Pioneer Symphony Band closes the annual Michigan Music Conference


Sabine Gabaron

Junior Ryo Morita solos with the Pioneer Symphony Band at the 2022 Michigan Music Conference.

The Pioneer Symphony Band closed the 2022 Michigan Music Conference at Davos Hall in Grand Rapids, MI on Friday, Jan. 28.

Pioneer band director David Leach was thrilled with the performance. “The applause got longer every song,” he said. “I had to stop them so we could take a picture.”

The conference sees band directors from around the state converge for three days of presentations and concerts, including a number of school groups and the Michigan All-State ensembles. This year, capacity was limited as it returned to Grand Rapids after going online in 2021 due to Coronavirus.

“We submitted our recordings in the middle of COVID,” Leach said. “They said we’d like to have you come. Then COVID canceled it, and they offered us the same invitation.” 

Two years after being selected to play at the conference, the Pioneer Symphony Band performed five pieces to wrap up Friday’s concert, including “A Song for Charlotte,” written by assistant band director Erin Lilliefors, and Giacomo Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” which featured junior Ryo Morita. 

“I had had this idea for a piece floating around in my brain for a year or two,” Lilliefors said, “and it was just the perfect opportunity for me to put it together. Conducting in front of everybody at MMC was thrilling. It was really a wonderful experience.” 

The finale, Omar Thomas’s “Come Sunday” stole the show. Despite the conference’s diminished attendance, Leach said the response to the piece was unprecedented. “I don’t think I’ve heard a performance at MMC that was received as well,” he said. “It’s partly your performance, and partly the piece we closed with.”

According to Thomas’s website, the “Come Sunday’s” two movements, Testimony and Shout, are a “tribute to the Hammond organ’s central role in black worship services.”

“That piece invites enthusiasm,” Leach said. “That applause between the first and second movement, we had to wait for longer than I ever thought was possible.”

Pioneer’s rendition of “Come Sunday” featured a saxophone solo from senior Xander Salsitz.

“Playing ‘Come Sunday’ was the icing on the cake,” Salsitz said. “Not only were there great solos, but also great sections which highlighted the entire band.” 

In an email to the band following the concert, Leach expressed his appreciation for the Band’s work. “It has been 2-years, you have stayed the course, put in the work,” he wrote. “The audience reaction says more than I ever could, you deserved that and so much more.”

In addition, Leach passed on congratulatory messages from a number of people including Western Michigan University band director and arranger of “Nessun Dorma,” Scott Boerma.

For the band program moving forward, all of the attention shifts to spring break, when the Symphony Band and Concert Band Purple will head to New York City. 

In his email, Leach put it best. “Now… on to Carnegie.”