An Extraordinary Explosion of Music and Wit: The Hudson Valley Symphonic Wind Ensemble

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Micah Sprague and James D. Wayne.  Photo: Morey Storck
Micah Sprague and James D. Wayne. Photo: Morey Storck

|  by Morey Storck  |

On May 9, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow will have the opportunity to hear and appreciate one of the nation’s foremost wind and percussion ensembles. This unique organization is called The Hudson Valley Symphonic Wind Ensemble (HVSWE). James D. Wayne is its Music Director and Conductor; Sprague is the Music Department Chairperson and Band Director at Sleepy Hollow High School. The membership is comprised of instrumentalists from Westchester, Dutchess and Orange counties in New York, Fairfield County, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York City.

The goal is to bring together committed musicians who have a real enthusiasm for symphonic band literature an to provide fulfillment and support for members by striving for the highest level of performance and achievement in a friendly environment.

As noted on his official website, Wayne is the former Music Director and Conductor of the Hudson Valley Wind Symphony, the organization he founded and conducted from 1988 to 2005.  From 1978 through 1981 he was Music Director and Conductor of both the American Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the University of Bridgeport Symphonic Wind Ensemble.  During the early 1970’s, his New Rochelle High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble was considered one of the finest in music education, highlighted by numerous invitational performances at music education conventions and featured in a live broadcast on WQXR in New York.

In 1984, he founded Second Hearing Records, one of the first commercial all-compact disc labels.  Since 1989, Jim Wayne has owned and operated Silverdisc Productions in White Plains, specializing in the production and manufacturing of compact disc audio supplements for college music textbooks.

In addition to his duties at the Sleepy Hollow High School Music Department, Sprague was instrumental in getting the school’s invitation to Wayne to rehearse at SHHS, which has turned out well for the wind ensemble, for the music department and for the students who are allowed and encouraged to participate. Sprague, for the past several years, also plays horn with the HVSWE. Sprague is also the director, for the last 12 years, of the Sleepy Hollow Jazz Festival. If future plans pan out, we might find jazz and the wind ensemble on stage at the same time.

As Wayne pointed out, “The ensemble exists because this particular band literature is not easy to find, perhaps on only a few college campuses.”  The current roster is composed, approximately, of 45 unpaid instrumentalists. And, there is no doubling. In other words, if a specific instrumentalist is missing from a rehearsal or performance, there is no one to cover or to take over his or her part.  That is not so with a regular concert band which has multiple players of the same instrument.  The ensemble’s players only want to play their music and their own specific part, in their own particular way.  The make-up of a full complement of instruments in the ensemble includes: flutes and piccolos, oboes, English horns, clarinets, alto clarinets, bass clarinets, contrabass clarinets, bassoons, saxophones, trumpets and cornets, horns, trombones, euphoniums, tubas, string bass and percussion. One can only imagine the collective sound impression made at full throttle.

The May 9 performance is a benefit for the Sleepy Hollow Performing Arts Boosters, which is why a special effort is being made to bring in a sizable audience. “Actually,” said Wayne, “we don’t exist to serve an audience.  We do it for ourselves.  However, this time we’re attempting to draw in an audience with a hook – one or two unique pieces not often performed.  Additionally, we hope to bring in more people from the arts community of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow by featuring our students who have had the opportunity to work with the ensemble.* There is great value in seeing a dedicated professional group at work.  And, let me remind you that the members of this ensemble, myself included, do not get paid.  It is work of joy and support.”

Now, back to the hook. How about a Chopin mazurka for four tubas, or a grandiose, grand overture over-written for three vacuum cleaners, two floor polishers and two rifles? Don’t want to give too much away. You’ll have to go and witness it for yourselves.

Hudson Valley Symphonic Wind Ensemble, May 9; Sleepy Hollow High School  8 p.m.

Suggested donation:  Seniors: $5 Adults: $10. Intermission refreshments free.

*Of special note: four Sleepy Hollow middle school students – seventh graders Devin Bathela (trumpet) and Lucy Rogers (tuba) and eighth graders Molly Povman (trombone) and Eliza Grose (clarinet); and one twelfth grader Glenn Carney, have been selected for the prestigious New York State Band Director’s All-State Honor Band. These students were selected based on their outstanding performance at last spring’s New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) Solo Festival.

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