The St. Olaf Band awarded The American Prize
The St. Olaf Band, conducted by Professor of Music Timothy Mahr ‘78, has been awarded The American Prize in Band/Wind Ensemble Performance, 2021, in the college/university (smaller program) division.
The American Prize, which was founded in 2009, recognizes the best performances by ensembles at the high school, university (large and small school), and community levels. Applicants submit a single concert recording for evaluation. The winner must display excellence in all aspects of the performance including the overall effect of the program, and in musicality, tone quality, accuracy, rhythmic incisiveness, intonation, and knowledge of style.
The St. Olaf Band’s entry was the ensemble’s 2020 Home Concert, titled “Imagining Peace.” It featured a diverse set of composers and musical styles including works by Timothy Mahr, Jocelyn Hagen ‘03, Omar Thomas, Jonathan Bartz ‘08, and David Maslanka. The band presented its “Imagining Peace” program across California on its 2020 winter tour, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down music-making in the United States.
No one knew exactly what was in store for the rest of 2020, but the program’s theme already felt necessary. “I find it gratifying that a musical program entitled ‘Imagining Peace,’ conceived to encourage audience members to indeed imagine bringing more peace into this world, resonated so strongly among the adjudicating panel that they bestowed this high honor on the band,” says Mahr.
Delaney Breen ’20 served as the St. Olaf Band’s president and played principal horn on the Prize-winning concert. “With the crazy year and a half that we’ve had, it’s heartening that a program centered around peace and love and human connection was a winner in 2021 since we’ve had so little of that in the past two years,” says Breen. “It’s heartening that the concert happened before the pandemic and was awarded during the pandemic.”
St. Olaf Band former president Delaney Breen ’20The band strives for connection and becomes really tight-knit, especially on tour. Coming back and performing at home is so empowering: you’re on stage with people you love most.
Breen says there’s a connection between the intensity of the tour, the messages in the music, and the quality of the concert recording. “The band strives for connection and becomes really tight-knit, especially on tour,” she says. “Coming back and performing at home is so empowering: you’re onstage with people you love most.”
One piece, Omar Thomas’s Of Our New Day Begun, was the breakout hit of the program. It was written to honor the nine churchgoers murdered in a domestic terrorist attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015. It’s a stirring, emotional piece marked by repetition, dissonance, and the use of the hymn Lift Every Voice. Breen felt the band’s emotional intensity come through to the audience and adjudicators during that piece in particular.
One adjudicator offered their comments on the St. Olaf Band’s performance of the “Imagining Peace” program: “The ensemble plays with a blend and balance of sound that is truly splendid. If anyone had an issue about the wind band as a quality music form, I’d share this performance with them and declare ‘This is how it’s done!’ I find this performance to be what is right with the wind band.”
This American Prize win represents years of hard work not only from the band members, but from St. Olaf College’s Broadcast/Media services, music faculty, staff, and administration as well, who make it possible for the musicians to perform at their best and be heard digitally around the world.
“I think the award reflects the full educational experience these band members have had at St. Olaf,” adds Mahr. “They consistently fully invest themselves in expressing the messages within the music.”
The band enjoys a rich legacy of musical excellence spanning nearly 130 years. Founded by students in 1891, the St. Olaf Band is the oldest musical ensemble at St. Olaf College. In 1906 the band became the first American college ensemble to conduct a concert tour abroad when F. Melius Christiansen, founder of the school’s music department and conductor of the band from 1903–19, led a tour to Norway. The band grew to international acclaim under conductor Miles Johnson before Mahr assumed the podium in 1994.
St. Olaf Band Conductor Timothy Mahr ’78I think the award reflects the full educational experience these band members have had at St. Olaf. They consistently fully invest themselves in expressing the messages within the music.
This fall, the band sets out on the college’s first music tour since the pandemic began. The program, “… with reverence and hope,” aims to provide audiences with a musical space for reflection after the arduous last year and a half. The tour through the Midwest kicks off in St. Paul on Saturday, October 16, at 2 p.m. at Central High School. The band will perform three concerts in the Chicago area before heading north to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and ending the tour in Kenyon, Minnesota. The home concert will take place in Skoglund Auditorium at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 24. Tickets are available at https://wp.stolaf.edu/tickets/band or at the door.