Open Season: Ann Arbor Concert Band starts with "Afternoon at the Opera"


Ann Arbor Concert Band, March 6, 2016 concert at Hill Auditorium

Photo courtesy AACB from its March 6, 2016 concert at Hill Auditorium, featuring the Pioneer, Huron, Skyline, and Brighton High Shcool choirs.

The Ann Arbor Concert Band holds a special place among the area’s musical groups. Following the classic concert-band tradition, it’s an ensemble consisting almost entirely of wind instruments.

So as the band prepares to open its new season at the Michigan Theater on Sunday, the theme for the concert may seem a bit surprising: a selection of opera works, which we’re accustomed to hearing performed by singers with an orchestra.

“I chose this theme because it's rarely done by concert bands, and it's a nice contrast to a typical program that has only marches and Broadway medleys,” says James Nissen. “My job as conductor is to expose the audience to the vast wind ensemble repertoire, and there are so many great opera overtures that translate well for wind instruments. Also, there are so many instances where a composer wrote an opera that was soon long forgotten, but its overture survived as a masterpiece. I don't want these overtures to be forgotten!”

He added that some opera excerpts are a perfect match for a concert band instrumentation, and several of these are on Sunday’s program: Copland's "The Promise of Living," Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess,” Gretry’s “The Jealous Lover,” and Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier.” Other pieces on the program include favorites like Bernstein’s Candide overture, Von Suppe’s “Light Cavalry” overture, and a suite from Bizet’s Carmen.

“It's just not done all that often,” Nissen says about a concert band focusing on opera. “The repertoire is certainly out there: I had a list of more than 30 opera overtures and excerpts from three different band libraries! Unfortunately, because of timing, I had to narrow the program down to nine pieces. I think we have a nice array and a wonderful set of selections for this concert.”

The band, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary next season, began life as the Ann Arbor Symphony Band. Phillip Rhodes, president of the AACB board, says the mission has not changed since its founding.

“The band was born out of the desire of many local and non-professional adult musicians to continue playing, to provide public performances with broad audience appeal, to foster interest in amateur music performances, and provide continuing music education to its members and the public,” Rhodes says, noting that the band rehearses at local schools where it can expose students to its music. “Our members come from all professions and walks of life. The love of music and performing is the inspiration which brings us together.”

Rhodes sees part of the band’s role as advancing the concert band tradition.

“There are hundreds of new dynamic pieces developed for concert bands / wind ensembles every year which need to be performed and appreciated. This band has been privileged to perform and premiere many wonderful pieces during its history,” he says. “‘Heroes, Lost and Fallen’ by Dr. David Gillingham plus ‘Concerto for Trumpet,’ ‘Times of Our Lives,’ ‘Run,’ and ‘Flash Mob’ by our own conductor, James Nissen, are just a small example. We have had the wonderful opportunity to perform under the batons of a Hall of Fame list of conductors,” including Jerry Bilik, Scott Boerma, Victor Bordo, H. Robert Reynolds, Don Schleicher, John Stout, and William D. Revelli.

“I think this band is one of the hidden treasures of the Ann Arbor Arts community,” Rhodes says. “I hope everyone will come out and give us a listen. They will not be disappointed!”

Bob Needham is a freelance writer; the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and

The Ann Arbor Concert Band presents “Afternoon at the Opera” at 2 pm on Sunday, Nov. 5 at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors/ students, and free for children under 12. Tickets are available from band members or may be purchased at the Michigan Theater box office beginning at 1 p.m. the day of the concert, Nov. 5. Visit for more info. The band’s season will continue with other concerts in January, March, and May:

Winter Concert: Fiesta (Celebracon)
Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, 2 pm
Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor
~ Danzon no. 2 (Marquez)
~ Danza Fantasticas (Turina)
~ Danza Brasiliera (Guarnieri)
~ Feast Day in Seville (Albeniz)
~ Fiesta del Pacifico (Nixon)
~ Mexican Pictures (Cesarini)
~ A Movement for Rosa (Camphouse)
~ Homage to a Dream (Camphouse)
~ Amparita Roca (Texidor)

Early Spring Concert: The King of Instruments
Sunday, March 4, 2018, 2 pm
Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor
~ Grand Choeur Dialogue (Gigout)
~ Also Sprach Zarathustra (Strauss)
~ Fantasia in G Major (Bach)
~ Passacaglia (Nelson)
~ Resonances (Nelson)
~ Frozen Cathedral (Mackey)
~ Symphony No. 3 (Saint-Saens)

Late Spring Concert: Symphonic Broadway
Sunday, May 6, 2018, 2 pm
Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor
~ On the Town Suite (Bernstein)
~ Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (Bernstein)
~ An American in Paris (Gershwin)
~ 2018 Andrew J. Lum & David R. Juillet Young Artist Competition Scholarship Winner
~ Hello Dolly (Herman)
~ Miss Saigon (Schonberg)
~ Phantom of the Opera (Weber)
~ Oklahoma (Rodgers)
~ Music Man (Willson)
~ Mame (Herman)