Musical Storytellers: A Q&A with Brian Del Signore and John Parker

Musical Storytellers: A Q&A with Brian Del Signore and John Parker

This weekend, the woodwind, brass, and percussion sections step into the limelight during Musical Storytellers: Winds of the Houston Symphony, a Bank of America POPS program spotlighting some of the greatest wind ensemble compositions of our time, led by Principal POPS Conductor Steven Reineke.

For musicians of the wind sections, this program both challenges and excites them—and provides a chance to explore some classic wind ensemble repertoire together with some newer pieces, including one composed by Reineke himself! Brian Del Signore, principal percussion, and John Parker, associate principal trumpet, are among the Houston Symphony musicians particularly enthusiastic about this upcoming concert.

Houston Symphony: What makes the Musical Storytellers program so exciting for you as a musician?
Brian Del Signore: There is percussion in every piece on this program, and lots of it!

John Parker: Being in a wind ensemble is how I grew up learning to play the trumpet. It was the vast majority of my experience in youth until I began playing in full orchestra as a sophomore in college. On a personal level, this program almost feels like returning home for me. From a trumpet player’s perspective, what I like most about the Musical Storytellers program, and wind ensemble music in general, is that none of the music fits into a preconceived mold of how the trumpet should function in the ensemble. If you look at a lot of classical orchestral music, the trumpet wasn’t featured often as a soloistic instrument until the early 20th century. Wind ensemble, historically being a much newer ensemble than the full orchestra, has a much broader spectrum of how the trumpet fits into the ensemble and I find that every piece uses the instrument differently. The music is also often more challenging from a technical standpoint, so it pushes me to become a better player.

Brian Del Signore, principal percussion.

HS: What pieces are you particularly excited about sharing with the audience and why?
BDS: A few of these pieces are classic standards in the wind ensemble repertoire, but there are some excellent new ones included. To just name a few of the new ones: Speed of Heat by Julie Giroux, is a very well written and exciting piece. Omar Thomas’s “Shout” will have us creating an intense gospel groove involving the entire percussion section. Famishius Fantasicas by Michael Markowski has some crazy sounds and wild moments using some of our less common percussion instruments, including Mahler’s Hammer. And in preparing for this concert, I found that our own POPS conductor Steve Reineke, who is a very accomplished and respected composer and arranger, has written quite a lot of popular music for wind ensemble. We’ll do one of his pieces too, Pilatus: Mountain of the Dragons.

JP: I’m very excited about performing Steven Reineke’s Pilatus: Mountain of Dragons. Steven always has great musical ideas and his orchestrations are superb. I haven’t performed this piece before but know that it should be a great one for the audience to listen to.

HS: Are there any styles/techniques called for in wind ensemble music that differ from standard orchestra repertoire?
BDS: The big difference between orchestral music and wind ensemble music is, there are no strings in wind ensemble music. There aren’t big differences in percussion technique between the two, except that with strings involved, we need to be more sensitive to their sound. Delicacy of touch can be crucial in orchestral music.

JP: The styles and techniques are largely the same but the main difference is that wind ensemble music can be much more demanding from a physical endurance standpoint. This is simply because of how much more often the trumpet is playing than in full orchestra repertoire. The other thing I consider when playing in a wind ensemble is balance with my colleagues. With fewer people on stage, sometimes I need to play with more finesse and less volume, focusing more on clarity and style. Of course, we are always making these adjustments no matter what we play, but in a wind ensemble it can be particularly challenging to get these balances correct.

John Parker, associate principal trumpet.

HS: Musical Storytellers gives audiences the unique opportunity to hear the Symphony’s woodwind, brass, and percussion sections perform together as a wind ensemble and fittingly coincides with our annual Spec’s Charitable Foundation Salute to Educators concert on March 20, where we will honor the outstanding work of band teachers, and all music educators in Houston and beyond. Can you tell us about a favorite school band teacher or school band moment?
BDS: I don’t know that I can pick out one favorite moment of working with music educators in our Houston schools, but I can say that I have appreciated working with numerous band directors and teachers. Some that I’ve worked with have been nominated for Grammy Awards in education, including Jesse Espinosa at Waltrip High School in HISD, Kevin Erickson at Dobie High School in Pasadena, and Jami Lupold at Heritage Elementary in La Porte. I look forward to working more with these fine teachers, and all others who are interested in having Houston Symphony musicians come to their schools.

JP: I have had so many great teachers in my life it is hard to pick one as a favorite. They have all had a lasting influence on me, and I could not be more grateful to them for helping to shape me into the person and musician that I am today. Funny enough, I can’t narrow down a favorite band moment either. What does come to mind is the relationships I made performing in wind ensembles in my youth. Those relationships are what stick with me today. In fact, my wife and I actually met in high school band! Also, it was an amazing experience to grow up playing in ensembles with my brother, who is now a professional trombonist in Iowa. Those relationships that I built through making music with my peers, and sharing it with audiences, is ultimately why I decided to pursue a career in music in the first place.

Join us for Musical Storytellers: Winds of the Houston Symphony, led by Principal POPS Conductor Steven Reineke, on March 19–22. Livestream and in-person tickets are on sale now.

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