Swingin’ with the East Metro Symphony Orchestra and the Bend in the River Big Band

What happens when a Symphony Orchestra and a Big Band join forces? Find out Sunday at "Sounds of Swing." Mark reflects on this partnership as a member of both EMSO and BRBB.

Hi, Woodbury – I’m Mark Mohwinkel and I’ve been the principal trombone of EMSO since 2005 (when it was still the 3M Symphony).

I also play with EMSO’s Tarnished Brass Quintet and I joined the EMSO board this year. Additionally, I’ve been a member of the Bend in the River Big Band (BRBB) since our inception in 1987. These two groups will soon be performing together, and since I’m the lone member of both organizations, Angie and Eric recommended that I share my thoughts of this “blending of musical styles”.

First, I must confess that I’m not from Woodbury. In fact, I’m not even from Minnesota. Although I currently hail from Hudson, I did grow up in Minnesota, so maybe that helps a bit?

You know a bit about EMSO already, so here’s a little bit of my background and that of BRBB. I started trombone before 6th grade and continued playing through my years at Gustavus Adolphus College. Although I majored in physics, I still found time to play in Concert Band, Orchestra, Jazz Band, Chapel Brass Quartet, Brass Choir, and Trombone Choir.

I presented a senior trombone recital accompanied by the Trombone Choir. Following Gustavus, I attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota and played in one of their jazz bands and I also taught beginning trombone. Unfortunately, after beginning my career at 3M, I stepped away from the horn for three to four years.

Luckily, my trombone teacher from Gustavus, Mark Lammers, decided to host an alumni jazz band reunion concert. We had a blast and found a way to keep it going — in 1987 the Bend in the River Big Band was born.

Bend in the River refers to the bend in the Minnesota river near St. Peter, capturing our roots and still consists mostly of GAC alumni. BRBB consists of saxophones, trumpets, trombones, rhythm section and fantastic vocalist.

In the over 25 years we’ve been in existence, we’ve become one of the busiest big bands of the nearly 50 currently performing in and around the Twin City area. We’ve played from Elk River to Faribault and from Minnetonka to Hudson. In 1998 we participated in the Vätter Blues & Jazz Festival in Huskvarna, Sweden, along with stops in Väkjö, Sandsjö and Jönköping while we were there, performing a Jazz Requiem.

Although the musical styles of EMSO and BRBB are decidedly different, there are similarities in why both organizations exist. Both were created out of a love of the music and both are made up of people who are passionate to share that music with others. Both organizations strive to not only entertain, but also to educate, sharing our music with students from elementary to college level.

All of us take every opportunity to show that music is an experience in which you can participate for the rest of your life.

EMSO pushes the boundaries of classical music by performing regularly with music of different cultures (such as a celebration of Bulgarian music in June) and different styles (jazz/swing, barbershop). Meanwhile, BRBB not only plays in parks and music halls, but also fund raisers, battles of the bands, dances (Wabasha Street Caves, weddings, etc.), the aforementioned requiem and even church services.

If you enjoy any of these styles of music – or are open to expanding your musical horizons – I believe you owe it to yourselves to join us at 2:00 on Sunday, March 3rd at East Ridge High School for the Sounds of Swing – a joint concert between EMSO and BRBB.

You’re in for a real treat with EMSO performing a Duke Ellington medley, BRBB performing a number of standards including “A Wonderful Day Like Today”, “Skylark” (with the EMSO Strings), “I Get Along Without You Very Well”, “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey”, “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, “Over the Rainbow” and “All That Jazz” among others. For the finale, both groups will combine for a joint “Salute to the Big Bands”.

And if that’s not enough, the Tarnished Brass Quintet will entertain those who arrive early on the Loft Stage with a couple of jazz brass quintet tunes, including “The Saints’ Hallelujah” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing”. Please join us and share our love of music – it will be a performance I am certain you’ll enjoy!

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