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San Juan College Symphonic Band returns to stage with program of upbeat, festive music

Geology professor John Burris will serve as featured soloist during concert

FARMINGTON — Since the various groups associated with the San Juan College music department often don't have enough students to fill out their ranks, it isn't uncommon to see members of the community who are accomplished amateur or professional musicians join in to lend a hand.

That will be the case once again when the San Juan College Symphonic Band performs its end-of-semester concert this weekend. In fact, one of those nonstudents will be playing a pivotal role in the concert as John Burris, a geology professor at the college, will be the event's featured soloist on the euphonium.

Burris joined the Symphonic Band in 2019 after taking approximately 25 years off from the instrument, according to music professor Teun Fetz, who will lead the concert. Since then, Burris has rediscovered his touch, Fetz said.

"He's actually a really good musician, and he plays really well," Fetz said. "He's been a dedicated member of the group for the past few years, and when I offered him the option of playing a solo, he accepted."

Fetz said he enjoys giving the nonstudents in the group the chance to enjoy a moment in the spotlight. The 40 or so members of the group range in age from high school students to musicians in their 80s, and a handful of the performers are middle school and high school music teachers who make great mentors to the San Juan College students in the band, he said.

"He's someone who deserves the recognition," Fetz said of Burris. "There's a lot of talent in this community, and I think they deserve to get their due."

Burris will perform his solo during a rendition of Mozart's "Concert Rondo." Fetz described the euphonium as a beautiful-sounding instrument with a warm tone, one that falls somewhere in between a trombone and a tuba. The fact that it will play such a prominent role in this weekend's concert should serve as a treat for classical music fans, Fetz said.

"It's just not an instrument that gets featured as a solo instrument very much," he said, noting that, for whatever reason, composers have not crafted a great deal of material for it.

The concert also will include performances of two ballads written by Japanese-American composer Yukiko Nishimura, "Smiling After the Rain" and "Bluebell." Fetz said he chose the two compositions for their positive energy, hoping they reflect the approach society takes as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rest of the program will be comprised mostly of upbeat, high-energy material. Fetz said "National Emblem March" by E.E. Bagley is a standard that traditionally is performed at each presidential inauguration, while James Ployhar's "A Nation's Prayer" is a stately, uplifting piece that he intends to dedicate to local health care workers and people who have been impacted by the pandemic.

The program will be highlighted by a performance of Ryan Nowlin's "Oh, Henry!" Fetz said the piece is a march that serves as a tribute to the legendary American composer Henry Fillmore, who crafted more marches than the better-known John Philip Sousa. Fetz said Nowlin employed many of the trademark licks and melody pieces typical of Fillmore's work in the piece, which is a staple in the repertoire of school bands across the country.

The sunny mood also will be fostered by a medley of rainbow-related songs. Fetz described the arrangement as essentially three songs in one, and he hopes the performance lends a festive air to the proceedings.

"There's positivity in the music, and we hope that will be conveyed to the audience," he said.

The concert will mark the first time the Symphonic Band has performed before a live audience in an indoor setting since the beginning of the pandemic, and Fetz said that will make it special for his musicians.

"Our main focus is, we're able to come together and make music," he said. "Being able to play for a live audience again will be a thrill and a treat for us. … We're humbled and honored to have the audience there. We feed off their energy, and they motivate us to be better."

The San Juan College Symphonic Band will take the stage at Friday, Dec. 10, at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall. Tickets are $8 for adults, and $6 for students and seniors. They can be purchased online until the day of the show by visiting and clicking on the "Events" header. They also can be purchased in advance at the San Juan College Bookstore or at the door.

Fetz said any local music student who wishes to attend the concert can do so for free by presenting a student ID at the door and providing the name of their school and music teacher.

Call 505-566-3386 for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.