Arts & Culture

American Bandmasters Convention Showcases Best in Concert Bands in the Bluegrass

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 7, 2017) The best of the best in concert bands will be showcased this week in the Bluegrass as the 83rd annual American Bandmasters Association (ABA) convention opens today. For the first time in the ABA's 87-year history the nation's premier conductors and composers for concert bands will travel to Kentucky to meet and participate in five free public concerts featuring some of the country's best ensembles, including the United States Marine Band, March 8-10, at Singletary Center for the Arts.

"Concert bands perform indoors, they’re the band equivalent to what a symphony orchestra is to the orchestra world. These bands represent the finest musicians from their campus or their communities. Many are professionally trained musicians who hold doctoral degrees in performance from major institutions throughout the United States," said John Cody Birdwell, director of UK Bands and organizer of the 2017 ABA convention. "In the case of the Marine Band, it represents the finest musicians in the entire Marine Corps. They really are considered to be the best concert band in the world and have a very demanding schedule."

Founded in 1929, with John Philip Sousa as honorary life president, the American Bandmasters Association recognizes outstanding achievement on the part of concert band conductors and composers. The current membership (invitational) comprises approximately 300 band conductors and composers in the U.S. and Canada, and 80 associate members (music businesses and corporations that provide significant services to bands and to the publication of band music) like Yamaha and Conn-Selmer.

As part of the 83rd ABA Convention, members of the association, guest artists and ensemble musicians representing 42 states and four Canadian provinces will be in Lexington. One of the celebrated composers expected to be in attendance is Emmy Award-winner Bruce Broughton, who many may remember for his Academy Award-nominated score for the movie “Silverado."

While much of the convention is for members only, the schedule will include several public concerts. Concert bands from Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport, Tennessee; University of Kentucky; University of Louisville; and Ohio State University will be featured with the nation's best conductors leading individual performances for each concert program. Closing out the convention will be a sold out concert by the United States Marine Band.

And while the organization's association with the name Sousa may have audiences expecting concert programs filled with marches, each of the five concerts will display a diverse selection of music.

"The repertoire these groups perform will be wide-ranging, from the old traditional Sousa marches to the newest, cutting-edge pieces. I think the thing that strikes me about the programming for ABA for each of the groups is that the programs will have a lot of variation. There will be a wide variety of pieces that the audience members will really enjoy. It’s going to be a lot of really good music," Birdwell said.

The concert bands to be featured at the ABA Convention are:

All the concerts, which are free and open to the public, will be presented at the Singletary Center. For more information on the programs for each concert, visit In addition, the Wednesday and Thursday concers will also be livestreamed for individuals unable to come to Kentucky. The Wednesday concerts featuring Dobyns-Bennett and UK can be seen here: The Thursday concerts featuring UofL and Ohio State can be seen here:

The United States Marine Band concert is currently sold out, but some reserved tickets may be released to the public this weeek. Individuals interested in attending this concert should contact the Singletary Center ticket office at 859-257-4929 for more information. For those unable to get a ticket, a livestream of this concert will be available Friday at

To bring such a large convention to UK School of Music, Birdwell enlisted the help of his students. For the last year, several students worked with Birdwell on the planning, logistics and legwork needed to make the convention possible.

And now that the convention is here, the students in the UK Wind Symphony will reap the rewards of their hard work and rehearsal time preparing for the ABA by not only playing for the nation's best minds in concert band but also playing under many of the leading conductors in the field, where they will get to see variations in approaches to rehearsal and performance.

"I think they’re real excited about it. Not only to be able to perform an event like this, but also to do it in your own backyard, your own campus, they’re thrilled to be part of this," Birdwell said. "And to be performing on the opening night is also going to be a huge thrill for them because they can share their musical talents with what really is a national audience."

Conducting doctoral student Blake Garcia, who helped Birdwell organize the convention, agrees the concerts and convention will be invaluable for not only UK's students but all the student musicians playing in Lexington this week. "This is huge. This is the top organization for band directors and composers. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the students."

For more information on the ABA convention agenda, visit the ABA convention site at

The 2017 ABA Convention is being hosted by the UK School of Music at the UK College of Fine Arts. UK's School of Music has garnered a national reputation for high-caliber education in opera, choral and instrumental music performance, as well as music education, music therapy, composition, and theory and music history.

photo of United States Marine Band
photo of UK Wind Symphony
photo University of Louisville Wind Ensemble