I’m excited to say I got out and experienced a lot of great Siouxland art this year. As enjoyable as that can be, it does carry the risk of a certain dreaded side effect: the ear worm. These are the tunes that, for better or worse (okay, it’s better, all better), I’ve been carrying around with me this year.
#10, Alternative Energy by Mason Bates, performed by the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra
This one’s tricky because I didn’t actually see this performance. The family and I were on our way back from Disneyland—literally driving back from Omaha—during the first half of the performance. I caught the tail end (Thus Spake Zarathustra) and the after-party at the courthouse. I was bummed that I didn’t get to see Alternative Energy live, but I had listened to it a lot in preparation for the concert (hoping naively that somehow our plane would arrive 90 minutes early). Live or not, it’s a great piece, and from everything I heard about the performance, the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra delivered.
#9, Symphony #41 in C (Jupiter) & Piano Sonata No. 14b in C Minor, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra
I’m sure it was hard for Maestro Ryan Haskins to narrow down Mozart’s repertoire into a single concert. It’s equally hard to choose which pieces from that concert stand out. My personal favorites were the Jupiter symphony (#41) and the piano sonata (#14b). The symphony was vibrant and full. The piano sonata, played on a replica fortepiano complements of the National Music Museum, These are pieces I had heard before, and these are the pieces I continued to listen to well after the concert.
#8 “Belle” & “Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast, performed at the Orange City Tulip Festival
Although 2018 was the year of Beauty and the Beast in our house, we all relapsed (for several months) after seeing the Orange City Tulip Festival production in April of this year. This was the best production we had seen live. The acting, the singing, the costumes, and the set were all spectacular, but what really put this production over the top, musically, was the live orchestra. Thanks to our Tulip-crazed friends to the north, our family still hasn’t been able to put B&B to rest.
#7 “Miracle” & “When I Grow Up” from Matilda, performed at Lamb Arts Regional Theatre
The Matilda story has been around for a while. The book came out in 1988, the movie in 1996, and the musical in 2010. None of our family was aware of any of it, so seeing the Lamb performance with fresh eyes was a lot of fun. My youngest son, who is always partial to villains, loved Miss Trunchbull, but our favorite songs were “Miracle” and “When I Grow Up.” The truth is, we listen to the entire soundtrack, over and over and over, but these two are the songs I find myself singing along to the most.
#6 Symphonic Dances, by Sergei Rachmaninoff, performed by the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra
In an evening that included actual dancing on stage, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances didn’t need any dancing or distractions to get the audience to feel it. This powerful piece, which was one of my favorites from the 2018-2019 SCSO season, filled the auditorium but left me with the sense I hadn’t yet gotten my fill of the piece, which I listened to well after the concert had come and gone. While it’s a great piece for the Sioux City Orpheum, the beat, volume, and intensity make it a pretty good companion on the stationary bike.
#5 The Munchkinland Suite from The Wizard of Oz, performed at the Sioux City Community Theatre
The real test of your love of a song or film is whether your relationship to it can withstand your kids rehearsing it over and over and OVER again. Well, after a couple of months of singing and rehearsing and dancing and not being able to shake the songs out of our heads, The Wizard of Oz endures. The entire production, put on by the Sioux City Community Theatre, impressed, but what stayed in our family’s ears was the Munchkinland sequence, which I’m trying very hard not to hum right now…
#4 Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, by Arvo Pärt, performed by the University of South Dakota Symphony Orchestra
This classical piece, written for string orchestra and chimes, is not the kind of thing—like Mozart’s “Jupiter” or Rachmaninoff’s Dances—that gets you moving, that puts a smile on your face. Cantus haunts, which doesn’t exactly make it ideal fare for the treadmill or stationary bike, but it is the kind of music you need now and then. It doesn’t necessarily make you sad, or affirm your sadness, but it does point out the depth of human experience. For this reason, it can be find an appropriately private moment to enjoy this work, but when you can, it’s worth it.
#3 Scheherazade, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, performed by the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra
This piece is a beast. It’s strong, beautiful, narrative, and moving. And it probably would have been 2019’s top earworm if I’d had time enough to listen to it in its entirety more often. Scheherazade, with its Arabian flavor and narrative trajectory, often comes in around 40 minutes, which makes it tough to fit into a single trip to the grocery store and back. But when you get the chance to listen to it all the way through—which you should make time to do—it’s a complete experience. There’s tension and resolution, power and tenderness, and some outstanding solo-violin work that really stood out in the live performance. If you’ve never enjoyed Scheherazade, make a point to do so some time in 2020.
#2 “Mars, the Bringer of War” from Gustav Holst’s Planets, performed by the University of South Dakota Symphony Orchestra
This was the first piece I ever heard the USD Symphony Orchestra perform, and it floored me. I listened to it on the drive home, and at home, and before long my youngest son was asking to listen to it, too. We’d drop his older brother off at school and on the way back he’d say, “Can we listen to the planets?” (We’re both also fond of “Jupiter” from the same suite, which we never would have discovered without “Mars.”) Outside of the van, we listen to it most in the basement; the march-like militaristic feel makes it a great track for wrestling with your sons. “Mars” occupies a top spot because it’s a stand-out piece on its own, but also because it’s been great fun sharing some classical music with the kids.
#1 Fantasia in F Minor by Franz Schubert, performed by Juyeon Kang and Barbara Moser as part of the Sioux City Chamber Music Series
Why Fantasia and why here? It’s a fantastic piece without feeling like a fairytale fantasy. It tends toward darkness as well as toward light. On the day I heard it performed, it stood in mature comparison to an early Mozart. There’s enough repetition to make me appreciate the invention. But most of all it moves me. On top of that, this concert was the first time I’d seen a live four-hand performance, and four hands offer a piece and its players far more potential for nuance, complication, and contradiction. Fantasia was introduced as something that Schubert wrote while looking his own death in the face. While sometimes dark, it’s not nihilistic or depressing. It’s not a piece that was written to give itself over to death but to make use of the time before it.