My Song of Songs

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International Trumpet Guild - My Song of Songs

My Song of Songs is a collection of 15 hymns, gospel medleys, contemporary Christian songs, and secular works composed or arranged for solo trumpet with the brass band and performed by Philip Smith, principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic. Accompanying Smith is the New York Staff Band, founded in 1887 and currently the longest serving staff band in The Salvation Army.

Smith is in peak form both technically and musically. The album is a textbook clinic on trumpeting as Smith convincingly soars above the band. The beauty of his lyrical style is strikingly evident throughout the album, but particularly on the title track. In the hymn and gospel settings, Smith captures the essential character of each work while maintaining a sense of spirituality - sometimes noble, sometimes serene.

The New York Staff Band performs consistently well throughout the album, under the able direction of Ronald Waiksnoris, and the band matches Smiths performance level in terms of technical precision and musical expression. As strong as the performance is by both Smith and the New York Staff Band, the most questionable element is the repertoire. Though the program does indeed contain several works of merit (Concertpiece for Cornet by James Curnow, Arabasque by Joseph Turrin, Balakireffs Georgian Song arranged by Ralph Pearce, Excursions by Bruce Broughton), not all the works on the album are as artistically satisfying (Joshua Swings the Battle, The Victors, Only One Intention). The compositional formulas become much too similar from piece to piece; the obligatory scalar runs to the final high note become all too predictable. Simply put, the repertoire does not sustain musical interest throughout the program.

Smith states clearly in the liner notes that the conception of this album including the repertoire selection was guided by extra-musical considerations. "As I decided on repertoire, I was guided by a desire to connect with the heritage of the New York Staff Band, my own experience in the staff band, my dads connection as staff bandmaster, and my connection with him. But if anyone hears this album and hears only the music, theyve missed the point. My prayer is that they will hear the message." Smith later comments, "My entire professional career Ive tried to make sure Im not in it just for the music. The Lord has placed me there, not just to be a trumpet player, but to be a Christian witness in a world that far too often doesn’t give any acknowledgement to Christ."

Consistent with the mission of the album, the lyrics to many of the hymns are included in the liner notes. My Song of Songs consists of outstanding performances by both Phil Smith and the New York Staff Band of pleasant and spiritually meaningful, but not outstanding, musical literature. Reviewed by James T. Madeja, Recording Reviews Editor
International Trumpet Guild Journal