PHOTOS: Conductor helps preserve legacy of SFSU Wind Ensemble

SFSU Wind Ensemble

First seat trumpet, Jacob Nitsch, 28, warms up in the seats of McKenna theater before a rehearsal session of the San Francisco State University Wind Ensemble. Nitsch recently received a scholarship to study for his masters in music next fall. Photo by Gil Riego Jr.

Fifty musicians wielding saxophones, clarinets and bassoons bustled around the stage of McKenna Theater finding their places. Within a few minutes of beginning the concert, they were in perfect harmony, pumping out exuberant harmonies as their third concert of the semester began.

This group is a very different from the SFSU Wind Ensemble that Martin H. Seggelke met on his first day of conducting them last semester. Since being hired, Seggelke has turned what had become a hobby for a few dedicated students back into a full-fledged class and performing group.

“There were a couple of sturdy fellows who just at least met once a week and tried to play, but without a curriculum and without a faculty attached to it, you can imagine what happened – nothing much,” he said. “So essentially, we rebuilt from ground zero.”

The group’s current musicians hope to once again reach the high caliber they were known for prior to 2009, when budget cuts made it difficult for the department to hire and keep a conductor.

After spending last semester recruiting members and regaining the quality expected of a university-level ensemble, Seggelke is now focusing on building connections. Their first concert of the semester featured musicians from Chabot College, marking SF State’s first ever wind ensemble collaboration.

“Great ensemble, very fine musicians,” Seggelke said of Chabot College. “I’m definitely trying to recruit people at the community college level to then finish their degrees here.”

In March, the highly regarded Cal State Northridge Wind Ensemble visited campus for a concert collaboration, and on April 5 Analy High School shared the stage in a performance of Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque.” Though Seggelke’s arrival to the department jumpstarted the ensemble’s outreach, his creation of the SFSU Wind Ensemble Council has effectively kept ownership and leadership of the ensemble in the hands of the students.

“It’s a new initiative,” he said. “None of the ensembles around here seem to do this yet.”

From communicating with other schools’ music departments to program design, the work of the council makes the ensemble very much their own.

“The main goal is to help with running the wind ensemble concerts, setting up the stage, working with ensembles that are coming in,” said Chad Goodman, a first-year graduate student and president of the council.

Where Seggelke really comes in as the teacher of this group is in the music selection. While he commends the students who stuck with it over the past few years, he strives to increase the level of the music they learn, now that a curriculum is in place.

“To sit there and honk is one approach, but how much do you learn?” he said. “I really want to make sure it’s worthwhile, and that they really learn something more about the music.”

The give and take between conductor and ensemble that is evident in their rehearsals also applies to the class curriculum. Seggelke gladly takes suggestions and picks pieces to maximize the educational experience.

The step-by-step approach has worked so far for this ensemble, and Seggelke means to continue upward, inspired by the legacy of Edwin Kruth, who created and led the wind ensemble through the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“What they’re doing is generating new excitement about the program,” said Dianthe “Dee” Spencer, director of SF State’s School of Music and Dance. “There’s a lot of positive energy surrounding the ensemble now. As more and more people come to the University specifically to be in the ensemble, it’s just going to grow and get better and better.”

Senior and baritone saxophonist Joe Rieder began with the ensemble in 2006 when it was still strong, and stuck around through its initial decline. He has high hopes for the group’s future.

“I think the legacy of the music department at this school is that it was a very strong department,” he said. “I think it’s going to be that way again, and I think the wind ensemble is going to be the catalyst for bringing it back up to where it was back in the day.”

The ensemble, which students and faculty of any department can audition for and participate in, will host its final performance of the semester May 8 in Knuth Hall.

With plans to start touring in the fall, new musicians will be needed and anyone is welcome to audition.

[HTML1]