MONTICELLO, Ark. — In March, the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) announced that the UAM Wind Symphony had been named a semi-finalist in three categories for the American Prize National Nonprofit Competitions in the Performing Arts. The competition concluded this summer, and the UAM Wind Symphony earned finalist recognitions in two of the three categories, as well as a national finalist honorable mention.
When Justin Anders, a native of Warren and an alumnus of the UAM Division of Music, was named the chair of the division in January 2018, he inherited a music program with a rich history in jazz. One of his objectives as chair was to help the other ensembles achieve national recognition, as well. “It took several years to build the wind ensemble, to groom the sound, to start that tradition of excellence,” Anders said. Then, the pandemic hit, preventing the division from hosting concerts. This limitation encouraged some clever problem solving by the faculty. Anders considered a livestreamed concert of the UAM Wind Symphony during the spring semester of 2021. That idea morphed into using the university’s recording equipment to make a CD. Then, Anders decided that he would make a video of the performance.
The concert featured Arkansas’ composer laureate W. Francis McBeth’s “Of Sailors and Whales” and Alfred Reed’s “The Hounds of Spring” and would become the UAM Wind Symphony album “Literature in Music.” McBeth’s piece is based on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” It is composed of five movements beginning with “Ishmael,” followed by “Queequeg,” “Father Mapple,” “Captain Ahab” and “The White Whale.” Reed’s piece was inspired by the poem “Atalanta in Calydon” by Algernon Charles Swinburne.
Anders felt that they had captured something special. He shared the recording with fellow music educators. “They said, ‘Is this UAM’s ensemble? We’ve never heard the pieces sound like this, ever,'” Anders said. They encouraged him to submit the album to a prestigious national competition.
Nearly a year later, during the first several months of 2022, Anders was notified by the committee that the UAM Wind Symphony had been named a 2022 national semi-finalist for the American Prize Ernst Bacon Memorial Award for the Performance of American Music in the College/University Ensemble division and for the American Prize in Band/Wind Ensemble Performance in the College/University division. During the summer, the ensemble was recognized again, this time as one of five finalists nationwide in the wind ensemble category. The ensemble eventually received a national finalist honorable mention in the competition.
Anders said, “I cannot adequately express my feelings of pride regarding the hard work of our students. This recognition means so much for the students, for the ensemble and for the university. The concert band, to my knowledge, has never pursued any type of award or recognition for the wind ensemble, so it is so special for them to be recognized at the national level. It meets one of my visions as chair, which is to expand recruitment to a different demographic of musicians who are interested in concert band.”
But there was one more surprise for Anders. When he decided to create a video of the concert, his wife suggested that he use two cameras. The first camera would capture the wind ensemble from the front, and the second would capture the performance from the rear. “You always see the ensemble and the back of the conductor, but you never get to see how the conductor interacts with the ensemble,” Anders explained.
A hesitant Anders was encouraged by both his wife and his former conducting instructor to submit the unique, dual-camera setup to the conducting category. The decision paid off, as Anders was selected as a 2022 national semi-finalist for the American Prize in Conducting in the Band/Wind Ensemble division. “Being selected as a semifinalist was a giant surprise,” Anders said. “My wife asked me what I thought my chances were of being a finalist, and I said, ‘Oh, zero.'” Then, Anders was named one of seven national finalists.
“Conducting is one of my passions,” Anders said. “I’ve conducted sixth graders all the way to professional musicians in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. You study, practice and work at something because you love it. Then, something like this happens that is unexpected, but it serves as validation. Someone recognized all of the work and effort I have put into this. It does make me happy.”
Dr. Peggy Doss, chancellor of UAM, stated, “These three unprecedented and much-deserved national recognitions of the UAM Wind Symphony confirm that the UAM Division of Music is filled with talented students and faculty. We are proud that their musical abilities are being recognized on the national stage. We also offer congratulations to Justin Anders for his leadership of this group of musicians and thank the American Prize judges for honoring his talent as a conductor.”
The UAM Wind Symphony’s “Literature in Music” album can be heard on the UAM Music page on SoundCloud, here.
Students in the UAM Division of Music can earn a Bachelor of Arts in music with an instrumental, a jazz, a piano or a vocal concentration or a Bachelor of Music Education with an instrumental, a piano or a vocal concentration. The division also offers a Master of Music in jazz studies degree.
For more information, contact the UAM Division of Music at (870) 460-1060.