Premiering the Wind Band Arrangement of “The American Rhapsody”

Aaron Dworkin

The City of Fairfax Band launches its concert season at 7:30 p.m. on October 29 at Fairfax High School with a musical exploration of the triumph and tragedy that comprise the American heritage.

The evening will feature a spoken musical work titled “The American Rhapsody,” which tells the story of the nation through the prism of the life and words of America’s first president, George Washington. The piece also depicts the nation’s agony of slavery.

The performance will be the premier of Paul Noble’s wind band transcription of the work, which stems from “Symphonic Variations on an African Air” by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, a 19th-century black British composer.

Narrating “The American Rhapsody” on stage will be guest artist Aaron Dworkin, former dean and current Professor of Arts Leadership and Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance. He is a nationally prominent spoken word performer, “poet-journalist,” TV host, and best-selling writer. Dworkin also is a leading social entrepreneur, having founded the globally recognized Sphinx Organization, the leading arts group dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the performing arts. A former National Council on the Arts member, Dworkin has been featured on the “Today” show,” “NBC Nightly News,” CNN, Jet Magazine, and was named one of Newsweek’s “15 People Who Make America Great.”

The concert also will include a diverse cross-section of great American concert band pieces:

  • “George Washington Bicentennial March” by John Philip Sousa
    • Commissioned by “The March King” (Sousa) for the occasion of George Washington’s bicentennial celebration in 1932, the march was premiered by the combined military bands in Washington, D.C., conducted by Sousa himself.
  • “American Overture for Band” by Joseph Wilcox Jenkins
    • His most successful work, the piece came about in 1953 during the composer’s first stint in the military when he served as an arranger for the U.S. Army Field Band, based nearby at Fort Meade, MD. It is a high-energy expression of bold optimism that puts every section of the band in the spotlight.
  • “Kentucky Mountain Portraits” by Lyndol Mitchell
    • From 1951 to 1963, Mitchell taught at the renowned Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He wrote several works for orchestra and concert band, of which “Kentucky Mountain Portraits” is the most famous.
  • “When Jesus Wept” by William Schuman
    • The renowned composer William Schuman, the first winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, was president of The Juilliard School and later the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He wrote “When Jesus Wept” in 1956. It was inspired by a William Billings hymn from the 1770 New England Psalm Singer.

The concert will take place at Fairfax High School’s auditorium, 3501 Lion Run in Fairfax, VA. Tickets are $10 for seniors and $15 for adults. Students admitted free. Parking is free.

The 77-member City of Fairfax Band ranks among the country’s leading community concert bands. Its national recognition includes the Sudler Silver Scroll, one of North America’s most prestigious community concert band awards. Music Director Robert Pouliot is among only a handful of conductors to receive the Association of Concert Bands’ Outstanding Conductor Award. The group’s selective roster includes some former members of the military’s elite Washington-based bands. Other players are either active or retired music teachers, trained musicians in other careers, or skilled amateurs. One fan remarked that the City of Fairfax Band is “like having the Boston Pops in Northern Virginia.”

–by Dan Merriman