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Symphonic Winds’ Diverse Catalog to Elicit Emotional Response During Spring Concert at MC

As interim conductor of Symphonic Winds, Renee Wilson strives to grow the musicianship of the students who perform in the classic wind ensemble.
As interim conductor of Symphonic Winds, Renee Wilson strives to grow the musicianship of the students who perform in the classic wind ensemble.

Mississippi College’s classic wind ensemble enters its busiest performance schedule this spring with a dynamic catalog of expressive pieces and a brand-new interim director.

For years, Craig Young, former director of bands and professor of music in the Department of Music at MC, had capably and creatively led Symphonic Winds, the band of student instrumentalists and percussionists that has entertained audiences at the Christian University and the surrounding community.

Following Young’s departure last summer, Duncan Goff, marching band director, and David White, marching band adjunct faculty, stepped in to helm the band during the fall. Now, Renee Wilson, assistant professor in the Department of Music and coordinator of graduate and undergraduate music education programs, picks up the baton to lead the ensemble of about 40 members.

“Dr. Young was here for 23 years, so he created the Symphonic Winds that we know and love today,” Wilson said. “We probably talk about Dr. Young, our memories of him, and the positive influences he’s had on music-making here at MC at least weekly.

“It’s a wonderful thing to enjoy his legacy with our students. He is quite revered, and it is my honor to try to continue the legacy that he started here.”

Wilson has the credentials to do that. After obtaining her B.Mus. from Western Kentucky University, she received her M.Mus. and her Ph.D. from Texas Tech University. She taught junior and senior high school band in Texas for 10 years and elementary music for five. She joined the MC faculty in 2017 and served alongside Young as music education professor, teaching general music education courses, courses in the Education Department related to music and art, and graduate music education courses.

As a flutist, she spent several summers performing in the Mississippi Wind Symphony under Young’s direction. Her areas of research include qualitative studies of the experiences of music teachers at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education, community arts involvement, and parenthood and employment within the arts.

“My knowledge and comfort with the band world is good,” she said. “It’s an absolute pleasure to work with this group and be a part of a band again. This is a lot of fun for me.”

She will strive to make the transition to a new Symphonic Winds conductor as seamless as possible.

“My goal is to maintain the level of musicianship and continue to grow the musicianship of the students who have joined Symphonic Winds since Dr. Young left,” Wilson said. “As an interim conductor, I want to hand this off to our incoming band director when he or she arrives to present students who are accustomed to working the way Dr. Young had them working.”

That will begin with a loaded spring concert schedule. Fresh off its pulse-pounding performance in the Music Department Showcase Feb. 17, Symphonic Winds will be giving its annual spring concert at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 27, in Swor Auditorium in Nelson Hall.

The catalog will feature diverse selections by Wilson to showcase the band’s impressive range.

She compared choosing literature to suit the band to trying on clothes in a dressing room.

“Some things are beautiful pieces, but they don’t fit correctly, or they don’t fall right,” she said. “I had several selections picked out, and as I tried them on the band, I found they all fit remarkably well.”

To open its spring performance, Symphonic Winds will play “Abram’s Pursuit” by David Holsinger. Inspired by the 14th chapter of Genesis, the up-tempo composition recalls the rebellion led by four kings who defeated five others, including the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, in battle in the Valley of Siddin and carried off their possessions, including Abram’s nephew Lot. Abram armed 318 trained men born in his household, pursued the four kings, and during the night, attacked them, recovering all the goods and bringing back his relative.

“There’s a real sense of urgency in this piece,” Wilson said. “It’s very exciting. It makes a great opener, and it’s something the students and I enjoyed putting together.”

In stark contrast, the band will perform “Sure on This Shining Night” by composer Samuel Barber, based on a Depression-era poem, “Descriptions of Elysium” by James Agee.

“This is a meditative, beautiful, soft piece,” Wilson said.

The performance will include a first movement Chaconne from “First Suite in E-Flat” by Gustav Holst; a lighthearted, playful, “Intermezzo;” and a March in the style of classic British band marches. It also will feature a few small ensembles, and at least one of the pieces is written by Tatianna Dismuke, a composition major at MC and a flutist in Symphonic Winds.

Although Wilson didn’t have a specific theme in mind when she selected the band’s pieces, a common thread became apparent when the catalog was completed.

“As I look at it now, I see a very clear pull on the emotions,” she said, “from the urgency of Abram’s Pursuit to the meditative calmness of “Sure on This Shining Night,” to a patriotic feeling from another band classic, America the Beautiful.

“We’ve got a lighthearted, fun piece, and a worshipful, grounding piece. My hope is the audience will experience a myriad of emotions as they listen to the music.”

Those unable to attend Symphonic Winds’ February concert may catch a series of small ensembles at Art in the Park, hosted by Main Street Clinton on Saturday, March 25, at Lions Club Park; the second Symphonic Winds concert of the season at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 23; or performances at local high schools and small group recitals sprinkled throughout the semester.

The concerts are free, but patrons can support Symphonic Winds by calling Dottie Serio at 601.925.3440 and donating to the Music Department at MC.

“The easiest thing people can do, and what would have a significant impact on the department and the students, is to come to the concert, sit in the audience, and support the work our students are doing,” Wilson said. “Any time anyone asks me what I love most about teaching at MC, my answer is always our students. They are the most wonderful thing about this incredible job.

“Working with Symphonic Winds is no different. The hard work, the effort, and the passion these students have for the band and the music they are making together is unbelievable.”