UpClose: A Talk with Donald Hunsberger and Mark Davis Scatterday, Conductors of Frederick Fennell’s Legendary Eastman Wind Ensemble.

Mike Lawson • • August 14, 2015

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The Eastman Wind Ensemble is America’s leading wind ensemble. Its core of about 50 performers includes undergraduate and graduate students of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. Frederick Fennell first formulated the general concept of the wind ensemble at Eastman more than 50 years ago. Under his leadership the group became known as the pioneering force in the symphonic wind band movement in the United States and abroad. A. Clyde Roller served as conductor between 1962 and 1964, continuing the tradition established by Fennell. Donald Hunsberger became conductor in 1965 and led the ensemble for 37 years to international prominence. The ensemble’s current director, Mark Davis Scatterday, was introduced as the fourth conductor of this prestigious group during the EWE’s 50th anniversary celebration on February 8, 2002.

Donald Hunsberger, conductor emeritus, and Mark Davis Scatterday, current conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, sat down with SBO to tell us the history of their storied music program, from its origins to where it stands today.

Donald this was a program you were conducting since, dare I say, before I was born, 1965, is that correct? 
Yeah, that’s correct. That’s when I officially took over the Wind Ensemble. I did all the concerts the year before A. Clyde Roller had been here for three years after Fred Fennell left Eastman in 1962. So I officially took over in ’65 and conducted straight through to the end of 2002.
That is a really long run as a conductor. 
Well, it was a lot of music.
Mark, were you a performer in the Eastman Wind Ensemble under Donald during that time?
I did a little bit. I was here as a conducting student in the late ’80s. I was doing my DMA and I would occasionally sub in the ensemble for some of the guys. I’m a trombone player. But on one of the Japan tours in 1992, I went as assistant conductor and trombonist because Don needed four trombone players for the tour. So I have played in the Wind Ensemble and I have played for Don quite a bit.
Donald, how is it that you first got involved with the Wind Ensemble? 
Donald: Well, I came to Eastman in 1950 as an undergraduate trombone, starting with Emory Remington. In those days, all the brass and wind players were basically music ed majors specializing in some instrument. The string players were cello major, violin major, etc., but most of the winds were music ed and an instrument. I started with Fred Fennell back in 1950 in what was the desired model of the collegiate band, a 105-piece Eastman Symphony Band, which Fred conducted, and that took in almost all the brass players – 13 trombones and 16 horns, etc.
And in 1951-1952, Fred had gotten hepatitis and ended up in the hospital. And while he was just sitting there, lying around, he started developing what he had been thinking about for a long, long time and that was to create an ensemble that rather than being based on doubled parts, doubled voices, would be the equivalent of a symphony orchestra, a large symphony orchestra – wind, brass, percussion sections. He actually said that he was modeling it after some of Wagner’s Bayreuth wind instrumentation, which at force, threw almost all of the winds.
So he started a group that ended up being single players to a part, except for the B-flat clarinets since they had so large a role in symphonic band writing, and so he that he double those parts. The first group was I think around 48 players.
What was so groundbreaking about Frederick Fennell’s idea and vision for its time? 
Donald: It was groundbreaking because the desired group that everyone wanted to have was based on the University of Illinois’ Symphonic Band of 110, Mark Hindsley had University of Indiana, University of Michigan, William Revelli, and all of their pupils went around the United States, got themselves jobs and the first thing they tried to do was to build one of these large groups. So by coming into a timbre or sound approach in which you have 3 flutes playing rather than 12 or 16, whatever, it’s a totally different sound, and it sounded very much more like a symphony orchestra.
Is that what makes the sound of the Eastman Wind Ensemble recognizable? 
Donald: Yes. And that sound changed from the time that the time that Fred had the ensemble from ’52 to ’62 because as each person has their own desires, I like a more warmer, horizontal kind of approach. So I spent an awful lot of time, late ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, etc., just trying to get the group as colorful as possible through different kinds of writing and also much more warmth of sound. Fred really loved things to be very crisp and very well articulated. In fact, he even had a huge sign on the rehearsal room wall that merely said, “Short.”
Mark: Yeah. And I think that one of the things that I’ve experienced, because certainly the ensemble is very different, the ensemble is recognizable wherever they go on tour, I used to think it was Eastman Theater that made the Wind Ensemble sound like it does, but when we would go on tour, Eastman Wind Ensemble sounded like it no matter whether we were in a ballroom or great concert hall.
But pedagogically I think the biggest advantage to the Wind Ensemble is what it teaches the players to do. And they have their own part; nobody else is playing their part. They have to own it. There are all soloists basically on stage playing, just like the orchestra wind section, and we find that it really is an ensemble that teaches them to be very responsible in their preparation and in their performance on stage, and that prepares them much better for a professional career.
Donald: One other aspect that really separated, even from the early days, back in Fred’s day, but especially after the ’60s and ’70s, was the fact that the Wind Ensemble being single players, when you use Fred’s idea of playing with the instrumentation that the composer desires versus just leaving everyone play all the time, it gives you a lot more flexibility. And we especially used a lot of wind chamber music from quartet, quintet, all the way through the small orchestra wind section to help train, as Mark was saying, teaching people how to listen and how to balance and how to match sounds and pitches and things of the kind.
How has EWE made use of the latest recording technology and what does that mean to your sound? 
Donald: You have to go back into the 1950s when Robert Fine from New York brought his latest equipment up to the Eastman Theater to record Howard Hanson and the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra. The first recordings done by Hanson and by Fennell with the Wind Ensemble were mono, and they used the single Telefunken mic, which was hanging over the conductor’s head. That, in itself, versus multi-mic-ing was quite an event.
And then if you go, I don’t have it here in front of me, but if you go through the history of the ensemble, I don’t think there is a style or technique of recording that we didn’t do including direct to disk, the first use of film. Every new type of equipment, if we didn’t own it here in our recording department ourselves, we would get hold of it to be used in the recordings.
Was the original impetus in the recordings simply to capture the performance for posterity and to create a record or a product that the school could sell versus what it became as an educational tool for high schools and colleges? 
Donald: The first recording was almost accidental in happening. Howard Hanson had his Festival of American Music, which ran all the way back into the 1920s, and he did a lot of that early on with the Rochester Philharmonic. Then they hired what was the core orchestra of the Philharmonic and added extra strings basically.
And the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra, they recorded on Columbia, various other labels. And it was when David Hall and Bob Fine had gotten together, and they wanted to start this series with Dr. Hanson, and it would be all-American music. And that was the idea; because that was Howard Hanson’s big thrust in life was to develop the American performer, the American student.
Of course, back when he started with Eastman, everything was still quite heavily European-influenced. So Fred Fennell went in and convinced Dr. Hanson to let him make a recording on this new Mercury series and, as I say, almost accidental. They put the Eastman Wind Ensemble session between two orchestra sessions and, as I recall, it was about two hours long.
All the composers who were on that album that was the “American Masterpieces” album, it included William Schuman, George Washington Bridge, Robert Russell Bennett. They were all composers basically from New York City area who had been commissioned by Edwin Franko Goldman and Richard Franko Goldman for the Goldman Band.
So it was American music. There wasn’t any great-organized move that went on for two years or something, saying, “We’ve got to get the ensemble onto record.” They said, “Okay. Yes, you can do it, but you only have two hours.” We did one of the first March albums, 16 marches in two hours. Think of the number of tapes you’re going to have on each one of those.
How many commercial albums were released? 
Donald: I think I did 16. It was on Mercury, Vox, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon. And then we did some on Phillips, which, of course, had bought Mercury. And then the latest things were all with Columbia/Sony, who had bought them. And then the latest one that I put out was a 50th anniversary three-CD set that was part of the publication program that I had with Warner Brothers then were picked up by Alfred.
Mark: Of course, you know that industry has changed so much now since the days where they would actually come in and record you and do all the work. Now, you basically shop for a record company and they market your recording. The recordings we’ve done since 2002 have been with Summit and Opening Day, which is, of course, Canadian Brass’ company, and Avi, which is out of London. But what you do now is you try to find a “record company” that is a good marketer and is a good fit for the music that’s on the recording. Really different times nowadays with that.
What are your thoughts about EWE’s programming and how it relates to the public school band director, both then and now? 
Mark: I think the thing that I learned the most about listening to what Fred did and his idea of increasing the repertoire that was composed for the Wind Ensemble, and especially what Don did and then recorded, and having experienced that, it gave me the idea between the two of them that my programming, the repertoire that I like to do, you like to keep in mind pedagogically, “What do the students really need to play? What’s the finest artistic music that can change their lives?”
But then you also have to think about, of course, your audiences. And the students that are performing in your ensemble are also going to be going out and a lot of them teaching, and they’re influenced by the repertoire that you play with them. And they may use that concept and that repertoire later in their teaching, so you have to keep that in mind.
So my whole philosophy on repertoire is not to always go out there and find out what the latest, greatest thing is out there, but to really honor the great repertoire that has been composed, not just for the Wind Ensemble, but great band repertoire that works very well for the wind ensemble, like the whole suites and Vaughn Williams and Persichetti. But also the music that was composed in Don’s time here, which he was very, very important in getting composers to write for the wind ensemble, like Joe Schwantner and composers like that.
But also think about that you’re teaching students, not only how to be artists, but they’re also entertainers. And so a program should have some appeal to the audience and to the players alike that it brings them together in a situation that you have a performance and there’s a communication of something that people not only enjoy, but also it changes basically their reality. They come out of a performance not necessarily “learning something,” but experiencing something that may have taken them out of their normal, let’s say, what they’re used to.
So I think that’s the neat thing about the Wind Ensemble is that we do a lot of cutting-edge music, a lot of very fresh ink things that are just out there, and we take chances on a lot of composers that you wouldn’t necessarily think are composers that people come up with their name right away. So that has been a really big thing for us. But also, again, combining that with repertoire that honors the history and also repertoire that may actually be fun to listen to.
Do you think about the programming you do with your current program, and how it would influence or relate with the public school band directors? 
Donald: I think there’s one quality that we try to push regardless of what we’re programming. Whether it’s a high school or a small college that also has limited or might have limited instrumentation, it’s the quality of the music that is important. It doesn’t matter who wrote it. It doesn’t matter what purpose you’re using it for. If it’s, I hate to use the word, a piece of junk, then don’t play it.
And there are so many pieces sitting in the filing cabinets of almost every band program that you could program for the next five years and never play the same piece twice, because there are that many good pieces now. But people continue to buy what’s hot, what’s new, and which tune is the loudest.
Mark: I would say that a lot of the premieres and new music that we do is probably not going to be music that the high school ensembles are going to be able to do, and that’s fine and understood. It’s more of a standard of the sound; it’s more a standard of the quality of the music.
But I know that Don and I are also aware, that we also include in our programs the standard repertoire, like the whole suites, and continue to play those so that, for instance, a lot of the public schools directors don’t forget about them. Because I know that I’ve done repertoire clinics before where I say to 100 conductors in the room, I say, “How many of you have conducted the Vaughn Williams Folk Songs Suite?” And they all raise their hands. And I say, “Well how many of you have conducted it in the last five years?” And three of them raised their hands.
Those things can be forgotten because they’re so inundated with what’s the latest, greatest thing and they’re sent all these CDs. And when they buy this stuff, I have a feeling it gets played once and then gets put in the drawer and not again, and then they’re looking for what’s next. And like Don said, “We do have a core repertoire now in the last 50, 60 years that is solid, that people need to just keep coming back to.” So Don and I keep programming that way along with new music, but that’s the balance again.
Just like I was talking about between entertainment and artistry, there’s a balance between repertoire and new music. And you don’t have a repertoire unless you continue to do the music again. That’s something that needs to be established, there are so many pieces that are played once and you never hear about it again. There’s a reason for that.
Mark: I think one of the things that’s typical is who’s our audience, when you just say public school or you just high school… I mean the range of skill levels that we even see locally here, some of the high schools are playing great, what you might say grade five and six music, grade three and four. We don’t get hung up on grade level; it’s about the quality of the music.
But it might be the music that we’re recommending is a very high-standard and may also be technically difficult, but there’s also the Holst and Grainger’s and Vaughn Williams, that music that I know that Don and I love and think that it is great music, that may not be so technically difficult.
But there maybe the Husas and the Schwantners that maybe quite a bit of the schools are not able to play, but maybe they should know more about that music. I know there are some Husa that high school groups can play, and I think it’s important for those kids to experience that kind of music. It changes your life.
What are the greatest contributions of the international wind ensemble movement and the development of serious programming and performance capabilities since the EWE founded in ’52? 
Donald: I think probably it’s a broadening of thought and awareness of what is good music. And what Mark just mentioned, it’s not being locked into your ensemble only, but be part of the world of music and the repertoire of different kinds of performance groups.
And I think the best, in many ways, to me, the best thing that the wind ensemble movement itself has provided is flexibility. That when you consider from whence it came, I was in the Marine Band in Washington during the Korean era, and I remember we would be playing and we had a smaller group than they have now, of course, but it was about 65 players.
And regardless of what piece of music was put up in front of everybody, everyone played. And the alto clarinet frequently didn’t have a part, so he had to be there and play. So he played a sax part, which was also an E-flat, and the whole idea of this rigidity and not anything of flexibility, whereas we nowadays think, from chamber music, to brass ensembles, clarinet choirs, woodwind ensembles, whatever you want.
I did a concert in Japan, when I was over there working at the Kunitachi School of Music, which was in three parts. Well, it was amazing; people were going, “What is this three parts routine?” The first third was chamber music, the second third was orchestra wind section, individual players, but up to about 18 players, and the third one was a full ensemble.
And all I was trying to do was to demonstrate this flexibility approach that we played Mozart on the first section. We were playing Percy Grainger, put together a whole little suite of Percy Grainger things. And then on the end, I think we might have done one of the Schwantner pieces just so that everybody got a wide view and a wide experience. And I think that has been one of the greatest. As Mark said, you can’t hide when you’re sitting on a part by yourself, and not that you want to hide, but it makes you responsible.
Mark: I would just say, and I certainly agree to that, other than programming because I think the Eastman Wind Ensemble has inspired a lot of composers to write some really great music and we appreciate that, but I think the greatest contribution of the Eastman Wind Ensemble are the players. And the players that have played in the Ensemble that go out and spread the word, because they have played at a certain standard, a certain level of artistry that you can see when they go out, that they’re so proud that they had played in the Eastman Wind Ensemble and now they’re going to spread that wealth with their students.
And I would say, as we look back at that, that’s Don and my and Fred’s legacy, are those students that played in that Ensemble, and what they’re doing with their experience and taking that forward.
Let me ask you about your performers and their own writing and arranging capabilities. Do you encourage them to write for the ensemble as well, or to present pieces that they’ve worked on? 
Donald: That has always been one of the underlying rules, so to speak. Back when I first started, I went to the Composition Department here at Eastman and guaranteed that any composition student, which then, of course, included eventually any performers in the place, anyone who turns in a piece, we’ll play it and record it for them within a week.
And the main thing that young composers, young arrangers have to be able to experience is to sit down and write something is part of their imagination, part of their heart, part of their being, and then hear it. And that’s the most unfortunate part is when somebody doesn’t have that opportunity. I’ve done an awful lot of writing for the group, and we’ve had other people in the ensemble, who have written just as well, and many of the pieces would be what you would call early works, but they learned from it, and that was the main point of it.
What do you think are the toughest challenges that high school director’s face today with their ensembles?
Mark: I think probably scheduling and academic courses. I know when I was in school, I think I took out of nine periods; I was in music six periods. That doesn’t happen anymore in terms of what’s required to the students and what they can do. So that, along with what we were talking about before, how they’re inundated with so much repertoire that really isn’t great quality repertoire for them. I think that’s a challenge for them to maybe even just ignore a lot of that and find out on their own what they like, rather than all the things that they get in the mail to say, “Hey, play this,” and they have these great CDs and maybe even the music comes with it.
But I would say from what I hear about the teachers around this area is they get more and more frustrated with block scheduling and this and that, and being forced to rehearse at 7:30 in the morning until 7:55 in the morning, and then that’s what they have. And then, of course, the whole marching band thing is kind of consuming too. If you let it be, that can be something that a lot of school administrators feel like that represents the school in a larger way than a concert situation, which is actually going to make your players musicians, which I think is an important discrepancy there.
Donald: One of the points that I hear is the fact that many, many people feel that the top level of the educational ladder is so dependent and based on the feeder system that starts down in the grade school or junior highs, and the lack of support frequently, the lack of financial support and, again, as Mark said, scheduling that many feeder programs, they’re the first things to get cut if the budget gets tight and so this is difficult.
Many of the schools, I know in Texas, a lot of schools, have private teachers who come in to each instruments on all levels, but that doesn’t happen very much. And if you’re out in the middle of nowhere, its usually one person is doing the whole job and that’s hard to do.
Any closing thoughts you want to share about your program before we wrap it up? 
Donald: Mainly the fact that we appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and to have something in the magazine, because as years go by and generations change, it’s amazing how little people know about the early days or the medium days or whatever you want. And as a result, it’s very easy for people to get locked into their own little world.
The other thing is that over all the years, 37-38 years of conducting and working with the group, I would say, many times, the rehearsals were actually even more fun than the concerts because you’ve got to know why somebody plays such and such a part, what’s the difficulty there, whereas when you get off to the concert, then it’s, “Let’s pull it off, folks. It’s too late now.”
Mark: Yeah. I have to say I appreciate this opportunity too. Because Don and I have known each other for 30 years now, and I enjoy every time we get together and talk about these things because I still learn from some of things that he talks about and the really interesting thing is that we’re still very excited about we do, and the future of the Eastman Wind Ensemble is very important to us

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