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Monthly Archives: April 2011

I have to confess: I still haven’t seen Wicked, despite having lived in New York for all of its run.  So I can’t give as full and deep a treatment of this as I probably should.  That’s sort of OK, since I’m not the conductor on this one for the Columbia Summer Winds 2011 season – that would be my good friend Bill Tonissen.

Here’s what I do know about Wicked, based on being around it for almost 8 years (and a little internet research): it’s a Broadway musical based on a novel of the same name (by Gregory Maguire) that imagines the story of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.  It gives her a sympathetic backstory and a name (Elphaba).  I also know that Wicked is hugely successful, having run on Broadway since 2003, and with no signs of closing.  The music (by Stephen Schwartz) seems to be everywhere – I have several friends who claim it among their favorites.

Jay Bocook uses several of the highlights from the musical to piece together his 9-minute Selections.  Here they are, as played by a Hawaiian band:

Now, some original Wicked action – “Defying Gravity” at the Tonys with the original cast members:

And, for good measure, the Broadway production page and wikipedia page for Wicked.

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Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire PosyIrish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Colonial Song began life as a piano solo.  Grainger wrote it in 1911 as a gift to his mother, Rose.  It represents a comparatively rare instance of Grainger relying on an original melody rather than extant folk sources.  Grainger created versions of the piece for different ensembles, as small as piano trio and as large as symphony orchestra.  The military band version appeared as a result of Grainger’s time in the US Army bands.  See more about Colonial Song on wikipedia.

But why write about these 2 pieces together?  Grainger neatly sums up the connection between Colonial Song and 1914’s Gumsuckers March, as well as the significance of his original melody, in this tidy program note:

A “Gum-Sucker” is an Australian nick-name for Australians born in Victoria, the home state of the composer. The eucalyptus trees that abound in Victoria are called “gums”, and the young shoots at the bottom of the trunk are called “suckers”; so “gum-sucker” came to mean a young native son of Victoria, just as Ohioans are nick-named “Buck-eyes”. In the march, Grainger used his own “Australian Up-Country-Song” melody, written by him to typify Australia, which melody he also employed in his Colonial Song for two voices and orchestra, or military band.

This note comes from the Wind Repertory Project, and is attributed to Grainger himself.

Here’s Colonial Song in a rendition by the Royal Australian Navy band:

Now the US Coast Guard band plays Gumsuckers.  The Colonial Song theme should pop right out at you!

The composer known conventionally as Franz von Suppe (1819-1895) was born to an Italian-Belgian father and a Viennese mother  in Croatia, which was then part of the Kingdom of Dalmatia in the Austro-Hungarian empire.  His full name befits his convoluted nationality: his parents named him Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé Demelli.  His early musical training was in flute and singing.  His parents pushed him to study law, but he continued his musical studies nonetheless.  He eventually moved to Vienna to complete his studies and find work conducting in opera houses.  He went on to compose over 100 works for the stage.

The Poet and the Peasant (Dichter und Bauer in the original German) is one of von Suppe’s earlier operettas, written in 1846 when he was 27 years old.  Like most of his work, the operetta itself is rarely performed.  But the overture has become a classic at pops concerts for both bands and orchestras.

Franz von Suppe on wikipedia, naxos.com, and Allmusic.com.

A nice program note on Poet and Peasant.

Here’s the overture played by a very capable concert band:

and now the original orchestral version:

Another semester is on the books.  Spring 2011 was a great one!

Our final concert of the year was The Best Of All Possible Concerts, and it happened on Saturday, April 23 at 2pm.  We played the following:

Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein (senior choice for Carmen Sheils)

Down a Country Lane by Aaron Copland, featuring guest conductor Jonathan Jager (also his senior choice)

The Hounds of Spring by Alfred Reed (senior choice for Aaron Liskov)

English Folk Song Suite by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Amazing Grace by Frank Ticheli, featuring guest conductor Tim Beadle

Finale from Symphony no. 5 by Dmitri Shostakovich (senior choice for Laura Trujillo)

We also had the 3rd annual Columbia Festival of Winds, and what a great success it was!  Here’s a look at what we played:

The Festival began with Dr. William Berz of Rutgers University conducting Fanfare and Allegro by Clifton Williams.

The Columbia University Wind Ensemble played the following:

The Cowboys – John Williams, arr. Jim Curnow (for hornist and CFW guru Sarah Sechan)

Yosemite Autumn – Mark Camphouse (for hornist and people-organizing wizard Andy Knowlton)

Guest conductor Ron Nahass led the CUWE in Moorside March by Gustav Holst.

Pagan Dances – James Barnes (for flautist Laura Hopwood)

And for the grand finale, Washington Post March by John Philip Sousa was performed with 200 or so musicians in a massed band!

Composer John Stevens (b. 1951) is on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he teaches tuba and euphonium.  He is renowned for his series of tuba-euphonium quartets.  Benediction began life as one of these.  It was comissioned by the Sotto Voce Quartet in 2002 for inclusion on their recording of Stevens’s quartet ouvre.  The composer created this version for wind band with the encouragement of Scott Teeple, director of bands at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Benediction is a lyrical piece, intended as a vocal, sonorous contrast to his more lively quartets.

Program note on Benediction.

The original version of Benediction:

Version for euphonium and organ:

Wind band version:

Washington, D.C. native and legendary bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote a dozen operettas, six full-length operas, and over 100 marches, earning the title “March King”.  He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at an early age and went on to become the conductor of the President’s Own Marine Band at age 26.  In 1892 he formed “Sousa and his Band”, which toured the United States and the world under his directorship for the next forty years to great acclaim.  Not only was Sousa’s band hugely popular, but it also exposed audiences all over the world to the latest, cutting-edge music, bringing excerpts of Wagner’s Parsifal to New York a decade before the Metropolitan Opera staged it, and introducing ragtime to Europe, helping to spark many a composer’s interest in American music.

Here are some well-researched program notes on Stars & stripes from the Band Music PDF Library.

Stars and Stripes Forever (march) is considered the finest march ever written, and the same time one of the most patriotic ever conceived.  As reported in the Philedelphia Public Ledger (May 15, 1897) “… It is stirring enough to rouse the American eagle from his crag, and set him to shriek exultantly while he hurls his arrows at the aurora borealis.” (referring to the concert the Sousa Band gave the previous day at the Academy of Music). (Research done by Elizabeth Hartman, head of the music department, Free Library of Philadelphia.  [Quote] taken from John Philip Sousa, Descriptive Catalog of his Works (Paul E. Bierley, University of Illinois Press, 1973, page 71)).

The march was not quite so well received though and actually got an over average rating for a new Sousa march.  Yet, its popularity grew as Mr. Sousa used it during the Spanish-American War as a concert closer.  Coupled with his Trooping of the Colors, the march quickly gained a vigorous response from audiences and critics alike.  In fact, audiences rose from their chairs when the march was played.  Mr. Sousa added to the entertainment value of the march by having the piccolo(s) line up in front of the band for the final trio, and then added the trumpets and trombones [to] join them on the final repeat of the strain.

The march was performed on almost all of Mr. Sousa’s concerts and always drew tears to the eyes of the audience.  The author has noted the same emotional response of audiences to the march today.  The march has been named as the national march of the United States.

There are two commentaries of how the march was inspired.  The first came as the result of an interview on Mr. Sousa’s patriotism.  According to Mr. Sousa, the march was written with the inspiration of God.

“I was in Europe and I got a cablegram that my manager was dead.  I was in Italy and I wished to get home as soon as possible.  I rushed to Genoa, then to Paris and to England and sailed for America.  On board the steamer as I walked miles up and down the deck, back and forth, a mental band was playing ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ Day after day as i walked it persisted in crashing into my very soul.  I wrote in on Christmas Day, 1896.” (Taken from program notes for the week beginning August 19th, 1923.  Bierley, John Philip Sousa, page 71.)

Researched by Marcus L. Neiman, Medina, Ohio

 

The wikipedia article on Stars & Stripes is bit thin on references, but it does allow you to listen to a vintage recording of Sousa himself conducting the march, from 1909.  The Stars & Stripes page at the Dallas Wind Symphony has other old recordings and Sousa’s original lyrics for the march.

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at naxosdirect.com. Click the link that says “Read more about this recording.”

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

John Philip Sousa on Wikipedia

Stars & Stripes is one of many Sousa marches (and other pieces by turn of the 19th-20th century composers) available at the Band Music PDF Library for free.  I encourage any enterprising band directors to take a look.

Check out this legit performance of Stars & Stripes, courtesy of the President’s Own United States Marine Band.  If you don’t like the conductor’s very informative monologue, skip to the performance at around 1:00.

Now, the Muppets’ take on Stars & Stripes:

Finally, an inspiring trombone choir version: