Pops goes the band

by Tom Lee

Now in its 39th season, the Harvard Summer Pops Band is conducted by Tom Everett, Harvard's Director of Bands—which includes ensembles that perform at athletic events and ceremonial occasions, in addition to the Harvard University Wind Ensemble and the Harvard Jazz Bands (the latter founded by Everett). We asked Tom about this week's Pops Band concerts and the distinctly American tradition of outdoor musical performance.

The theme for this year’s concerts is "On The Mall." What’s the programming?

The title, "On The Mall," refers to a popular outdoor concert series presented by the famed Goldman Band every summer in New York City’s Central Park. These concerts became such a tradition that eventually a band shell and open area for an audience—a mall—was added to the park. The music we play attempts to replicate the tradition of the Goldman Band and the Boston Pops: that of programming diverse music—overtures, marches, selections from Broadway shows, light classics and more. This year’s concerts include the music from the Broadway hit A Chorus Line, the classic band warhorse "American Salute," Harvard’s own "Our Director March," guest saxophone soloist Ian Carroll ’97 performing "Csardas" and "Harlem Nocturne," and selections by a brass quintet.

Many people associate outdoor summer band concerts with martial-type music, including the "Star-Spangled Banner." What’s your opinion of our national anthem? Do you think it should be changed to something more hummable and less militaristic?

Most of the national anthems that I am familiar with are indeed choral or hymn-like, avoiding wide interval jumps, and extremes of register. In general, these types of songs are more conducive for the human voice to navigate and sing than the "Star-Spangled Banner." Our national anthem, with the exception of the middle section, is not the most lyrical or easiest to sing. However, I think these musical challenges are offset by the music’s spirit and dramatic quality, that is not necessarily militaristic but, for me, represents the spirit of pride and hope of a young, optimistic country.

How many musicians are performing in the band this summer? What are the age ranges?

At the first rehearsal this summer, we squeezed 170 musicians on stage in Sanders Theatre. For the concerts, there will be approximately 135 members. The age, experience, and interests of each summer band member is remarkably diverse—from a couple of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds to many seniors and retirees; in past summers, a 90-year-old trombonist was a regular member. Although there are new members every summer, including Harvard Summer School students, especially those participating in the Secondary School Program, most of the musicians are area public school students, college students—including a dedicated group of Harvard "Bandies"—area music teachers, and enthusiastic amateurs from the greater Boston area—that is, "amateur" in their playing music for the enjoyment and love of it.

With an open, no audition process of recruiting musicians, are you ever concerned that you might get an unbalanced mix of brass, woodwind, and percussion players?

The educational and musical goal of the Harvard Summer Band is to provide an opportunity for anyone and everyone to make music. Being part of a musical ensemble, sharing the specific music with other musicians as well as an audience, should not be available just to the professional, exceptional, or long-time experienced performer. There are few ensembles available for the less-experienced and developing musicians, especially in sharing the music-making process in such a diverse ensemble of members. With an open policy, the lack of a balanced instrumentation is offset by the individual member’s musical progress, development of listening skills, refining of ensemble skills, and participation in a creative group activity. As the American composer Charles Ives yelled out from an audience that was criticizing a performance, "Stop listening to the notes—listen to the music!"

The Harvard Summer Pops Band performed today in Harvard Yard; the concert will be repeated this Sunday, July 31 at 3 pm at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade in Boston. Admission is free; click here for more information.

[Caption: Director of Harvard Bands Tom Everett]