FPU Symphonic Band—a young ensemble invited to a prestigious festival

By wayne.steffen on March 23, 2016 @ 5:52pm
Fresno Pacific University symphonic band rehearsal

In its sophomore season, the Fresno Pacific University Symphonic Band is ready for a big-league event.

Read the Hanford Sentinel article at hanfordsentinel.com/news/local/local-students-participate-in-chicago-festival/article_5be467e0-5e6e-5cb9-8258-18f4d715dd0d.html

The 38-member student ensemble is one of four bands participating in the Percy Grainger Wind Band Festival April 1-2 in Chicago. Bands from all over the country compete for a spot in the festival, said Erik Leung, founder and conductor of the Symphonic Band and director of bands and coordinator of instrumental music at FPU. “All the bands that do apply are really great bands” he said. “There is definitely a standard.” 

In addition to the festival, the trip, which will be from March 30 to April 3, will feature a special concert with the Loyola University Chicago Wind Ensemble, conducted by Frederick Lowe. Each band will play separately, then will come together under the baton of guest conductor Mallory Thompson, director of bands at the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music, where Leung is working on his doctoral degree.

Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961) was an Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist. A major supporter of wind ensembles, he also played a prominent role in reviving interest in British folk music in the early 20th century. Although much of his work was experimental, the piece with which he is most generally associated is his piano arrangement of the folk-dance tune “Country Gardens.” In 1914, Grainger moved from England to the United States, where he spent the rest of his life, taking American citizenship in 1918.

The trip offers students the chance to grow musically and personally as they hear and make music with great bands in top venues and, for some, take their first trip outside of California or on an airplane. The Art Institute of Chicago, Navy Pier, the Field Museum of Natural History and the John Hancock Center are also on the agenda.

The FPU musicians are rising to the occasion. “The kids are committed,” Leung said. Though most band members are pursuing fields other than music, “they’re working like majors,” he added.

Students have also stepped up to generate much of the money to cover the cost of the adventure. “So much fundraising,” Leung says with a smile.

A silent auction was so successful Leung plans to make it an annual event. There was also a bake sale, a chocolate candy sale and a restaurant fundraiser. In addition, FPU has been generous, he said. “Here at the university people genuinely care about each other and want to help each other.”

A native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Leung joined the FPU faculty in 2014. In addition to leading the Symphonic Band, he teaches conducting and music education and conducts the Pacific Brass Ensemble. He earned degrees from the University of Toronto and the University of Calgary, has written for the Canadian Band Journal and in 2015 published a critical edition of Jan Meyerowitz’s Three Comments on War for concert band. Prior to his graduate studies, Leung was a high school band and choir director.

The band members aren’t the only one benefiting from all the commitment and support Leung has seen. “I feel since the students get better I have to get better for them,” he said.

More about the festival at graingerbandfestival.org/