WestwoodWinds performs American medley concert

WestwoodWinds is Westwood’s own community band. Directed by Jim Giurleo, the group accepts musicians from Westwood High School all the way to retirees. This concert’s theme was based on the word “medley,” which can either mean a varied mixture of people or a musical composition made up of a series of songs. Pictures by Christina Perrone

Christina Perrone
Hometown Weekly Intern

On Tuesday, August 1, Fox Hill Village invited WestwoodWinds, Westwood’s own community band, to perform a concert before members, staff, and family members. The community band, directed by Jim Giurleo, accepts musicians from Westwood High School all the way to retirees.

“We are always pleased to perform here in Fox Hill Village and thank you all for inviting us to return,” began Giurleo, a retired Westwood K-12 Director of Performing Arts and Director of the Prodigy Program. “This is our third performance … And tonight, while [at] last year’s concert we did a big thing on Frank Sinatra and on veterans, this year’s concert is a play on words: a play on the word ‘medley.’”

Pictured Left to Right) Katharine Mueller, Zane Rahabi, Brian Beggan, Anusha Manglik, and Toby Cashook. ‘I think as a group we really like jazz, because you kind of feel jazz instead of having to look at it,’ said Manglik.

Pictured Left to Right) Katharine Mueller, Zane Rahabi, Brian Beggan, Anusha Manglik, and Toby Cashook. ‘I think as a group we really like jazz, because you kind of feel jazz instead of having to look at it,’ said Manglik.

“I’m a first generation from immigrant parents from Italy,” Giurleo continued. “The word medley connotes to me that America is filled with a medley of people. We’re all from different places, all from different parts of the world … A lot of the music is influenced by something other than American, but all those different little parts makes up what we are, Americans.”

According to the pamphlet provided, the program consisted of, “a medley of songs as well as songs from a medley of only a few of the cultural, ethnic, and racial make-up of America’s population.”

The first piece of the night was “Yankee Fanfare,” a theme and variation on “Yankee Doodle.” According to Giurleo, the song came from England. At first, the English would sing the song to deride the rag-tag bunch of American soldiers. Once the tide turned however, Americans adopted the song and made fun of the Redcoats with the tune.

(Pictured Left to Right) Zane Rahabi, Brian Beggan, and Toby Cashook. One of the favorite medleys of the WestwoodWind musicians was ‘Caravan,’ composed by J. Tilzov and Duke Ellington. A close second was ‘Salute to Louis Armstrong.’  Pictures by Christina Perrone

(Pictured Left to Right) Zane Rahabi, Brian Beggan, and Toby Cashook. One of the favorite medleys of the WestwoodWind musicians was ‘Caravan,’ composed by J. Tilzov and Duke Ellington. A close second was ‘Salute to Louis Armstrong.’ Pictures by Christina Perrone

“You’re going to hear the melody [of ‘Yankee Doodle’]. This is not a medley, it’s just one melody, but you’re going to hear all different ways: different rhythms, different speeds, different everything. But you’ll recognize the spirit of it is still there,” said Giurleo before conducting the first piece of the evening.

When the band ended the first piece, Elaine Giurleo, Jim’s wife, came up from playing piano to introduce the next song.

“I’m visiting this evening and helping [the WestwoodWinds] out. The band’s next tune is ‘Down in the Valley,’ an Appalachian courting song. It was first introduced in America as an Irish waltz and became a favorite of Pete Seeger and Burl Ives. How many of you knew them?” Scattered applause came from the audience.

Next, Elaine Giurleo sang the chorus and asked all who knew to sing along with her: “Down in the valley the valley so low/ Hang your head over, hear the wind blow.”

After completing “Down in the Valley” and a variation of “Tale as Old as Time” from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” it was time for the Italian medley. Elaine came up once again to introduce the medley, as well as describe some of the history and meaning behind the folk songs that made up the medley itself.

“Well, the band’s next medley is from Italy,” she began.“I had never known anything about Italian culture ‘til I met my husband.” At this point audience members familiar with Italian culture chuckled. “I learned a lot— really fast!” she laughed.

“The band’s next piece is a medley of three familiar Italian songs, the tarantella. How many of you know how to dance the tarantella? Well, it’s connected with the bite of a tarantula spider. Well, I don’t know if any of you were bitten by one, but victims were seemingly cured by dancing frenetically to the tune.” The tarantella is a staple at Italian weddings, and it can be heard in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic ‘The Godfather’ at Connie Corleone’s wedding.

“Now, the next tune is ‘Santa Lucia,’” continued Elaine Giurleo, “It celebrates the picturesque waterfront district of Borgo Santa Lucia in the bay of Naples … And ‘Finiculi, Finicula’ — familiar with that one? It was written to commemorate the opening of the first cable car - or the funicular, is what they called it - to the top of Mount Vesuvius.” Indeed, these cable cars still climb up the mountainous regions of Italy today.

The medley was upbeat and lively to begin, slow and graceful in the middle, light and humorous at the end. It was a definite highlight of the evening.

WestwoodWinds also devoted time to playing music that celebrated African-American culture in the United States. The band performed hits from the late artist Prince, including “1999,” “When Doves Cry,” “Purple Rain,” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” They also played a rendition of “I’ve Got You (I Feel Good),” written by American singer James Brown.

However, one of the best medleys belonged to Louis Armstrong. “Now we’re going to go to Salute to Louis Armstrong,” Elaine Giurleo announced. “How many of you know about Louis Armstrong? So the next song is a medley of the songs made famous by Satchmo from the 1920s to the ‘60s. You’re going to hear some of the most popular tunes, including ‘What a Wonderful World,’ one of my favorites, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ ‘St. Louis Blues,’ and the popular Carol Channings song, ‘Hello Dolly!’”

Next was a smorgasbord from the English Isles, as Jim Giurleo put it. The medley included traditional bagpipe songs from Scotland like “Scotland the Brave” and “Loch Lomond,” and penny whistle songs from Ireland like “Sailor’s Hornpipe.” These three songs were all superimposed over the English hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

“Well, last piece of the evening!” started Elaine Giurleo after the band had performed eight medleys. “Perfect example of a mixture of international influence in the music of America,” she started. “This was composed by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington … [‘Caravan’] depicts a Middle Eastern form of transportation, a camel. You will hear this song as a samba. They don’t do the samba on a camel … does anybody know how to do the samba?” she asked before several audience members raised their hands.

“I know they have samba classes here, so if you feel like getting up and dancing to the samba, please do,” she laughed. “The band members really enjoy this selection - watch how they make a smooth move and switch to percussion instruments in the middle of the song - they’re really good at it.” With that, she returned to the keyboard and the final song of the evening commenced.

At the end of the concert, Jim Giurleo came up once again. “Thank you so much. I’m so pleased that you recognized some of the songs. Before we leave, I have some thank-you’s to make and also,” he looked over into the audience, “did I see Tony dancing the tarantella back there?” laughter soon erupted among residents and staff.

“Amico in Italian means friend,” Giurleo went on. “He’s a friend … I have to say, Tony, Bob, the entire staff here at Fox Hill Village have been really friendly, and for the past three years have been friends to Westwood Winds … We enjoy playing in front of an audience that recognizes some of these songs. If we don’t play them, they’re going to kind of go off into the distance, so we’re keeping them alive.

“We think that we’re not your average community band. We perform an eclectic style of music from the past, from the present, and we have an eclectic crowd here. We have kids 12 or 13 years old, and some of us are in our retired years. I want to thank them for making the commitment into making this possible.” Afterwards, band members stood up and the crowd applauded.

The WestwoodWinds had been practicing for six weeks leading up to the concert and were anticipating playing another concert at Westwood High School on Monday, August 7.

“My favorite song is ‘Caravan,’” said Brian Beggan after the concert. Beggan is a Westwood High School Class of ‘16 graduate and a trombone player for the community band.

“‘Caravan’ is just so upbeat and jazzy and fun,” chimed in Anusha Manglik, the recent valedictorian of Westwood High School’s Class of 2017. Manglik plays the trombone alongside Beggan in WestwoodWinds.

“I like ‘St. Louis Blues’” added Toby Cashook, Westwood High School class of ‘16 and a baritone horn player.

“I think as a group we really like jazz, because you kind of feel jazz instead of having to look at it,” Manglik said.

Overall, the WestwoodWinds concert showcased an eclectic curation of medleys from around the world that fit nicely within the theme of a true American medley, integrating old and new, slow and fast, and everything in between.

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