No small thing for music lovers: Tine Thing Helseth & Gunnar Flagstad’s Dublin concert

Tine Thing Helseth & Gunnar Flagstad

I recently spent two weeks in Ireland and one of the trip’s highlights was the unexpected opportunity to hear a truly phenomenal trumpet player, Norway’s Tine Thing Helseth, and her accompanist Gunnar Flagstad, on the initial concert of their first tour of Ireland. This October 10, 2017 concert was held in the beautiful stone sanctuary of St. Ann’s Church in Dublin, built in 1720. I learned about this concert only by happenstance: as I entered my hotel in Dublin the evening before I caught a brief glance of ads on a TV screen announcing upcoming concerts in town. I was quite … Read more

Echos of Sparke & Ellington: Luther College Family Day Concerts

The Luther College Jazz Orchestra, Ben Ostrem on tenor sax.

Luther College, a private college in Decorah, Iowa, is home to one of the US’s largest collegiate music programs. The college celebrated Family Weekend September 22-24, 2017, and I attended the Saturday midday performances by the Concert Band and Jazz Orchestra. Concert Band First on the program was the Concert Band, an ensemble of approximately 60 students directed by Joan deAlbequerque. Luther College has three bands, and the Concert Band is the top auditioned band. I’ve always found the musicianship of this ensemble to be top notch. My son, Ben, played euphonium with the group for two years and went … Read more

Bewitched by Trio Jinx: the 2017 Iowa Great Lakes Music Festival

Trio Jinx performing at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Milford, IA

July 8-9 marked the 4th year of the Iowa Great Lakes Music Festival, founded by conductor and cellist Thomas Fortner to share his love of chamber music with the Lake Okoboji community. Fortner grew up in Texas but visited relatives in this northwestern Iowa vacation spot every summer, so he is well-acquainted with the area and the openness of the residents and vacationers to new musical experiences. Local festival sponsors include the Arts at St. Joseph Catholic Church and the Pearson Lakes Arts Center. Past year’s festivals have featured as guest artists pianists Szy-Ling Wu and Amy Zanrosso, violinists Sean Riley … Read more

Feeling the real groove with John Raymond & Real Feels

John Raymond & Real FeelsJohn Raymond & Real FeelsJohn Raymond & Real FeelsJohn Raymond & Real Feels

The 2017 Iowa City Jazz Festival was held over the weekend of June 30-July 2, 2017, and I enjoyed one of the Sunday afternoon concerts on the Main Stage which was set up in front of the old capitol building in downtown Iowa City. Three other stages scattered around the blocked-off streets offered different musical choices, including a Local Stage spotlighting local area bands. Iowa City is fortunate to offer several parking garages right in the downtown area, so I parked in the Clinton Street garage and walked the short blocks to the Festival area, which was lined with food … Read more

Elkhart Jazz Festival brings jazz to life in the Midwest

Elkhart Jazz Festival

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Elkhart Jazz Festival, which brings hundreds of musicians and thousands of enthusiasts to this small midwestern town (pop. 51,000) located 110 miles south of Chicago and only 15 miles from South Bend, home to Notre Dame University. A variety of styles ranging from Dixieland to smooth jazz provided choices for all musical tastes. The weekend of June 23-25, 2017 saw Elkhart fill with visitors. The town has long been known as the “Band Instrument Capital of the World” due to it being the headquarters of the Conn-Selmer company (and its many subsidiaries … Read more

Flying high with the Shades of Blue US Air Force Jazz Band

Shades of Blue Jazz Band of the United States Air Force Band of Mid-America

Shades of Blue, the jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force of Mid-America, performed jazz standards, swing and Big Band favorites, and patriotic medleys to close out the 2017 Glenn Miller Festival on June 11, 2017 in Clarinda, Iowa. The final concert of this festival, held annually in the city where Glenn Miller was born in 1904, was presented by the musicians of this ensemble—two trumpets, two trombones, three saxophones, double bass, electric guitar, keyboard, drumset, and female vocalist—who are all enlisted Air Force personnel stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, outside of St. Louis. The musicians also … Read more

Banish the blues with the Blue Beginners Jazz Band

Blue Beginners Jazz Band from Mito (Japan) Technical High School

On June 11, 2017, the Blue Beginners jazz band from Mito Technical High School, Japan performed an afternoon concert as part of the 2017 Glenn Miller Festival in Clarinda, Iowa. The group was making its initial appearance at the festival, playing three concerts over as many days. The student musicians’ energy and enthusiasm in playing jazz and being part of the festival made this concert experience extra special. This was my first time to attend the festival, but every year a group from Japan performs, probably because there is a Japan branch of the Glenn Miller Festival Birthplace Society in … Read more

Glenn Miller Orchestra brings Big Band Sound to Iowa

World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra

The 18 musicians in the Glenn Miller Orchestra hail from all over the US and tour 48 weeks of the year, but for a couple of days in June they entertained a spellbound audience in the town where the orchestra’s namesake spent his early years: Clarinda, Iowa (pop. 5,500). I attended the Saturday, June 10, 2017, performance of this world famous group, and the quality of the musicianship and the “Big Band” sound transported me to musical heaven for a blissful two hours. This year marked the 42nd year of the Glenn Miller Festival, which is run by volunteers and … Read more

Joy of Strings: the 2017 Osklaloosa Music Festival Masterworks Recital

The Lux String Quartet perform at the 2017 Oskaloosa Music Festival

Musicians from Minneapolis-St. Paul and around the US converged in the central Iowa town of Oskaloosa (pop. 11,500) to take part in the annual two-week Music Festival which pairs a string chamber music camp for middle and high schoolers with a series of concerts at venues throughout the city. I attended the Masterworks Recital Program on Saturday evening, June 3, 2017, at the First Presbyterian Church and was treated to a performance of some of the best music written for strings, including selections by Bach, Beethoven, Dvorák, Tchaikovsky, Hindemith, Janácek, and the Danish String Quartet. The Oskaloosa Music Festival (OMF), now in its 8th year, … Read more

A Brass Salute: The Eastern Iowa Brass Band’s Memorial Day Concert

The Eastern Iowa Brass Band performs on Memorial Day 2017

The sun shone brightly and strong prairie winds whipped the edges of the stage bunting on Memorial Day, May 29, 2017, as the Eastern Iowa Brass Band (EIBB) performed a free concert on the grounds of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa, only 10 miles from Iowa City. The crowd, a varied mixture of families and older couples, sat in lawn chairs facing the stage, which ingeniously pulled out from a large trailer. The EIBB, which bills itself as “Iowa’s only British-styled brass band”, is a 35-member all volunteer ensemble. In order to get that mellow … Read more