Preview: U of H Marching Band performs "En Masse" at Discovery Green

On Saturday, the University of Houston marching band will bravely go where no other band has gone before.
On Saturday, the University of Houston marching band will bravely go where no other band has gone before.
Photo by David A. Brown

If you happen to find yourself near Discovery Green this Saturday, April 20, prepare for a musical invasion by the University of Houston Marching Band. From 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. in the park, the band will be performing a world premiere of a new, avant-garde work by Haitian-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain called "En Masse Studies and Etudes."

According to band director Troy Bennefield, this performance is sure to challenge your traditional ideas about marching bands.

"We're going to be able to play around with the idea of a band in uniform in a park," Bennefield said, noting that the band had never done anything like this before. "We're used to having everything very scripted, with people on the field moving the same way at the same time."

This work is anything but scripted. Bennefield said the piece is organized into 12 stations of approximately 20 minutes, with the different stations in a variety of different musical arrangements and combinations. The piece starts with the band marching in a typical parade formation, but then dissolves into a deconstructed parade in subsequent stations taking place throughout the park.

From left: composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, student Sheila Dawson and choreographer Marc Bamuthi Joseph.
From left: composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, student Sheila Dawson and choreographer Marc Bamuthi Joseph.
Photo by Julie Soefer

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In one station, all 100 band members will be spread out all across the park, with each individual musician playing something different. In another, a smaller group of around five students will be playing music on a playground and interacting with children.

"Students are able to improvise," Bennefield said.

Choreographer Marc Bumathi Joseph, who has collaborated twice with Roumain before, said the audience will be a part of the 360-degree, immersive experience.

"There are a couple of choreographed moments where you'll sit down and watch the players, but there are far more moments where the players are completely surrounding and immersed in the audience experience itself," Joseph said. "It's a little bit of a challenge, but it's far less disorienting than it might sound because that's how we live our lives."

Joseph said that working with a marching band allowed for this unique, immersive type of music.

"Within [a marching band], there's typically a lot of structure," Joseph said. "Generally we're talking one band, one sound. This project enables us to pull that structure apart so that it's one band...with a lot of different sounds that are composed in such a way that it's not complete cacophony or chaos."

The performance of "En Masse Studies and Etudes" is open to the public and will take place from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, in Discovery Green.


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