Exercise your brain with some music electives this semester
By Angela Espinoza, Arts Editor
As the fall semester switches into gear, it’s normal to feel as though you’ll be losing a lot of ‘me time’ in the near future. Whether there’s a new show or game you’ve just begun, or maybe you have a long-time hobby, there’s a looming fear that something’s eventually got to give. If music is your go-to hobby, the Douglas College Dues Jazz and Concert Bands have something wonderful to offer to you. Head of Instrumental Ensembles, Woodwind and Brass, John Van Deursen spoke with us about these two college bands, as he’ll be manning the projects this year.
“Both groups are made up of mostly… students from the Douglas College music department, [but] we always wish to involve as many non-music students as possible,” Van Deursen began. “Where we find a lot of the non-music students is, for example, students who played in the band programs in high school, [but since] music wasn’t going to be their main focus [in] university or college… they pretty much just gave up on playing. What they don’t realize is that there’s often a chance for them to keep playing their instrument.”
This is where the Douglas Concert and Dues Jazz Bands come in; the point of these two school ensembles is to give students who’ve felt they had to leave something behind in order to follow what should hopefully be their career path a chance to play. And this feeling doesn’t necessarily mean one wants to get away from their studies for good, but if you’re longing to have a challenge you legitimately enjoy on the side, this is what these bands are here for.
As Van Deursen continued, “For a lot of non-music students, they find [playing music] quite refreshing; [just] to be doing something that’s so different from… their regular courses.”
“[The groups are] about 80 per cent music students, and then the other 20 [are] non-music students. The type of music that we play is more challenging than what students [would] find at high school level, but… personally, I feel it’s more rewarding. [This is] especially for the students that… played through their high school years in band [and] reached a fairly decent level on their instrument. It takes four to five years to get up to that level, and I always feel like it’s unfortunate that they feel they have to drop it at that point.”
But, more generally speaking, what do these two bands offer music and non-music students who aren’t really sure what to be doing with their extra time?
“The Concert Band [covers a wide] repertoire from across the ages, [from] Renaissance right up to modern day music that’s [been] composed specifically for the Concert Band. High school bands would probably play more music along the lines of the medley from Pirates of the Caribbean, that sort of thing, but [that] doesn’t mean [what we do is] all serious and dark; it’s a very wide spectrum of music. One of the comments that I often get from students… at the end of the class is that they really liked the repertoire. Like I said, where I try to aim it is challenging, but rewarding… for people that are developing their musicianship skills.”
“With the Dues Jazz Band, it’s good for players who’ve done maybe a year or so of improvisation, and they want to learn more about it. We play a good standard jazz repertoire, but we also do a bit of work shopping, so it’s a bit different [from the] Concert Band in the sense that with the Concert Band, mostly we’re rehearsing and then performing. With the Dues Jazz Band, especially in term one, we do a fair bit more work shopping where I’m talking, working with the students—a lot of playing still—but we’re talking more about [what goes into improvisation], the technique behind… improvising and all that.”
In our conversation, to Van Deursen’s approval, I compared grasping the improvisation aspect of jazz to improvisation in comedy. Improvisation isn’t just performing the first thing that comes to mind; you need a direction of some sort. Comedians are given a scenario and they go from there—with jazz, you need to already have a set idea to work with, and, like comedy, it’s much easier to grasp in a group scenario if everyone is working off of each other.
“Last year was my first year working with the bands, and so coming to a new group of students always [offers] a different [experience]. Teaching students an area that has a different vibe to it [is fun]…. we had a good time last year.
“Any person that wants to come and play for the bands… [but] isn’t really sure… they should just come and play for me. I hesitate to call it an ‘audition,’ but usually [how it goes is that] people come and play for me, then we chat a little bit, and we figure out what’s the best place for them.
“And we do have instruments at Douglas College, so if someone was a tenor sax player and they don’t have a tenor anymore, they should [really just ask]. We have instruments available that can be signed out for the year, and it’s possible to work out something for the student so they keep playing.”
Van Deursen wrapped up by stressing that the bands, again, do have a very wide repertoire to work with, and that they’ll be offered chances to perform with other college and university bands.
“I guess the main thing is that these bands exist, and it’s a very warmly welcomed situation to invite people to come and play. People shouldn’t feel [that they’re not] good enough, they should just come and talk with me and we can go from there.”
The Concert Band meets up every Wednesday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. while the Jazz Dues Band interchanges on Tuesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. and Thursdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Anyone with a music background is encouraged to join the bands and as the beginning of the fall semester (right now!) is the absolute best time to sign up.
Contact John Van Deursen at email@example.com, and he’ll be happy to help guide you.