Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: August 2011

Angels in the Architecture is a BIG piece!  Frank Ticheli has pulled out all the stops and created something massive.  Truly, this piece was meant for massed bands, but it certainly works for a single ensemble as well.  Ticheli himself describes it best:

Angels in the Architecture was commissioned by Kingsway International, and received its premiere performance at the Sydney Opera House on July 6, 2008 by a massed band of young musicians from Australia and the United States, conducted by Matthew George.  The work unfolds as a dramatic conflict between the two extremes of human existence–one divine, the other evil.

The work’s title is inspired by the Sydney Opera House itself, with its halo-shaped acoustical ornaments hanging directly above the performance stage.

Angels in the Architecture  begins with a single voice singing a 19th-century Shaker song:

I am an angel of Light
I have soared from above
I am cloth’d with Mother’s love.
I have come, I have come,
To protect my chosen band
And lead them to the promised land.

This “angel”–represented by the singer–frames the work, surrounding it with a protective wall of light and establishing the divine.  Other representations of light–played by instruments rather than sung–include a traditional Hebrew song of peace (“Hevenu Shalom Aleicham”) and the well-known 16th-century Genevan Psalter, “Old Hundredth.”  These three borrowed songs, despite their varied religious origins, are meant to transcend any one religion, representing the more universal human ideals of peace, hope, and love. An original chorale, appearing twice in the work, represents my own personal expression of these aspirations.

In opposition, turbulent, fast-paced music appears as a symbol of darkness, death, and spiritual doubt.  Twice during the musical drama, these shadows sneak in almost unnoticeably, slowly obscuring, and eventually obliterating the light altogether.  The darkness prevails for long stretches of time, but the light always returns, inextinguishable, more powerful than before.  The alternation of these opposing forces creates, in effect, a kind of five-part rondo form (light–darkness–light–darkness–light).

Just as Charles Ives did more than century ago, Angels in the Architecture poses the unanswered question of existence.  It ends as it began: the angel reappears singing the same comforting words.  But deep below, a final shadow reappears–distantly, ominously.

Take a good listen – you’ll catch the dark vs. light contrasts pretty easily:

Now let’s unpack that program note a bit: first, click here for a look at the iconic Sydney Opera House.

Ticheli mentions Charles Ives – he is referring to Ives’s piece The Unanswered Question for strings, woodwinds, and trumpet solo.  In it, the trumpet solo repeats a question which the woodwinds toil to answer without success.  Meanwhile, the strings go about their business, seemingly oblivious to the exchange between the trumpet and woodwinds.  In the end, the trumpet gets no answer.  It’s worth a listen (and the video lets you follow along in the score!):

Finally, you can (and should!) read more about Ticheli’s chosen source material: “I am an angel of Light” is described above.  “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem” is little more than its title, but sends a message of peace.  “Old Hundredth” is one of the world’s most famous hymns.

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.

This big, big piece will be conducted by Berkley Todd, Columbia class of 2012.

For those who have forgotten, here’s my short bio on Frank Ticheli: 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.

Composer Michael Markowski (b. 1986) wrote Shadow Rituals in 2006.  It’s best to describe its genesis in his words:

I can remember sitting in my junior high school band reading through my first Frank Ticheli piece; I remember it because I found his style so unlike the other arrangements and “standards” that we performed.  Now, several years later, I realize the remarkable inspiration Ticheli’s music has made on my own writing and growth as a musician.

Because of this, Shadow Rituals was written particularly for the Manhattan Beach Music Frank Ticheli Composition Contest and I dedicate it humbly to Frank Ticheli.

Shadow Rituals is rhythmic, energetic, and challenges the performer to constantly stay engaged in the music.  The piece is a dark and mystical dance–a reflection of something primitive or ancient.

Shadow Rituals won that very first Frank Ticheli Composition Contest in Category 2 – Young Band.  Markowski has since written several more compositions for band and various other media, all of which are on display at his website.  Look at his bio also: you’ll notice that he only just finished his undergraduate work (none of which was in music!) in 2010.  We can expect to hear much more from him.

If you don’t know about the phenomenon that is Frank Ticheli, check out my post on his Amazing Grace.

Shadow Rituals is one of the only pieces I know that has its own website.  That’s always a good starting point.  Follow the links there:  You can look at the full score, listen to a recording, and read an analytical article about the piece.

Now, Shadow Rituals on video:

Keep that tempo up!  The plan is to go at 184 bpm.  This a senior choice for CUWE publicity man and hornist Jason Mogen – don’t disappoint him!

Yes, the Björk of the title is THE Björk, the famous Icelandic singer who is known as much for her flair with costumes (Swan Dress, anyone?) as for her catchily eccentric music.  Born in 1965, she fronted the band The Sugarcubes in the 1980’s before branching out on her own in the early 1990’s.  It turns out she writes most of her own stuff, including the instrumental Overture from Dancer in the Dark.  Grammy-winning arranger and jazz artist Vince Mendoza orchestrated the Overture for brass and timpani for the film Dancer in the Dark, and it was included on Björk’s album, Selmasongs, which is essentially a soundtrack to the film.  Sadly, the original arrangement is unavailable in print.

Dancer in the Dark tells the story of Selma Jezkova (played by Björk), a Czech immigrant to the United States in 1964.  She has a congenital disease that is making her go blind, so she is working as hard as she can (at the local factory) with the limited sight she has left to provide for her 12-year-old son, who will eventually develop the same condition unless she can raise the money for an expensive medical procedure for him.  Her only diversion is her love for musicals: she lapses into daydreams involving musical numbers at several points throughout the film, often to her detriment. Nothing goes as Selma plans, yet she does her utmost to protect her son as her vision fades. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that Dancer in the Dark is a profoundly moving and deeply troubling movie.  I saw it in college and loved it, but I don’t think I ever need to see it again.  If you decide to watch it, don’t do it alone, and don’t do it right before bed!  Read more about it on IMDB and Wikipedia.

Here is how the Overture looks and sounds in the film:

And here it is played live by the Iceland Wonderbrass at a Björk concert in Athens.  The orchestration is a bit different from the film version.

Finally, just for fun, here’s another Björk video that involves Broadway-like music: “It’s Oh So Quiet”.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to the websites of both Björk and Vince Mendoza.  Enjoy!

This fall in CUWE, we’re doing another one of Eric Whitacre’s slow pieces.  It’s hard not to – they’re uniformly gorgeous, and they’re incredibly useful for  addressing ensemble issues like tone, intonation, blend, balance, and just plain sound.  This time around, it’s Lux Aurumque – that’s Latin for “Light and Gold”.

Eric Whitacre is one of the most-performed composers of his generation.  Born in 1970, he studied composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School with notable composers including John Corigliano and David Diamond.  His choral works and band works have rapidly become accepted in the repertoire due to their strong appeal to audiences and players alike.  In addition to composing, Whitacre tours the world as a conductor of his own works.

Whitacre is quite web-savvy:

Eric Whitacre on Facebook.

Eric Whitacre on MySpace.  If you watch the video on either of these, he says how he’s overwhelmed with fan mail.

Eric Whitacre on WikiMusicGuide (better than Wikipedia in this case), including complete works list.

Eric Whitacre’s blog.

Whitacre even writes his own program notes!  Here they are for Lux Aurumque:

Lux Aurumque began its life as an a cappella choral work that I wrote in the fall of 2000.  When the Texas Music Educators Association and a consortium of bands commissioned me to adapt it for symphonic winds, I rewrote the climax and included the grand “Bliss” theme from my my opera Paradise Lost.

Lux Aurumque received its premiere at the 2005 conference of the Texas Music Educators Association, and is dedicated with deep admiration for my dear friend Gary Green.

This note deserves a little further explanation.  First, Gary Green is the director of bands at the University of Miami, and one of the top conductors of bands in the world.  I had the pleasure of working with him as a trumpeter in the 2001 New England Intercollegiate Band, so I can testify to his greatness.  His recording of this is on YouTube, and it shows his full expressive power:

For those who are counting, he takes Lux Aurumque’s 54 measures of 4/4 and extends them past 6 minutes.  That’s an average of 36 beats per minute!!  But it doesn’t plod – it pulls at the heartstrings at every instant!

The choral version is informative for understanding how the band version came to be.  It’s set a half-step higher (that’s C-sharp minor at the opening) for mixed chorus (SATB, divided), and as Whitacre alludes in his program notes, the climax is different from that in the band version.  It helped make Whitacre (and soprano Melody Myers, see about 1:00 in) famous, with this “Virtual Choir” video:

You can see Whitacre talk about this in a TED Talk (best free internet series ever):

Finally, a live performance of the choral version:

The lyrics are:

calida gravisque pura velut aurum
et canunt angeli molliter
modo natum.

That’s a direct translation TO Latin from a poem by Edward Esch:

warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the new-born baby.

Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) was a piano and organ prodigy who was supporting himself with his musical talents by age 11.  A lifelong Philadelphia resident, he took full advantage of that city’s music institutions.  At age 20, he was simultaneously the head of the music department at Combs College, a conducting major with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute, and a piano and composition student at the Philadelphia Conservatory.  His distinctly original compositions began to be recognized internationally before he was 30.  His skyrocketing reputation led to his appointment at the Juilliard School, where he became the chair of the composition department at age 47.  He died in 1987, leaving behind a unique body of work in almost every musical medium, including a number of masterpieces for the wind band.  Among these is the Divertimento for Band, op. 42, written for the Goldman Band.

There are many articles out there about the Divertimento: the Wind Repertory Project, The Concord Band, BandDirector.comThe Claremont Winds, and the OCU Band Program Notes Database all shed light on the piece.  But the authority on all of Persichetti’s wind music, as with all other composers, is Frederick Fennell, whose chapter on the piece in the book A Conductor’s Interpretive Analysis of Masterworks for Band brims with scholarship and creative, interpretive insight.  To paraphrase: Persichetti started writing this piece with an orchestra in mind in 1949.  He began with a prologue that featured the brass section tossing the woodwinds back and forth.  Midway through this movement, he realized that the strings were never going to enter – thus began this master’s impressive oeuvre of sophisticated, accessible wind music.  The Divertimento showcases Persichetti’s lyricism, playfulness, harmonic daring, and superb orchestration skills, all while remaining accessible to the player and listener.  A listen will certainly help us understand, so I give you the North Texas University Wind Ensemble with Eugene Corporon conducting:

And for variety, our friends at the Manhattan Wind Ensemble:

You can find out more about Persichetti himself at Theodore Presser, Wikipedia, and his own Society’s website.

Summer 2011 has come and gone.  Check out the main Columbia Summer Winds website for information on our concert dates and locations.  Here’s what we did repertoire-wise:

Xerxes by John Mackey

Symphonic Suite by Clifton Williams

Theme from Monsoon Wedding by Mychael Danna, arranged by me.

Monument Fanfare and Tribute by Philip Rothman

King Cotton by John Philip Sousa

Poet and Peasant Overture by Franz von Suppe

Stars & Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa (again)

Selections from Wicked by Stephen Schwartz, as arranged by Jay Bocook.

Colonial Song and Gumsuckers March by Percy Grainger

Benediction by John Stevens

And 2010’s Outdoor Composition Contest winner, Metropolitan Overture by Alexandre Travassos

Also, I applied to 2 conducting clinics this summer.  Check out the repertoire here.