end. 

The Thunderer was a very traditional yet powerful march, and the transition to After The Thunderer was absolutely beautiful. The chord progression that started with the clarinets and slowly incorporated the other instruments built tension organically and was the perfect escalation to the next piece. I also appreciated the use of timpani and cymbals to imitate the sound of thunder.

MITWE’s portion of the performance concluded with Clifton Williams’s Fiesta. I was not expecting the mood to be ominous initially, but the piece quickly shifted into a light and flowery melody that propelled forward. “Fiesta” ultimately proved to be a great choice to wrap up the first half of the concert. 

After the fifteen-minute intermission, the MIT Jazz Ensemble took the stage with “Love for Sale” by Cole Porter, the perfect choice for reengaging the audience. As a smaller group, the jazz ensemble allows for each individual to stand out, which led to some impressive saxophone solos that brought the audience to applause. Dr. Harris was not so much conducting as he was dancing, and the crowd was clapping along to the beat. 

The ensemble followed this up with “Angel Eyes” by Matt Dennis (lyrics by Earl Brent), which opened with an alto saxophone solo that really formed the centerpiece of this performance. This piece was really a standout from the jazz ensemble’s portion of the concert. The slow, languorous beat could have belonged in a jazz club, and by no means was this a quiet performance; the musicians created a wonderfully believable atmosphere. 

“Social Call” by Gigi Gryce and Jon Hendricks had a wonderful surprise component: Emily Jin ‘25 added her vocals to mix with a beautiful alto-tenor voice that was full and deep with rich intonation. The piano was a standout instrument in this piece and complemented Jin’s voice beautifully. Ultimately, “Social Call” was such a fun and atmospheric piece, only made better by the vocals. 

MIT’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble took the stage next to perform the world premiere of director Laura Grill Jaye’s arrangement of “Shaw ‘Nuff.” Again, as a small ensemble, each member was able to stand out, and it was clear that the vocalists were enjoying themselves, which in turn transferred to the audience. I appreciated the use of scatting throughout, especially during the scatting “conversation” between two of the singers. The ending consisted of a smooth vocal glide to the final note, which created a striking effect.

To wrap up the concert, the MIT Jazz Ensemble returned to the stage to perform “Beulah Witch” by Don Menza and “Standing Up In a Hammock” by Bill Potts, both of which were accompanied by tap dancer Sabrina Grammis G. The sound of Grammis’s shoes on the stage was absolutely mesmerizing, and she provided the perfect visual counterpoint to the jazz. The highlights of “Beulah Witch” were the solos, which were absolutely magical: the musicians were hitting impressively high notes and absolutely pouring their hearts and souls into the music. Finally, “Standing Up In a Hammock” formed the perfect ending piece. It was fast-paced and interspersed saxophone solos, tap solos, and piano solos with the full ensemble. 

Ultimately, the concert was a smashing success. The piece selection balanced lighter moods with more hard-hitting ones, and the audience was riveted throughout. It was a wonderful concert to kick off the season.