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WIU Director of Bands Mike Fansler will conduct "Symphony No. 10: The River of Time," during this weekend's Showcase of Bands at Western.
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WIU Wind Ensemble to Perform Illinois' Premier of New Composition

February 18, 2019

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MACOMB, IL – An upcoming performance by the Western Illinois University Wind Ensemble is more than an academic experience for students, it's also a lesson in humanity and the cycle of life.

The band will perform "Symphony No. 10 – The River of Time," by composer David Maslanka and his son, Matthew Maslanka, during the 32nd annual Showcase of Bands Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 21-23. The event invites composers, three high school bands and the top high school musicians from the region to learn from WIU conductors and studio faculty and perform on campus throughout the weekend.

The WIU School of Music, as well as 50 other college-level music programs, commissioned a symphony from David in 2016. While he was working on the piece, his wife, Alison, passed away. Just six weeks after her death in 2017, David passed away, shortly after learning he had terminal cancer, leaving the symphony unfinished. Before his death, David had completed the first and second movements of the composition and sketched out portions of the fourth movement.

"He was a very introspective and contemplative composer. He would go into deep meditation to seek musical ideas and thoughts as he wrote," said WIU Director of Bands Mike Fansler. "In the first movement, he wrote a love song for his dying wife. It's just a beautiful, skipping-ly happy melody, yet monumentally sad if one thinks about the circumstances behind it."

Fansler said David wrote the second movement in dedication to his son, Matthew, who is a euphonium player. David had just started the third movement when he received his fatal diagnosis, so he implored his son to finish the composition.

"To lose your mom and dad within six weeks and then have to finish a major symphony… the third movement is dark, it is dissonant, it is angry and there is pain and anguish and it expresses the dealing process. It's not supposed to be a comfortable event for the listener. One could imagine a sweet melody interrupted by a sudden sucker punch of anger."

The fourth movement is the "balm on the wound" as the composition ends peacefully, an exact replication of how David started each morning – playing a chorale on the piano, while singing along to its melody.

Fansler said he told the WIU students who make up the Wind Ensemble the story of the motivation behind finishing the symphony and he said many of them had tears in their eyes. The symphony features a euphonium solo, which will be played by Michael Rockstroh, a sophomore music education major, from Davenport, IA.

Rockstroh has spoken with Matthew on the telephone about the composition for several hours at the urging of Fansler, and the two will get together for a one-on-one lesson during Matthew's visit.

"The Wind Ensemble, and our students at Western… we don't approach music by superficial means; we don't just look at notes and rhythms and try to play in tune – we do all those fundamentals, but the joy that we get is digging into the nuance, the artistic elements and what I call the 'truth in music,'" said Fansler. "That is deeper than what's on the page, so we have to come together as individuals and seek inspiration from our own experiences in order to interpret this music. Having that direct insight from the person who lived the emotion behind these sounds, and having him share with us the struggles, the joys and the ins and outs of the composition… his parents and how that affected him, it translates directly into the manner in which we play our instruments and treat this. It may mean after a certain difficult moment during the performance, we take some extra time and think about that family and what they went through."

David visited the WIU campus several years ago after meeting Fansler at an event in Chicago. Matthew will be on campus Feb. 20-23 to attend Wind Ensemble rehearsals and teach classes.

Fansler said he expects the performance to be an emotional lifetime memory for the student artists. He added that he was deeply impacted by his meaningful one-on-one interactions with David and that the composer raised his artistic thought process and personally challenged him to constantly strive for better musicianship.

Inside the cover of Fansler's bound copy of the composition, he wrote something Matthew said to him during a telephone conversation, "This symphony is squarely about grief and dealing with death; knowing it's coming and not knowing how to deal with it."

"I call this a tragic symphony, not just for the family, but to each of us who loved David and were starved for more interactions with him and additional contributions to wind band literature," said Fansler.

The WIU performance is the Illinois premiere of the composition.

WIU School of Music Director Tammie Walker said Fansler's reputation is key to the composition being performed at WIU.

"His relationship with David Maslanka, and David's son, Matthew; these sorts of opportunities don't come up very often and they certainly don't just show up on the doorstep of people who haven't gone out to seek them," said Walker. "The fact that Matthew is going to have a four-day residency at Western Illinois University is absolutely phenomenal. This is a legacy project for the entire institution, to be a part of something of this magnitude."

After the WIU premier of the piece, Walker said Fansler and the Wind Ensemble will travel to Geneseo, IL in March to professionally record the composition on PARMA Records at the Geneseo Performing Arts Center. The finished piece will be marketed internationally. Walker said this is the first time in 40 years the WIU Wind Ensemble has made a professional studio recording of its work.

"This is a legacy that is going to live on for generations," Walker said.

The WIU performance of the piece begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22 in the College of Fine Arts and Communication (COFAC) Recital Hall. Admission is open free to the public.

Prior to the concert, Matthew will meet with the high school students attending the Showcase of Bands, and tell his personal story.

Showcase of Bands

Three high school bands have been invited to attend the weekend's events, the Batavia Wind Symphony; the Highland Park School Wind Symphony and the Moline Wind Ensemble. A 65-member honor band, made up of high school student musicians from Illinois, Iowa and Missouri will also perform.

This year's event will also include the following guest conductors - 2019 Honor Band Conductor, Gary Smith, associate director of bands emeritus at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and 2019 Showcase Band Conductor, Gary Green, director of bands emeritus at University of Miami – Frost School of Music.

Performances as a part of this year's festival include:

• Friday, Feb. 22 – 7:30 p.m. – COFAC Recital Hall, WIU Wind Ensemble performance, conducted by Fansler.

• Saturday, Feb. 23 – 1 p.m. – COFAC Recital Hall, Showcase of Bands – high school musicians directed by Gary Green and their directors.

• Saturday, Feb. 23 – 4 p.m. – COFAC Recital Hall, WIU Concert Band performance, conducted by WIU's Associate Professor of Music Matt Thomas, with Gary Smith guest conducting.

• Saturday, Feb. 23 – 4:30 p.m. – COFAC Recital Hall, Showcase Honor Band, guest conducted by Gary Smith.

All of the performances are sponsored by the WIU School of Music and the College of Fine Arts and Communication, as well as the department's strong alumni base. Admission to each performance is open free to the public.

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