Communal Music: Ann Arbor Concert Band preps for its season finale


Annie Li and Ann Arbor high school band conductors

Ann Arbor high school band conductors Robert Ash (Huron), David Leach (Pioneer), and Jason Smith (Skyline) join clarinetist Annie Li (Pioneer) for the Ann Arbor Concert Band's season finale on May 6.

For the past 39 years, the Ann Arbor Concert Band has prepared for a season finale. That's a lot of successful seasons for a community band consisting of non-professional musicians. Their love for performing will be obvious at the group's latest season finale, "Symphonic Broadway," which will feature music from Mozart, Wicked, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line, and a selection of works by Jerome Robbins. 

I talked to Phillip Rhodes, president of the Ann Arbor Concert Band, about the group's history, scholarship, and season-ending concert, which happens May 6 at the Michigan Theater.

Q: How did the Ann Arbor Concert Band start?
A: 39 years ago Victor Bordo, Dave Juillet and their associates, students and friends established a fledgling organization called the Ann Arbor Symphony Band.  The band was born out the desire of many local, 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. The band has its roots in the Ann Arbor School District’s music programs and continues a strong association with them today. Our organization has grown tremendously and we are extremely proud of our continuing contribution to the Ann Arbor Arts Community and the entire southeastern Michigan region. While we maintain an amateur status, our standards of performance and organization are strictly professional. Past conductors have featured a cavalcade of Hall of Fame Directors, including Victor Bordo, Max Plank, H. Robert Reynolds, Don Schleicher, Scott Boerma, Jerry Bilik, John Stout, and William D. Revelli. 

Q: What was the musical selection process for the season finale? 
A: Jim Nissen and I set the full season during the summer months so we can post our full season schedule to the website at the beginning go each season. Sometimes selections change because they must be rented instead of borrowed or we just change our minds, but the majority of our programming remains the same for the season. As for May 6 “Symphonic Broadway,” we always try to perform one “light” concert during the season and soundtracks from movies or the stage are quite popular. I incorporated “Wicked,” “Chicago,” “Jerome Robbins Broadway,” and “That’s Entertainment” because they contained melodies I felt the band would enjoy. We did a concert several years ago, “Another Opening, Another Show,” which contained old standards from Sound of Music, King and I, Porgy and Bess, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, etc. I wanted to bring new pieces this time around. And with this being Leonard Bernstein’s Centennial year, “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” was an obvious choice. 

Q: What's the story behind your annual Andrew J. Lum & David R. Juillet Young Artist Scholarship Fund competition?
A: In 1991 the Ann Arbor Concert Band established a Scholarship Competition for high school students who are outstanding wind and percussion instrumentalists. The winner of the award received a scholarship award as well as the opportunity to perform with the band on the final concert of the season.

The generosity of David R. Juillet, a founding member of the Ann Arbor Concert Band, made the first awards possible. In July 1993 the family of Andrew J. Lum, a promising musician and football player at Ann Arbor Huron High School, and Andrew’s mentor, Mr. Juillett, established the Andrew J. Lum Young Artist Scholarship Fund at the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) in Andrew's memory, when he died unexpectedly. This permanently endowed fund was established to ensure funding of the scholarship award. David Juillet’s name was added to the award after his death in 1994.

The Scholarship Competition is open to high school wind and percussion players. They must prepare a solo that has a band accompaniment and submit an application and CD playing this solo. Finalists will be chosen by the A2CB panel to perform their solos at a live audition. Winner will receive a $1000 scholarship prize from the Andrew J. Lum & David R. Juillet Young Artist Scholarship Fund and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. 

Q: How did Annie Li win this year's scholarship competition?
A: Clarinetist Annie Li, a senior at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, won the competition this year performing the “Rondo” from the Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K.622. As per the rules, Annie submitted a CD along with other hopefuls from which A2CB board members listen, rank and select competition finalists. An invited independent jury of three hear the finalists in a live audition and select the winner. No one associated with the A2CB is involved in selecting the winner. We only select the finalists. 

Q: Does your season finale always feature guest conductors from the various high schools?
A: The A2CB has always had a very close association with the A2 Public Schools and the band programs are instrumental in loaning us music and providing rehearsal spaces. The reason I’m still playing is due to the wonderful music education I received from Ed Downing, Victor Bordo, Gabrielle Villasurda, Charles Gabrion, Ruth Datz, Louis Smith, and many others. It seems fitting to have Robert Ash (Huron), David Leach (Pioneer), and Jason Smith (Skyline) share our podium to conclude our season. Three years ago for our “Made in Michigan" season finale concert, Scott Boerma, Jerry Bilik, and John Stout were our guest conductors.

Q: What's your favorite moment from this season and why?
A: The A2CB performed in Hill Auditorium in March presenting a concert entitled “The King of Instruments: Music for Organ and Band.” Every concert piece utilized the tremendous Hill Auditorium organ. The entire concert was magical and a pure delight. We began the concert with a piece for organ and brass ensemble, “Grand Choeur Dialogue,” by Gigout and closed with the 2nd and 3rd movements of the Saints-Saens Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”). Jim Nissen had arranged the 2nd movement and it was beautiful.

Q: Can you give us a sneak peak of next year's performances?
A: Next season -- our 40th anniversary season! I am feverishly working to finalize a few things in order to announce them at the upcoming May concert. Our 2018-2019 concert dates are November 4, 2018, January 27, 2019, and May 12, 2019, (Mother’s Day) in the Michigan Theater. March 10, 2019, we are back in Hill Auditorium and I hope to share the stage with a local vocal ensemble. All performances are Sundays at 2 pm.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

The Ann Arbor Concert Band presents "Symphonic Broadway" at 2 pm on May 6 at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor. For tickets and more information, visit