Wind Ensemble receives a masterclass in musicality

Sabre Masterclass
St. John’s Wind Ensemble hard at work earlier this year.

On Feb. 5, Dr. Dennis Layendecker, a professor of music at George Mason University and former Air Force Band commander, visited St. John’s to conduct a masterclass for students in the Wind Ensemble.

Dr. Layendecker is currently the director of orchestral studies at George Mason University, a position he took after serving 26 years in the Air Force. He served as an adjudicator at this year’s Washington Archdiocesan Music Teachers Council (WAMTC) Fall Band Festival, where he first saw St. John’s Wind Ensemble perform. Dr. Layendecker was invited back by Mr. Hammann, SJC’s director of bands and performing arts, to direct the band and share his musical expertise as the Wind Ensemble prepares to compete at Festival Disney in Orlando this March.

The class began with Dr. Layendecker listening to the Wind Ensemble play Leroy Anderson’s upbeat Ticonderoga March. He encouraged the band to play in a dynamic way, by focusing on momentum and motion. In order to deliver a captivating and musical performance, Dr. Layendecker emphasized the importance of “treating notes like ideas” and “moving collectively to get an ensemble sound.”

“Talk to each other through the notes,” he said. “When this is done, music becomes alive. Music is that sound in the air, a conversation.”

The Wind Ensemble also received direction and advice on James Swearingen’s arrangement of Divinum Mysterium and Ryan Main’s Clash. As Dr. Layendecker shared his advice on each piece, the players adapted, and Mr. Hammann, along with several students, noted that his guidance helped them shape the music and allow it to take on new life.

“Getting the opportunity to attend Dr. Layendecker’s masterclass gave me a new perspective on the music we will be performing in Disney. His use of metaphors, like roller coasters for crescendos and decrescendos, has really helped me reconsider my interpretation of the songs we play,” said Maggie Curtis ’19.

“I’m grateful that Dr. Layendecker showed us new ways to balance out the sound of our band and use our sound to the fullest. I think his advice really helped us become a better band in general,” added Chantal Larios ’20.

“Dr. Layendecker contributed many helpful insights as to how to interpret the music in a way that helped us get the most out of the pieces we played. His insights were thought provoking, as well as musically beneficial. On behalf of the Wind Ensemble and myself, we are very grateful that Dr. Layendecker was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to come and conduct a masterclass,” said Mr. Hammann.

And as for Dr. Layendecker’s resounding message to the musicians at St. John’s? “Music is a great way of being able to talk to each other. Ultimately, that’s what we’re supposed to do as musicians: move people, touch people.”

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