Louise Casini Hollis
Spotlight Saturdays – Sponsored by Sandler Center Foundation
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
Interview by Louise Casini Hollis. Images courtesy of Tidewater Winds.
This week, Spotlight Saturdays spoke with the Tidewater Winds concert band’s Executive Director Michael Kerry Williams and Maestro John Brewington. Founded in 1985 by the late C. Sidney Berg, the Tidewater Winds Professional Concert Band consists of 55 talented woodwind, brass, and percussion musicians who bring free professional band concerts in the “Sousa Band” tradition to the Hampton Roads community.
What is your mission statement? The mission of the Tidewater Winds is to foster and maintain an organization dedicated to the making of music within the highest aspirations of musical art, creating performances and providing educational training programs at the highest level of excellence.
What or who inspires/ influences your work? Maestro John Brewington: I take inspiration from every concert and performance I’ve previously been a part of and from every conductor I’ve ever worked with. Everyone from Walter Noona with the Virginia Beach Pops, Sidney Berg with the Tidewater Winds, John Savage at Virginia Commonwealth University, my conducting teacher Anthony Maiello, to performing and working with JoAnn Falletta and the Virginia Symphony. I follow or have studied conductors such as Keith Brion, Erich Kunzel, Michael Tilson Thomas, Arnald Gabriel of the US Air Force Band, Boston Pops conductors Keith Lochart and Authur Fiedler and of course John Philip Sousa. I’ve also had the opportunity to perform with a number of luminaries including: Steve Lawrence & Edie Gorme, Doc Severinsen, Victor Borge, Mitzi Gaynor, Roger Williams, Rich Little, Marvin Hamlish, Carol Channing, Bruce Hornsby, Rosemary Clooney, Peter Nero, Glen Campbell, The Smothers Brothers, and The Moody Blues. I constantly draw from these experiences and continue to be a music student at heart.
What education and community outreach programs are offered? Maestro John Brewington: We have two major initiatives. First, the Tidewater Winds believes in the value of sharing our work, events and concerts with students. Perhaps the most powerful performing arts music education program in Hampton Roads is the Tidewater Winds Student Musician Intern program. High school and college level students experience the full summer concert experience working and performing side-by-side with our professional musicians. This opportunity provides selected high school and college students with a professional mentor, master classes and lessons while performing the summer repertoire. Secondly, we provide masterclasses and workshops to local school divisions to inspire, encourage, enlighten, entertain and educate the next generation of students.
What makes your work unique to our community, and why is that important? Maestro John Brewington: The Tidewater Winds provide free and subscription-based concert programming. Our free summer series allows us to expose a large number of people to a music form they might otherwise not be able to experience. Our audience connects people to programmatic creativity and relevant connections to our community and beyond. The original purpose of Tidewater Winds is to make programs entertaining and accessible. We believe strongly in the unique nature of our art form. We promote concert band education, works, history and repertoire and its significance to patriotism and our American Heritage. Our sole objective is to entertain and be entertaining to the widest audience possible.
How have you/ your staff been handling COVID/ what have you been doing since the shutdown? How are you helping your staff and artists during this time? Michael Kerry Williams: We have been managing to stay afloat financially with the support of the Cares Act funding, our donors and corporate sponsors. Much of this time has been spent making new contacts and sharing the work we do, and will continue to do, when things begin to level out. In addition, our artists, board and staff members have been communicating via Zoom and Google Hangouts to plan for the future. We have provided a limited number of online events to share with the public and we will be growing these online presentations and performances over the next few months.
What adjustments has the virus caused to your schedule? Michael Kerry Williams: Unfortunately, the reality of performing in a pandemic of this nature is unrealistic. Our free summer concert season normally consists of over twenty programs with our full 55-piece concert band, the power of which is incredible. Since we cannot keep a 6-foot distance between musicians on-stage, and we risk possible contamination with spit valves and other instrumental components, the season has been canceled. We can however work with many of our smaller ensembles and are formalizing the summer schedule now for our “backyard concert series”. “From Our Backyard to Yours” will debut on our Facebook and web page Wednesday evenings in July featuring our quintet and 9-piece jazz band. While it is not the full Concert Band, we will be performing similar repertoire, only in small groups. We are also planning to run our Full Concert Band at least 3 times throughout the coming year if things continue to improve for Virginia.
What’s the biggest change to educational programs? Maestro John Brewington: Effective educational programs have changed over the years to be more interactive and engaging with students. Our future educational programs include musical performances with narration and visuals to help better connect educational programs to content. I am very excited about the next evolution of these programs. In the near term our biggest challenge is program delivery. How we deliver educational content and educational programming will depend on multiple factors mostly with how we gain access to kids. For now, live performances and in-school performances are on hold; however, we are committed to leveraging technology to reach students however we are able. The most important thing we can do in the short term is provide arts experiences that reach the social emotional needs of our students during and after the COVID19 pandemic.
What’s the most encouraging thing you’ve learned during this time? Michael Kerry Williams: I would say patience and resilience. We are blessed to be supported by so many passionate donors and volunteers. These audience members have come to our aid on more than one occasion and we love their loyalty. With their support we are encouraged to be patient and to continue to find the means to sustain our work.
Maestro John Brewington: I am working on new music, arrangements, and content to future programs. We are working on a future holiday program that will tell the story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” known as the Candy Bomber. I am also working on an adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s classic children’s story, Pinocchio, for children of all ages.
As you know, it is most difficult to plan for the future when the future is so uncertain, but here is what we do know. When it is safe for both musicians and audiences to return we will do so safely. We will begin with smaller ensembles such as our Little Big Band, Brass Quintet and Woodwind Quartet before we bring back the entire concert band. We will reach our audience members in small numbers and leverage technology resources to broadcast what we can. Our programing for our new concert season will include:
Tidewater Winds Little Big Jazz Band: Jazz in its many Forms The Tidewater Winds Little Big Jazz Band will offer a vibrant collection of modern jazz, music of Earth, Wind and Fire, and well-loved jazz standards. Come and enjoy the music of Ellington, Davis, Jobim, Tower of Power, Chorea, Gillespie and more! Fiesta de la Vida: A Celebration of Life Fiesta de la Vida celebrates life through the music of Latin-American. The music emanates from the pageantry and celebrations of the street bands, bullfights, bright costumes, blazing dances and pulsating rhythms. Celebración de la vida! Some Enchanted Evening: The Music of Rodgers and Hammerstein Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II with a concert that covers 10 of their classic collaborations, including Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. Battles on the Homefront….and Beyond: 75th Anniversary of the end of WW II From the pen of Dr. Christopher Palestrant comes his world premiere, The Battle of Great Bridge. In cooperation with the Chesapeake Battle of Great Bridge Museum, we will look and listen into a battle that helped change the course of history. From the Homefront to over there, Americans celebrated for two days after the end of WWII and the world continues to celebrate this victory. Come hear and see some the great musical memories from the Greatest Generation.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced? Michael Kerry Williams: This may be the most challenging. I’ve experienced setbacks, failures, successes, improvements in many aspects of my work and life. Not knowing how to plan for what is next is frustrating and heartbreaking. We want to perform for our public. Not being able to do our work impacts our musicians who depend on this extra financial support but also our audience members who rely on these concerts as part of their social livelihood.
What are some passion projects that you hope to work on while we are “paused”? Michael Kerry Williams: We have been putting together our education packets and proposals as well as our special events projects for future use. These include 4th of July proposals to municipalities, our Education Series proposal to connect halls, and other special events packages as potential partnerships.
Where are you in your planning for next year? What’s your plan for subscribers or members if you know that already? Michael Kerry Williams: We intend to thank our donors allowing them to experience Tidewater Winds in full production again soon. We hope to return to full capacity performing with a major celebration of music. Our hope is to organize an October Concert, December Holiday Concert, Valentine’s Day Concert and Spring Concert event before our next free summer concert series in 2021. This new model spreads out our season annually instead of only summer concerts.
What are you, personally, most looking forward to after the shutdown? Maestro John Brewington: Being able to perform again, to make music with the great musicians of the Winds and once again be able to see our patrons.
Is there a specific upcoming project you would like people to know about? Michael Kerry Williams: We have our annual Golf Tournament coming up on September 24th at Heron Ridge Golf Club. We would love to see new teams and players join us this year. This is our one major fundraiser to help offset concert expenses and we certainly could use your support! Contact 757-480-0953 for details or visit our website.
Anything else you want to talk about? Michael Kerry Williams: As mentioned earlier, we are seeking partnerships with corporations and small businesses. We are offering naming rights for our concert series and I welcome discussions on how we can mutually be mutually beneficial to each other.
Maestro John Brewington: We have a strong legacy of concert programming and a compelling mission of making concerts and band music available to all. We also recognize that we are living in a time of accelerated change. As an organization, it is incumbent upon us to grow, evolve, and to redefine ourselves in the eyes of our community and to reorganize ourselves in ways that maintain our relevance. We recognize the importance of our history and intend to maintain and expand on our original efforts. When we are able to return, we will re-commit ourselves to excellence as we entertain audiences and children through our Concert Band performances and educational outreach programs.
Where can people find you (for donations, etc?) Donations and support can be made via PayPal on our web page at www.tidewaterwinds.org. You can also mail in your checks or provide recurring support by phone at 757-480-0953. If you prefer US Mail, then please send to: Tidewater Winds PO Box 62000 Virginia Beach, VA 23466