Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: August 2012

Oliver Caplan (b. 1982) is a Boston-based composer of romantically-tinged music for all combinations of instruments and voices.  He grew up in the Bronx, attending Stuyvesant high school, where he played piccolo in the band.  He left in New York in 2000 for Dartmouth College (he and I met and became friends there) where the rich outdoor environment and mix of musical personalities (like the Dartmouth College Marching Band) inspired his interest in composition.  He went on to study at the Boston Conservatory.  Caplan’s music has been performed all over the United States.  He has received commissions from the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, the Juventas New Music Ensemble, and the Sinfonietta of Riverdale, among many others.  He has received numerous awards, having most recently been named as a Finalist for the American Prize in Composition.

Read more about Caplan on his website, his Twitter feed, and his Facebook page.  Also, consider taking a look at his CD, Illuminations.

Caplan wrote Reason for Hope in a Complex World in 2007 on a commission from the Columbia University Wind Ensemble.  He writes:

Commissioned by the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, Reason for Hope in a Complex World was inspired by the work and words of Jane Goodall. In Spring 2007 Dr. Goodall spoke in Boston, addressing the question: Is there hope for the future? Hope, she responded, stems from the incredible nature of the human spirit, but there is only hope if we all come together as a global community – we must each be a part of compassionate change.

The piece draws from this idea of binding together to become greater than the sum of our parts. Contrasting passages derive from a fanfare theme, presented in its entirety only at the work’s finale. The structure loosely resembles a theme and variations in reverse. The fanfare serves as a point of arrival that unifies the work’s various threads. In a sense, this mirrors Dr. Goodall’s idea of disparate people coming together to realize their common humanity.

The composition opens with chords meant to evoke the tolling of bell towers, focal points of community that mark the passage of time and call people together. Meanwhile, members of the ensemble murmur words of Walt Whitman about the busy egotism of society. The music proceeds through several sections – from urban-inspired reflections on constant sensory input to contemplations of spaces lonely and longing. The bell chords return, and finally the brass section presents a fanfare theme of hope.

You can listen to Reason for Hope in a Complex World on Caplan’s website (scroll all the way to the bottom and you’ll see it).  The performance is the Columbia University Wind Ensemble premiere at Dartmouth College in February, 2008.  You’ll hear some text in there – that’s from Walt Whitman, and reads as follows:

This is the city… and I am on of the
citizens.  Whatever interests the rest
interests me… politics, churches, schools, benevolent
societies, improvements, banks, tariffs, factories,
markets, stocks and stores and real estate and
personal estate.  They who piddle and patter here
in collars and tailed coats… I am aware who
they are… I acknowledge the duplicates
of myself under all the scrape-lipped and
pipe-legged concealments.  I know perfectly
well my own egotism.

Quicksand years that whirl me I know not whither.
Your schemes, politics, fail, lines give way,
substances mock and elude me.  Out of politics,
triumphs, battles, life, what at last finally remains?

Everyone loves videos, so here’s a behind the scenes look at the making of Caplan’s album:


Mark Camphouse (b. 1954) is an American composer and conductor.  He has written more than a dozen emotional works for wind band.  He also directs the bands at George Mason University.  He is the creator and editor of the series Composers on Composing for Band, published by GIA publications. He coordinates the National Band Association’s Young Composer Mentor Project which matches emerging composers with experienced professionals.

Watchman, Tell Us of the Night was first published in 1996.  The score comes with an anonymous program note:

A hymn for all children, Watchman, Tell Us of the Night portrays the loneliness, loss of innocence and yet enduring hope of the survivor of child abuse.  The work is a musical tribute to survivors, often dreamlike in nature, as seen through the eyes of a child.

With this work, Mr. Camphouse responds to the shockingly widespread national tragedy of child abuse.  Victims often suffer life-long effects mentally, physically, and socially.  This shameful societal illness must be faced openly, honestly, and compassionately.

The title, taken from John Bowring’s 1825 text setting of George Elvey’s church hymn, “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night”, is also known as the Thanksgiving hymn, “Come Ye Thankful People Come”.

Watchman, Tell Us of the Night was commissioned by the St. Louis Youth Wind Ensemble, Milton Allen, Conductor and is dedicated to the composer’s twin daughters, Beth and Briton.

Interview with Camphouse in the George Mason University Gazette.

The child abuse statistics in the US are alarming indeed.

The Greater Gwent Youth Wind Symphonia does great justice to the piece in their performance:

The hymn tune and words don’t seem to coexist online in video form, but here is a version of the tune to the words of “Come Ye Thankful People Come”.  You’ll hear the Watchman melody right away:

Finally, the words that inspired Camphouse, as quoted in the score:

Watchman, tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight,
Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease;
Hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveler, yes; it brings the day.
Healing wholeness now has come!

Mark Camphouse (b. 1954) is an American composer and conductor.  He has written more than a dozen emotional works for wind band.  He also directs the bands at George Mason University.  He is the creator and editor of the series Composers on Composing for Band, published by GIA publications. He coordinates the National Band Association’s Young Composer Mentor Project which matches emerging composers with experienced professionals.

Tribute is a relatively early work in Camphouse’s oeuvre.  He provides his own program note:

Tribute was composed to meet a commission from the Leader and Commander of the United States Army Band, Colonel Eugene W. Allen and his wife, Claire, to honor all American women who have served their country in the armed forces.

The work was premiered in April, 1985, at Radford University with the composer conducting the United States Army Band.  Other significant pre-publication performances include those by the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble under the direction of John P. Paynter.  The work is ceremonial in character with two outer fanfare-like sections contrasted by a lyrical middle section.  Tribute was runner-up for the 1986 Ostwald Award for band composition, sponsored by the American Bandmasters Association.

If YouTube is a representative sample of how often a piece gets performed, then Tribute is virtually ignored, with only 2 performances posted.  One of them is the original Northwestern performance conducted by Paynter.  It’s really good, but unfortunately the whole thing got transposed up a half step from the published version.   The other come from a Florida State University Symphonic Band concert in 2010, which is also quite good!  The reason for this paucity of performances may be the difficulty of the piece.  It is loaded with rigorously intense rhythms.  It has solos in nearly every instrument.  The horn and trumpet parts pull no punches, with the first trumpet hitting an E-flat near the end of the piece and all of the horns routinely hitting high B-flats.  Couple these challenges with the fact that Camphouse has written two dozen other intense and expressive works for band, most of which are not as jaw-droppingly difficult to play, and Tribute‘s relative scarcity of performances starts to makes sense.

Interview with Camphouse in the George Mason University Gazette.

And here’s that FSU performance:

Born on April 23, 1891 in Sontsovka, Ukraine of the former Russian Empire, Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev is considered one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. He was also an accomplished pianist and conductor. He attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory from 1904 to 1914, winning the Anton Rubinstein prize for best student pianist when he graduated. Like other great composers he mastered a wide range of musical genres, including symphonies, concerti, film music, operas, ballets, and program pieces [ed: like his most famous work, Peter and the Wolf]. At the time, his works were considered both ultra-modern and innovative. He traveled widely, spending many years in Paris and Ettal in the Bavarian Alps, and toured the United States five times. He gained wide notoriety and his music was both reviled and triumphed by the musical press of the time. He returned to his homeland permanently in 1936. He died on March 5, 1953 in Moscow.

(short biography courtesy

The website listed above is a essentially a fan site that has collected everything there is to know about Prokofiev and has even gotten surviving family involved in its growth and maintainance.  Look around for anything you’d like to know about him.

Much information is also available at The Serge Prokofiev Foundation.

Prokofiev wrote the March, op. 99 in 1943-44 for a Soviet military band.  It received its premiere in the form of a radio broadcast from Moscow on April 30, 1944.  While the details of the impetus for its composition are unclear, it is possible that it was written for May Day, an important Soviet holiday.  The March made its way to the West in part thanks to Paul Yoder, who arranged it for Western instrumentation shortly after its Russian premiere.  It was first heard in the United States on May 31, 1945 with Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Combat Infantry Band.  Prokofiev reused substantial section of the March in the last opera he would complete, Story of a Real Man, in 1947-48.

It’s worth the trouble of listening to 2 different performances of this work.  One follows the printed tempo (quarter=134).  The other goes much faster, making the March into more of a galop.  See what you think:

I owe much of the information on this page to William Berz’s full score critical edition of this piece.  His description of Soviet band instrumentation is worth quoting directly, since it is so succinct and informative:

Prokofiev’s March, op. 99 was originally written for the instrumentation of the Soviet military band of the time.   As was typical for Soviet composers, the scoring for this march was split into three instrument families:

  • orchestral winds (piccolo, flute, E-flat clarinet, two B-flat clarinets, two E-flat horns, two B-flat trumpets, three trombones);
  • saxhorn family (two cornets, two E-flat alto horns, three trombones in treble clef, baritone in treble clef, tuba);
  • percussion (tambourine, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals)

As you can see, it’s quite different from what we’re used to, hence the need for an arrangement very early in the piece’s existence.

Columbia Summer Winds had a terrific (if stormy) 2012 season!  You can see a lot more about that group at the website (click the link on the name).  Here’s a sketch of what we did:


FUNDRAISER!  Tuesday, May 29 at 7pm at the Village Pourhouse, Amsterdam Avenue at 109th Street.  We raised almost an entire concert’s worth of expenses, thanks to the many band members and other friend who came.  This will definitely happen again.

Central Park Bandshell – Sat., July 28 – 1pm – RAINED OUT

Union Square – Wed., August 8 – 6pm – AWESOME

Governors Island – Sat., August 11 – 2pm – CANCELLED due to threat of rain.  There was no rain within 24 hours on either side of this time.

Washington Square Park – Sat., August 18 – 2pm – AMAZING


For all of these, we played the same repertoire.  Check it out here (in concert order, for the curious):

Seize the Day! (Carpe Diem) by Patrick Burns

March from Symphonic Metamorphosis by Paul Hindemith, arr. Keith Wilson

Serenade by Derek Bourgeois

Symphony no. 3: Slavyanskaya by Boris Kozhevnikov

Variations on “America” by Charles Ives, arr. William Rhoads, based on William Schuman’s orchestration

The Wizard of Oz by Harold Arlen, arr. James Barnes

1812 Overture by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arr. Mayhew Lake

The Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa


We also ran our 2nd Biennial Outdoor Composition Contest:

A Summer Breeze – J. Scott McKenzie

Seize the Day – Noah D. Taylor
The Adventurers – Barry Milner


Finally, I attended a whole ton of conducting workshops: CU Boulder, Northwestern, and Temple.  All were great!

Steven Bryant (b. 1972) is an acclaimed, award-winning composer whose works often straddle different media.  He is a three-time recipient of the National Band Association’s William D. Revelli Composition Award (2007, 2008, 2010). His first orchestral work, Loose Id for Orchestra, was “orchestrated like a virtuoso” according to celebrated composer Samuel Adler.  His epic work for wind band and electronics, Ecstatic Waters, has received more performances than any other piece of its kind.  His other work includes pieces for wind band (some with added electronics), orchestra, chamber ensembles, and electronic music.  He studied composition at The Juilliard School with John Corigliano, at the University of North Texas with Cindy McTee, and at Ouachita University with W. Francis McBeth.

Bryant wrote Dusk in 2004 on a commission from the Langley High School Wind Symphony and its conductor, Andrew Gekoskie.  He says:

This simple, chorale-like work captures the reflective calm of dusk, paradoxically illuminated by the fiery hues of sunset.  I’m always struck by the dual nature of this experience, as if witnessing an event of epic proportions silently occurring in slow motion. Dusk is intended as a short, passionate evocation of this moment of dramatic stillness.

Read more about Dusk at Steven Bryant’s website.  Read up on Bryant himself at Wikipedia.

Here’s the piece, uploaded to YouTube by the composer himself!

Read the comments on the video for some insights into this piece and composition in general.

Obviously Bryant likes and is comfortable in electronic media.  He has a YouTube account, a Twitter handle, and a Facebook fan page.  He has a fantastic website with a blog attached.  He also numbers the revisions of his music like computer software: for instance, this version of Dusk is version 1.4.  In his words, “The old version (1.2) is NOT compatible” with the new.  He also writes dedicated electronic music.  My favorite, which I heard when I sat in at his session at the Ball State University Conducting Workshop, is called Hummingbrrd.  Click the link to listen, and prepare to be amazed!

This is one of my absolute favorite band pieces.  I’ve conducted it 3 times, including once at my wife’s request, and once again at my return to Dartmouth College with the CUWE in 2008.  In fact, hearing this piece as a freshman in the Dartmouth Wind Symphony under Max Culpepper in 1997 (along with Lincolnshire Posy and Holst’s First Suite – what a program!) probably started me down the road to becoming a band director.  So I’m in a little bit of shock that I haven’t written about it yet!  Time to fix that.

Kansas City native Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) was Broadway’s pre-eminent arranger and orchestrator for most of his career.  His ease with instruments enlivened the scores of George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and many others.  He was composer in his own right, having studied with the renowned Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger.  He wrote nearly 200 original pieces for several media, including two dozen works for wind band.  The best known of these are his Suite of Old American Dances and the Symphonic Songs for Band.

Bennett was inspired to write the Suite of Old American Dances in 1948 and 1949 after hearing a very special Goldman Band concert:

When Edwin Franko Goldman arrived at his 70th birthday it was celebrated by a concert sponsored by the League of Composers.  For the concert (January 3, 1948) the engaged the Goldman Band of New York and asked Dr. Goldman to conduct his own band in honor of his own anniversary.  Louise and I went to that concert and I suddenly thought of all the beautiful sounds the American concert band could make that it hadn’t yet made.  That doesn’t mean that the unmade sounds passed in review in my mind at all, but the sounds they made were so new to me after all my years with orchestra, dance bands and tiny “combos,” that my pen was practically jumping out of my pocket begging me to give this great big instrument some more music to play.

Thanks to Edward Higgins’s excellent full score edition of the piece for that quote (and all of the other Bennett quotes to follow).

Bennett came up with a five movement suite that he titled Electric Park, after an actual place in his native Kansas City where, as a youth, he heard all of the day’s popular dances (click here for pictures).  He called the park “a place of magic to us kids.  The tricks with big electric signs, the illuminated fountains, the big band concerts, the scenic railway and the big dance hall.  One could hear in the dance hall all afternoon and evening the pieces the crowd danced to.”  His publisher, presumably with marketing in mind, retitled the piece as Suite of Old American Dances.

The Cincinnati Wind Symphony performs the whole piece, all 5 movements:

Bennett’s source material was all real, living American dance of the day.  Let’s break it down one movement at a time.

The Cakewalk originated in Southern plantations as sort of a game for African-American slaves.  Dancers would do impressive-looking struts and kicks, often while dressed mockingly in the fashion of their white masters, and sometimes while also balancing something on their heads.  Often there would be a prize of a piece of cake, hence the term cakewalk.  Here’s what it looked like:

I love the beach scene at the end there!

Here’s a very genteel version of the Schottische, which is actually a German dance related to the polka:

The “Western One Step” is actually based on a dance called the Texas Tommy, which was probably a brothel dance (“Tommies” being women of the night, if you know what I mean).  Here we can see the dance, but you’ll have to imagine the sound:

The “Wallflower Waltz” is just a 20th century take on the classic Viennese waltz, which you can see here:

In the “Rag”, Bennett pushes the limits of his chosen 2/4 time, creating wild syncopations and 2-against-3 patterns, all in the spirit of ragtime music.  Here’s a simple example of a ragtime dance:

More info:

Robert Russell Bennett on wikipedia.

Robert Russell Bennett on IMDB.

Bennett bio on tribute to Bennett on the eve of the 2008 Tony Awards.

Google books preview of “The Broadway Sound”, Bennett’s autobiography and selected essays, edited by George Ferencz.

Suite of Old American Dances on wikia program notes, the Concord Band, and in full, 22-page analysis by David Goza of the University of Arkansas (worth the read!).

Suite of Old American Dances was the senior choice for librarian, piccolo/flute player, and love of my life Lisa Samols ’04.  We played it again that summer in Columbia Summer Winds.  We also played it at our exchange concerts with Dartmouth College in 2008.

Andrew Boysen, Jr. (b. 1968) is a prolific composer of wind band music.  He has conducting degrees from Northwestern University and the Eastman School of Music.  He is currently an assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire, where he teaches conducting and orchestration classes and conducts the University wind symphony.  He maintains an active guest conducting schedule, with appearances all over the United States and in Great Britain.  He continues to compose, and has received numerous commissions for new works.  Boysen wrote Conversations With the Night in 1994, in the wake of tragedy.  In his own words:

Conversations With the Night was commissioned by Jeff Doughten and the Andrews, Texas High School Band as a memorial to their friend and fellow musician, Jerry Don Belt.  The piece is based on one of Jerry Don’s favorite hymns, “When I See the Blood.”  There are several trombone solos in the work because that was Jerry Don’s instrument.

The title for this work explains a lot about the organization of the piece and the motivation behind it.  It stems from a conversation I had with Jerry Don’s parents in which they told me of his deep religious convictions, his love of people, his fascination with lightning, and his smiling face.  In other words, they gave me chance to get to know Jerry Don as much as I possibly could.  The one thing that struck me the most in our talk was the fact that Jerry Don used to enjoy going for walks outside at night by himself.  His mother then mentioned how she goes outside at night now to talk with him, because that is when she feels the closest to him.  Conversations With the Night is my reaction to how she must feel at times when she talks to him–feelings of pain, love, and ultimately, peace.

Here are my great friends at the Manhattan Wind Ensemble playing Conversations with the Night:

Here’s the original hymn, “When I See the Blood”, in appropriate congregation-singing style:

The lyrics are here, if you’d like a look.

Learn more about Andrew Boysen at Kjos (his publisher) and the University of New Hampshire.  He also has a fan page on

Conversations With the Night has some fans on the web.  There’s even another wordpress blog post about it!  It contains a great musical analysis of the piece, which is absolutely worth a read.

We’ve done this piece once in Columbia Wind Ensemble, as a senior choice for CUWE president Cindy Gerson (Glick) ’04.

The thoroughly original, largely self-taught composer Warren Benson (1924-2005) began his musical life as a percussionist.  He was playing professionally by age 14, and became the timpanist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra by age 22.  With his performance career well underway, he studied music theory at the University of Michigan (BM 1949, MM 1950).  Upon graduating, he received two successive Fulbright grants (two more would come later) to teach in Salonika, Greece, where he set up a co-ed choir at Anatolia College (the first of its kind the country) and developed a bi-lingual music curriculum.  Upon his return to the US, in 1953, he accepted a post as composer-in-residence and professor of music at Ithaca College, where he stayed for 14 years.  He spent the remainder of his career (1967-1993) as a professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music, where he received numerous awards for his music and his teaching.  He had a pioneer spirit in many respects: not only did he start the first co-ed college choir in Greece, he also started the first touring percussion ensemble in the US the moment he started at Ithaca.  He later was one of the founding members of the World Association of Symphonic Band and Ensembles (WASBE), an international advocacy group for wind bands.  He is particularly remembered for his song cycles and his distinctly original contributions to the wind band literature, including The Leaves Are Falling (1964), The Solitary Dancer (1966), The Passing Bell (1974) and Symphony II-Lost Songs (1983).

The Solitary Dancer is six-and-a-half minutes of simmering energy, unlike anything else in the repertoire.  It was commissioned by the Clarence, NY Senior High School Band, directed by Norbert J. Buskey, and contains a dedication to Bill Hug.  The score, in a passage both descriptive and promotional, reads:

The Solitary Dancer deals with quiet, poised energy that one may observe in a dancer in repose, alone with her inner music.  The work is a study in the economy of resources and sensitivity for wind and percussion colors, and subtle development and recession of instrumental and musical frenzy.  It is not surprising to find another perfect jewel for wind from Warren Benson, and this short, succinct work has a quality of understatement that makes it stand apart.

It’s also worth quoting what Carl Fisher, the piece’s publisher, has to say about it (rather than sending you to their poorly-formatted website):

Rarely rising above mezzo piano, even when most of the band is playing, the music of The Solitary Dancer has a unique ability to suggest stillness within purposeful energy. The simple melodic and rhythmic motives from which Benson constructed this amazing and original piece are assembled and re-assembled in a continual tapestry of quiet magic that testifies to the composer’s instrumental mastery. The large percussion functions as a “continuo”, keeping the pace constant (“with quiet excitement throughout”) and adding wonderful touches of light and idiosyncratic color.

When asked to give advice to ambitious young composers, Benson answered:

I tell them to take a look at the repertoire and see what’s not there that is present in life. That thought is one of the reasons why I wrote The Solitary Dancer. There just wasn’t any work that was fast and exciting and quiet. Like when a group of people get together and whisper, there is a lot of intensity and excitement, but it never gets loud. It never goes anywhere in that sense. It may bubble and cook but it never really blows the lid off. There are a lot of situations in life like that—just quiet moments.

That last quote comes from the book Program Notes for Band by Norman Smith.  But I was lucky enough to find on the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra’s Blog.  You can read up further on Benson and his music at Wikipedia and his extensive, up-to-date website.

The Peabody Wind Ensemble plays:

Massachusetts native Michael Gandolfi (b. 1956) taught himself to improvise on the guitar starting at age 8.  As his skills grew through his teens, he found himself drawn towards composition, which he later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music (both BM and MM degrees) in Boston.  He has subsequently received many fellowships (Yale, Tanglewood) and awards.  His music has been played by ensembles all over the US and Britain, and has been recorded on the Deutsche Grammophon and CRI labels.  He has been on the faculty of Harvard University, the New England Conservatory, and the Tanglewood Music Center.  Vientos y Tangos (2002) was his first piece for wind band.  He says:

Vientos y Tangos (Winds and Tangos) was commissioned by The Frank L. Battisti 70thBirthday Commission Project and is dedicated to Frank Battisti in recognition of his immense contributions to the advancement of concert wind literature. It was Mr. Battisti’s specific request that I write a tango for wind ensemble. In preparation for this piece, I devoted several months to the study and transcription of tangos from the early style of Juan D’arienzo and the ‘Tango Nuevo’ style of Astor Piazzolla to the current trend of ‘Disco/Techno Tango,’ among others. After immersing myself in this listening experience, I simply allowed the most salient features of these various tangos to inform the direction of my work. The dynamic contour and the various instrumental combinations that I employ in the piece are all inspired by the traditional sounds of the bandoneon, violin, piano and contrabass.

I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Battisti for his inspirational leadership as director of the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble for over thirty years. I first heard Mr. Battisti’s work when I was a student at the New England Conservatory in the late 1970’s. I was instantly moved by his high artistic standards, his ability to motivate young musicians, and the respect for composers, past and present, that he always eloquently expressed to his students. I would also like to thank Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr. for his professionalism, collegiality and adept work in organizing the commission project.

I’ll get to those various tango styles he mentioned in a minute.  First, let’s hear the piece itself as performed by the UCLA Wind Ensemble:

Now some authentic tango, Gandolfi’s source material.  Here’s something from Juan D’Arienzo, a tango called “De Puro Curda”, recorded in Uruguay in 1964, very late in D’Arienzo’s career:

Astor Piazzolla changed everything in the tango world.  For more on him, see my blog post on the subject.  For now, listen to one of his livelier tangos, “Escualo”, which apparently is supposed to portray a shark fishing expedition.  This was recorded at the 1985 Montreux Jazz Festival, also very late in Piazzolla’s career:

Finally, I have to admit that I’m no devotee of post-Piazzolla tango trends.  So I’ve tried to find something (anything!) that sounds more modern and that might have inspired Gandolfi.  Here’s an attempt: a song that seems to have techno beats and bandoneon.  Those must be all of the ingredients for Techno Tango, right?

Learn more about Michael Gandolfi on Wikipedia and his own website.

Read up on the tango, Argentina’s main musical export, on Wikipedia.