The Spokane Falls Brass Band Thursday, Dec. 19, The Met
The Spokane Falls Brass Band and friends put on the warmest and fuzziest of this season’s Christmas concerts. “Christmas in Old Spokane” ran for four shows, last Thursday through Saturday at The Met. I attended Thursday’s nearly sold-out program.
The band included several unusual songs in the program which offered a new slant on the season. New this year, and welcome for their honesty and freshness, were settings by horn player Roger Logan of four Appalachian folk songs, preserved by John Jacob Niles in the 1930s.
Logan set the songs “Lulle Lullay,” “Jesus the Christ is Born,” “Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head” and “Jesus Born in Beth’ny” very simply. The straightforwardness of voice with guitar and voice with solo horn was the best possible presentation of these folk tunes.
The final number of the set was arranged in an additive style, beginning with guitar and recorder, adding piano, tambourine and one by one all of the brass, and finishing up with the lyrics. This created a feeling of rustic celebration.
Many of the carols written by John Rutter were also included, in arrangements for the group by trumpeter Larry Jess. Rutter’s work follows the tradition of Christmas carols, splitting the difference between serious themes and pop chords and settings. His songs are packed with melodic invention which is laid over easy-going and pleasant harmonies. They tend to follow the carol format of verse and refrain, but with a modern twist.
These lend themselves well to the brass and the other resources the Spokane Falls Brass Band has grown to include on their Christmas program: piano and percussion.
Rutter’s “Donkey Carol” tells of the trek to Bethlehem from the viewpoint of the beast of burden, “Mary’s Lullaby” has a wonderful melody and “The Very Best Time Of Year” steals the sparkle of Broadway to bring joy to the season.
To be picky, Rutter’s “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol” makes for more challenging listening. It’s a nice tune, but is packed to the brim with lyrics which go screaming by at a frantic pace. All in all, these carols are a wonderful gift, saving us from the overworked standards.
“Christmas in Old Spokane” would be one of the most family-oriented concerts without it, but with the addition of the animated film “The Snowman,” the concert became a celebration of childhood’s dreams.
Logan transcribed the music from the movie, so the ensemble is able to accompany the film live. This alone was worth the price of admission for lots of small people in velvet and lace or ties and baseball caps.
When they weren’t being silly, both singer Ann Fennessy and hornist Verne Windham projected a casual warmth that captured the spirit of the season for many.