Band lays ground for bold music

Dr. Stephen Allen conducts the Princeton Brass Band in its world premiere of Dr. Ronald Hemmel’s Grounds and Sculptures on June 29 in the Yvonne Theater.By Allie Ward

The words “world premiere” may bring about visions of A-list celebrities, designer tuxedos and a red carpet. This was not the case back in June in the Yvonne Theater as Dr. Stephen Allen led the Princeton Brass Band (PBB) in its debut of Dr. Ronald Hemmel’sGrounds and Sculptures.

But the casual summer concert showcased the award-winning, extraordinarily talented band and doubled as the world premiere of Hemmel’s piece, a sort of miniature concert in itself. 

Allen, assistant professor of music and the band’s director, explained the formation of the band in 2004.

“We started not knowing what kind of interest we’d get,” he said. “We depend on community players and [luckily] there are a lot of brass players in the area. We were told it would fail because it wasn’t connected to a university program.” 

Although the band isn’t tied directly to Rider, Allen makes a point to have at least one concert per semester at the university. He hopes that, in the future, the band may be incorporated into the music scene on campus. 

“It’ll add to the distinction of the Rider Music Department,” he said.

The PBB also aspires to perform internationally in the near future, hopefully somewhere in Europe, or the “home scene of brass bands,” as Allen calls it. 

“Our ultimate goal is to try to do something international,” Allen said. “In our first five years we’ve reached the local level through our concerts and the national level with the North American Brass Band Association.” 

Recently, the band took third place in the North American Brass Band Competition in Louisville, Ky. 

“It’s a growing scene,” Allen said. “The competition might have something to do with that.” 

Back in the Yvonne Theater, the summer concert was arranged into two halves. The first half demonstrated the band’s seven versatile performance pieces of the season and showcased every angle of the musical spectrum. 

“I keep an open ear to what [music] people like,” Allen said. 

The second half of the concert was dedicated to Hemmel’s Grounds and Sculptures. Hemmel, professor of music theory and composition at Westminster, was inspired by the art at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J.  

“I don’t recall exactly how I came up with the idea, but I have been a fan of the Grounds for many years,” Hemmel said. “I regularly recommend a visit for my students and they always thank me afterwards.” 

The piece featured seven movements. Four of the seven were literally musical interpretations of specific sculptures. The remaining three movements were called “grounds.” To help the audience understand the movements, photos of the sculptures and Hemmel’s notes were included in the program. 

“A ‘ground’ uses a bass pattern that repeats while variations occur above it,” Hemmel explained. “The title, Grounds and Sculptures, is playing on both the name of the sculpture park and the musical form I used.” 

Allen was thrilled that the music was based on something special to the area. 

“I think it’s super that Ron was able to do this,” Allen said. “We’d love to see a performance at some point [at the Grounds for Sculpture].” 
Hemmel was just eager to hear his piece played by the full band. 

“Although I attended several rehearsals, I never got to hear everyone play all together,” he said. “I was excited to finally hear the work performed by the entire ensemble.”

The light atmosphere of the night really sprang to life with Allen conducting his band. His passion for the music and the joy it brought him shone for all to see. 

Allen summed up the importance of the concert in a few short words: “The music would not exist if we did not exist.”

For more information on the Princeton Brass Band or to view its upcoming concert schedule, visit its Web site at

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