Something for Thursday (for Dr. Janice Wade)

Last month Dr. Janice Wade of Waverly, IA passed away.

Dr. Wade was a member of the music department faculty at Wartburg College when I was there from 1989 to 1993, teaching strings and–in the part of her professional life that made her a part of my creative life–serving as music director of the Wartburg Community Symphony Orchestra, a joint collegiate and community ensemble that played five concerts a year. I played the trumpet in that orchestra all four of my years there, and for three of those years I was the principal. I got to see Dr. Wade’s music making up close.

At first, she wasn’t even Dr. Wade: she was still completing her doctorate when I arrived, and if memory serves, it wasn’t until my junior year that she completed her requirements and became Dr. Wade. Before that she was Ms. Wade, and for a time it seemed to me like she was fighting an uphill battle. There weren’t many string players at all at Wartburg when I arrived, and the orchestra was mainly a skeleton crew for most rehearsals. That first year and most of the second we never got to rehearse with full numbers until the dress rehearsals the day before the performance, and there were times when I wondered if the school’s string program would ever get off the ground.

It did. Dr. Wade recruited heavily, and by my third year, we had a full complement in the orchestra for nearly every rehearsal, and we played some meaty works: Mozart’s Requiem, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, a work by Amy Beach, and so on. We premiered a work by a Des Moines composer whose name escapes me (I still have those programs around and should look them up), and a lot of other fine works. The Symphony was kind of the odd-child out in the music culture at Wartburg at the time; the jewels in the crown were the Choir and the Concert Band, and then the jazz vocal group (called the Castle Singers) and the jazz band (the Knightlighters). But I was as proud to be a part of that orchestra’s evolution as I was of any other musicmaking I was privileged to be a part of while I was there, and Dr. Wade was the driving force.

One particular musical memory: each year we did the Nutcracker Suite as part of our Christmas program, and to this day that is one of the few works I know that is tied in my mind to a very specific time and place. I remember sitting in the orchestra room, rehearsing that piece, while watching snow fall outside through the hall’s big windows, and I remember Dr. Wade’s annoyance with us each year at the very end of the Waltz of the Flowers. In the very last couple bars, it feels like there should be a dramatic ritardando, slowing to the final smash, but the thing is there’s no such ritardando indicated in the score. We would try to play one, and Dr. Wade insisted that we not do it. To this day when I listen to a performance of that work and I hear some great conductor observe the unwritten ritardando, I smile a little and think how Dr. Wade would not approve. Indeed, when Leopold Stokowski conducts the Waltz in the film Fantasia, he does not observe the unwritten ritardando…and when friends and I who were in the orchestra at the time watched that sequence of the movie (it had just come out on VHS right then), we all yelped out, “Dr. Wade’s right! It doesn’t slow down there!”

Of all the pieces we played in the WCSO, this may well be my favorite. It’s the Symphony No. 2 by Howard Hanson, titled the “Romantic”. Hanson was a 20th century composer whose language is a conservative throwback to the previous century and its lush Romanticism. The symphony is perhaps the best illustration I know of how a very gifted mind can get a half hour’s worth of deeply compelling music from about twelve minutes of actual material: the piece is cyclical to a fault, with the same ideas recurring in each movement, but the overall effect is so effective that one hardly cares. So it was with me when I got to play this symphony under Dr. Janice Wade’s baton. As a conductor her overall demeanor was cool and analytical, but for all that she certainly programmed a lot of highly emotional and dramatic music. She kept her fire under control, but there was no questioning its heat.

Here, offered in memory of Dr. Janice Wade of Waverly, IA is Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2, the “Romantic.”

And thank you, Dr. Wade. I never got a chance to say it, but I often thought of you as Maestra Wade.

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