Packard Band premieres composition
Jerry Ascione knows the W.D. Packard Concert Band.
At Youngstown State University in the 1970s, he played in ensembles led by longtime Packard Band conductor Robert E. Fleming and longtime trumpet player Esotto Pellegrini. Donald W. Byo, another former conductor of the band who still plays bassoon in it, was dean of the Dana School of Music when Ascione was there, and he did his student teaching assignment in Boardman with Thomas Groth, the band’s executive director.
Ascione also knows Packards. His brother-in-law is an avid Packard collector in Maryland and active in Packard car clubs there. He and his wife were driven from their wedding to their reception in a 1946 Packard that originally belonged to his wife’s grandfather.
The composer draws on all of those experiences for “Motion Through Time,” which the W.D. Packard Concert Band commissioned and will premiere at its 63rd anniversary concert on Sunday at Packard Music Hall.
Ascione has composed several works for the band in the last decade.
“Jerry’s writing is outstanding,” Groth said. “He is the consummate musician, composer, conductor, performer.”
The feeling is mutual.
“I’m writing for a band of extraordinary talent, and I mean that in the most sincere sense of the word,” Ascione said. “I can push things. I can write some very, very difficult music knowing that it will be played very, very well.”
But just as important to Ascione is that he knows the audience for the Packard band.
“If I ignore the audience for the sake of writing something very technical, and the audience doesn’t understand it, then I’ve failed,” he said.
The title “Motion in Time” has multiple meanings. It refers to how the Packard automobiles adapted and changed with the times, but it also refers to the music itself and its different tempos, different time signatures.
The Packard Motor Car Company started with an idea, Ascione said, and he wanted to express in musical terms how an idea becomes a reality.
“The opening is very stark, kind of cold,” he said. “The opening represents the idea. Then the woodwinds come in and soften that, then the piano comes back with more of the idea and the woodwinds come back and soften it more. It’s the thought process that goes into turning an idea into a reality, and it develops through various parts of the composition.”
Different movements reflect different eras for the manufacturer, and Ascione drew inspiration from some of the big band composers of the time like Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. The music also reflects the end of the Packard automobile, which ceased production in 1956.
“Little by little, it starts to fade out and finally it doesn’t exist anymore,” Ascione said.
Ascione will conduct the first performance of “Motion Through Time.” He enjoys conducting his own work — “I can relate to the ensemble what I felt in a certain passage, why I wrote this passage this way,” he said — but he’s also been in the band performing his composition and standing on the sidelines while someone else conducts his work.
“I like to hear things I’ve written conducted by someone else,” he said. “I get to hear a different approach to it, different eyes, different ears … (Packard Conductor Stephen) Gage has conducted things I’ve written, and I’ve listened and thought, ‘Wow, I never thought of doing it that way.’ Steve is a tremendous musician, a great conductor and educator.”
Gage will conduct the rest of the program which will include marches by John Philip Sousa, Ron Goodwin and Karl L. King; classical works by Paul Dukas, Johann Strauss, Anton Dvorak, Johannes Brahms and Haydn Wood and a medley of Broadway favorites.