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September 2003 Frederick Fennell Looks Back on 51 Years of Wind Ensembles, By Thomas Dvorak

Last December during the Midwest Clinic I had an unplanned and unexpected opportunity to talk with Frederick Fennell over breakfast. This was the morning after his performance with the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, and he had a gleam in his eyes.
   We last talked at length in 1992, when I was his rehearsal assistant for the National Band Association high school honor band meeting at Northwestern University. We continued this breakfast conversation several months later in his home in Siesta Key, Florida, where his study was filled with scores from floor to ceiling. There were pictures, memorabilia, and instruments on the tables and hanging on the walls. As he talked about each studio treasure he glowed with delight, and he was also eager to discuss the revisions he is making on his book, Time and the Winds, which was first published in 1954. From there we began to talk about his views on the evolution of concert bands and wind ensembles.

Where did you get the idea for a wind ensemble at Eastman?
   It all started in 1933 during my third summer at the National Music Camp at Interlochen. I was a high school camper and just 19 years old. In the morning I played percussion in the orchestra and in the afternoon I was in the band under Albert Austin Harding, the director of bands at the University of Illinois. One day as I walked back to my cabin with Sidney Mear, the principal trumpet player of the Interlochen Orchestra and principal cornetist of the Interlochen Band, he commented he didn’t like the idea of having ten other people playing the same part. He much preferred being the only player on a part in the orchestra. At that moment I knew that the instrumentation of the band had to change, and things couldn’t stay the way they were.

There was a 20-year dormant period following. What happened during the 21 years between then and the creation of the Eastman Wind Ensemble in 1952?
   When I arrived as a student at Eastman in 1933, the first thing I did was organize a marching band on the River Campus of the University of Rochester. It is hard to imagine today that the University of Rochester had a football team and a nice stadium, but no band. Back when I was a high school camper at Interlochen, I approached Joseph Maddy, then head of the National Music Camp, about taking Mark Hindsley’s marching band techniques class, which was only open to college students.
   I grew up in Cleveland and had seen Hindsley direct the outstanding band at Cleveland Heights High School, which without question was the finest marching band I had seen. My arguments must have been convincing because I was allowed to enroll in the class and studied how to be a drum major and run a marching band. I had always been told that I was too short to be a drum major, but I said the heck with that and went out to prove myself.
   At Eastman I used this training to organize a marching band and became both drum major and director. Shortly after starting the marching band, my next step at Eastman was to form the Eastman Symphony Band. Howard Hanson, director of the Eastman School of Music, made it possible for me to do many of the things I accomplished at Eastman.
   In 1951 one of my teeth became severely impacted in my right jaw, and the dental surgeon used tools infected with hepatitis. My wife was a violist in the Rochester Philharmonic, and when she returned from a two-week tour with Erich Leinsdorf, she looked at me and insisted that I see a doctor because my eyeballs were yellow. I had to lie quietly on my back for six weeks in the Genesee Hospital to keep the infection from spreading, which was probably the first time in my life that I could do absolutely nothing but look at the ceiling. In this time I began to put together my thoughts that had been dormant for the past 20 years about starting a wind ensemble.
   By the end of the fourth week, I asked my wife to bring some paper and pencils so that I could write down all that I as thinking. Howard Hanson came to visit, and as he was ready to leave he asked if there was anything he could do for me. I immediately replied that I had the idea for a new group at Eastman and showed him my rough sketches. He looked at them briefly and then took off his coat and sat down to read everything I had written. As he did on so many occasions, he reached for a cigar and began to make conducting motions as he read on. At that point I knew he was convinced. He looked up and said, “This looks great. All you have to do is get out of this hospital, and we’ll begin in the fall.” This is how the Eastman Wind Ensemble was born.

What were the first things you did after being released from the hospital?
   My hospital stay lasted six weeks from November until December 1951, but I didn’t get back to work at Eastman until April 1952. During the intervening months I attended the C.B.D.N.A. conference at Franklin Marshall College and the national M.E.N.C. conference in Philadelphia, where I discussed the concept of a wind ensemble. The Philadelphia meeting was especially important because I met with the leaders of the New York State School Music Association. In the fall of 1952 the Eastman Wind Ensemble made six radio broadcasts and played music that was on the New York State School Music Association’s contest list. We actually made recordings that were mailed to the Rural Radio Network of the New York Dairy Men’s League. This was the first chance for people to hear our music.
   I chose the personnel and the music for the ensemble, and in October 1952 we first rehearsed and then recorded the music in two-hour sessions. These recordings were sent out to the Rural Radio Network for broadcast as soon as we finished. We lived dangerously.

Wasn’t a large part of the image of the Eastman Wind Ensemble the result of the Eastman-Mercury recordings?

   Most definitely. In 1952 the people from Mercury came to see Howard Hanson about recording the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra in a series of compositions by American composers. As the discussions progressed, the Mercury people became interested in the Wind Ensemble, and we became part of the recording project. I especially remember working with David Hall from Mercury, who offered many helpful suggestions regarding the flow of the repertoire. Hanson offered $2,000 to pay the players for the first recording, but everyone was paid the same amount regardless of what part they played.

The first recording was of American band repertoire written for standard concert band instrumentation, yet you chose to follow the concept of having a single player on each part except for the clarinet, euphonium, and tuba sections, which had two on each part. Did you ever consider expanding the instrumentation beyond this?
   We had great players at Eastman who could handle all the musical demands of their parts. Many times the lower brass parts were split into euphonium parts for both treble and bass clefs, and in the tuba parts we needed split octaves. Other than that, we never added players unless the repertoire called for it. This was the true form of the concept of a single player per part, and this was the way it remained for the recording projects as well as the rehearsals and concerts of the Eastman Wind Ensemble. It was always my primary intention to keep the instrumentation as simple as possible and for each player to be the soloist his private teacher had taught him to be. 
   From the beginning the instrumentation grew out of the orchestra: 3 flutes, 3 oboes, and 3 bassoons join a family of clarinets (6 Bb, 1 Eb) and one each of alto, bass, and contrabass clarinet. The 4 saxophones, 4 horns, 4 soprano brass (cornets and trumpets), join 3 trombones, 2 euphoniums, 2 tubas, 1 string bass, 2 percussion, and 1 harp for a total of 42.
   The composer used whatever instrumentation he wished. When we played a piece that called for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, and 2 bassoons, that was what we used. On the recording of Aria Delia Battaglia, a piece originally scored for eight players, the composer only specified that it should be played by instruments of the breath. Many of the instruments we have today didn’t exist in the 1500s, but when we played a contemporary adaptation of this work we used triple reeds, triple brass, 4 horns, tuba, and one viola. The instrumentation should be whatever the composer wants.
   I just returned from the national second Civil War Festival band, where we made a recording with the players I thought were ideal for a Union Army Band of 24 players. Often those bands used fewer players, and for many pieces we even used less than 24. The Confederate band from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was even smaller.

What is your response to a director who believes that a small woodwind section cannot match the resonance of the brass section?

   In my group the brass didn’t have to play at the intense levels they would in a larger ensemble. Until the Eastman Wind Ensemble came along the reeds did not have to play full sonority. In all of the wind ensembles I conducted the reed players could out blow anybody because they were students of professional players and teachers, and they could play with maximum sonority. Sometimes I hear groups in which the brass and reeds have not made the adjustments necessary for a balanced wind ensemble.

How did you arrive at the wind ensemble name?

   As my thoughts became clearer, the name wind ensemble seemed to say what I wanted, despite the fact that there were also percussionists, harpists, pianists, and other instrumentalists in the group. At the premiere concert of the Eastman Wind Ensemble on February 8, 1953, we played the complete Mozart Serenade #10 in Bb Major, K. 361, Wallingford Riegger’s Nonet for Brass, and concluded with the Hindemith Symphony in Bb. I pointed out that if an ensemble of winds had been good enough for Mozart, it was good enough for me.

Did you object when the term symphonic was added to the wind ensemble name?

   This was really added by the Mercury recording personnel, who felt the word symphonic would increase sales of records of this new ensemble. I didn’t object much because I was so glad to record this repertoire. However, I didn’t see the need to add anything to what was purely and quite simply the Eastman Wind Ensemble. By the third Mercury recording, the term symphonic disappeared.
   One of the chances that you take is that people either buy into or don’t buy into a new concept. Many people are looking for a way to hold onto band students by calling the group a wind ensemble. When I started the group at the Eastman School of Music I had no thoughts that this would spread elsewhere. Many groups today are referred to as wind ensembles.

What is your view of the diminution or disappearance of melody in contemporary music?

   Some contemporary compositions are brief, intense, and based upon a wider concept of harmony. The era of melodic music dealt with triads horizontally as well as vertically. The Persichetti Divertimento starts with two triads on top of each other played by other instruments. The tuba players meanwhile sit without a part and many probably ask where their part is.
   You could not expand the melodic process more than it has been already, but the harmonic process is standing there waiting for everybody to do anything they can with it. I enjoy many contemporary pieces. It’s not one or the other to me; and when Persichetti gets into a melody, it’s just as melodic as can be.

The 12-tone tunes that are successful have all of the energy that this concept works up with ease. Among wind ensemble 12-tone pieces are two by Verne Reynolds, who taught horn at Eastman when I was there. Those who played them and even some in the audience liked his music.

You’ve been such an inspiration to our profession. You have influenced countless musicians, who have influenced others with your thoughts, concepts, and musicianship. You gave the world, through the Eastman Wind Ensemble, a new concept of the wind band/ ensemble that wasn’t there ever before. What advice would you offer to the young people just entering our profession or experienced conductors?
   I would urge young people to become the best musicians they can; they can become a conductor later. Learn to play an instrument excellently and study scores from every medium, not just those for band or orchestra. Choral, opera, chamber music, and especially contemporary musical scores will broaden your horizons.
   It should be a high priority for everyone to join a choir to develop their ears and their voices. The only way to know how a musical line goes is to sing it and hear the sounds resonating in your head. To conductors in the profession, I suggest striking out and trying new ideas and not to be afraid of doing this. Make certain, however, to always think about each new idea or direction to be sure it seems right for yourself and your students; then do it.
   When experienced conductors are feeling tired of the profession, they might recount what kind of influence their teachers were or the important question of which was the last concert when everything worked for the students, the audience, and for themselves. They should not be afraid to submit themselves to the opinions of people who know. It is always possible to rejuvenate and to be ready for the moment when changes are needed.
   One important thing the Eastman Wind Ensemble had from its inception was patience and passion. We approached everything with that in
 mind. We were prepared and went to rehearsals
 early. There was a passion for the very special
 nature of wind music. All of us must have the passion to do what we do and to find the passion in 

   Thomas Dvorak, Wisconsin born and educated, is professor of music and has been director of University Bands at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee since 1979. Under his direction the bands performed in 1996 at the Australian Band and Orchestra Convention in Melbourne, Australia, and at the 1981 M.E.N.C. Conference in Minneapolis. It has given ten performances at the Wisconsin Music Educators Conference and performed at the national convention of C.B.D.N.A. in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1982. In 1983 he founded the University Youth Wind Ensemble and has taken it on eight European tours and a tour of Japan; in 1989 they played at Carnegie Hall. He has been president of the North Central Division of the College Band Directors National Association (1990-92) and second vice-president of the National Band Association (1990-92).