Luther Varsity Band Performs Virtual Concert


Professor Cory Near directs the Luther College Varsity band in a rehearsal. Members who do not play are masked-up as a COVID-19 safety precaution. Photo courtesy of Photo Bureau

On Saturday, February 21, the Luther Varsity Band gathered in the Center for Faith and Life main hall to present a virtual concert. The band, directed by Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Cory Near and guest conducted by Susan Potvin (‘02), featured 70 students performing five pieces, including “Dreams and Nightmares,” composed by Eric Bacon (‘22). 

Beginning with a pre-concert performance led by Potvin, the percussion section presented “Dreams and Nightmares,” composed by Bacon, who is also a percussionist in the band. Bacon mentioned that the inspiration for the piece had initially come from the amount of percussionists in the section, and he wanted everyone to have a part to play.

“I decided to write the piece last spring because we had a lot of percussionists with pieces that did not have many percussion parts,” Bacon said. “We wanted to have a percussion ensemble, and because I like to write music, I asked if I could write a piece for us to play.”

Bacon also mentioned that the title of his piece, “Dreams and Nightmares,” came about from his experience back in March 2020, before the pandemic had sent Luther students home.

“Around [that] time, I was having bad nightmares and really vivid dreams, so I thought that could be a good inspiration for my piece,” Bacon said. “I finished writing it right before we were sent home in March due to COVID-19, so I am really grateful that we finally had the chance to perform it.”

After Bacon’s piece, the concert continued with “Albanian Dance,” composed by Shelley Hanson. The piece is a rhythmic dance song indicative of the music present in the small villages of Eastern Europe. 

The band then performed “Simple Gifts” by Frank Ticheli, a collection of four Shaker songs, a nature song, a lullaby, a dance tune and finally, the title song “Simple Gifts.” Next was “A Child’s Embrace” by Charles Rochester Young. To end the concert, the band performed “Alleluia Laudamus Te,” a hymn featuring all the band sections along with Professor of Music and College Organist Gregory Peterson. 

When asked about his process in choosing the repertoire the band would perform, Near pointed to his intention to show the diverse range of the band and band repertoire. 

“The repertoire for this performance reflects my personal style of programming,” Near said. “I do my best to introduce a variety of pieces to my students and audience members, that showcase a wide range of composers, both living and deceased, cultures, genres, et cetera. Additionally, I am always excited to collaborate with other artists, and I’m thrilled to include that [in] this program, [especially] in our final piece, Alfred Reed’s ‘Alleluia! Laudamus Te’.” 

Due to COVID-19, band rehearsals have undergone some major changes. Sections rehearse separately, and only meet as a whole ensemble  in the week prior to a performance. Members are spread out to allow for social distancing and must wear masks when not actively playing. Near noted that, though the pandemic has imposed limitations for rehearsals, Luther musicians still are deeply engaged with the ensemble and the music.  

“Rehearsals have certainly been different and sometimes challenging,” Near said. “However, the students have remained passionate and enthusiastic since the beginning. They have continued to operate safely not only for themselves but also for their peers.“

Hannah Saucedo (‘24), who plays clarinet, explained that while the band has changed significantly, Near has kept rehearsals inviting and focused on the community coming together around music.

“Professor Near has been so accepting of our personal values and what we feel is right,” Saucedo said. “It’s been really easy to just be myself. Band is one of the places where you can connect with so many different kinds of people, and you’re there to make music together.”

Professor Cory Near directs the Luther College Varsity band in a rehearsal. Members who do not play are masked-up as a COVID-19 safety precaution.
Photo courtesy of Photo Bureau