The McPherson College band program went from just eight members four years ago to 57 members this semester. With that astounding increase, the theme for this Sunday’s band concert of “The Ascension” seems particularly appropriate.

Kyle Hopkins, associate professor of music and director of bands, said he was impressed not only with the increased numbers of students, but also with the increasing abilities of the students.

“We’re at a point in our band that we can do some really demanding works,” he said. “I really see our quality has gone up this year, as well as our quantity.”

The program will include both the McPherson College Jazz Band and the McPherson College Concert Band at 4 p.m. Nov. 20 in Brown Auditorium. The public is invited and encouraged to attend the free event.

The jazz band will perform such popular standards as “In the Mood” by Joe Garland and “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin, featuring jazz vocalist and MC Band member Jennie Jacobitz, sophomore, Muskegon, Mich.

The concert band, meanwhile, will perform several selections by Robert W. Smith – “Currents,” “In a Gentle Rain,” and “The Ascension.” The last is a musical interpretation of part of “The Divine Comedy” by Dante, and gives the program its name.

Smith is a living, modern composer with more than 600 works in print – many of which have achieved worldwide acclaim and have been performed on every continent but Africa and Antarctica.
Hopkins said the band is now at a point where it can recruit top high school musicians. This year that includes a number of students who were selected for their state’s district and state honor bands, the highest achievement a high school instrumentalist can achieve.

In particular, Hopkins praised Kento Aizawa, freshman, McPherson, Kan., who will be the solo clarinetist on “Concertino” by Carl Maria von Weber. Aizawa not only made it into state band all three years that high school students are eligible, he also landed first chair clarinet every year he went.

Hopkins likened it to a high school athlete winning at an individual state competition every year of their high school career.

“We have others who are right up there with him,” Hopkins said, “but he represents the cream of the crop.”

Aizawa said he was considering other colleges, but it was after having Hopkins as his clinician and conductor in the Kansas Music Educators Association District Honor Band that he started to change his mind and ultimately decided on McPherson College.

“He made a really great impression on me. I felt connected to his passion for music,” Aizawa said. “It’s great to be in a band that’s thriving and getting even better as the year goes on, so I’m excited to see where it goes.”