Lillpopp Leads a Better, Bolder Boulder Band
A preview by Marc Shulgold
Maybe the Weather Gods will be kinder to the Boulder Concert Band this time around. “We got snowed out at our winter program last February,” recalled the group’s conductor, Peter Lillpopp. “We’ll just hope for the best.”
It’s hard work, putting a one-time concert together, such as the Boulder Concert Band’s Feb. 20 program, “A Night at the Opera!” What a shame, if bad weather snuffed out all that preparation.
On the other hand, the time spent leading up to concert night has great value to Lillpopp, who’s currently a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Colorado’s school of music. In raising the standards of the group, he’s attempting to do more than merely rehearse this 70-member community band for an evening of operatic excerpts.
“I’ve implemented some goals,” he said. “I want to get the members to practice more. To help with that, we’ve set up a YouTube channel, so players can listen to the music and study their parts. I’m also working to improve the intonation of the band. Before we begin rehearsals, I’ll have them warm up with a Bach chorale – with its long, slow notes and block chords.”
The group, now in its 40th season, consists of college-age kids, Lillpopp said, all the way up to a large contingent of retirees. “But there’s a bunch of players in-between those extremes,” he added. “It’s a terrific, dedicated group – and we have an active board of directors.”
Musicians in the Boulder Concert Band may have a strong commitment, but their enthusiasm has to be balanced against the simple demands of being brass or wind players. As Lillpopp pointed out, delivering a full concert is exhausting work for anyone who has to blow continuously into a long metal tube. “With a full hour of music, I wanted to include rest spots for them, although it didn’t really end up that way,” the conductor admitted.
To help save his band members’ breath, Lillpopp has invited euphonium player Steven Vaughn to offer a couple of solo pieces: Harlequin by British composer Philip Sparke, and an arrangement of the Flower Song from Bizet’s Carmen.
The program also includes the Overture to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (a work that will demand more than its share of stamina), some Wagner and Offenbach. And El Capitan by John Philip Sousa.
Wait a minute. A Sousa march, in an operatic program? Lillpopp is ready with his answer. “Sousa’s band would always include opera transcriptions among the marches in their concerts.” It seems fair then, for the conductor to place a march in the midst of an opera program.
The conductor remains committed to what he calls “the military band model”: some light classics mixed in with a few serious pieces, all introduced by a narrator, in this case, Jeff Gagliardi.
Lillpopp also voices a commitment to building a career as a band conductor – though it didn’t start out that way. “I began by playing trumpet, but then switched to tuba. It just felt better.” He studied at the University of Southern California, where he came under the wing of Robert Reynolds, “the pinnacle of wind band conducting,” according to Lillpopp.
Things began to point to a switch from tuba to the conductor’s podium. “I found that I enjoyed studying scores,” he said. “What’s more, when you’re the tuba player, you get to watch the conductor a lot, since you’re not always playing. Fact is, tuba players make good conductors.”
He still plays that ungainly instrument – in fact, he played tuba with the Boulder Concert Band last year, and was permitted to conduct one piece. When director William Kinne took a job in Florida last year, Lillpopp was named music director in July. “The agreement is for me to stay during my studies at CU,” he said (He’s a doctoral candidate in wind conducting.)
Nothing wrong with leading a symphony orchestra, he stressed. “This doesn’t mean I don’t like strings. But think about this: The first hundred people you see onstage at a symphony concert are only playing four musical parts.” Well, if you put it that way…
The Boulder Concert Band will perform A Night at the Opera! at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20 in the Platt Middle School Auditorium, 6069 Baseline Rd. Boulder. Tickets range from $5 for students and seniors to $20 for families. Individual seats are $10. Information: (303) 478-3044.