The end of the semester is always a busy time for me, and, as I’ve previously written, one of the highlights of this period are the various music department end-of-semester concerts and recitals that I participate in. No matter how intense it gets, the end of semester orchestra concert is still a great highlight and culmination of my hard work. This past semester’s performance was particularly special for me as it presented an impromptu opportunity to play with some of the best musicians in the country—three members of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Band’s trombone section led by Sean Nelson, who is the music department’s trombone professor, in addition to Connecticut College’s own Gary Buttery on tuba, who served as the Band’s principal tubist from 1976-1998. The group constituted our orchestra’s low brass section for our performance of Antonin Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony.
Perhaps the most dramatic challenge of playing the concert came when the three Coast Guard trombonists weren’t able to attend our final dress rehearsal because they needed to fly to Washington, D.C., to perform at the late President George H. W. Bush’s funeral. This meant that the concert was their first time playing the piece with us. Despite this challenge, it was incredible to experience these top-notch musicians not only play at the highest level, but also adjust on the fly to how we were performing the piece. As we began the symphony, which opens with a passage shared by clarinet, my instrument, and trombone, hearing the rich sound produced by these players led me to realize we were in good hands; it was exciting.
The first time I visited Connecticut College I learned that many of the music department instrumental instructors are current or former members of the U.S. Coast Guard Band. This is because the ensemble is based at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, just across the street from our campus, so many members live in New London and the surrounding area. I personally have taken clarinet lessons with two former Band members, one of whom is Kelli O’Connor, the College’s current instructor. Both of them have given me excellent instruction; their knowledge of clarinet repertoire has always helped me immensely. Of the top bands of the five branches of the armed forces, the Coast Guard is the only one not based in Washington, D.C. They regularly perform at the Coast Guard Academy, and I hope to finally take advantage of the opportunity to hear one of their concerts this semester.