Center Stage Series: Rodney Marsalis Philadellphia Big Brass

Rodney Marsalis. Photo courtesy of the Rodney Marsalis Philedelphia Big Brass press kit.

Rodney Marsalis. Photo courtesy of the Rodney Marsalis Philedelphia Big Brass press kit.

As the trumpets, tubas, trombones and drums began to play, a wave of confusion came over the audience in the Main Hall of the Center for Faith and Life. No one in the audience was entirely sure whether they were supposed to be singing “Hallelujah” or “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In.” The guessing game resulted in both songs being sung at the same time, much to the audience’s  amusement. This familiar medley was one of the many songs performed by the Rodney Marsalia Philadelphia Big Brass in the Center Stage Series.


The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass, the first featured ensemble of Luther’s Center Stage Series, performed in the Center for Faith and Life (CFL) on September 22. Eight musicians from the full eleven-piece ensemble were a part of the two-hour performance. The group featured a variety of pieces, including selections from German composer Johann Sebastian Bach and the musical West Side Story. They put their own spin on the music, as was the case with “Hallelujah” and “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In.”


The Center Stage Series brings lively performances to Luther students and the Decorah community. The Rodney Marsalis Philedelphia Big Brass performance marked the start of the 2022-2023 lineup. Luther will present six performances throughout the upcoming year, and all of them will be held in the CFL. The series has highlighted many groups over the years, including Rodney Marsalis’ cousin Branford Marsalis. Branford Marsalis was originally supposed to headline the September 22 performance with his saxophone, but he recently underwent knee surgery and couldn’t tour this fall.Within jazz circles, the Marsalis family is known as the “first family of jazz.” Brothers Brandford and Wynton have performed at Luther in the past, but Thursday was their younger cousin Rodney’s first time at Luther. Director of Campus Programming Kristen Underwood points out the excitement of the lineup switch. 


“I think we are getting the best of the bunch,” Underwood said. “I’m delighted that it worked out that we could get another member of the family to come and fill Branford’s spot.”


After the pandemic put a temporary stop to the Center Stage Series, Underwood recognizes how valuable the performance is to Luther students and the community. Because of Decorah’s location in rural Iowa, the Center Stage Series helps Luther become one of the area’s cultural centers. Underwood hopes that Luther students can be uplifted by how the band interacts with each other and benefit from their personality and musical talent. 


“They greet each other with so much warmth and camaraderie,” Underwood said. “Seeing people work together as an ensemble like that lifts your spirits.”


With their incorporation of lively jazz music and marches, the Marsalis band rely heavily on audience participation in their performances. The audience was taught to stay on beat, cheer, and even encouraged to dance as they shouted a few Olés.


Associate Professor of Mathematics Philip Iversen (‘87) attended the performance. As a musician himself, the band prompted him to reflect on his own experience in the music world. 


“It’s amazing,” Iversen said. “I’m a trumpet player, so I’m in heaven.”


The first showcase of the Center Stage Series concluded with a resounding standing ovation. The next performance is set for October 13, and will feature Jaerv + The OK Factor. Tickets are available at the Luther Ticket Office and online at