Music education major plays great-grandfather's waltz

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Tonight, the audience at the Montana State University Billings Symphonic Band concert will hear a piece that hasn’t been performed in more than 70 years.

Music education major Elliot Cross will conduct “A Last Hope,” a waltz written by his great-grandfather Ludovico Jarussi in the 1930s. Elliot and his father Justin Cross came across the music when they were going through items in a house that had been willed to Justin by his aunt, Ernestine Cameron, with the intent of donating many of the items to the local museum. They discovered a leather satchel tucked away in the corner of the basement.

“I was looking in the basement and I hear this, ‘Dad, Dad, I think I found the Holy Grail!’” Justin said.

The “Holy Grail” was the satchel full of compositions by Jarussi, an Italian immigrant who wrote music (and ran his business) under the more anglicized name of Louis Ross. “A Last Hope” was the only of the compositions that had a full score, Elliot said.

“It’s actually a brass band piece,” he said. “He played in a brass band in Red Lodge when he was there, so he wrote these pieces for the brass band that played around Red Lodge.”

Elliott arranged the piece for concert band and brought it to the MSU Billings band director, Dr. Mark Fenderson.

“I thought it would be a really nice addition to our program,” Fenderson said. “It’s a nice little waltz, a real neat-sounding piece of music. It sounds like it’s from the score to The Godfather.”

To arrange the piece, Elliot worked in a computer program called “Finale.” The process of rewriting the brass band piece for a full-fledged concert band took him more than 10 weeks. One of the changes he made was to give the alto line, which is traditionally played by a French horn in a brass ensemble, Elliot said, to a woodwind instrument.

“I just moved it over and put it on the alto saxophone, and I kind of paired up the low woodwinds and the low brass together so it meshed together well,” he said.

In the original score, there was a cadenza at the beginning that Elliot’s great-grandfather intended for either the clarinet or the trumpet. The score has a clarinet part, which Elliot expanded for flutes and oboes as well.

“That’s actually the only woodwind that he had scored into this piece,” Elliot said.

Ludovico Jarussi wasn’t just a composer, he was also a master of the trombone. Justin’s aunts told their nephew about the time Jarussi performed for the king of Italy as a young boy.

“Grandpa Jarussi was a child prodigy,” Justin said. “He’s got some rich heritage there.”

Jarussi’s musical possessions included a valve trombone, a baritone and a trumpet, all from the brass family.

Elliot, however, plays a woodwind.

“I play the saxophone,” he said. “That’s my main instrument.”

While that may factor into his decision to give the alto line to the saxophone, Elliot will lead his classmates as the conductor of the piece.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking because I do want the piece to sound close to what I’m hearing when I’m arranging it,” he said. “Through the rehearsals, we’ve gotten pretty much all the kinks worked out.”

Fenderson, who will step behind the scenes as Elliot takes center stage, is pleased to give his student the opportunity before he begins student teaching.

“This is his last band concert,” Fenderson said. “This is a really excellent capstone to his collegiate career.”

By: CATHY ULRICH Of The Gazette Staff

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