There”s more to Battle Creek than just Kellogg”s Cereal.
Composed of some of the finest musicians from the United States and England, the Brass Band of Battle Creek is a famous name in the western Michigan town, as well as the rest of the world. Known for their huge repertoire of marches, classical transcriptions and big band favorites, the Band will perform an exciting program on Friday night, hosted by popular radio host Paul W. Smith.
Founded by Dr. James Gray and his brother Dr. William Gray in 1989, the Brass Band of Battle Creek has attracted players from groups such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the U.S. Army and Marine bands, and orchestras from Broadway shows. The band performs in the “British tradition,” which uses different instrumentation than standard American brass bands. The British brass bands, for example, use tenor horns instead of French horns, and incorporate two kinds of tubas, baritones, euphoniums and a soprano horn. James Gray, the current organizer and founder of the group, said that “this standard of instrumentation has been around since 1880, with 28-29 members and percussion.”
The late-19th and early-20th centuries were the heyday of brass bands in the United States and Europe, when every town of at least a few hundred people had its own hometown band. The bands welcomed people of all occupations, including miners, farmers, factory workers, newsboys, and cowboys. With improved technology came the possibility for an all-brass band, and the Brass Band of Battle Creek hopes to preserve the art form that was typical of the time. American John Philip Sousa also gave an enormous and lasting contribution to the period”s band music. “Every town had a brass band beforehandyou”d have to compare Sousa then to what the Beatles were,” said Gray. “People don”t understand how huge of an influence he had on American music.”
Under the baton of conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos, the band has gained considerable recognition, even though they perform only two or three times a year. In its home base in Battle Creek, the “Expert-In-Residence” program of the Kellogg foundation allows them to attract highly-skilled musicians, most of whom are professional musicians and university professors.
While brass bands use reduced instrumentation in comparison to wind ensembles or full orchestras, their repertoire is quite large and constantly expanding. Friday”s program includes nine pieces, some traditional brass band favorites, and others transcribed from popular orchestral pieces. The show”s highlights include “Festive Overture,” by Shostakovich and arranged by Kitson, and Prima”s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” arranged by Freeh. “Sing, Sing, Sing,” will also be performed with outstanding students from metro-Detroit high schools.
In the future, Gray hopes the band will perform more often, and spread the exciting, captivating sound of a traditional British brass band. “To perform a concert well and to see the audience walk out feeling uplifted, and to see that they”ve enjoyed themselves, is a big thrill,” said Gray.