Cheshire marching band competition celebrates Duke Ellington

CHESHIRE — You don’t need to take the “A” train to see this concert this weekend, and even if “you don’t get around much anymore,” there’s a local event that should suffice to put you in a sentimental mood.

Just caravan on over to Cheshire High School on Saturday for the annual Music In Motion marching band competition. Performances begin at 6 p.m.

This year features a theme dedicated to the music of Duke Ellington, according to Cheshire High School Chorus Director and interim Band Director Greg Bell. Bell has stepped in for Director John Kuhner, who has taken a leave of absence.

Ellington was a legendary jazz musician and pianist who rose to fame in the early half of the 20th century, particularly for his appearances at the world-renowned Cotton Club in Harlem, New York. His career spanned several decades until his death in 1974, and many consider him one of the most influential jazz composers in history.

As a former associate director of the Cheshire High School Marching Ram Band from 2005 to 2011, Bell is no stranger to the band competition.

“Our show this year is entitled ‘Last Train Home,’ and it loosely depicts the story of our main character, Peggy, who grew up in a rural town and studied to become a teacher,” Bell said. “Always fond of singing, she needed to know if she could have ever made it big. Peggy travels to New York City, taking odd jobs as a waitress, looking for her big break, which comes when she has the opportunity to sing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at The Savoy. She travels the world performing with the Ellington Orchestra, but slowly realizes that fame is nothing without family and a place to call home.”

The band dedicates four days a week to practice, including rehearsals and competitions each Saturday. The efforts will culminate in the USBands Open Class National Championship on Nov. 5 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The annual Music In Motion competition also features performing bands from around the region, including high schools from East Haven, Meriden, Wallingford, Naugatuck and Southington. In addition to those, bands from three colleges will be showcased: Worcester Polytechnic, the University of New Haven and the University of Connecticut.

One of the main draws of the event, said Bell, is a so-called “full retreat” that will take place just prior to the awards ceremony.

“This means that every student of every band will be playing together,” said Bell. He estimates that “around 1,000 high school and collegiate musicians will be playing at the same time.”

Also adding some special meaning to this year’s Music In Motion is the impending retirement of legendary UConn band director, Dr. David Mills, who has the led the school’s marching band programs since 1990.

He will lead the full ensemble retreat with a performance of “America the Beautiful” to end the performance.

Parking for the event is available at the high school. Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, with children under 6 free. Concessions will be available as well.


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