Aug 27, 2013
01:38 PM
Arts & Entertainment

Connecticut's Best Kept Musical Secret, And Force in Fight for World Peace, Has Special Concert Sunday

Connecticut's Best Kept Musical Secret, And Force in Fight for World Peace, Has Special Concert Sunday

The U.S. Coast Guard Band in a photo from its website.

Did you know Connecticut is home to a band that—however indirectly—is a weapon in our nation’s fight for global peace and justice and against terrorism and oppression?

That’s right, we’re the host state for the “premier band representing …. the Department of Homeland Security,” a band whose mission, in part, is to “preserve and honor the heritage, traditions and history of our nation.”

This band also happens to be composed of world-class musicians armed with talent, impressive credentials and mastery over a repertoire that ranges from patriotic marches to symphonic pieces and large-scale jazz numbers—and beyond.

If that’s not enough to intrigue you, consider that all of this band’s concerts are free and open to the public—and that it was the first premier American military band to tour Japan, in 2008, and the first American military band to perform in the former Soviet Union, with concerts in Leningrad and elsewhere in 1989.

The musical treasure-in-residence is the Coast Guard Band, and if you’ve never enjoyed a live performance, the perfect opportunity awaits this weekend, as the band will offer a special concert at 2 p.m. Sunday in Leamy Concert Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London.

It’s the final concert of band director Capt. Kenneth W. Megan, who took the helm in October 2004 and has led the band on tours throughout the U.S., Japan and Taiwan, brought in celebrated soloists and produced numerous CDs, among other accomplishments.

Before reading on—and perhaps making plans to attend the concert—open a “window” on the band’s musical world and listen to the wide range of what it plays. You’ll be impressed, and likely surprised.

“The Coast Guard Band is augmented by many of its former members for Captain Kenneth W. Megan’s final concert,” says a release on this weekend’s event. “Join us for an afternoon both of remembrance and a look into the future as the baton is passed to new director, Lt. Com. Adam Williamson.”

In tribute fashion, the concert Sunday will include some of Captain Megan’s favorite pieces and performers from his “storied career” in the Coast Guard. Former soprano soloist Lisa Williamson will return for “Mellow Sounds of the Radio Era,” the release says, while retired clarinetist Dan Lukens will be featured in George Gershwin’s unforgettable tune, “Walk the Dog.”

Lieutenant Commander Williamson will lead the band in “Autumn Dream” by Archibald Joyce and Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Jesters,” the release says.

Meanwhile, Captain Megan is set to narrate the American classic, “Casey at the Bat” by Steve Reineke, relinquishing the podium to former director, Captain Lewis Buckley (USCG Ret.), according to the release. Musician 1st Class Robert Langslet, piano, and soprano soloist Musician 1st Class Megan Weikleenget will enjoy the spotlight during George Gershwin’s delightful “Catfish Row.”

The concert concludes with the first movement of “American Journey” by John Williams, the release says, adding, “The gathering of old friends and the celebration of new faces make for a fitting tribute to Captain Megan’s wonderful career with the Coast Guard Band.”

This event is free and open to the public. No tickets are required.

 

Asked if the Coast Guard Band is Connecticut’s best kept musical secret, Chief Musician Stephen Lamb, who plays the tuba, said that while there’s some truth to that perception, “We do have a pretty good following already.”

“We are the only band in the Coast Guard and, by Congress, we are considered a premier military band,” he explained. “We are hired by the Coast Guard to be the musical representatives of the United States Coast Guard. … We travel around and take part” in spreading “the manners of our profession.” That can involve, in part, helping to provide the pomp and circumstance at ceremonies, the launching of ships and changes of command.

In all, Lamb said, our nation has a total of six premier military bands—one each for the Navy, Air Force and Marines, and the Army has two, one that stays stateside and another touring band stationed at bases.

Like those other bands, the Coast Guard Band might get pigeonholed as playing only the types of marches and programming John Philip Sousa was doing with the Marine Band 100 years ago—and like most labels, this one has some truth but is also off the mark.

Lamb said the band offers the equivalent of a symphony’s pops style concert, in this case dealing largely with Americana. But the page on the Coast Guard’s Band website where you can listen to music shows the band can also handle Broadway tunes and music inspired by Shakespeare, for example, and can also be quiet, subtle and even sublime. And the band has a fulltime vocalist who performs in 90 percent of the concerts, currently Megan Weikleenget, a soprano from Buffalo, N.Y., who made her Carnegie Hall debut with the Composing Song workshop in 2009 and joined the Coast Guard Band in December 2010.

“We [also] have a couple breakout groups,” Lamb said, referring the Dixieland Jazz Band, Masters of Swing ensemble, Saxophone Quartet, Woodwind Quintet and Chamber Players Recital Series.

Altogether, it’s a life and career for band members filled with music, and branded by a patriotic feel and mission, but no—in case you’re wondering—members of the Coast Guard Band don’t go out on boats and rescue people. Their job is the band.

That said, Lamb noted that they contribute in other ways. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Lamb said, “A few of us who literally wanted to get our hands dirty went down and volunteered.”

As for a standout moment, he cites the tour of Japan in 2008 for 60th anniversary of the Japanese Coast Guard. “It was really just an amazing experience for everybody, not just touring the country but working as a musical ambassador,” said Lamb, who has a Bachelor’s Degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and a Master’s Degree from the Shepherd School of Music of Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Megan, who is being honored with this weekend’s concert, led the band on that tour of Japan. In addition, his bio says, he has led several performances of the band in Carnegie Hall, and under his direction the band has performed with opera superstars Nicole Cabell and Elizabeth Futral, pianist Makoto Ozone, clarinet virtuoso David Shifrin, and renowned trumpeter Philip Smith, among others.

“In addition, he invited legendary conductors Donald Hunsberger, Frank Battisti, H. Robert Reynolds, Leonard Slatkin, and Mallory Thompson to lead the Band in unforgettable performances,” the bio says. “Under Megan’s stewardship, the band has released nine critically acclaimed disks: Strauss to Stravinsky; Holiday Fanfare; Gershwin Remembered; Russian Connection; American Landscapes; South; Baby, It’s Cold Outside!; Gardens of Stone; and Live in Japan.

To see how all of that translates into satisfying music in the concert hall, head to New London Sunday for the concert. Leamy Concert Hall is located at 15 Mohegan Avenue, and is accessible to the handicapped. For more information about the Coast Guard Band, visit www.uscg.mil/band or call the Concert Information Line at (860) 701-6826. Or see the band's Facebook page.

 

Connecticut's Best Kept Musical Secret, And Force in Fight for World Peace, Has Special Concert Sunday

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