The soaring brass music that accompanies the faculty procession during the 2019 Schar School of Policy and Government’s Degree Celebration at EagleBank Arena sounds like a classic, grand ceremonial instrumental. It sets the tone of the occasion—a somber acknowledgement of the significant achievement of earning a degree—and it sounds vintage, like a grand piece of regal heralding from years past.
But it is not. The Schar School Processional March was composed by Distinguished Visiting Professor Jean Paelinck, who taught at what was then the School of Public Policy at George Mason University from 1996 to 2000. The version heard at Thursday’s Schar School Degree Celebration is a new recording transcribed by Kendell Haywood, a graduating George Mason music performance major from Alexandria, Va., and orchestrated by associate professor of music Michael W. Nickens, aka Doc Nix, director of George Mason’s Green Machine Ensembles—including the No. 1ranked university pep bands in the country.
The new piece was performed by the George Mason Brass Ensemble, a 16-piece collaborative of trumpets, trombones, tubas, French horns, and euphoniums played by student musicians.
Paelinck, originally from Belgium and now retired to the Netherlands, is a classically trained musician who, in the words of his daughter Genevieve, wrote marches for “going to the beach, for going to the wherever. He was always writing compositions.”
Nickens received an email request in late winter from Paul Nooney, associate director of master’s student services at the Schar School, who stumbled on the composition and asked if a new version could be recorded in time for the May 16 Degree Celebration. As it happened, Haywood needed a brass project to complete his degree, and Nickens handed off the Paelinck score and sound file.
Haywood accepted the challenge of translating four pages of handwritten sheet music and a 2-plus-minute audio recording of a piano playing a bare-bones version of the piece. To complicate matters, “the piano recording [did] not match the score,” Nickens said. “But it [was] a great guide to what it could be.”
“I wanted to be mindful of [Paelinck’s] thoughts and feelings and I had to do that without having met him,” Haywood said. “But a lot of what is in the music spoke of who Professor Paelinck is.”
Haywood, under the direction of Nickens, transcribed the piece for brass ensemble for a one-take recording session at the deLaski Performing Arts building on the Fairfax Campus.
Knowing that not only would his work be aired in public, perhaps for as long as there are Schar School processions, Haywood was thrilled that the composer would hear his version of the original. “Very rarely do we get to work with the composers and musicians with the music we’ve written,” he said. “It’s more likely student arrangers will never hear their work played back, or commented on by the original artist.”
Not in this case. A sound file of the new recording was sent to Paelinck, who offered his thoughts via his son, Marc.
“I was considerably impressed by the version you sent me and I would like to thank the student arranger and his composition professor,” Jean Paelinck told his son. “My first impression was that it is a most successful arrangement of the piano version. I particularly appreciated the brass impressions, which in my opinion are a superb interpretation of the intentions I had when I composed the piano version.”
Nickens said a new recording in a less-hasty session is called for, along with added percussion. Haywood, meanwhile, has several post-graduation positions lined up as a percussionist in orchestras for local musical productions.
“It was interesting seeing other composers’ writing,” Haywood said of the experience. “It was interesting having a gateway to their feelings and thoughts.”