Artists in Action: Big bands and classic composers will soon be heard in Calhoun County
by Hervey Folsom
Special to The Star
Feb 10, 2013 | 2688 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Any gift worth having is worth sharing, it’s been said. Musicians Gail Steward and Seth Beckman are not only sharing their accomplished talents at the upcoming Foothills Piano Festival, they are sharing a piano.

The concert, a piano duo performance, will be held Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Jacksonville State University’s Mason Hall, third floor. The concert is free and open to the public.

Steward is associate professor of music at JSU, and Beckman is senior associate dean for academic affairs and director of graduate studies in the College of Music at Florida State University.

“Doctors Beckman and Steward possess superb musicianship developed under the tutelage of some very fine teachers at Ball State University,” said festival coordinator Wendy Faughn. “This pair of pianists, both earning doctorates in piano performance, will demonstrate quality technique and sensitive interpretations of beautifully-written pieces by composers including Maurice Ravel and Franz Schubert.”

The practice of four hands at one piano was developed beginning in 1815 in the early Romantic period, because owners of the homes where the musical soirees were held often had only one piano, Steward said.

“The advantage for the pianists is better unison with the parts,” she added. “We can feel the music as one. And, the visual effect is interesting.”

The duo will play “Three Wedding Dances” by Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti, whose music was used in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” A shy and gracious man, Ligeti was known for his restless, vivid imagination and for re-inventing his style throughout his career. These short, modern pieces were probably rooted in Hungarian folk music tradition, according to Beckman.

They will also play Franz Schubert’s “Fantasie,” a 17-minute piece both beautiful and animated. According to the text “Discovering Music” by Howard D. McKinney, the Austrian composer suffered from poverty and illness, depending on friends to get by. But despite never having a home of his own, this master of melody accomplished much in his 31 years. He intended his compositions to be sung, usually at gatherings in the homes of Vienna’s cultivated middle class.

Next on the program is one of French composer Maurice Ravel’s most enchanting works — “Mother Goose Suite,” reflecting impressions of “Beauty and The Beast” and “The Fairy Garden” — followed by “Slavonic Dances” by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak. “Dances,” which ranges from slow, moody and dark to a very fast, driving rhythm, caught the public’s fancy immediately, according to the text “Music” by Roger Kamien.

Swing with the Tommy Dorsey Band

Between 1925 and 1945, big bands provided the dance music for ballrooms and radio broadcasts around the country. To people who liked popular music, big bands meant Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington — and Tommy Dorsey, among other groups. Not only were some of the best instrumentalists found in these bands, singers such as Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey and Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman emerged as headliners in their own right, according to “Popular Standards” by Max Morath.

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra performs Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. in the renovated gym of the Oxford Civic Center. The event is coordinated by the Oxford Arts Council.

By 1945, military service had interrupted the careers of many seasoned musicians and most of these bands broke up, but Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra survived. After Dorsey’s death in 1955, Buddy Morrow took up the baton. Now based in Orlando, Fla., the orchestra is hosted by saxophonist Terry Myers.

Come to dance or just to listen. Tickets, $20 in advance, can be purchased at Cheaha Banks, BB&T Banks, Noble Banks and the Oxford Civic Center. Tickets are $25 at the door. For more information, call Theresa Haynes at 256-832-0000.
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