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Monthly Archives: June 2011

These Ticheli posts are getting a little formulaic.  But he’s written so much music, and we need all the facts.  So here we go again!

Educated at the University of Michigan, composer Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) has become one of the biggest names in new wind band repertoire.  Since 1991 he has been a Professor of Composition USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.

As usual, Ticheli provides his own program note for 2011’s San Antonio Dances that neatly sums up its meaning for him and its musical inspiration:

San Antonio Dances was composed as a tribute to a special city, whose captivating blend of Texan and Hispanic cultural influences enriched my life during my three years as a young music professor at Trinity University.  It has been 20 years since I lived in San Antonio, but the city still tugs at my heartstrings and lives in this music.

The first movement depicts the seductively serene Alamo Gardens and its beautiful live oak trees that provide welcome shade from the hot Texas sun.  A tango mood and lazily winding lines give way to a brief but powerful climax depicting the Alamo itself.

The second movement’s lighthearted and joyous music celebrates San Antonio’s famous Riverwalk.  Inspired by the streets and canals of Venice, Italy, architect Robert Hugman proposed his idea of converting the San Antonio riverfront into a beautiful urban park back in the 1920s.  It took decades to complete, but the Riverwalk eventually became a reality–a 2 1/2 mile stretch of stunningly landscaped waterfront lined with hotels, restaurants, night clubs and shops.

Picture a group of friends seated at an outdoor patio of one of the Riverwalk’s many Tex-Mex restaurants, enjoying the scenery, the food, the company.  In time, the evening settles in, the air cools, the mood brightens, the crowd picks up, and music is heard from every direction.  Before you know it, the whole place is one giant fiesta that could go on forever.

Viva San Antonio!

Ticheli’s publisher hosts a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music on their website – quite a find!

Frank Ticheli’s personal website,

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.

A Texas honor band plays San Antonio Dances:

Now take a look at some pictures: here are the Alamo Gardens, then the Riverwalk.


Educated at the University of Michigan, composer Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) has become one of the biggest names in new wind band repertoire.  Since 1991 he has been a Professor of Composition USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.

Ticheli’s 1999 composition Shenandoah is based on an American folk song of the same name whose popularity has not been dimmed by its uncertain origin and meaning – more on that in a minute.  Ticheli himself aptly describes how this song inspired his work for band:

In my setting of Shenandoah I was inspired by the freedom and beauty of the folk melody and by the natural images evoked by the words, especially the image of a river.  I was less concerned with the sound of a rolling river than with its life-affirming energy – its timelessness.  Sometimes the accompaniment flows quietly under the melody; other times it breathes alongside it.  The work’s mood ranges from quiet reflection, through growing optimism, to profound exaltation.

He also gives some historical background on the song:

The Shenandoah Valley and the Shenandoah River are located in Virginia.  There is disagreement among historians concerning the origins of their names.  Some claim that the river and valley were named in  the 1750’s by the Cherokee as a friendly tribute to a visiting Iroquois Chief named Skenandoah.  Others suggest that the region was named not by the Cherokee, but by the Senedo Indians of the Virginia Valley.  In the Senedo tradition, Shenandoah means “daughter of the moon”, and bears no relation to the Iroquois Chief Skenandoah.

The origins of the folk song are equally obscure, but all date to the 19th century.  It has been attributed variously to a coal miner in Pennsylvania, a young protege of Stephen Foster, and to a housewife in Lexington, Kentucky [ed: also to Native Americans or French-Canadian sailors!]. Many variants on the melody and text have been handed down through the years, the most popular telling the story of an early settler’s love for a Native American woman.

More info on Ticheli’s version of Shenandoah can be found here, at his publisher’s website.  This site is also home to a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music – quite a find!

Frank Ticheli’s personal website,

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.

An anonymous band plays Shenandoah:

A vocal version by the Choir of New College, Oxford:

Shenandoah National Park’s video page can give you some idea of the natural beauty that inspired this music.  The photo slideshow on the Shenandoah Valley tourism page isn’t bad either!

Info about the original song Shenandoah on wikipedia.

Finally, one possible set of lyrics to the original tune.  Many versions exist, this is just one of them (from

O Shenando’ I long to hear you,
Away, you rolling river
O Shenando’ I long to hear you
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

O Shenando’ I long to see you
Away you rolling river
O Shenando’ I long to see you
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

‘Tis seven years since I have seen you
To hear your rolling river
O Shenando’ I long to see you
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

O Shenando’ I’ll not forget you
I’ll dream of your clear waters
O Shenando’ you’re in my mem’ry
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was a British composer and teacher.  After studying composition at London’s Royal College of Music, he spent the early part of his career playing trombone in an opera orchestra.  It was not until the early 1900s that his career as a composer began to take off.  Around this same time he acquired positions at both St. Paul’s Girls’ School and Morley College that he would hold until retirement, despite his rising star as a composer.  His music was influenced by his interest in English folk songs and Hindu mysticism, late-Romantic era composers like Strauss and Delius, and avante-garde composers of his time like Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  He is perhaps best known for composing The Planets, a massive orchestral suite that depicts the astrological character of each known planet.  His works for wind band (two suites and a tone poem, Hammersmith) are foundational to the modern wind literature.

The Second Suite in F was written in 1911, but not performed until 1922.  Each of its four movements uses one or more folk songs as its melodic material.

An unnamed band performs each movement of the suite, each in separate videos.  First, the “March”:

“Song without Words”:

The devilish “Song of the Blacksmith”:

Finally, “Fantasia on the Dargason” at a good, healthy tempo (I like this one fast!):

Holst largely repeated this movement in his St. Paul’s Suite for orchestra:

Holst also wrote a chorale version of the “Song of the Blacksmith”:

There is also a choral version of “Song without Words”, titled “I Love My Love”:

Great program note on Second Suite from the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra.

Second Suite on wikipedia (a rather poorly-researched article, I’m afraid!)

For those interested in singing along with some Holst, many of the folk songs used in the Second Suite have their lyrics published on the internet:

From the “March”: “Morris Dance” is an instrumental dance; “Swansea Town” starts with the euphonium solo; “Claudy Banks” is the 6/8 section. That link leaves out the chorus, which you can find in Bob Garofalo’s great resource book, Folk Songs and Dances in Second Suite.

“Song without Words” is actually “I Love My Love”

“Song of the Blacksmith”

“Fantasia on the Dargason”: The Dargason itself is an instrumental dance tune, related to popular melodies like “The Irish Washerwoman”.  This movement also includes “Greensleeves”, usually a sad-sounding song, as a rather joyous interlude and a powerful climax. – a major web resource for information on the composer.

I first heard Chorale and Shaker Dance (1971) when I was a freshman in high school in 1994.  My school was small enough that I had met and become friends with a number of upperclassmen in the band through our Pep Band and Show Choir and things like that.  At the time, though, there were 2 bands at my school: the symphonic band (juniors and seniors) and the concert band (freshmen and sophomores).  We had our end-of-year concert together, and each group got to listen to the other.  I don’t quite remember what we in the concert band played (I’m pretty sure Alfred Reed’s Imperatrix was on the program), but I very clearly remember Chorale and Shaker Dance as played by my upperclassmen friends.  I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  It was so complex, so sophisticated, so riveting!  I thought multiple times, “how are they doing this?!?”.  It was really a mind-blowing experience, seeing my friends do something so big and impressive.

My band director, the legendary Bruce Schmottlach, retired at the end of that year.  My old middle school band director, Dean Coutsouridis, came up to replace him.  Couts (as we called him) programmed Chorale and Shaker Dance again my junior year, giving me the chance to experience it from the inside.  And what an experience it was!  Playing that ascending whole-tone scale trumpet solo always gave me a thrill.

I’ve been sent on this trip down memory lane by the piece’s inclusion in the Hartt School of Music 2011 Instrumental Conducting Symposium.  Looking through the score, 18 years and 2 masters degrees later, has made me reflect on my earlier experiences with the piece.  I can absolutely see why it’s still a classic among high school bands, but it’s so loaded with those intangible “high school band” qualities that I’m not sure I’d ever do it with my college or adult bands.  Still, it certainly helped put me on the path to becoming a band director!

But why talk when we can listen.  Imagine hearing this from the perspective of a small-town 14-year-old and you’ll understand why it stands out for me:

Now the requisite links:

John Zdechlik (the composer) was born in Minnesota, where he still lives and teaches, in 1937.  He has his own website, as well as a biography at Kjos, his publisher.  He wrote Chorale and Shaker Dance in 1971 for the Jefferson High School band in Bloomington, Minnesota.  To learn more about the piece, check out this guy’s “activity page”, the wikipedia article, and this instructional guide.

Bonus video: someone actually made a Chorale and Shaker Dance graphic novel of sorts…

Dmitri Shostokovich (1906-1975) was one of the great composers of the 20th century, and certainly the greatest to emerge from the Soviet Union.  His relationship with the Soviet government, especially Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, defined nearly every aspect of his life.  He was born in St. Petersburg and grew up in the last years of tsarist rule in Russia.  The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 came when Shostakovich was 11, but its influence stayed with him the rest of his life.  His rise to fame came at the hands of an aid to Leon Trotsky, a father of the revolution.  Shortly thereafter, Trotsky’s exile and the death of Vladimir Lenin left  Stalin in charge, and he ruled with an iron fist and no patience for dissent or criticism of any kind.  The arts were to reflect the official reality of Soviet existence, and thus “Formalist” works (that is, any work that displayed hints of modernism or abstract content) were at least frowned upon, if not banned outright.  Shostakovich made something of a game of pushing as far towards this line as possible, sometimes even drifting past it.  He was officially denounced by the regime twice, only to later rehabilitate his reputation through new, more apparently pro-Soviet works.  At times the regime used him as a mouthpiece, and he seemed only too willing to comply.  Yet his works often show signs of weariness or outright contempt for his government.  His controversial memoir, Testimony, seems to confirm the notion that Shostakovich did not wish to support the Soviet regime.  However, the memoir’s emergence 4 years after his death and the murky circumstances of its creation, not to mention its appearance at the height of the Cold War, all call into question its truthfulness.  Still, Shostakovich undeniably made beautiful music, including 15 symphonies, an equal number of string quartets, large quantities of film music, and 2 operas which he held dear for his entire life.

Shostakovich wrote Festive Overture in 1954 on a commission for the Bolshoi Theatre’s celebration of the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution (in 1917).  Shostakovich completed the piece in less than a week.   It opens with an exuberant, rising fanfare which transitions to a spritely, lyrical main theme at a breakneck tempo.  The overture speeds past, with a brief return to the fanfare figure before an energetic coda.

The original orchestral version:

The Hunsberger band version by the University of Michigan Symphony Band and Michael Haithcock.

Here’s a trumpet-only version: 8 trumpeters from Juilliard!

Festive Overture on wikipedia, Kennedy Center program notes, and BSO kids’ music curriculum.

Shostakovich bio on Wikipedia.

The debate about Shostakovich and his allegiances rages on…

Today, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is revered as one of the greatest composers of all time whose multitudinous compositions, with their combination of  intellectual rigor and transcendent beauty, are among the foundational documents of Western art music.  In his day, J.S. Bach was seen as a church musician who dazzled his contemporaries with his organ playing and churned out new compositions with almost alarming speed and frequency.  Though he was well-known and widely respected, he was not revered as he is now.  His reputation received a facelift in the early 19th century (long after his death) with the publication of a biography in 1802, the revival of his Saint Matthew’s Passion by the composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, and ultimately the creation of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalog) in 1850.  Since then, Bach’s legacy has only grown.  Among his famous compositions are the Brandenburg Concertos, the Cello Suites, the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Art of Fugue, hundreds of cantatas and oratorios, and dozens of short chorales.  And that is but the tip of the iceberg.  Bach has over 1000 known compositions, and perhaps as many that have been lost forever.

Other interesting Bach facts:

  • He was a genuine patriarch, fathering 20 children (10 of whom survived to adulthood) with 2 successive wives.  See the family tree.
  • Several of his children became famous composers in their own right, most notably Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.
  • There are streets all over Germany named for Bach, although he never left the country and never lived more than 250 miles from his birthplace in Eisenach.  See the map.
  • He was once put in prison by an employer who didn’t want to let him move jobs.
  • He wrote a cantata about coffee addiction.  Read about it here.
  • Finally, Anthony Tommasini recently named Bach the greatest composer of all time.

“Komm, süsser tod” (Come, Sweet Death) is often counted among the chorales.  But it was originally published for solo voice and basso continuo as a set of 69 songs that Bach contributed to a collection in 1736.  Harmonic shortcuts aside, it follows the basic form of many of the chorales, with several short phrases separated by fermatas, and considerable harmonic rigor: each of the 12 chromatic tones gets intelligently used at some point in the 21-measure song.  Having been written with no particular instrumentation indicated, “Komm, süsser tod” has been performed and arranged in many different guises, including symphony orchestra, voice and organ, mixed choir, concert band, and just about every other imaginable combination.  Here are my favorite 2 performances from YouTube:

Leopold Stokowski’s moving orchestra transcription:

Klaus Martens sings while Ton Koopman plays:

Alas, the wind band recordings of this don’t do it justice.  They all take it way too fast, and aren’t as rigorously attentive to intonation as they need to be.  Perhaps this will change some day.

Finally, for those of you who have gotten this far, there are a whole bunch more links to check out!

“Komm, süsser tod” has its own wikipedia page which includes the original German lyrics and an English translation.  Well worth a look – it’s downright cheery!  Also very worth a look is the original publication of “Komm, süsser tod“.  The vocal line is in soprano clef (C is the bottom line of the staff), and the bass line uses figured bass.  But if you can navigate those, you’ll find it to be a great, authentic resource.

J. S. Bach on wikipedia, his own home page, Dave’s J. S. Bach page, and Facebook.  And that just barely scratches the surface!

Let’s not forget about Alfred Reed, the arranger of the wind band version in question.  Read his bio and more at the page for one of his great compositions, The Hounds of Spring.

This year I applied for 2 wind band conducting symposia. I’m always tempted to go to more, but, alas, given that the vast majority of band conducting workshops happen in the month of June, and that the elementary school where I work stays in session until June 40th (or so it seems), it’s pretty much inconceivable that I could take a week off for a conducting conference in June.  Thankfully, this year (and every year) Northwestern University and the Hartt School of Music are running symposia in July.  Alas, I applied too late to the Northwestern symposium to get in.  Totally my fault – I decided to study the repertoire anyways to make it up to myself, although nothing will make up for the missed chance to work with Mallory Thompson and Allan McMurray.  I did get into the Hartt School symposium, with Glen Adsit and Michael Haithcock.  This blog helps me do the background work on each piece: by giving you, the hypothetical reader, a look into the music, I get a more thorough understanding myself.  So, here’s a look at the repertoire for both:

Northwestern University Conducting and Wind Music Symposium
July 10-15, 2011
Mallory Thompson and Allan McMurray, clinicians

Full Band
Arnold/Paynter: Prelude, Siciliano, and Rondo
Bernstein/Grundman: Overture to Candide
Bryant: Dusk
Copland: Outdoor Overture
Copland/Singleton: Promise of Living
Daehn: As Summer Was Just Beginning
Grainger: Lincolnshire Posy (mvts. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6)
Hanson: Chorale and Alleluia
Holst/ed. Matthews: First Suite in E-flat
Schuman: Chester
Shostakovich/Hunsberger: Festive Overture
Shostakovich/Reynolds: Prelude Op. 34, No. 14
Strauss/arr. Davis: Allerseelen
Ticheli: Shenandoah

Chamber Music
Beethoven: Rondino
Gounod: Petite symphonie
Jacob: Old Wine in New Bottles
Mendelssohn/Boyd: Overture for Winds, Op. 24
Mozart: Serenade No. 12 in C Minor, K. 388
Schubert/Reynolds: Little Symphony for Winds (mvts. 1 and 4)

Hartt School of Music Instrumental Conducting Clinic
July 25-29, 2011
Glen Adsit and Michael Haithcock, clinicians

Arbeau/Margolis: Belle Qui Tiens ma Vie
Arnold/Paynter: Four Scottish Dances
Arnold/Paynter: Prelude, Siciliano, and Rondo
Bach/Reed: Come, Sweet Death
Bryant: Dusk
Erickson: Air for Band
Faure/Moss: Chant Funeraire
Forest/Turner: King of Love my Shepherd Is
Grainger/Fennell: Lincolnshire Posy
Grainger/Rogers: Irish Tune from County Derry
Grainger/Rogers: Shepherd’s Hey
Grainger: Ye Banks and Braes O’ Bonnie Doon
Hanson: Chorale and Alleluia
Holst, ed. Mathews: First Suite in E-flat
Holst, ed. Mathews: Second Suite in F
Lauridsen/Reynolds: O Magnum Mysterium
Mackey: Undertow
Persichetti: Divertimento for Band
Persichetti: Pageant
Schuman: Chester
Shostakovich/Reynolds: Folk Dances
Stuart: Hymn for Band
Ticheli: Amazing Grace
Ticheli: An American Elegy
Ticheli: Fortress
Ticheli: San Antonio Dances
Ticheli: Sanctuary
Ticheli: Shenandoah
Zdechlik: Chorale and Shaker Dance

Think that looks like a whole ton of music? You’d be right!  Thankfully, I only have to prepare one piece for each day of the symposium.  But if I’m going to finish this project, I’ve got to hunker down and fill up these empty links!