Veterans Day Concert

Fantastic Musical Moments from the Nashville Reading Orchestra

The Nashville Reading Orchestra, one the city’s newest performing arts organizations, gave a Veteran’s Day concert this past Sunday night and it was my first opportunity to hear the ensemble live. Founded by Dr. Joshua Shepherd in the summer of 2020, the orchestra was created to give members of the Nashville community a place to come together to read through a wide variety of orchestral music and present concerts together.

This Veteran’s Day concert was held at the ensemble’s usual home, Nashville First Baptist Church. Inside, the church is quite lovely with a towering stained-glass window seated right behind the altar. Matching the beauty of the church was a quite good acoustic. The layout of the stage caused for some interesting seating arrangements, with the trumpets located behind the percussion and the open lid of the piano. Even with the seating quirks not much was lost aurally.

This concert had a mix of minor annoyances and fantastic musical moments. One vexation came from the program booklet. Upon entering the church, I was greeted and shown a table with four sheets of paper each containing a QR code. Two codes led me to donate through Venmo and PayPal, one led me to an audience participant survey, and the last led me to the program. Scanning the program QR code opened the Google Docs app where I was denied permission to access the document. I requested access to view the program, but access was not granted until two hours after the concert ended. I am a big fan of digital programs replacing physical ones, although it seems as if a simple test beforehand could have solved this problem.

Promptly at six o’clock Dr. Shepherd, sporting a black suit and American flag tie, mounted the podium and led a spirited play through of the National Anthem. Everyone rose and followed along with the music reverently. The feeling of national pride and honor to the Veteran’s was one of my favorite experiences of the concert. This feeling was brought up again when the orchestra played the Armed Forces Salute by Robert Lowden towards the end of the concert. This piece is a compilation of the various US Military branches’ songs. Prior to the piece Dr. Shepherd encouraged any Veterans in the audience to stand when it was their branch’s song was played. One flute player in the orchestra and one audience member stood throughout the piece. The audience was eager to show their appreciation for the two service members. This again, was an effective moment because the audience was engaged with more than just the music itself.

The programming throughout the concert was just fantastic:

Star Spangled Banner – John Stafford Smith

Fanfare for the Common Man – Aaron Copland

American Salute – Morton Gould

Forrest Gump Suite – Alan Silvestri, arr. Calvin Custer

Variations on a Shake Melody – Aaron Copland

Hymn to the Fallen – John Williams

American Frontier – Calvin Custer

Armed Forces Salute – Robert Lowden

Battle Hymn of the Republic – William Steffe

Stars and Stripes Forever – John Phillip Sousa

These pieces easily fit within the concert’s theme and yet were able to span a wide variety of genres: film music, patriotic medleys, marches, and more. No piece dominated the concert and the number of pieces allowed for quite a bit of variety throughout the concert.

Throughout the one-hour concert the orchestra played splendidly. In Fanfare for the Common Man the brass commanded the audience’s attention and did not fail to lose it for the rest of the concert. The woodwinds, and piccolos in particular, shined in Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever as they nailed the tricky leaping melodies. The strings seemed their best in the film music from Forrest Gump and John Williams’ Hymn to the Fallen. Some of the harder passages from Appalachian Spring were a little rough around the edges, but for a community orchestra they embraced the challenge and gave an effective performance of the piece.

In the wake of the pandemic and online streaming concerts I have begun to think that the concert going public deserve a complete package of an experience that is more than just the music. Part of this package is accessing the program and another part is engaging with the musicians and other audience members. A further plus for this Veteran’s Day concert was that during the Battle Hymn of the Republic the audience was able to stand and sing along during the last chorus of the piece. Moments like this create an experience for the audience member that is valuable. I look forward to the next time that Dr. Shepherd and the Nashville Reading Orchestra put on a concert.

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