Around the World Tour: Longhorns Play Asia, London

By Marilyn McCray, College of Fine Arts
Published: June 27

Summertime is world tour season for big-time musicians: Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, the University of Texas Wind Ensemble.

That’s right, our own 62-student symphonic band just wrapped an epic four-week around-the-world tour that took them to three continents, performing to adoring crowds in Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing and London, among other stops.

The trip took three years to plan and was unprecedented in scope. “It was my third time overseas in 26 years here,” says Professor Jerry Junkin, the director of the ensemble.

Flying to Hawaii the day after providing the rousing soundtrack for Spring Commencement in May, the group visited Pearl Harbor, taught master classes with schoolchildren, and explored cities in Japan and China before finishing with a final show in London. (In September the members will reunite to make a recording of their tour program. Look for it in stores sometime in 2015.)

Watch a video produced by the Longhorn Network about the UT Wind Ensemble, as they prepared for their Around the World Tour. Then read on for a travelogue, adapted from their tour blog, and relive some of the highlights from the Summer 2014 Around the World Tour.

Arrival in Honolulu followed a sleepless night, a four-hour plane ride, a five-hour layover and another six-hour plane ride. After sightseeing at Pearl Harbor, rehearsal began at Pearl City High School.

For clarinet master’s student Pam Wilkinson, learning that military musicians perished in the bombing at Pearl Harbor was a surprise. “I have been reflecting since our visit on the purpose of those musicians,” she wrote on the tour blog. “The various military branches employ hundreds, possibly thousands, of musicians…. I doubt their presence is merely for entertainment…. Music can revive our spirit, give us hope, and heal brokenness in the face of tragedy. This is what I took from the musicians on the USS Arizona.”

While most of the complex travel logistics — it’s not easy moving 70 musicians, their luggage and all the instruments across the Pacific Ocean — went smoothly, one of the flights from Honolulu to Japan was diverted to Wake Island in the Pacific due to a mechanical problem. Everyone arrived safely a few hours later, but the luggage — including some instruments and concert dress — did not make it for the concert in Okazaki City, Japan.

No worries: their Japanese hosts rounded up instruments, and dark tee shirts and pants filled the bill for one engagement. “Half the group looked like they were on their way to the gym, the other half looked like they were playing at a concert,” Junkin says. “It all worked out.”

Dark tee shirts made for modified “concert dress” after luggage arrived too late for the concert in Okazaki City, Japan. Fortunately, the group’s Japanese hosts rounded up instruments to replace those stuck in transit.

“It’s worth mentioning what a long day any one concert date entails for the band,” wrote College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster on the tour blog. He traveled with the group through parts of China. “The entire company is over 70 strong. All need to be transported by bus, or train, or ferry. A large variety of instruments need to be shipped by truck or scavenged from the local musical countryside. (The program repertoire calls for harp, piano, celeste, double bass, bass clarinets, contra bassoons, and a huge variety of percussion instruments from tympani to a vibraphone.”

The second concert in Japan was at the Senzoku Gakuen College of Music. It was held in beautiful Madea Hall, where the ensemble shared the concert with the White Tie Wind Ensemble, the premiere wind ensemble in the Japanese college of 1,600 music majors.

At the conclusion of the concert at Senzoku Gakuen, the Wind Ensemble was visited on stage by the college’s vice president (pictured in the gray jacket) who shared his gratitude for the performance.

Junkin had put together an ambitious concert program of four contemporary pieces for the tour. Frank Ticheli’s clarinet concerto completed the first half, which began with two compositions by UT composers Dan Welcher and Donald Grantham. Clarinetist and Butler School of Music faculty member Nathan Williams was a featured performer during the tour. A number of encores were performed at the end of each program from the 12 or so pieces that made up the repertoire, including “Stars and Stripes” and “The Eyes of Texas.”

Taiwanese Texas Exes got their horns up during “The Eyes of Texas.”

“In the audience were many of our Texas Exes that live in Taiwan. It was exciting to see so much burnt orange in the audience at this performance, and our encore of ‘The Eyes of Texas’ was very well received!” wrote Ryan Kelly, an assistant conductor of the UTWE, who managed the tour blog.

The brief stay in Taipei was highlighted by a concert at Soochow University, presented in conjunction with the 90th Anniversary of the China Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture.

Before their concert in Shenzhen, China, the UT ensemble members gave master classes with young musicians from area bands.

The afternoon in Shenzhen started with master classes, where the UT students worked with students from the area bands. After the concert it was time for a dumpling party. During the meal, area musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments treated the ensemble members to performances.

In Beijing, Sergeant Zhang, a local composer and commander of the People’s Liberation Army Band, guest-conducted the rehearsal. Some unique percussion instruments, including Chinese drums, were used for the concert held at the beautiful PLA Band Concert Hall.

A member of the UT Wind Ensemble rehearses with a traditional Chinese drum before their concert in Beijing at the People’s Liberation Army Band Concert Hall.

Several days later, after a flight over seven time zones, ensemble members landed in the British Isles with just one night to recover from jet lag before they performed the grand finale of the tour at beautiful Cadogan Hall in the London borough of Chelsea. As in every city the ensemble visited, the audience had been warm, welcoming and appreciative.

On stage at London’s beautiful Cadogan Hall.

“While our performances have been special, played for large appreciative audiences, it has been countless other moments that have helped us to understand other cultures and allowed them to know us in ways that they might not have imagined before,” Junkin reflected in a blog post. “Whether it was the simple wave back at the local citizens of Okazaki City who came out of their houses to see who the young Americans were walking down their residential street, or the joining of an in-progress soccer game with young children in Tokyo, or letting our Taiwanese students proudly show their colleagues their wonderful city, or the opportunity to perform alongside Chinese students in Shenzhen as well as to work with those students for an hour before the performance, somehow all of these things have combined to make the world a better, and smaller, place.”

The enthusiastic audience in Shenzhen showed its appreciation for their American guests, waving Chinese and American flags.

“This tour and everything surrounding it is inspiring,” wrote Corey Pompey, doctoral student in conducting. “How can one not be inspired by this incredible experience?”

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