399th Army Band

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The St. Louis Symphony was proud and honored to host the 399th Army Band from Ft. Leonard Wood on Friday. A group of 40+ soldiers arrived for an open rehearsal of the Music You Know: Storytelling concert, so were treated to David Robertson taking the orchestra through Bernstein’s Candide Overture,  Vitali’s Chaconne in G minor with STL Symphony violinist Celeste Golden Boyer, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and other popular works.

Before the show a group met with flutist Jennifer Nitchman, who is a veteran of the U.S. Army Field Band. She told them she was more the Private Benjamin type of soldier, a cultural reference that was lost on them. Maybe it streams on Netflix.

After the rehearsal there was lunch from Pappy’s, and then master class with the Symphony’s Will James, percussion, Ann Choomack, flute, and Jeffrey Strong, trumpet, making use of the stage at KDHX and a practice room at Jazz at the Bistro.

Director of Community Programs Maureen Byrne put it all together. Here are some pics.

399th Army Band
399th Army Band
STL Symphony flutist Jennifer Nitchman meets members of 399th.
STL Symphony flutist Jennifer Nitchman meets members of 399th.
STL Symphony Associate Principal Horn Thomas Jostlein meets a former student, Jeff Spenner. Spenner told me he drives from Ft. Leonard Wood to Powell Hall almost every weekend for a Symphony concert.
STL Symphony Associate Principal Horn Thomas Jostlein meets a former student, Jeff Spenner. Spenner told me he drives from Ft. Leonard Wood to Powell Hall almost every weekend for a Symphony concert.
In the foyer
In the foyer
Soldiers arrive for lunch and master class at the Stage @ KDHX.
Soldiers arrive for lunch and master class at the Stage @ KDHX.
Jazz on the stage
Jazz on the stage
Band members listen to colleagues.
Band members listen to colleagues.
STL Symphony trumpet player Jeffrey Strong gives some instruction.
STL Symphony trumpet player Jeffrey Strong gives some instruction.
Jeffrey Strong and STL Symphony piccolo player Ann Choomack with members of the 399th.
Jeffrey Strong and STL Symphony piccolo player Ann Choomack with members of the 399th.
Principal Percussion Will James talks with 399th drummers.
Principal Percussion Will James talks with 399th drummers.
Hats and sticks
Hats and sticks

 

Tour Foodies

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Why do orchestras tour? Ann Choomack believes that tours are “for eating as much as you can.” The Symphony piccolo player has been astonished by the land of creative food production. “I’ve never had soup dumplings or Korean barbecue. I’ve had the best doughnuts, the best sushi”–although not together. “One of the best things I’ve eaten was the homemade pop tart at Nickel Diner” in downtown L.A.

Tours are for food. Left to right: Andrew Cuneo, Helen Kim, Elizabeth Chung, Melody Lee, David Kim, Ann Choomack, Adam Crane, Shawn Weil, and Daniel Lee at Korean barbecue restaurant.
Tours are for food. Left to right: Andrew Cuneo, Helen Kim, Elizabeth Chung, Melody Lee, David Kim, Ann Choomack, Adam Crane, Shawn Weil, and Daniel Lee at Korean barbecue restaurant.

The music has been extraordinary too. “We played Messiaen for kids yesterday,” an Education Concert for kindergartners and a few older at Berkeleys’ Zellerbach Hall. “The kids were very attentive and engaged,” Ann said, “We did an abbreviated introduction with a couple of demonstrations, then we played about two-thirds of the piece. You could feel the energy in the hall. They’re young and open.”

Tuesday is the last night of the tour at Walt Disney Concert Hall. For Ann, it’s her first time playing there and adds “It’s an exciting place for it to be the last show.”

And the last night for Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars. “Each time playing the Messiaen it’s more natural; we’re more at ease. And each time it feels like a different piece. It has been awesome to listen to Roger Kaza in the Mahler 5, and then he plays the Messiaen horn part from memory. He’s so laid back about it, even with all the stress of travel. He’s solid.”

Postcard Thursday

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Piccolo and flute player for the St. Louis Symphony, Ann Choomack has some very cool parts to play this season, including in just about anything by Prokofiev. This season is a mini-Prokofiev greatest hits: Cinderella, Symphony No. 3 and the “Classical” Symphony, Peter and the Wolf and Romeo and Juliet, with Choomack’s piccolo putting its own signature on each performance.

Choomack is also an avid bicyclist and has toured much of the world on two wheels. She was slowed down recently after she “flew over the handlebars,” she told me, and cracked her collarbone.

Ann Choomack at Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Ann Choomack at Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina, resting before her pretty solos.

She writes: “Summer music camp at Eastern Music Festival has been fun. Even playing Mahler 2 with a broken collarbone is a good challenge. I get to play the pretty solos while my awesome trusty assistant, Gabe Fridkis, plays the entire rest of the part. It’s such a gift to be able to relax and take in such amazing music while the other flutes work so hard [Choomack placed a smiley face here]! I hope I heal in time for my trek in Peru in a few weeks.”

Next Postcard Thursday: trombonist Jonathan Reycraft.

Blithe Spirit

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I asked St. Louis Symphony piccolo player Ann Choomack about the level of piccolo anxiety that Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 induces in her. The whole Symphony No. 8 is a music of extremes, but the dual piccolos (the other played by Associate Principal Flute Andrea Kaplan) are especially noticeable since they play high above the other instruments cries and shouts, shrieks and murmurs. The piccolos are definitely heard. They are exposed.

Left to right: Ann Choomack and Andrea Kaplan are done with their day of Shostakovich piccolo duties.
Left to right: Ann Choomack and Andrea Kaplan are done with their day of Shostakovich piccolo duties.

Choomack was remarkably blithe about her role in the Eighth. “The solos really aren’t that difficult,” she told me at a break in Wednesday morning rehearsal. “Other Shostakovich symphonies are much harder. The tutti, however,” when she and Kaplan play in unison, “is another story. It is all so high.” Just then, Kaplan let out one of those high high notes. “Like that,” Choomack laughed.