After three semesters without playing together in person, the CU Wind Ensemble and their brand new artistic director are enthusiastic about making music in the year ahead.
Open Spotify or Youtube, and pull up Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.
In the spring of her first year at Columbia, clarinetist and now co-president of the CU Wind Ensemble, Katelyn McPaul, had the opportunity to perform a movement from her favorite composer’s work with her peers—arranged entirely for wind instruments. The concert was outdoors, the weather beautiful, and Katelyn emphasized the specific energy of the afternoon: When you play a concert outside, the music carries and everyone hears it, so they all come to see who’s playing.
Also as a first-year, Katelyn had the chance to perform with the CU Wind Ensemble at Carnegie Hall. She was eventually convinced to join the group’s student-run board by her stand partner, who was the vice president at the time. In her first year, Katelyn even helped coordinate CU Wind Ensemble’s Festival of the Winds, which was an incredibly hectic—and incredibly rewarding—experience. The annual event showcases community bands from all around New York City, beginning with an Honors Band of talented high school musicians selected by audition. The CU Wind Ensemble coordinates with nonprofits and community groups to bring together students, classmates, friends, and families for a day-long celebration, which Katelyn described as a total bonding experience, complete with great energy and a lot of great music.
While Katelyn, now a Senior, had three semesters of relatively normal CU Wind Ensemble participation, her co-president Nicole Jackson, a saxophonist and current Junior, had only one. Still, she looks back fondly on the group’s Monday-night rehearsals in Lerner 555 and can’t wait to make a big comeback now that we’re all on campus again, no matter where the group ends up rehearsing. She specifically recalls being chosen to perform in a wind quartet at the CUPAL Showcase; preparing for a performance in such a small, self-led group was chaotic but exciting, and ultimately, they were able to pull everything together and create beautiful music for Columbia’s artistic community.
Both of CU Wind’s Ensemble’s co-presidents agree on what makes this student group stand out from many of the others on campus: first, it’s the music they perform. Nicole was quick to speak on the group’s repertoire. The pieces they play aren’t always the standard and expected wind band works. Instead, their musical directors have always had a commitment to programming pieces written by living composers, composers of color, female composers, and others who have been historically underrepresented.
Nicole also noted that the group has even had composers visit their rehearsals to work with the ensemble. The opportunity to interact with the people actually writing the music that the group is playing at their concerts is undeniably unique—and really cool.
Another distinguishing feature of the CU Wind Ensemble is the way they operate. The ensemble is run by a student board, and while the students lead the club and make major decisions, they hire an outside director to conduct, select the repertoire, and ensure the group’s sound is going in the right direction.
This summer, for the first time in eight years, Katelyn and Nicole spent time interviewing applicants and eventually hiring a new individual to fill the role of artistic director: Jasmine Britt. Britt, based out of Brooklyn, is an accomplished music educator, active conductor, and clinician. She’s also an educational advocate who has presented and sat on panels promoting artistic access and excellence for music students of color and supporting inclusion in repertoire, ensemble participation, and leadership. It’s exciting to note that Britt will be the first woman of color in the role of artistic director since the Columbia University Wind Ensemble’s founding in the 1930s.
The group’s co-presidents came away from their initial meeting with Britt feeling inspired and impressed by her fresh outlook and detailed vision for the ensemble, which aligned perfectly with their own aspirations to rebuild, grow, and come together again.
This year, Katelyn and Nicole are hopeful that the CU Wind Ensemble will be able to hold its traditional fall concert, this spring’s annual Festival of the Winds, and an outdoor spring concert as well. Due to current circumstances, they’re holding auditions virtually through Monday, October 4th, and they encourage musicians to register through the available google form. They’ll be accepting new members (wind, brass, and percussion) up until three weeks before the fall concert, and all information can be found on their Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages (but not their website, which “is in very rough shape”).
wind ensemble concept art by wind ensemble alum Megan Biggs, @concertblackart