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A fond farewell

Celebrating Maestro Robert Musser

Robert Musser from the International Music Band Contest City of Valencia (Spain). Photo credit: Kelly Rodriguez

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The Weekly Volcano was pleased to speak with Robert Musser, founder and conductor of Tacoma Concert Band, in advance of a concert celebrating his impending retirement.

First, however, a simple question: What's the difference between a concert band and an orchestra? "It's just a different sound," Musser explained. "The orchestra is primarily strings with brass and percussion, whereas the band is no strings with lots of brass and percussion. ... There are instruments in the band that are not in the orchestra, like a full family of saxophones, for example -- euphoniums, things like alto clarinet and a much larger clarinet section, a trumpet and trombone section." This combination lends itself to marches and fanfares, of course, but also music that lends itself to "a symphonic, wind-instrument sound made up of a full complement. There's actually more colors to the sound in a band than there are in an orchestra."

Musser has led this renowned organization since its inception in 1981. Now a spry 80 years old, he finds himself ready for a change of pace. "One just gets to the point where you feel like it's time. ... I'm gonna miss it horribly, but on the other hand, I've been tied to this schedule of having to be in rehearsal every Wednesday night ... That's a lot of tension, a lot of pressure and I guess, that's kind of what I'd like to escape." No worries, though: Tacoma Concert Band has already hired a new conductor, Gerard Morris, who (like Musser before him) was director of bands at University of Puget Sound. "He'll do a wonderful job."

Musser was principal oboist for the Tacoma Symphony and was awarded the National Band Association Citation of Excellence. He was also the director of Puget Sound Youth Wind Ensemble and was elected to the Washington Music Educators Association Hall of Fame. Upon his retirement from UPS, the mayor of Tacoma proclaimed April 22, 2005, Robert Musser Day in honor of "the contributions of this outstanding educator, musician and mentor."

Musser's celebratory concert, like the first he conducted for the band, will include both Sousa's "George Washington Bicentennial March" and Malcom Arnold's "Four Scottish Dances." "In this case," Musser added, "I'm gonna follow that with the main theme from Star Wars. It's one of the favorites, not only of the band but of our audiences." He'll also conduct a world premiere, "a really special piece" by American composer Joseph Turrin called "Pacific Crest Overture." The band commissioned it "to honor our 38 years ... I'm really excited to present it."

Turrin has a longstanding relationship with the New York Philharmonic and composed the scores for Weeds, Tough Guys Don't Dance and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Keep an ear out for solos by clarinetist Lawrence Bradley and cornetist Morris Northcutt.

CELEBRATION! A SPECIAL CONCERT HONORING THE RETIREMENT OF ROBERT MUSSER, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 28, Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $18-$36, 253.591.5890

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