John Barnes Chance (1932-1972) was born in Texas, where he played percussion in high school. His early interest in music led him to the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying composition with Clifton Williams. The early part of his career saw him playing timpani with the Austin Symphony, and later playing percussion with the Fourth and Eighth U.S. Army Bands during the Korean War. Upon his discharge, he received a grant from the Ford Foundation’s Young Composers Project, leading to his placement as resident composer in the Greensboro, North Carolina public schools. Here he produced seven works for school ensembles, including his classic Incantation and Dance. He went on to become a professor at the University of Kentucky after winning the American Bandmasters Association’s Ostwald award for his Variations on a Korean Folk Song. Chance was accidentally electrocuted in his backyard in Lexington, Kentucky at age 39, bringing his promising career to an early, tragic end.
Incantation and Dance came into being during Chance’s residency at Greensboro. He wrote it in 1960 and originally called it Nocturne and Dance – it went on to become his first published piece for band. Its initial incantation, presented in the lowest register of the flutes, presents most of the melodic material of the piece. Chance uses elements of bitonality throughout the opening section to create a sound world mystically removed from itself. This continues as the dance elements begin to coalesce. Over a sustained bitonal chord (E-flat major over an A pedal), percussion instruments enter one by one, establishing the rhythmic framework of the dance to come. A whip crack sets off furious brass outbursts, suggesting that this is not a happy-fun dance at all. When the dance proper finally arrives, its asymmetrical accents explicitly suggest a 9/8+7/8 feel, chafing at the strictures of 4/4 time. In his manuscript (and reprinted in the 2011 second edition score) Chance provides the following performance note pertaining to these passages:
Because there is no musical notation to indicate a “non-accent,” it may be necessary to caution the players against placing any metric pulsation on the first and third beats of the syncopated measures of the dance: to accent these beats in the accustomed way will destroy the intended effect.
He goes on to demonstrate the first two bars of the dance as written in 4/4, then rewritten as the accents would suggest: 3/4, 3/8, 2/4, 3/8.
Incantation and Dance has been extremely popular with wind bands ever since it was written. Wikia program notes has a page about it. David Goza wrote an indispensable, must-read article about the piece. Even the blurb at Hal Leonard is informative.
Some links on the composer:
Listing of a John Barnes Chance CD on Amazon.com with an extensive customer review at the bottom that is required reading.
The Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra plays Incantation and Dance: