The Bienen School’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble (SWE) commemorated its 50th anniversary June 8-9 with a celebration of music and fellowship in Evanston. Nearly 200 alumni—representing virtually every major orchestra and US military ensemble—returned to campus for the reunion weekend.
The celebration culminated in a marathon concert of ensemble favorites Sunday evening, including wind masterworks, pieces that SWE had recorded, and other significant works that have become part of the ensemble’s identity. The performance was streamed live for those unable to attend.
“When we realized we had an anniversary, I thought this would be a wonderful time to celebrate and gather our alumni together,” said director of bands Mallory Thompson (79, G80). “We’ve been working on this for essentially two years.”
Founded in 1969 by its original director, John P. Paynter (50, G51), SWE has developed and maintained a reputation for innovation and artistry. The ensemble has released seven recordings to date and performed at several conventions, most recently the 39th College Band Directors National Association conference.
“SWE always performs at the highest level. While some of my proudest moments have been our recording projects, convention appearances, or virtually any concert, those are only the tip of the iceberg,” said Thompson. “I remember many meaningful and fun moments in rehearsal and performance that were special to me both musically and personally.”
Jennifer Marotta (00), a trumpet faculty member at USC’s Thornton School of Music and former member of “The President’s Own” US Marine Band, noted the unique feeling of being “back home” in Evanston during the reunion. “We all shared an experience at different times, and it was really amazing to bring all of our years together into one celebration,” said Marotta. “There were so many phenomenal musicians there from amazing orchestras, bands, and universities—yet I didn’t once feel an atmosphere of competition.”
Tubist Andrew Hitz (97) agreed that playing with fellow alumni—including many with whom he had never performed—was a great privilege. “I’ve been spoiled throughout my career with amazing performance opportunities all over the world, and this was still one of the most special concerts I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “We all came on our own dime not only to honor the great history of SWE and Northwestern University but to be able to make music with Mallory Thompson one more time. She is a special human who has impacted more lives than could ever be counted.