The Northwest Wind Symphony (NWWS) is returning after a two-year hiatus. The symphony, which hasn’t held concerts because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be holding its spring concert on Saturday, April 23.
The concert will feature “American music by American composers,” according to the program.
“It’s very exciting,” said NWWS co-founder Dan Judd.
Judd, who is returning to the area after living for several years in Oregon, said that when he co-founded the NWWS in 1991, he had heard about a group of musicians that came together from all over the state who would practice together before playing and going home. Judd said he thought it was a crazy idea but decided they might be able to pull it off.
He found a conductor and told her if she was willing to conduct the concert, he would gather the band for the event. Ultimately, he was able to get enough musicians, mostly from Western Washington and a few from Northwest Oregon, to participate that they nearly had a full band. From then on, Judd said, lots of musicians have come back.
“Once we did it and everyone figured out, you had to come with the music practiced yourself, and they had to come together to get it to work. Then people wanted to keep coming (back),” he said.
Judd said usually the concert has 40 to 45 musicians while this year there will be 52.
Judd said there’s a lot of excitement among this year’s symphony participants after the long hiatus.
“(The) universal feeling for musicians is the joy to be able to sit down together and play… it’s just a thrill to be able to play live music and to share it with a crowd,” he said.
“To play together as a group is exquisite,” Judd said. “It’s a double thrill for me, not just as a musician, but as someone who is returning to the community.”
Judd, who will be serving as co-conductor for this year’s concert, added “these are fine, fine players, and it really is a treat to bring them in and share them with the area and I hope people will come out and enjoy it.”
Dan Schmidt, who is serving as co-conductor with Judd, said “it seems like ages ago” since the musicians last saw each other.
Schmidt, who was in charge of selecting the pieces for the symphony, said the theme for the upcoming concert is “getting the cobwebs out.” He said out of the 10 pieces the symphony will be playing, four of them are technically difficult. He said when selecting pieces, beyond just selecting what he hoped would be entertaining for the audience, he asked himself, “What would be a challenge for them (the band) after a two-year hiatus?”
When asked what he was most looking forward to for the upcoming concert, Schmidt said the people, especially the other band members. He said that while the symphony members saw each other three times a year before COVID-19, they haven’t seen each other in the two years since the pandemic started.
But he says he’s also looking forward to the audience.
“The audience in Centralia is always warm,” he said. “We will have a good time. It will be delightful to see the audience again.”
One local man, Louie Blaser, has been playing in the symphony for over 20 years. Blaser, who teaches band to students at Centralia College, Centralia High School and fifth and sixth grade students, first participated in the symphony as a high school student.
“They used to invite local high school players, like one or two kids from around the area, and I was selected as one of those players, probably my sophomore year, 1998 or something, and I just kept getting asked to play,” he said.
Blaser said a lot of other band teachers participate in the symphony.
“I’d say about half the band are music educators of some kind and the other half are musicians that can handle higher level music … For some people, myself included, it’s about professional development (for teachers), that’s a plus,” he said.
According to Blaser, the symphony is “definitely our highest tier band in the area.”
“It’s a fun one, but it’s intense too,” he said, describing the difficulty of preparing for the symphony’s concerts.
“On my end there’s been a lot of practicing, there’s definitely a lot of excitement about what we’re going to be playing,” he said.
But it hasn’t been easy practicing music during the pandemic. For Blaser, COVID-19 presented new challenges teaching his own students.
“It’s been strange. Overall, there’s been a lot of adaptation and adjustment and stuff that I’ve made to my curriculum,” he said.
Blaser said learning about new technology while students were learning from home was a “trial by fire … A lot of that technology, just like anything else that’s new, is scary at first.
“As a band teacher, the extent of my personal technology, I can answer emails, make paper brochures for concerts and make excel spreadsheets,” he said.
But, Blaser said, learning the new technology has had some big impacts on the way he teaches as students come back into the classroom.
One area where Blaser said he’s been able to do more teaching is in music theory.
“You know (because of) certain websites and certain programs, last year we delved into music theory more than in the past,” he said. “There’s some websites that have some sequenced lessons on music theory … I used that as a teaching tool.”
And, he said, the students came back from the pandemic ready to learn.
“All my students were so anxious to play music together again that we would have all worn hazmat suits to be together,” he said.
Blaser said he feels similarly about returning to the symphony after two years.
“I’m looking forward to the music for sure, but I haven’t seen these people in two years and you get to a certain point and there’s a lot of fellowship that takes place … I think the thing for me is getting to see the people and getting to reignite those friendships,” he said.
“The musicians in the band come from all over to play in Centralia,” Blaser added.
“A chance to see one of the top bands in our region is a rarity. I would encourage anyone with an interest to come out and listen to a performance by local musicians like this.”
The Saturday show starts at 7 p.m. at Corbet Theatre on the Centralia College campus. Tickets are $12 for general admission and can be purchased at Book ‘n’ Brush in Chehalis or at the door the night of the event. Tickets can also be purchased online at https://www.northwestwindsymphony.org/tickets.