NIU Percussion Ensemble wore ugly sweaters, holiday themed hats during winter concert


Caleb Johnson

The NIU Percussion Ensemble performed Christmas versions of songs while dressed in holiday themed hats during its winter concert on Nov. 30. (Caleb Johnson | Northern Star)

By Caleb Johnson, Lifestyle Writer

Friends and family gathered for a light-hearted affair on Wednesday for the NIU Percussion Ensemble Winter Concert in the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall of the Music Building. 

According to Ben Wahlund, instructor of percussion and co-director of the percussion ensemble, the winter concert started as an informal concert put together by the percussion students to show off what music and pieces they have been practicing. 

Wahlund also said that this is the second year the ensemble has put this show together. To get into the holiday spirit, all the pieces were adapted to Christmas versions, such as the piece “What about the noise of crumpling paper?,” by John Cage, which turned into “What about the noise of wrapping paper?” 

To get into the holiday spirit, the percussion ensemble also wore ugly sweaters and holiday-themed hats, such as reindeer antlers, Santa hats and elf hats.

Throughout the concert, the audience was treated to a wonderful selection of music. At one point Gregory Beyer, co-host of the concert and director of percussion studies, explained some of the meaning behind “What about the sound of wrapping paper?”

“The goal for this piece is not to express human sentiment, rather, it’s meant to reflect nature,” Beyer said. 

Beyer said that the audience would participate in the playing of the song by following along with a guide on the back of the show’s program. Audience members were asked to jingle their keys along, or sleigh bells that were handed out, to move along to the beat that was provided. People seemed to enjoy the show and have fun.

Michael Speziale, a junior percussion performance major, was very enthusiastic about the show and was proudly wearing his Snoopy, the classic dog from the Peanuts franchise, hat.

“I really enjoyed performing in the show,” Speziale said. “My friends are here and it’s really casual and fun. It’s a great way to remind ourselves that we love music and that we don’t have to be serious and perfect all the time.”

One of the more amusing songs was “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” written by Ross Bagdasarian, the founder of the cartoon band Alvin and the Chipmunks, in which the percussionists played whimsical music and bopped their heads up and down. It was a very comical performance. 

The NIU Jazz Ensemble made an appearance to get into the holiday spirit as well. They played a rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” The original author of this song is unknown but it was listed in Charles Dickens’ novel “A Christmas Carol” as a traditional English Christmas carol. This rendition was arranged by jazz ensemble member Evon Sams, who played the saxophone. The jazz ensemble gave a truly powerful performance. It really felt like the musicians connected with the music and were able to share their passion with everyone. 

All the performers in the show did a phenomenal job and really put their hearts into the music. 

“Holidays can be amazing, but they can also be stressful and this is a chance to remind yourself that the holidays are about friends and family and loving yourself and loving each other,” Speziale said. 

In the end, the show wrapped up with a huge affair, with Wahlund calling people on to the stage; this included all the performers from the night as well as faculty and alumni, to do a sight reading, meaning that the musicians hadn’t seen the sheet music yet and didn’t know what they would be playing until the sheet music was right in front of them. The piece chosen was “The Little Drummer Boy,” by composer Katherine Kennicott Davis. 

“This might be a bit messy, and we don’t know if this is going to end well for us but it’s just so much fun. This is my Christmas present to myself,” Wahlund said. 

It was a great way to end the season for the percussion ensemble. NIU Percussion Ensemble will be performing next in the spring semester at 3 p.m. on April 23 in the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall.