It’s a punishing day after a tiring week, but the musicians in Geneva are ready. At the 5:30 p.m. rehearsal, conductor Patrick Frederick is still tweaking nuances of tonight’s performance: “Don’t let it get legato until we reach the trio.” “Can we try this a bit brighter?” “I don’t need it loud — just clean, so it’s got somewhere to grow.” “You don’t have to give me a gift for Christmas if you’ll just play that tempo.”
The players remain plenty busy this long travel day, having already hauled their instruments down Anderson Boulevard, turning left onto State Street, then marching back toward Geneva High School to finish the homecoming parade.
If you’re looking for hints of the third stop on the CSO’s fall tour, the Swiss city of Geneva, which hugs Lac Léman, you’ll find them on the banks of the Fox River in Kane County. In this suburb west of Chicago, chef Alain Roby is hand-sculpting carmelized sugar at his Third Street pâtisserie vaut le voyage and, around the corner, a locally brewed Oktoberfest lager certainly mérite un détour. The jeweler downtown keeps a broad selection of Swiss time pieces — pas aujourd’hui — and with German and French Club floats in the homecoming parade (one’s painted “Allez les Vikings!” — guess which), it seems both languages are spoken here.
Game time gets close and up by the football field, cars fill the high school’s lots. Horned-helmet placards protect the best spots. One says “GHS VALHALLA MEMBER RESERVED — Wagner.” So if the visionary behind Parsifal (“In this realm time becomes space”) and Der Ring des Niebelungen, who frequented the other Geneva during a decade in Switzerland, returns to begin the world anew near another river prone to flooding, the composer and his warrior gods have better parking on higher ground.
Tonight’s giant band, overflowing with tubas and trombones, looks prepped for Wagner — and certainly the Wagner-derivative fanfares from “Star Wars” (“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”) and “Star Trek” in the halftime show.
“Give it to ‘em, Jake!”
Frederick, faculty co-director of Geneva High School bands, trusts senior drum major Jake Zicherman with tonight’s performance. “At that moment I am responsible for leading the band to do whatever keeps them organized and looking good,” Zicherman tells me, and under Friday night lights, he’s looking good in black cape and helmet “holding a light saber — Darth Maul’s, to be exact.”
Zicherman’s sharp tempos allow Frederick to focus on other interstellar halftime responsibilities, like the Christmas gift of setting a cardboard Death Star aflame while band co-director Shawn Maxwell weaves a cut-out X-wing fighter past the brass. Maxwell’s reason for flying the 70-yard mission himself? He doesn’t want the wandering prop blocking musicians or throwing off the tempos.
Drum-major honors are shared with Maddie Moller, a junior, and senior Hannah Barnes, tonight respectively attired as blond and brunette Princess Leias. (Outside of band, they’re redheaded gangsters and pirates, the Chicago Tribune suggests.) Barnes, a trumpeter for nine years, finds the role of women brass players too often diminished. “It’s just kind of been something I’ve always encountered. You have to work twice as hard to prove that you’re as good. But I think that it’s good to be a role model for younger female brass players and to be an important part of the band.”
David Moller, proud father of the junior drum major, watches halftime from the stands. He respects the work behind his daughter’s success. “Some days are hours on end. Band itself? During marching-band season it’s multiple days a week; multiple evenings for two, three hours — and that’s along with your hour-long school class.”
The musicians finally get to relax and enjoy the second half. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns rush the band back to work (Geneva routs West Chicago 41-12), but mostly it’s the first chance to catch a break as this long Friday winds down. Senior Alex Kosla’s day isn’t finished — it’s the trumpets’ turn to clean the band room — but his early-evening concentration gives way to late-night reflection.
He recalls Orchestra Hall two years back, “seeing a concerto featuring the first-chair trumpet for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.” It made an impact. “As a trumpet player myself, just seeing this guy play trumpet that well — it was just astounding. It was just him up in front of the entire ensemble, essentially playing a solo with the entire orchestra as his accompaniment. And it was just mesmerizing how well he could play.”
“They’re just really professionals. You can tell that they really put their heart and soul into that thing.” In Kosla’s eyes, CSO musicians “get up in the morning, they go out there and they’re excited to do their work. They’re dedicated to trumpet or baritone or whatever they play. It’s just nice to have that gift. I suppose that’s a gift in itself, besides just talent.”
It’s inspiring — Kosla’s optimism as the seconds tick down, and the collective energy of the Marching Vikings, a hundred-plus mighty. Wagner himself scribbled from another Geneva, “it moved me deeply to be reminded of my youth, which lay before my mind’s eye with such uncommon clarity,” a time remembered “in an exclusively cheerful vein.” If the tormented composer were heading home from this new Geneva tonight — the bright stadium lights disappearing and an autumn mist drifting past, crisp fanfares a distant echo — for a moment he’d be cheerful again.
Then he’d scour the darkened parking lot, hoping to find his car.
Next in the series: Paris via WhatsApp.
Andrew Huckman is a Chicago-based lawyer and writer.