USA 2020 Part 3 (by Dan West)
After a vintage Septura schlep (my alarm was set for 5am in Baltimore) we arrived in Huntsville 10 hours later (via 2 flights & a solid 2-hour drive) for the start of the Texas leg of the tour. Considering our indulgences at the reception in Baltimore the previous evening (thanks again to the Rosenbergs for their soup-er hospitality) it could be claimed that group morale was not at its peak through our journey. Luckily we had a couple of hours downtime on arrival to soak in the scenery of a rainy Huntsville, Texas.
Huntsville is a small town 70 miles north of Houston which is famed for being the home to one of the most celebrated heroes of Texan history: Major General, President of the Republic of Texas and US Senator Sam Houston. As we pulled in from Interstate 45 it was hard to miss the 70-foot statue of the famous general and politician, who played a key role in securing the enormous state’s independence from Mexico and subsequent annexation by the United States. Our venue for the tour’s first proper outing of the Borrowed Baroque programme was located on campus at Sam Houston State University.
With our metaphorical batteries charged we took to the stage to polish up some corners in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and bathed in the sonic warmth of another luxurious acoustic. As I’ve mentioned before, the wealth of stunning concert halls everywhere in the United States puts Britain to shame. The Stravinsky is by and large the most technically challenging piece we’ve brought with us on tour and I for one was looking forward to getting a performance under our belts in Texas.
As we stepped on stage for the concert I noticed a familiar face amongst the appreciative audience, in the form of a friend and colleague from my days at the University of North Texas: Aric Schneller. Aric was a doctoral trombone candidate at UNT while I belatedly finished my undergraduate studies in 2005 and is now the head of jazz studies at SMHU. Though we only crossed paths for a year or so at university, seeing him gave me a much needed boost of enthusiasm, which had flagged slightly after the rigours of the day’s travel. Despite our drained reserves of energy the whole group played a blinder and I think we set the bar pretty high for upcoming performances of the Baroque programme. The soloists in the Handel (suite from Rinaldo) were particular stars, and the Matts took showboating in the Prokofiev piano suite to new levels – they certainly kept me entertained. When it came to the Stravinsky I imagine the audience would never have guessed that it was Pete Smith’s first performance of the piece, and despite the difficulty of the arrangement it went remarkably well. The arrangement works really well and plays to the group’s strengths. I hope we get a chance to record it in the not-too-distant future.
After the show we caught up with a few audience members, signed some CDs and then Aric showed us the infamous maximum security penitentiary which sits on the border of the SHSU campus and houses the execution facilities for the State of Texas. I’d personally be a bit unnerved doing my studies with a building full of convicted Death Row murderers only a few hundred yards from the university library, but the prison walls are reassuringly tall and perimeter patrol cars thoroughly scout the area for would-be prison breakers. That being said there have been the occasional escapee, one of whom pedalled his way onto the nearby Interstate on a stolen BMX before being returned to his cell. As there weren’t any sidewalks (pavements), the sight of 6 British musicians and 1 Canadian/British bass trombone operator must have looked pretty suspicious to the patrolmen and I thought I noticed them take an interest in us as we walked under the walls. Luckily it wasn’t a long walk to the town square which, in its heyday would have made a fairly typical backdrop for a spaghetti western shootout. We slid into a saloon and sampled some fine local craft beer before retiring to our beds back on campus, just over the road from Death Row.
The following morning we cruised up the Interstate towards Fort Worth in our behemoth Chevy Suburban. I used to turn my nose up at people who drove these tank-sized comfort cruisers, hogging multiple lanes at any given time, but now I can see the appeal – especially in contrast to the latest Battle Bus we had in the Carolinas, a vehicle which lacked any charm (or suspension to speak of). A few of the lads drove a small Ford Hybrid while Pete, Coxy and I floated northwards on a 4-wheel-drive cushion of luxurious carbon emissions.
As we entered Fort Worth our grumbling tummies (possibly stretched already by a week of American indulgence) navigated us towards a well-reviewed Tex-Mex restaurant for lunch before the group was due at Texas Wesleyan University for a Q & A with the students and faculty there. The students had some great questions for us and members of Septura provided some insights into the working mind of a British orchestral (or in my case ‘orchestral-ish’) brass player. We were asked to outline our philosophy towards individual practice, so I obviously deferred and allowed the group’s more committed practicers to respond.
The second outing of Borrowed Baroque went well enough that we thought we deserved a couple of celebratory beverages, so we ventured into beautiful downtown Fort Worth to the Flying Saucer, which I have waxed lyrically about in a previous edition of this blog. There had been rumours that a legendary trumpet player (and fellow Canadian), Jens Lindemann, could be joining us for a drink since he was performing down the road at Texas Christian University the same night. Jens has been a hero of mine since he performed with my junior high school band in Calgary when I was just starting to learn the trombone. Soon after hearing him for the first time he became a member of Canadian Brass where his accomplishments there are widely acknowledged as some of the finest trumpet playing recorded to CD (in my humble opinion). Jens himself is a hurricane of energy & charisma, and he made a dramatic entrance by treating us to his best Game of Thrones-esque Northern accent whilst greeting his great friend Huw Morgan. Jens chatted with us about the direction of the group and what plans were currently in the pipeline. He even coached Knighty on the correct (North American) pronunciation of the term ‘baroque’ (bah-roake) which will come in handy as we continue on up the road to Oklahoma, Arkansas and then our return to Texas for the TMEA conference on Valentines Day.