Nationally ranked CMU Symphonic Wind Ensemble to perform in February

Charlotte Bodak/Staff Photographer Members of CMU's Symphonic Wind Ensemble play the trumpet during their practice Monday afternoon inside of the Music Building. CMU Symphonic Wind Ensemble is one of the top wind ensembles in the nation.

Central Michigan University's Symphonic Wind Ensemble is ranked as one of the nation's top wind bands.

Comprised of the most accomplished students in the CMU School of Music, auditions are extremely competitive.

Faculty professor John Williamson, director of bands, said he looks for three main qualities during auditions: music quality, instrument technique and music interpretation.

"The Wind Ensemble only has one person for each part, making each student a soloist," Williamson said. "Because the band is significantly smaller than the orchestras, we look for the students who are extraordinary."

The Symphonic Wind Ensemble consists of 30 to 40 students, and members must re-audition for the ensemble every year.

"I feel the pressure amp up every year," said Holland senior Thomas Harder, a tenor saxophone player.

The students in the ensemble joke about the pressure felt while preparing for auditions and performing for Williamson.

The ensemble begins preparing for performances four to five weeks prior to their concerts. Outside of rehearsals, which occur three times per week, students practice daily. Trumpet player Adam Cable, a Troy junior, said each class prepares the students for the ensemble.

"Our history classes give us more of an understanding of ideas that were relevant in that time period," Cable said. "Our theory classes give us a better idea of chord structure and phasing, and our private lessons help us tie everything together in a one-on-one setting with extremely qualified individuals."

The CMU Symphonic Wind Ensemble has performed at regional and national levels. They have performed at the Midwestern Conference, the National Association for Music Conferences and the College Band Directors National Association Conferences, including in Ann Arbor in 2007.

The ensemble has completed professional music recordings with White Pine Records, making them one of few university ensembles in the country to have their own record label.

Despite the small size, students and professors take pride in the ensemble's well-established reputation among other universities for its accomplishments and achievements.

"The students are very committed," Williamson said. "It is a real joy to work with them."

The ensemble has collaborated with notable wind composers since starting at CMU in 1959, including composer and conductor Jeff Arwady, a CMU graduate.

Since Williamson came to CMU in 1979 and became director of bands, the CMU Symphonic Wind Ensemble has consistently earned praise from lead conductors around the country.

"It is more humility and humbleness than the feeling of being cocky or self-boasting," Cable said.

CMU's Symphonic Wind Ensemble will be holding their first performance  of the semester at 8 p.m. Feb. 19 in the Staples Family Concert Hall in the Music Building. The event is free and open to the public.