School bands take over Gaillard for conference, concerts

Scott Rush, director of Fine and Performing Arts for Dorchester District Two, rehearses a school band. Rush is participating in the Southern Division of the College Band Directors National Association conference at the Gaillard Center.

The bands are coming, about 15 of them, plus more than 100 professors and conductors. They are converging on Charleston, taking over the Gaillard Center, talking shop and performing — for one another and for anyone who wants to hear the top brass of the high school and college set.

The influx of musicians is largely a result of Marshall Forrester’s efforts. Forrester is director of bands at Charleston Southern University, and it was his turn to organize the conference of the Southern Division of the College Band Directors National Association. The conference runs Thursday-Saturday and includes a dozen concerts (free and open to the public) as well as breakout sessions and lectures for registered participants.

Among the performances are two dedicated to the victims of the June 17 Emanuel AME Church shooting.

“It is customary for bands performing at this conference to commission sizable new pieces of music for premiere at the conference,” Forrester wrote in an email. “When the ensembles for this year were selected in June 2015, and the conference venue of Charleston was announced, Mother Emanuel was very much on everyone’s hearts and minds, as well as the fact that the conference was scheduled for the Holy City. As a result, not one but two new pieces will be premiered on Saturday, Feb. 20, that are dedicated to Mother Emanuel.”

At 3:30 p.m., the Western Kentucky University Wind Ensemble, led by Gary Schallert, will premier “Of Our New Day Begun” by Boston-based composer Omar Thomas.

At 9 p.m., the Palmetto Concert Band, led by Scott Weiss, will perform an updated version of “There Are No Words” by Chicago-based composer Jim Stephenson.

Chamber Music Charleston premiered the piece Aug. 7 at the College of Charleston’s Sottile Theatre.

The concert band version was commissioned by more than a dozen university, high school and community bands from throughout South Carolina and beyond, according to Forrester.

Thomas is a young African-American musician who teaches at the Berklee College of Music. “Of Our New Day Begun” is a 10-minute work whose musical ideas are based in the traditions of the black church.

Stephenson’s piece is tonal, lyrical in places, includes hymn references and relies heavily on the number nine, which works as a recurring motif.

It even includes melodies to which he set the victims’ names. The names are written in the score, not because they are meant to be sung or spoken, only to serve as references for the musicians and to create phrases whose rhythms echo the names of the dead.

Another concert at 2 p.m. Friday features the Charleston Wind Symphony, an ensemble comprised of 70 local symphony professionals and music educators. The group will be conducted by Forrester and Scott Rush, fine arts director for Dorchester School District 2.

Other performing ensembles include Florida Atlantic University Wind Ensemble, University of Louisville Symphonic Band, Kennesaw State University Wind Ensemble, University of South Florida Wind Ensemble, Liberty University Wind Symphony and University of Florida Symphonic Band.

For a full schedule and other information, go to