A Brief History of the Grand Symphonic Winds

Grand Symphonic Winds, or GSW, was founded in late 1987 by two recent college graduates, Jim Dempsey and Carrie Magnuson. Jim and Carrie had been accomplished musicians in college, and they wished to keep playing challenging music in a concert band setting. Finding that the traditional "community band" repertoire of marches and show tunes was not satisfying their need for musical achievement and growth, they decided to start their own ensemble. They envisioned Grand Symphonic Winds as a civic-based, non-professional wind ensemble that would perform college-level and higher music of all eras and styles. The group's goals were two-fold: to entertain its audiences and broaden their musical horizons, and also to provide a stimulating and enjoyable musical outlet for adults who were skilled musicians but had chosen different career paths.

Jim Dempsey remained GSW's leader and musical director from its inception through 1993 and under his guidance, the group quickly became the premiere civic-based wind ensemble in the Twin Cities. In those early days, the group often performed concerts at the Landmark Center and the Minnesota History Center in downtown St. Paul, among other locales, and was featured at the Minnesota Band Festival on several occasions. The group not only played challenging, high quality music, but also featured many accomplished guest soloists, including Margaret Pauley (saxophone), Gary Crowe and Frank Ell (both clarinet), Matthew George (trumpet) and Ben Kirby (tuba), and guest conductors such as Marcia LaRue, John Zdechlik and the late Frank Bencriscutto.

After Mr. Dempsey's retirement, GSW welcomed several guest conductors to lead the ensemble until the group was fortunate enough to land Professor Matthew George, Director of Bands and Chair of the Department of Music at the University of St. Thomas as its new Music Director.  Dr. George is now in his 20th year at the helm of GSW, guiding the group to new heights of musical performance. During Dr. George's tenure, GSW has also welcomed several extraordinary Assistant Directors: Rob McWilliams, Scott Jones, and Dennis Lindsay, all renowned high school or college band directors in their own right.

The group has performed at venues throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin, including the College of St. Benedict, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin, and numerous concerts at other colleges, community centers, high schools and churches. The band has also been selected three times to perform at the annual convention of the Minnesota Music Educators' Association (MMEA). World renown guest soloists who have appeared with the group over the past decade include Eugene Rousseau (saxophone), Manuel Laureano (trumpet), the Spectrum Brass Quintet, Norman Bolter (trombone), Adele Lorraine (flute), Linda Merrick (clarinet), Joan Griffith (acoustic guitar), Christopher Kachian (electric guitar), James Callahan (piano), Bill Chouinard (organ), Alan Bryan (vocal), among others.   In addition, GSW has been fortunate to host several globally-recognized guest conductors and composers over the last several years, including Ralph Hultgren, Guy Woolfenden, Dario Sotelo, Rafael Sanz-Espert, Nigel Clarke and Martin Ellerby. Recently, GSW commissioned and premiered a new work from noted composer James Stephenson in celebration of the ensemble's 25th anniversary.

One of the highlights of GSW's 25 years was a tour of China in May 2010 that included performances in connection with the World Expo in Shanghai and the National Centre for the Performing Arts (the "Egg") in Beijing. GSW’s appearance at the National Centre marked the first time a foreign wind ensemble/band performed at the prestigious venue.   The group's concert performances earned rave reviews and multiple standing ovations from the enthusiastic Chinese audiences.

Following up on its successful China tour, GSW was a featured at the Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic in Chicago in December 2010.  Again, GSW delighted the audience, comprised of composers, conductors, performers and music educators from around the world, by demonstrating the capabilities of a wind ensemble in performing colorful, exciting, complex and difficult, yet enjoyable music well beyond the capabilities of a stereotypical band.

Grand Symphonic Winds' most recently toured Brazil in January 2014 on a performance tour to Tatuí, Ouro Preto, and Sao Paulo.

As GSW heads into its second quarter-century, the group looks forward to providing a challenging and stimulating outlet for instrumental musicians throughout the Twin Cities, and providing entertaining and provocative performances for audiences throughout Minnesota and the world for decades to come.