Multigenerational Music Connection

A half century of Ithaca High – Ithaca College collaboration.  By Mbeti Hyess 

In 1958 young Frank Battisti ’53 was the band director at Ithaca High School (IHS). He remained close to his former IC professor Warren Benson, who taught composition and percussion. Battisti (who would go on to receive his M.M. in 1964 and honorary doctor of music degree in 1992 from Ithaca College) commissioned Benson to write a piece for one of his bands. Benson’s “Night Song,” performed by the Ithaca High School Concert Band, premiered in 1959.

That was just the first commission for the IHS band program, which would premiere pieces by some of the most well-known composers for concert band in the world.

Battisti went on to become a prominent conductor and teacher at the New England Conservatory of Music and around Massachusetts, where as a young musician Michael Allen ’79, M.M. ’84, played under him. When Michael later took a position in Ithaca as a music teacher at Boynton Middle School, he remembered the connection between IHS and Battisti, and he decided to continue the tradition of commissioning works. Among the composers whose works he premiered were Dana Wilson (Ithaca College Dana Professor of Music Theory, History, and Composition), Bill Calhoun ’78, and Gregory Rudgers ’70.

The IHS Concert Band is now under the direction of yet another IC graduate — Nicki Zawel, M.M. ’05. This spring she’s premiering a work by Gregory Rudgers commemorating the 50th anniversary of the very first commission (Benson’s “Night Song”) — and Frank Battisti will be in the audience. Gregory’s piece, “Night Fantasy,” is intended as a companion work to “Night Song,” and has been recorded by the 2008–9 Ithaca College Wind Ensemble under the direction of Stephen Peterson.