Mid America Freedom Band Offers “Programming Diversity, with Some Guts”

15th Season Opens with a “Portraits” Concert at the National World War I Museum and Memorial

The Mid America Freedom Band has planned an adventurous 15th season. Themed “Pioneers and Frontiers,” the upcoming concerts will celebrate historic revolutionaries, musical mavericks and civil rights pioneers, as well as new frontiers in sound and space, with the American expansion of the West and the exploration of the universe.

MAFB is Kansas City’s only LGBTQIA + ally community band. The band was formed in 2002 and has grown from four members to more than 70, some of whom have played more than 50 concerts with the group. In addition to the concert band, the organization hosts an auxiliary marching band and a jazz band, the Mighty Mo Combo.

Lee Hartman conducts MAFB, serving as artistic director since 2012. Hartman is also instructor of music at the University of Central Missouri and is a composer and critic.

The first concert of the season, “Portraits,” is Oct. 29 in the J.C. Nichols Auditorium at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. The program includes Julie Giroux’s “Boston Liberties,” inspired by the founding of the United States, and an arrangement of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” which includes a narrator reciting sections of Lincoln’s speeches.

MAFB will also perform an arrangement of Florence Price’s “Three Negro Dances,” originally for piano. (In 1933, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed her Symphony in e minor, making Price the first African American woman to have a work performed by a major professional orchestra in this country.)

Similarly, Julius Eastman’s “Gay Guerilla” is typically performed on four pianos but is written for any combination of instruments, all playing from the non-standard notation of the score (though they’ll only perform a portion of the half-hour-long piece in this concert). Eastman was an “unapologetically queer black man,” his work minimalist and avant-garde: challenging, but mesmerizing.

O’Neal Douglas, Jr.’s “Vigil: For Those Who Do Not Know” is based on text from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches translated into Latin and requires the band to sing as well as play, as does Ralph Raymond Hays’ “Jovian Moons.” That piece transitions the program into the space-themed (and lighter) part of the concert, with “Star Trek through the Years” and a piece by Frederick Piket, which Hartman described as “just this demented little wackadoo Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star theme and variations that will be this beautiful little sorbet for the listeners.”

The concert also includes the world premiere of a commissioned work by Louisa Trewartha, based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” stories. Trewartha is Australian, and Wilder’s tales of the American frontier from the perspective of a little girl resonated with her. Hartman commended Trewartha’s “thoughtful orchestration” and described her music as “immediately accessible, but at the same time willing to give you that hook to get you to listen, then take you on a journey that you’d never expect.”

[block pos=”right”] Upcoming concerts will celebrate historic revolutionaries, musical mavericks and civil rights pioneers, as well as new frontiers in sound and space. [/block]

A Commitment to Female Composers and Underrepresented Voices

As the region’s only LGBTQIA community band, MAFB has made a conscious effort to create programming that reflects the community — locally, historically and musically — in which they live. Though they perform works from the standard wind band canon, such as pieces by Gustav Holst and Percy Grainger, Hartman said that to do a whole concert of pieces like that (with composers male, white, privileged) would be “anathema to what a vibrant community should be.” He challenges a mindset that considers a token female voice or one person of color sufficient to qualify as diverse. When selecting works for MAFB, they practice “actual programming diversity, with some guts. And we’ve seen the rewards of doing this: our membership has grown, our audience has grown, our overall musicianship has grown.”

“I have made the conscious decision never to program a concert without at least one female composer, because I think that that is the bare minimum that I can do. And then as the LGBT and ally community band, we need to highlight underrepresented voices that aren’t often heard on the concert stage.”

It is easier to do than anecdotal evidence would suggest, based on the traditional programming of most organizations, community, regional, or professional, which rely on standards of the repertoire from the 19th and early 20th centuries, when women were not encouraged (or were blatantly forbidden) to compose, and favor a narrow definition of Western aesthetic. In a series of infographics released by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, works by female composers make up between 1.3 percent and 1.8 percent of the works performed on the average professional American orchestra concert stage.

Two years ago, the MAFB’s 13th season was compiled using only female composers, proving that it’s possible. “It’s not just possible; it’s important,” said Hartman. “I’m not disregarding the canon; I’m just trying to use it to supplement a more vital message.”

Though the all-volunteer band is no-audition (membership is open to anyone, regardless of orientation, as long as you can read music and are over 18 years old; about 30 percent of the membership identifies as straight), Hartman presents repertoire that is challenging technically and aesthetically, which he says is good for the audience, too. “(Music) doesn’t always need to be melodically or harmonically driven, or even be programmatic. It can just be texture and sound.” When they played Sydney Hodkinson’s “Stone Images” in May 2017, “people either loved it or hated it and that’s fine, because there were other pieces to love on the program.”

In concert and in the community, MAFB serves a musical and social mission, promoting the voices and stories of those who have forged new histories, enriching wind band repertoire, challenging expectations, and establishing a place to celebrate the vibrancy of our communities, artistically and historically.

The Mid America Freedom Band’s “Portraits” concert will be held at 2 p.m. Oct. 29 in the J.C. Nichols Auditorium at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. For more information and tickets, www.freedomband.com

Above: Left: Guest soloist Eboni Fondren performed with the Mid America Freedom Band’s Mighty Mo Combo during the KC Fringe Festival in July. MAFB’s full concert band will perform Oct. 29 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. (Photo by Jim Barcus)

Libby Hanssen

Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She maintains the culture blog, “Proust Eats a Sandwich,” and writes poetry and children’s books. She holds a master’s degree in trombone performance from UMKC Conservatory and currently works at UMKC’s Music/Media Library.

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