By Connie Budin
It is not every day that a band gets to perform a piece of music written specifically for them. On Nov. 14, the Saint Mary’s University Concert Band will be performing the world premiere of “If You Could Only See the Frog,” composed by Paul Richards, at 2 p.m. in the Page Theater.
The event is sponsored by the Helen and Sam Kaplan Foundation Commission Project. The foundation allows the SMU Concert Band a certain portion of its budget every two years to commission a composer of Jewish heritage to create a masterpiece to be premiered at the annual concert.
Director of Bands, Dr. Janet Heukeshoven, is also the Kaplan Commission Project Chair and heads the event from start to finish.
The created composition, as listed on the Kaplan Commissioning Project application, states that the work must be a “grade 4” level of difficulty, meaning appropriate yet difficult enough for high school bands and collegiate ensembles.
The piece must be five to eight minutes long, and based on a Jewish melody from a folk or religious source. The composer also interacts with the SMU band students about the composition, provides the necessary music for rehearsal and will be present at the premiere performance of the piece, with the option of conducting or having a solo.
Since starting in 2000, the Kaplan Commissioning Project has had great success. After being a finalist the last two auditions, Paul Richards was finally selected as a winner. His piece is taken directly from the playful feel of “Si Veriash a la Rana,” the title of a children’s song from Bulgaria sung by exiled Jews in the Spanish-Jewish dialect of Ladino.
Richards “knows what he has to do to create a great piece [and is an] artist who is knowledge-based for writing concert music,” said Heukeshoven. During the long process of bringing this composition to life, Heukeshoven has had a lot of contact with Richards in commenting, learning and changing things about the piece.
“Working with the composer is a blessing,” Heukeshoven said.
Richards also enjoys working with the band, especially on this particular piece.
“The thing that intrigues me most about Jewish musical tradition is that it is the tradition of a displaced people,” said Richards. “It is at once joyous and sad – a simultaneity that is best expressed, I believe, through music.”