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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Iowa native Reber Clark (b. 1955) has made his name as a trumpeter, composer, and arranger in many different musical genres.  He set the traditional French Hymn of St. James for band sometime before 1998 as a pet project.  According to Clark:

Hymn of St. James is a composition for band based on the hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” from the Liturgy of St. James (4th Century) translated from Greek to English by Gerard Moultrie, 1864, which is set to a traditional 17th century French carol melody.

Over the years, many people have asked me about the origin of this work.  I was raised in the Episcopal Church and this was one of a very few hymns that fascinated me from a very early age.  The melody always haunted me and, having the opportunity to write a piece completely unfettered by money or time constraints, I decided to utilize this childhood memory.

The setting depicts the words of each verse of the hymn. The melody is played in its entirety four times and is descriptive of the hymn’s four verses.
The two-bar marimba solo at the beginning represents silence.
The first time the melody is played it is descriptive of the hymn’s first verse.  The strong tertian first statement is concrete and straightforward as the first verse is strong and firm in its faith.
The tonal ambiguity of the second statement suggest (sic) the paradoxical, mysterious poetry of the second verse: “King of kings, yet born of Mary”, “Lord of lords in human vesture”, etc.
The militaristic style of the third statement describes the “host of heaven” and at Circle 94 the cluster that fades in an A major chord coincides with the lyric: “as the darkness clears away.”
The fourth, and last , statement’s attempt at a “celestial” quality coincides with the fourths (sic) verse’s celestial descriptions.
The key of the original hymn is D minor, or possibly D aeolian, but six measures from the end a D major chord was chosen to signify the inevitability of good. Tritones, 6 before the end, question all that has come before, with a final answer given on the final D major eighth note.

Watch Peter Boonshaft and the Austin All-City Band play Hymn of St. James.  For some comic relief, listen to the audience comments as it goes on:

The choir version as sung by the choir at Kings College, Cambridge:

Read up on Clark’s band setting of Hymn of St. James at C. Alan Publications and Reber Clark’s blog  You can find out more about the original hymn at the Center for Church Music.  The version of the lyrics that Clark used are as follows:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Reber Clark has a bio at C. Alan Publications, a website devoted to his music, and a blog which is mostly devoted to his thoughts about new movies.

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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 Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Grainger made several different settings of Shepherd’s Hey, which is based on a folk tune collected by the British folk song expert Cecil Sharp.  The first setting, for “room-music 12-some” (Grainger’s “blue-eyed English” phrase for chamber ensemble) first appeared in 1909.  The band version came in 1918.  This coincides with the end of Grainger’s stint in the US military, which appears to have been instrumental (no pun intended) in sparking his interest in band music.  The tune itself is a Morris dance, a centuries-old tradition of fluid, group dancing from England.  Still, Grainger insists on his 1913 piano solo score that “This setting is not suitable to dance Morris dances to.”  Ever the contrarian, Grainger also said that “where other composers would have been jolly setting such dance tunes I have been sad or furious. My dance settings are energetic rather than gay.”

Read more about Shepherd’s Hey at the Percy Grainger Society, the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, and the University of Wisconsin Music Department.  Also look at this extensive analysis of the piece at band-chat.net, and check out the solo piano score for free at Project Gutenberg.

The Cleveland Symphonic Winds play Shepherd’s Hey:

Among the many versions of this piece that exist, this pianola one is a highlight:

Here’s an actual Morris dancing troop dancing to the tune of Shepherd’s Hey.  The words: “I can whistle, I can sing, I can do most anything”:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

About Lauds (Praise High Day), Nelson writes:

Lauds (Praise High Day) is an exuberant, colorful work intended to express feelings of praise and glorification. Lauds is one of the seven canonical hours that were selected by St. Benedict as the times the monks would observe the daily offices. Three (terce, sext, and none) were the times of the changing of the Roman guards and four (matins, lauds, vespers, and compline) were tied to nature. Lauds, subtitled Praise High Day, honors the sunrise; it is filled with the glory and excitement of a new day.

Lauds received its world premier by the United States Air Force Band under the direction of Lt. Col. Alan L. Bonner at the College Band Directors National Association/National Band Association Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 24, 1992.

Nelson is known for writing challenging parts for clarinet (and every other instrument), and Lauds is no exception.  Clarinetists, check out this forum about tremolo fingerings in the piece.

Lauds program notes at windband.org.

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

The Dallas Wind Symphony knocks it out of the park, as usual:

As I’m going through my score collection and writing about every piece that I haven’t yet, it just so happens that Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait comes right on the heels of the party conventions in the 2012 election.  This seems like as good a time as any to pay some attention to one of America’s greatest orators and most revered presidents.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

Copland wrote A Lincoln Portrait in 1942 on a commission from the conductor Andre Kostelanetz.  The attack on Pearl Harbor was fresh, having taken place on December 7, 1941.  The United States was mobilizing for entry into World War II.  Kostelanetz was looking for orchestral music that would celebrate the spirit of the American people (morale-boosting propaganda music, in other words).  Copland was among three composers (the others were Jerome Kern and Virgil Thomson) that Kostelanetz commissioned to create orchestral portraits of famous Americans.  Copland’s first choice was Walt Whitman, but since Kern had already chosen Mark Twain as his subject, Kostelanetz encouraged Copland to select a politician.  Lincoln seemed a natural choice, and given his powerful oratory relating to war and freedom, Copland chose to include a narration with the piece.  The piece begins with a solemn instrumental introduction based on the folk song “Springfield Mountain”.  A much brighter section portrays Lincoln’s exuberant youth, set to the tune of Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races”.  The “Springfield Mountain” theme gradually returns, calming the mood of the piece. Finally, at the 7 minute mark, the narrator enters, and the orchestra takes on an accompanying role.  The text is cobbled together from several writings and speeches of Lincoln’s, including his famous Gettysburg Address, and connected by original text that Copland wrote as commentary for the narrator.  Together, narrator and orchestra proceed through moods that are at times dark, challenging, pensive, hopeful, and at last triumphant.

I tried, and failed, to find a complete recording of the band version (transcribed by Walter Beeler) of A Lincoln Portrait on Youtube.  The half dozen or so performances that are on there suffer from poor recording quality, inaccurate tempos, unfriendly intonation, or any of several other unfortunately common amateur music maladies.  But this NPR story features a full recording of the US Marine Band with Fred Childs narrating.  The story opens with Childs interviewing Copland about the piece.  The interview happened in 1980, when Copland was 80 years old, and still of sound mind.

Copland himself conducts the London Symphony Orchestra with Henry Fonda narrating:

The folk song “Springfield Mountain” forms the basis of the first theme:

Stephen Foster‘s “Camptown Races” dominates the fast, youthful section of the piece.  Listen to Johnny Cash sing it:

A Lincoln Portrait has its own Wikipedia entry.  It’s also featured at an NPR blog, the American Public Media website, an “Insider’s Perspective” from musicologist Elizabeth Bergman, public television station WGBH, and the Kennedy Center.  Also, this Education Through Music lesson plan for fifth graders contains the full text of the narration.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

The Columbia Wind Ensemble performed A Lincoln Portrait in 2006 with Prof. Eric Foner, Columbia’s resident Lincoln expert, narrating.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

An Outdoor Overture had its genesis as a commission from Alexander Richter, the music director at the High School for Music and Art (now LaGuardia High School) in New York City.  Richter was looking for music that would appeal to American youth.  Copland responded with a brightly optimistic, wide-open triumph of Americana, in versions for both orchestra and band.  It was premiered in December 1938 (ironically, indoors) at the high school.  Copland describes how the piece progresses:

The piece starts in a large and grandiose manner with a theme that is immediately developed as a long solo for the trumpet with a string pizzicato accompaniment.  A short bridge passage in the woodwinds leads imperceptibly to the first theme of the allegro section, characterized by repeated notes.  Shortly afterwards, these same repeated notes, played broadly, give us a second, snappy march-like theme, developed in a canon form.  There is an abrupt pause, a sudden decrescendo, and the third, lyric theme appears, first in the flute, then the clarinet, and finally, high up in the strings.  Repeated notes on the bassoon seem to lead the piece in the direction of the opening allegro.  Instead, a fourth and final theme evolves another march theme, but this time less snappy, and with more serious implications.  There is a build-up to the opening grandiose introduction again, continuing with the trumpet solo melody, this time sung by all the strings in a somewhat smoother version.  A short bridge section based on steady rhythm brings a condensed recapitulation of the allegro section.  As a climactic moment all the themes are combined.  A brief coda ends the work on the grandiose note of the beginning.

Copland’s greatest works started to appear immediately on the heels of this piece.  He even interrupted work on Billy the Kid, the first of his famous Americana-themed ballets, to write An Outdoor Overture.  It is thus a window into an important period in his career, as he developed the musical language that would be associated both with him and with the broader idea of Americana in classical music in the following decades.

The Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra plays the band version An Outdoor Overture:

Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic in the orchestra version:

To see more about An Outdoor Overture, visit the Redwood Symphony, the LA Phil, allmusic, the Fargo-Moorehouse Symphony Orchestra, and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

I’ve played An Outdoor Overture twice with Columbia University Wind Ensemble (2003 and 2007) and once with Columbia Summer Winds (2003).

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

Emblems is the only piece that Copland originally wrote for a large band (although he arranged several of his own orchestral compositions for band, including An Outdoor OvertureA Lincoln Portrait, and Variations on a Shaker Melody, to name a few).  He describes its origin:

In May, 1963, I received a letter from Keith Wilson, President of the College Band Directors National Association, asking me to accept a commission from that organization to compose a work for band. He wrote: ‘The purpose of this commission is to enrich the band repertory with music that is representative of the composer’s best work, and not one written with all sorts of technical or practical limitations.’ That was the origin of Emblems. I began work on the piece in the summer of 1964 and completed it in November of that year. It was first played at the CBDNA National Convention in Tempe, Arizona, on December 18, 1964, by the Trojan Band of the University of Southern California, conducted by William Schaefer.

Keeping Mr. Wilson’s injunction in mind, I wanted to write a work that was challenging to young players without overstraining their technical abilities. The work ist tripartite in form: slow-fast-slow, with the return of the first part varied. Embedded in the quiet, slow music the listener may hear a brief quotation of a well known hymn tune, ‘Amazing Grace‘, published by William Walker in The Southern Harmony in 1835. Curiously enough, the accompanying harmonies had been conceived first, without reference to any tune. It was only a chance of perusal of a recent anthology of old ‘Music in America’ that made me realize a connection existed between my harmonies and the old hymn tune.

An emblem stands for something – it is a symbol. I called the work Emblems because it seemed to me to suggest musical states of being: noble or aspirational feelings, playful or spirited feelings. The exact nature of these emblematic sounds must be determined for himself by each listener.”

Emblems is not Copland’s most accessible piece.  The harmonies that accompany “Amazing Grace” are unabashedly dissonant major/minor chords.  At times the texture is so bare that only a triangle is playing.  Yet the outer sections possess Copland’s signature grandiosity, and energy courses persistently through the middle section, which even suggests a Latin American party atmosphere at times.

William Revelli conducts Emblems in a very early performance (1965) at the University of Michigan:

There’s so much more to read about Emblems. See especially the Wind Repertory Project, Classical Archives, and the US Marine Band.  Also, check out the performance guide (for players) courtesy of the Army Field Band.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

Emblems was a senior choice for clarinetist Mike Haskell and percussionist Morgan Rhodes, both class of 2008.  It was on the bleeding edge of our technical abilities, but it was well worth the effort.