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Comedic band concert soars — seriously

Photo courtesy of Jim Bloch. Wayne Krolczyk soloing with his tuba on "The Old Grumbly Bear."

By Jim Bloch

When was the last you heard a comedic concert featuring a symphonic band, a wind ensemble, a troupe of percussionists, and a jazz band?

The answer is May 12 — if you happened to have been in the East China Performing Arts Center for the St. Clair High School Bands’ Spring Concert, under the direction of Micah Volz.

“Tonight is an attempt at a comedy show,” said Volz, who was swept away by Garrison Keillor’s ability to fuse serious music and serious fun in his Joke Show of 2014.

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You had a sense the evening would be slightly off-kilter when the symphonic band, 65 members strong, opened the evening with Danny Elfman’s theme song from The Simpson’s.

Sections of the band took turns stepping in front of the orchestra to play pieces on their own.

The symphonic band’s 10 clarinetists were joined by the wind ensemble’s 13 to play “The Entertainer,” by Scott Joplin, one of the inventors of jazz in the early 20th Century. The wind ensemble’s eight-person trumpet section played Pierre-Francois Cloomir’s “Etude Characteristique.”

As the chairs and music stands were being rearranged between sets, band members took turns telling jokes.

What does a clarinet and a trial lawyer have in common?

Both sound best after the case is closed.

A small but mighty percussion ensemble staffed by “the esteemed members of SCHS Faculty” turned in one of the funniest songs of the night when they played an array of hand-held instruments to create the rhythm to Del Elliott and James Ployhar’s “The Final Conflict.” The band moved on to pop balloons full of helium and bags full of air in another percussive marvel.

“It’s a pleasure to work with these kids every day,” said Volz. “They get better and better.”

What do you call a brass instrument that saves its money?

A frugal horn.

The 18-member SCHS percussion ensemble made music out of brooms, dustpans, five-gallon plastic pails, spray bottles, and who knows what in Danny Raymond’s “Sweet Dreams.”

The 50-member wind ensemble played Pascual Marquina and Robert Longfield’s “Espana Cani,” a song often heard at bullfights.

“It always reminds by of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen,” said Volz.

I realized I left my car unlocked with my tuba inside.

I ran back and opened the door and found two tubas inside.

The 11-member jazz band was down three-player because of illness. Volz himself took up some of the slack, sitting in on keys and taking a vocal solo along with each of the four frontline sax players on the impromptu love song “If I Had A Million Dollars” by the Barenaked Ladies.

The jazz band played tight, swinging versions of Charlie Parker’s “Little Suede Shoes” and the Neville Brothers’ “Hey Pocky Way.”

Wayne Krolczyk played electric bass in the jazz band minutes after setting down his tuba.

Volz told the audience that it was in for a rare experience, a tuba concerto featuring Krolczyk. As the band charged to the end of Julius Fucik’s “The Old Grumbly Bear,” Krolczyk’s filled his bighorn with a brimming musical scoop of slow-melting chocolate ice cream, drawing laughs from the big crowd.

“What do you get when your band director is neck-deep in concrete?” asked Krolczyk.

“I don’t know,” said Volz. “What?”

Krolczyk: “More concrete.”

Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com. 

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