MIT Concert Band
Celebrating five decades of musicBy Erik Blankinship
May 1, 1999
MIT Concert Band alumni from the past fifty years gathered in Kresge Auditorium on Saturday, May 1, 1999 to celebrate the career of John D. Corley. Corley has been the conductor of the MIT Concert Band from its inception, and Saturday’s performance marked the conclusion of a half-century of service to the Institute.
Before the concert began, a formal letter from the Governor of Massachusetts was read aloud which declared that May 1, 1999 shall be known as “John D. Corley Day”.
MIT President Charles M. Vest was in attendance for the performance and delivered a speech in honor of Corley. Vest remarked that while Corley has been the MIT Concert Band conductor for the last five decades, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has had five conductors and MIT has had six Presidents. An alumni guest speaker noted that Kresge itself was not around when Corley began his career at MIT. Corley’s first performance with the MIT Concert Band was in the Hatch shell on the esplanade along the Charles River.
Throughout the evening, Corley was lauded for his dedication to MIT students. The Concert Band presented Corley with a wooden conductor’s stand embedded with a plaque and a photo of the 1999 band.
Alumni speakers emphasized that Corley’s importance to students over the years was evidenced by the over $72,000 being raised for the John D. Corley Fund. They noted Corley’s dedication to students, citing many student conductors from years past who will carry on his legacy. Corley asked the alumni how many presidents of the Band were in attendance, and about ten alumni rose from their seats. The same number of assistant conductors rose from their seats.
Two Concert Band alumni wrote original, commissioned pieces for the first half of the evening’s performance. Jeff Morrow ’96 and Adrian P. Childs ’94 were also in attendance to conduct their pieces. Morrow’s “Funk and Circumstance” was sprinkled with musical phrases from popular Corley performances over the past fifty years. Childs’ “Time Into Gold” was marked by chimes which rang out a total of 50 times, one for each year of the band’s existence.
For those in the audience unfamiliar with Corley’s entire musical career, including myself, Morrow’s piece sounded a bit haphazard. Musical phrases were passed around without any noticable segues. While the overall effect was not rude to the ear, it was not terribly entertaining either.
Along with the chimes, Childs’ piece was marked by loud and exciting percussion which dominated its over all sound. As he conducted the piece, Child took care to guide the percussion section with strong marked getures making for an entertaining and tense performance.
Corley asked that the two commissioned pieces be repeated, so that the audience would have an opportunity to get to know them. He remarked that unless the piece is the “1812 Overture” or some other well known piece, an audience cannot hum along with the tune or get to know it.
Following intermission, the Concert Band alumni were invited onto the stage to perform once again under Corley’s direction. After a performance of Kazdin’s “Prelude and Happy Dance”, Corley led the entire band off of the stage and into the audience to produce a “surround sound” performance of Maloof’s “Festival Music for Double Wind Orchestra”.
The staging of Maloof’s piece made for a remarkable effect. Notes from oboes would swim in from the right side of the atrium to be met by strong saxaphones on the left side. Audience members craned their necks to see all of the different performers, some of whom were literally right behind them, making for an engaging visual experience. The tapestry of sound was so pleasant to the ears, it made me wonder why more performances have not been staged this creatively.
Corley’s final performance was a piece titled “Corley’s March”. The composer of “Corley’s March”, John Bavicchi, was in attendance and acknowledged by Corley. “Corley’s March” was a simple, hummable tune played with energy and enthusiasm. It was obvious that the Band put forth their best effort into this final piece, as it was brassy, loud, and proud. After the quick and exciting piece ended, Corley received a standing ovation and started off of the stage. Then he returned to the front of the stage and led the Concert Band one last time through “Corley’s March” with extra vigor and power.
It was obvious that Corley had touched the lives of many, many MIT students over the years in personal ways: children of alumni who had met in Concert Band under Corley’s direction were in attendance and one was even playing in the band.