As many of us know, Stephen Bloom was named Music Director of the Reading Civic Concert Band last summer. One of his first steps was to rename the band the Reading Community Concert Band (RCCB), a fitting change reflecting his belief in who the band really is as well as being perfectly attuned to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mantra of inclusiveness and diversity.
Stephen’s appointment was well covered in a Chronicle write-up by Mac Cerullo on November 1st of last year.
For this year’s MLK Day celebration, it was the Reading community’s opportunity to observe first hand, Stephen’s talent in emphasizing this year’s MLK theme of commUNITY. It was the second broad exposure our community has had to his inspiring ability, the first being the very popular commUNITY event, the Reading Street Faire.
Stephen wanted to continue this precedent of the band performing at the MLK Celebration initiated last year by Catherine Hofius, his predecessor. He feels very fortunate to direct a group of musicians that are already motivated to make good music. He simply trys to program selections that are both fun to play and challenging enough to make things interesting in rehearsals. He hopes the band has honored the extraordinary life and legacy of Dr. King through his music that celebrates Dr. King’s values of truth, love and dignity.
Stephen’s choice of Duke Ellington in Concert seemed like a natural fit for the MLK Day event. Much like Dr. King expressed love through his words, Ellington expressed love through his music. Ellington, in fact, once composed a musical tribute to Dr. King in 1963 and later presented him with the lyrics. Ellington has been called the greatest composer America has ever produced.
We often think of composers as exclusively classical musicians, so it’s particularly notable that Ellington wrote in a uniquely American style like jazz. When Stephen was asked to perform “We Shall Overcome”, he realized that an appropriate band arrangement didn’t exist. Instead, he chose to arrange it for the occasion, knowing full well that the song has had an extraordinary historical as well as social impact and Stephen hoped he did it some justice.
Included in Stephen’s medley of Duke Ellington in Concert were the unforgettable songs: “Take the A Train”, “Mood Indigo”, “Caravan” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Aint Got That Swing”. According to Wikipedia, “Take the A Train” was a jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn and the signature tune of Ellington’s celebrated orchestra. It was arguably the most famous of the many compositions to emerge from the collaboration of Ellington and Strayhorn.
Stephen likes to choose music that is both entertaining and offers something to keep things interesting for the audience. He frequently tells his students that music has no expiration date and it doesn’t have to be new to be great.
Dr. King died about six months before Stephen was born so his memories of Dr. King are limited to books, recordings and films. His favorite experience was visiting Dr. King’s memorial in Washington, D.C. with one of his student performing groups five years ago. Sharing that visiting experience with his students was truly priceless. He has looked forward to participating in Reading’s MLK Day Celebration and absorbing the full emotional impact that just being there carries and time enhances. His hopes for future MLK Birthday Celebrations are to see plenty of great music from a variety of performers.
Other Reading Community Concert Band performances planned for 2018 include spring performances on Saturday, April 7th and Sunday, May 13th (Mother’s Day) at the First Congregational Church where they practice as well as the Reading Street Faire, on Sunday, September 9th.
The band was originally founded in 1994 as a summer band for developing wind players and reorganized a few years later as a year-round concert band.
Stephen would like to take this opportunity to extend an invitation to welcome anyone with some past playing experience in the Reading area to come rehearse and play with us! They rehearse on Monday evenings at the First Congregational Church as just mentioned. He would like to increase the visibility of the band by making the Reading community more aware that there’s another great performing group in town welcoming new players. The band plays traditional brass, woodwind and percussion instruments and many players, including high school students, also perform with other local concert bands in the area.
Stephen is a graduate of Lexington High School and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and a Master’s in Music Education from Indiana University. He started conducting as a high school drum major, conducting various student groups throughout college and graduate school. He has served as Music Director at Lynnfield Middle School, directing the band and choruses for the past 21 years.
He has also worked with various adult groups ranging from directing musical theater pit orchestras to singing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops as a member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
Stephen would like to continue to grow the band, expanding both its membership and musical repertoire. He feels priviledged to make music at both the school and adult levels and hopes to continue doing it for Reading for a long time. He lives in Reading now, not very far from his place for rehearsals, the First Congregation Church!