My Musical Family - Joy Riggs

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My great-grandfather, Bandmaster G. Oliver Riggs, right, gives a cornet lesson to my dad, William J. Riggs, near Bemidji, Minnesota, in the early 1940s.
Updated: 46 min 21 sec ago

Vintage Band Festival 2014

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 9:58pm
We had the perfect weather on Saturday for the One Day Vintage Band Festival. The only thermometer that burst was the one we created with cardboard and a red marker to track our donations. I don’t know how we got so lucky, but the other board members and I were happy and relieved that it worked out.

While some audience members sat and listened to the morning concerts, others browsed the Riverwalk Market Fair.My sincere thanks goes out to the members of all 12 bands that performed that day (13 if you include the Tuba Dorks, who played a special gig at the Contented Cow), to all the audience members who came and were entertained, to all of our business and other sponsors, to the organizers of the Riverwalk Market Fair, to the City of Northfield, and to all of the volunteers who helped make the event a success.

Our St. Olaf interns, Sarah and Emily, masterfully operate the donation/information tent.One of my favorite moments of the day was when I was surprised by my childhood neighbor, John Engebretson, who found me in the crowd late in the morning. John is a band director who lives in a Twin Cities suburb, and he had come to the festival to substitute on saxophone for a member of the band Swing and a Miss.

That’s one of the things I love about the Vintage Band Festival – the event brings people together through a common interest, a love of music, and it makes the world feel smaller, in a good way.

John Engebretson performing with Swing and a Miss/photo by John WaltersJohn also comes from a musical family; his dad, Paul Engebretson, and my dad have played together in bands for as long as I can remember. This Thursday, they will perform a 7 p.m. concert on the courthouse lawn in Alexandria, Minn., as members of Doc’s All Stars, a group Paul founded in 1982. If you’re going to be in the Alexandria area, you should go; they will be playing music from the Big Band era, and the concert is free.
Sebastian and Steve, singing along with the Manitou Brass Regimental BandSpeaking of free, although admission to the One Day Vintage Band Festival was free, we planned the event as a fundraiser. It costs about $130,000 to host the four-day band festival, and the next one is only two years away. The other board members and I were thrilled to learn that people had donated so generously throughout the day on Saturday, we exceeded our $5,000 goal for the event. This is great news, because it helps put us on a more stable path toward planning the best four-day event yet, set for July 28-31, 2016.

Copper Street Brass Quintet, the last of 12 bands, prepares to perform in Bridge Square.People were so enthusiastic and encouraging about the one day event, it’s likely we will hold another one next summer. Keep checking our website for more information about that and other Vintage Band Festival-related activities. And if you weren’t able to attend Saturday’s event and would like to make a tax-deductible donation, you can also do that through our website.

Categories: Citizens

12 Bands in 12 Hours!

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 5:57pm
If you enjoy live music in a beautiful outdoor setting, get yourself to Northfield’s Bridge Square tomorrow for the One Day Vintage Band Festival. Twelve bands are performing over a 12-hour period, beginning at 9 a.m. The bands are all from Minnesota and will showcase a variety of music styles – from Civil War-era, to mariachi, to jazz  – so check out the lineup below and come for a concert or two or for the entire day.

The event is a fundraiser and also a fun-raiser, as the Vintage Band Festival board (I am currently its secretary) prepares for the next big four-day Vintage Band Festival set for July 28-31, 2016.

The festival has grown each time it’s been held (in 2006, 2010, and most recently last summer), and it takes a lot of coordination, effort and money to pull it together. Tomorrow’s event is free, but we will be gratefully accepting donations and donation pledge forms throughout the day; if you can’t make it to the one day event but want to support the planning for 2016, you can give online through our website: Vintage Band Festival.
And if you have a hour or two – or four – to spare tomorrow, we are still looking to fill a few volunteer spots. We can use help with tasks like handing out programs, taking donations, and assisting the bands with set up. You can sign up through our VolunteerSpot page; just click the button below:

The weather forecast for tomorrow looks extremely promising – low- to mid-80s and sunny – so you might want to bring sunscreen and sunglasses along with your chairs or blankets. The Riverwalk Market Fair starts at 9 a.m. and runs until 1 p.m., so be sure to arrive in time to browse the booths selling summer produce, artisan foods, and art. Then stick around to browse the downtown shops and get something to eat or drink at a local restaurant or one of the food booths supporting the VBF (Maria’s Taco Hut, the Cannon Valley Lions Club, and the Main Street Moravian Church).

It’s going to be a day filled with music and fun here in the Second-best Small Town in America – I hope you can join us!

Categories: Citizens

The Link Between Video Games and Classical Music

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 9:59am
I turned on Minnesota Public Radio’s classical station (99.5) last week, on my way to picking up Elias from tennis, and I was immediately drawn in to the topic of discussion on the program Performance Today: the music of video games.

Host Fred Child was interviewing Emily Reece, the creator of Top Score, a weekly podcast on MPR that explores the art of music in video games. Reece joined MPR in 2008 and has hosted the podcast since 2011; you can read more about its origins here.

At the point when I began listening, Reece was making a connection between a video game called Guild Wars 2 and the turn-of-the-last century English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams.

“[Vaughn Williams] just had a bead on writing lush music. He could write something that made your heart melt – and in a lot of ways, I feel that way when I listen to music that Jeremy Soule wrote for Guild Wars 2,” Reece said. “I feel it kind of borrows on that lush English tradition, even though I’m not even particularly certain that’s what he had in mind.”

Child then played a song from the game called “Call of the Raven.” You can listen to it here:

Reece and Child went on to discuss the connections between the music of Vaughn Williams and of Soule – the orchestral textures, the use of solo instruments and of the harp, which Reece said is often used in fantasy.

“It gives us the sense of being in a different place and in a different time. Instrumental choices like that can do that for us,” she said.

Child said the music of both composers also reminded him of movie score soundtracks, and Reece agreed, noting that Vaughn Williams’ unique sound, with full orchestra and lots of strings, reminded her of a song that John Barry composed for the movie Dances with Wolves: the John Dunbar theme, which is among my favorite movie songs.

I had to shut off the radio when I arrived at the tennis courts. But I was soon back in the car with Elias, telling him about the program, and we listened to it all the way home. Once we got inside, I turned on the radio in the kitchen so I could hear the rest of the hour-long program.

I should mention, in case you don’t know me well, that I am not a big fan of video games. I really have no interest in playing them myself. But my kids are fans of them, so in the past few years I have made a conscious effort to be a little more open-minded about recognizing the positive qualities of video games.

Thanks to Elias and Sebastian, I already was aware that some video games incorporate more complex music into their story lines, way beyond the bleeps and buzzes of 1980s arcade games. The boys often fall asleep listening to the Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary special orchestra CD. It is a medley of music from the various Legend of Zelda games, all of which involve a hero named Link. I do like the songs on the CD – they evoke adventure, drama, and suspense, and the phrases and melodies can stick in your head much like the great music written for movies.

But still, my mind was a little bit blown last week when I realized that composing music for video games is a growing field. Listening to the radio program expanded my appreciation for the link between music and video games, and talking about that link with my younger son was one of highlights of the week for me.

What I find exciting, and important, is that it is another way to introduce young people to orchestral music – much like people of my generation were exposed to opera and Wagner through Bugs Bunny (“Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit”).

It’s impossible to know what my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, would have thought about music composed for video games. However, his band concert programs 100 years ago did include excerpts from operas and popular songs of the day as well as marches. He also liked to challenge his players with intricate pieces of music.

Program from a 1909 band concert in Crookston, Minn.This link between video games and classical music reinforces a theme that runs through the book I’m writing about my great-grandfather and his career as a music man. The theme is this: music has the power to connect people among different communities and across generations. It is a connection worth promoting and celebrating.

Categories: Citizens

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