The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Jazz and Wind Ensembles will be putting on a double-billed concert titled “Bird Songs,” featuring the world premiere of a new, three-movement piece by James Syler, “Birds of Paradise.” The concert will take place in Angelle Hall Auditorium on Nov. 21 at 7 p.m., and is free to all.
The concert will feature a fusion of different genres, all tying into the theme of bird songs, with pieces such as “Waxwing” by Maria Schneider, “Sunset and the Mockingbird” by Duke Ellington and a rendition of “Blackbird” by The Beatles.
Dr. William Hochkeppel, UL Lafayette’s director of bands, played an instrumental role in making this concert happen, leading a consortium of universities, providing technical assistance to Syler and getting UL Lafayette’s bands ready for the concert. Hochkeppel emphasized the variety present in the music.
“It’s a unique concert because it’s both the University Jazz Ensemble and the UL Wind Ensemble, so you’re going to get some jazz and pop music, even music by The Beatles, and then on the second half, serious music, and that’s where this concept arose,” said Hochkeppel.
The concert builds up to the world premier of “Birds of Paradise,” a saxophone concerto meant to be a virtuoso work for the saxophone soloist, a role that will be filled by Hochkeppel.
“It’s caused me to have to practice as much as I did as a grad student. In my early days, I competed a lot at national and international contests, and it’s been a workout to try to get back to that, in this latter part of my career,” Hochkeppel said. “It’s just a privilege to play with any group of this nature as a soloist, whether it was here, or LSU, or some other school, anywhere in the country. So doing it right here on home territory is just a lot of fun.”
The piece is challenging for both the soloist and the accompanying band due to its inspirations and complexities.
“It’s also very modern, and it’s inspired by post-modern jazz, which means things by artists like John Coltrane, Chick Corea, Ornette Coleman, so these are complex harmonically and melodically, and it’s not a language that we’re used to. It’s virtuoso jazz, working its way into college level wind ensemble music,” Hochkeppel said.
Having done many of his pieces before, Syler contacted Hochkeppel to lead a consortium of UL Lafayette and 10 other universities to chip in the money to commission this piece, as well as providing his musical expertise as a saxophonist and conductor.
For the first few years, only UL Lafayette and these other universities will be able to play the piece, and then Syler will make it available to other groups.
Syler’s recent work focused on the theme of freedom and finding it through jazz and its history. His pieces are known for telling stories in a way that captures audiences.
“He’s great at writing programme notes and explaining and then presenting music that really is something that people can latch onto. That’s why we’ve done so much of his music. His piece “Storyville” talks about what happened in the birth of jazz, in music,” Hochkeppel said. “And it gives you the feeling of being in Storyville, in New Orleans around 1918, and he has a great way of bringing history into his music.”
Ricky Abshire, a junior majoring in music education, is playing in the Wind Ensemble for this concert. He shared that he likes the variety of music in the concert.
“I’m a huge fan of the variety of it. We’re opening with a brass fanfare, very traditional kind of fanfare opening, it’s a small kind of chamber setting,” Abshire said.
Abshire also shared that his favorite piece is a rare one by Fisher Tull.
“Then transitioning into this interesting piece by Tull that I can’t find a recording of it anywhere, it’s a very rare piece called “Chant of the Phoenix,” Abshire said. “I find that one is very effective in making it sound like you’re in the den of an actual phoenix, that’s one of my favorite pieces on the show itself.”
Caleb Rowland, a freshman majoring in music education and a member of the Jazz Ensemble, shared that his favorite piece from the concert is a “Soaring” by Bob Florence.
“Nice and upbeat, very Latin and you can kinda dance to it if you wanted to,” Rowland said.
The concert is a huge moment for UL Lafayette’s music program that will give the university national recognition.
“The composer is coming, and doing a world premiere is always an honor, it’s something very unique and rare, and with the composer here and this being a pretty complicated and difficult concerto, it’s going to get national recognition, but it’s going to happen right here at UL,” Hochkeppel said.