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Wind Ensemble assembles bridge of sound

The brow of band director John Carmichael furrows and relaxes to reflect the shifting moods of his Wind Ensemble’s Tuesday rehearsal.

As momentum builds, his movements and expression intensify, working in tandem with the pounding percussion. When the piece transitions, his demeanor represents the tranquility of the new sound, his hands changing from frantic thrusts to rhythmic waves.

Months of preparation by professors, graduates, undergraduates and guest artists will reach a crescendo Thursday night, when the USF Wind Ensemble takes the stage for its six-piece performance titled “Ya wanna buy a bridge…?”

The performance features a blend of old and new compositions, from as far back as 1891 to as recent as 2007. The first piece, “Cheetah,” was commissioned in 2007 for the University of Louisville Wind Ensemble. Carmichael said it depicts the fast feline’s hunt for prey in its pace and rhythm.

“It’s descriptive,” he said. “What you’re supposed to hear is the cheetah on the Serengeti lulling around and then, all of the sudden, it becomes aware that antelope are nearby. It begins to stalk them and, as soon as it gets close enough, it runs. The rhythmic content of the piece is reflective of that.”

The piece ends as the hunt concludes.

“The punch line of this piece is that the cheetah jumps and misses,” Carmichael said. “So the ending is kind of like, ‘Aw, shucks, we’ll be hungry for a little while longer.'”

The second piece features a solo performance by USF professor Brian Moorhead on the clarinet. “Brooklyn Bridge,” written in 2005, contains four movements: east, south, west and north. Moorhead said each movement derives from the panoramic view of facing each cardinal direction on the bridge.

“The things that, musically, you hear are the structures and the rivets being driven in for the construction of the bridge,” he said. “It’s very percussive; you can almost hear the beams being driven by the percussion in the first section.”

Moorhead also said this piece will include a special multimedia presentation with images of Manhattan displayed behind the performers.

Carmichael’s conducting and Moorhead’s solo work make up only a fraction of the full-scale performance. Fifty-two students fill out the full sound of the Wind Ensemble.

Andrew Douglas, a graduate student studying trombone performance who plays bass trombone in the ensemble, said the end product depends heavily on chemistry.

“I was always taught that it’s like the ultimate team sport,” he said. “It takes everybody working together, and one guy not doing his job makes the whole thing sound bad. Playing with a tuba, you’re trying to match and blend with him. It’s really unexplainable.”

Behind him, percussionists pound away to accompany the wind instruments. In one piece, Meghan McManus, a sophomore majoring in music performance, beats the bass drum and scrapes the guiro, an instrument played by running a stick along wooden ridges.

In the next piece, she moves to the timpani, replacing fellow percussionist Paul Gavin, a sophomore majoring in music education. Gavin said the diversity of instruments in percussion makes for a fun performance.

“Anything that you strike is pretty much a percussion instrument,” he said. “You have to play everything.”

The power of the drums opposes the soft sounds of the harp. Guest harpist Dolly Roberts of the Florida Orchestra caresses one of only two stringed instruments in the performance.

Despite being filled with acoustic instruments, the music of the ensemble still caters to audiences predisposed to mainstream sound. A trombone section of the fourth piece, “Auroral Skies,” sounds nearly identical to the bassline in Radiohead’s “National Anthem.”

Carmichael said aside from noticing similarities to some of their favorites, non-musical audiences will enjoy the intensity of powerful collective sound in the state-of-the-art USF Concert Hall.

“What we tell people who come to hear a concert of complicated music is ‘just enjoy the sounds,'” he said. “Enjoy the fact that the players are working hard and are pretty incredible.”

The USF Wind Ensemble performs Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the USF Concert Hall. Advanced tickets are $8 for students and $12 for general admission. Tickets on the day of the performance are $10 for students and $15 for general admission.