Nestled in the basement of Baird Hall, professor John Nelson invokes emotion and passion in his 45-piece ensemble with tales of Beethoven’s troubled end and the encouragement to take on new musical challenges.
Composed of flutists and saxophonists, tubists and percussionists, and everything in between, the UB Student Concert Band creates a space of camaraderie among its unique group of musicians, led and conducted by Nelson. The Concert Band is offered as a class through the Department of Music, and Nelson directs the the group’s pieces.
“I’m really more of a baseball coach,” Nelson said. “A baseball coach has to somehow get buy-in from the team. And if you don’t have buy-in, you can have all the talent in the world, but it doesn’t do you any good.”
The talent of the musicians featured in the band is not in short supply. Students in the concert band play to a high level of skill, rising to the challenge of Nelson’s handpicked pieces.
“I just see how they respond musically and how enthusiastic they are about the music,” Nelson said. “I find music that I’m excited about because if I’m excited about it, I can get them excited about it.”
Much like a small chamber group, but unorthodox for an ensemble this size, students regularly self-conduct in practice and at times during their concert performances. This method of collaboration allows members to experience new positions, especially those of leadership and responsibility.
“I mean, it’s interesting because I don’t know any of them [the other members],” percussionist Jayden Chua Jīn Jie said of his experience conducting the ensemble. “But at the same time, it’s like I can feel everybody trying to follow me when we are playing.”
In self-conduction, players reflect on the self-sufficiency and camaraderie it creates. “It makes us better musicians… as a whole, instead of constantly relying on one person,” baritone player Kareem Dilworth said.
Trust between the conductor and their band is sacrosanct. Nelson maintains that trust effortlessly with his sheer reverence for the players.
“The intellectual capacity of everybody in the band is huge,” Nelson said. “When you put all that together, it’s like, ‘wow.’”
The feeling of respect is mutual, as many players are quick to express their admiration for Nelson.
“I ended up finding John and he helped me with everything.” Dilworth said, “He’s extremely understanding.”
In students find a source of respite from their busy lives in this open and trusting environment.
“It’s a nice reprieve from the day,” Rebecca Tarbox, a bass clarinetist and Ph.D. candidate, said. “It’s really relaxing and when I’m done, I’m like, ‘I’m really glad I came.’”
A place where students can be free from the stresses of college, even for an hour at a time, appears as an oasis for those that value music.
“I’m not the mother hen, but I provide a creative outlet for them,” Nelson said.
Invaluable to some members, these two hours a week are sacred. A space where they are comfortable with failing and endlessly motivated to improve, the UB Concert Band provides an experience not found elsewhere on campus.
“You don’t get this in other classes,” Teressa Joe, trumpetist and student conductor said. “You’re working together every single time that you get here. It’s okay to make mistakes. There’s no right answer sometimes. It’s an important escape for anybody.”
The arts desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org