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FHSU music sweet in the springtime

4/3/2014

Spring 2014 will go down in history as one of the most outstanding seasons in FHSU's history. Local music lovers already have enjoyed an abundance of riches.

It is hard to believe FHSU choir and band ensembles plus guests Full Chord Press, a choir for boys from sixth grade through high school, and world-renowned trumpet soloist Allen Vizzutti, could perform two stellar concerts in three days (March 11 to 13).

The elite Fort Hays Singers, led by Terry Crull, director of all FHSU choirs and Smoky Hill Chorale, began the season of marvels. Ever versatile, always superb, they gave an exciting all-jazz program ranging from "Snap to it," akin to a spiritual, to arrangements of old favorites such as "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Fly Me to the Moon."

Full Chord Press, a guest ensemble from Hays Middle School founded and conducted by Johnny Matlock and accompanied by Alexis Robinson, sang "Tenting Tonight," a Civil War song longing, as we do today, for "the dawn of peace." The boys concluded their set with "I will," a modern love song. The sound they produced was crystal clear, as was their elegant diction.

FHSU'S Concert Choir performed last, beginning with "A Song for Fort Hays" by the late FHSU choral director Donald Stout. The next selection was, in my opinion, the high point of this part of the concert. The choir, mezzo soprano Rebecca Urban, and violinist Stephanie Demuth collaborated in "Ave Maris Stella," "Hail Star of the Sea" by Mark Thomas, one of the most beautiful modern settings and performances of this ancient prayer to Mary that I ever have heard. After an impressive foretaste of glories to come in the Masterworks Concert on May 3, tenor Luke Fairbank performed "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables" similar to a professional.

The band concert March 13 starred guest artists Allen Vizzutti and FHSU's own Brad Dawson on trumpet, and featured the FHSU Wind Ensemble, directed by Jeff Jordan; the FHSU Symphonic Winds, directed by Lane Weaver; and several student conductors.

Graduate assistant conductor Nathan Froebe opened the program with a triumphal march. After three undergraduate student conductors had done well with their assignments, Vizzutti took the stage by storm, performing "Three Magical Places," his own composition.

Besides testing the limits of three kinds of trumpet, Vizzutti pushed his physical limits. His work is fast and furious -- full of cadenzas, trills and chills, double tonguing and flutter tonguing. My husband, Robert, echoed my own reaction when he exclaimed, "I have never heard a trumpet played like that before."

I don't know how Vizzutti later summoned the energy to perform another composition of his, a duet with Brad Dawson, no less a virtuoso. In collaboration with the wind ensemble, the two engaged in a brass delirium titled "Mystic Warriors." Don't miss Vizzutti if he ever plays Hays again.

Both the choir and band concerts received wild, prolonged standing applause.

Since their concert was on April Fool's Day, director Crull and the Smoky Hill Chorale performed a number of "songs that highlight the quirky side of love." These included large numbers of old favorites, including several by Rogers and Hart, beloved by fools like me. Highlights of the concert were "Where is my Love," sung by Asia Liu, who looked like springtime itself in a white ball gown embellished with aqua jewels. Galen Schmidtberger brought down the house with "Ann," and Caleb Boone displayed an operatic voice with "Pretty Ring Time." Pam McGowne performed heroically as accompanist.

* The next event in the FHSU series is the annual Masterworks Concert at 7:30 p.m. May 3 in Beach/Schmidt.

Ruth Firestone is a supporter of the arts and frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.