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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Spring 2013 was a busy semester!  In addition to the usual Columbia Festival of Winds and EPIC concert(s) with the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, I also conducted an honor band for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in Westchester County, New York.  The repertoire was spectacular!  This semester at Columbia had special meaning: it was my last with the Columbia Wind Ensemble, as I’ll be starting my DMA in wind conducting this fall at Arizona State University with Gary Hill.  I’m very excited to move on, but also very sad to leave Columbia after 11 years!


EPIC – Monday, April 22 at 8pm at Roone Arledge Auditorium, repeated Sunday, April 28 at 2pm in the EPIC Barnard Quad.  It was also our Senior Choice concert, and my final concert with the CUWE.  EPIC it was indeed!

Raise of the Son – Rossano Gallante (for bassoonist Jimmy Caldarese)

Selections from Star Wars Trilogy – John Williams, arr. Donald Hunsberger (for trombonist and web wizard Curtis Cooper)

Italian in Algiers Overture – Gioachino Rossini (for multi-clarinetist Victor Chang)

Selections from Carmina Burana – Carl Orff, arr. Krance (for trumpeter and master politician Thomas Callander)

Hands Across the Sea – John Philip Sousa (for trombonist and future educator Sam Alexander)

Jupiter from “The Planets” – Gustav Holst, arr. Clark McAlister (for bass trombonist Matt Cowen)

Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah – Camille Saint-Saens (my choice, a repeat from my very first CUWE concert in 2002)


Westchester County School Music Association Elementary All-County Band
Saturday, March 16 at 11am, SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center
A wonderful experience – my first honor band!

Aquia Landing – Paul Murtha

Count Not the Hours – Patrick Burns

Joy – Frank Ticheli

Starscapes – Brian Balmages



Sunday, March 3 at 2pm – Roone Arledge Auditorium, Columbia University

The Columbia Festival Band opened the show with Chester Overture by William Schuman, conducted by Emily Threinen.

The Columbia University Wind Ensemble played:

Festive Overture – Dmitri Shostakovich (Senior Choice for trumpeter Tim Foreman)

Acrostic Song from “Final Alice” – David del Tredici, arr. Mark Spede

The Last Polka – Beck Hansen, arr. Andrew Pease

First Suite in E-flat – Gustav Holst
Sarah Quiroz, guest conductor

Reason for Hope in a Complex World – Oliver Caplan

At the end of the Festival, all of the participating bands massed together and played Sousa’s Liberty Bell March.

Suite Française is a true classic of the wind band repertoire and a personal favorite of mine that I have been studying on and off for years and have conducted twice in concert.  It hasn’t appeared on this blog until now only because I have known that it would take a tremendous effort to really do this piece justice, even in my relatively un-scholarly format, as evidenced by the three days it has taken me to put this post together.  I hope that what follows proves enlightening for the uninitiated.

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) was a prolific French composer and teacher and a member of Les Six early in his career.  He was born to Jewish parents and grew up in Aix-en-Provence, France.  He studied at the Paris Conservatoire, graduating in 1915.  His composition career took off from there.  He traveled to Brazil (Rio) and the United States (Harlem), where he heard the uniquely New World sounds of Brazilian music and American jazz, both of which would influence his compositional style.  The Harlem experience inspired him to write the jazz-tinged ballet La creation du Monde in 1922, before even American composers were making serious efforts to blend jazz with concert music.  The Nazi occupation of France put Milhaud in serious danger: not only was he a prominent Jewish figure, he also was often confined to a wheelchair due to severe rheumatoid arthritis.  He fled for the United States 1940.  While there, he secured a teaching position at Mills College in Oakland, California, where his notable students included Burt Bacharach, William Bolcom, Peter Schickele, and Dave Brubeck.  Once France was liberated, he resumed his career there, alternating years at Mills College and the Paris Conservatoire from 1947-1971.  His music further distinguished itself through its unique and unabashed use of polytonality.  Milhaud wrote two autobiographies.  The first (1953)was called Notes Without Music.  Despite having dodged Nazi persecution and spent years in pain confined to a wheelchair, Milhaud titled the second (1972) Ma vie heureuse (My Happy Life).  He died in Geneva at age 81.

There are several internet biographies of Milhaud.  See Wikipedia, Naxos, Universal Edition, the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, the Music Academy Online, and American National Biography Online.  Also, Milhaud’s former student Dave Brubeck offers reflections on his beloved teacher in this movie clip and this very moving audio excerpt (the Milhaud section starts around 14 minutes in).

Milhaud wrote Suite Française in 1944 on a commission from Leeds Music, which published the piece in 1945.  They were looking for a piece fit for high school bands, and Milhaud delivered beautifully.  It was premiered by the Goldman Band in New York City on June 13, 1945.  Milhaud also created versions for orchestra and for 4-hands piano, although the wind band version came first.  Says Milhaud of the piece (from the band score):

For a long time I have had the idea of writing a composition fit for high school purposes and this was the result. In the bands, orchestras, and choirs of American high schools, colleges and universities where the youth of the nation be found, it is obvious that they need music of their time, not too difficult to perform, but, nevertheless keeping the characteristic idiom of the composer. The five parts of this Suite are named after French Provinces, the very ones in which the American and Allied armies fought together with the French underground of the liberation of my country: Normandy, Brittany, Ile-de-France (of which Paris is the center), Alsace-Lorraine, and Provence (my birthplace). I used some folk tunes of these provinces. I wanted the young American to hear the popular melodies of those parts of France where their fathers and brothers fought to defeat the German invaders, who in less than seventy years have brought war, destruction, cruelty, torture, and murder, three times, to the peaceful and democratic people of France.

In addition to the folk tunes (which I will discuss below), Milhaud provided some melodies of his own.  Each movement is uniquely of its place, as you will see in the videos below.  “Normandie” uses two lively Norman folk songs: “Germaine”, about a warrior coming home through the eyes of a young woman; and “The French Shepherdess and the King of England“, about a comic meeting between the two title characters.  Milhaud added some original material to help him depict the region where so many American servicemen landed in France during World War II:

A fog-horn announces the beginning of “Bretagne“, a province with deep ties to the sea. The movement uses the sea shanties “La Paimpolaise” and “Les marins de Groix“, as well as “La chanson des metamorphoses“, a song that imagines the singer’s lover transformed:

Ile-de-France” depicts the bustle of Paris with lively, largely carefree folk material.  It begins with “A ma main droite j’ai un rosier” (I tend a rosebush with my right hand), a children’s round that alternates bars of 3 and 2, and which Milhaud sets in 4 while still retaining the accents of the original.  The lyrical melody that soon crops up is “Voici la Saint-Jean“, a summer festival song.  “La belle au rosier blanc” (The Fair Maid of the White-Rose Tree) also make an appearance:

Alsace-Lorraine” takes a more melancholy turn, suggesting distant artillery fire around a solemn funeral procession, fitting for a region that borders Germany and was taken over during the war.  Still, the movement’s ending suggests hope and triumph to come.  The main melody is apparently a Milhaud original.  The primary countermelody that sounds so distant desolate at first is “Voici le moi de Mai” (Here is the month of May), a spritely tra-la-la of a tune.  The clarinet interlude in the middle comes from “Le mois de Mai”, a different but still spritely festival tune:

Provence“, Milhaud’s childhood home, is joyous and innocent and uses the most original material of any movement.  The only folk song is “Magali“, another story of a lover transformed:

I owe a large debt to Robert Garofalo’s fantastic study guide on this piece, without which I would not have been able to even begin identifying the folk material in the suite.  His book goes much farther than this page in giving background information and context.  Here is a look at some of the folk songs that he names:

I. NORMANDIE – Sadly, none of these songs seem to be recorded in internet form.


“La Paimpolaise”, of which Milhaud only uses the major-key refrain (presented first in this performance):

“Les marins de Groix”, which Milhaud slows down dramatically.  If you listen carefully, you’ll recognize the tune once the tempo picks up:


“A ma main droite j’ai un rosier”:

“Voici la Saint Jean” seems to be one set of lyrics with several different tunes attached.  Here is one that closely resembles that which Milhaud used.  Listen carefully to the top vocal and you’ll hear it:


Listen to a recording of “Voici le mois de Mai” in English.


“Magali” orchestrated:

Additional material on Suite Française can be found at the Wind Repertory Project, this program notes wiki, and the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra Blog.  In addition, Tim Reynish has a nice page with interpretive notes on the piece, and David Whitwell wrote a paper on it.  Finally, see the full score of the orchestral version with Leonard Bernstein’s markings at the New York Philharmonic Archive.

I hope Scott McKenzie will forgive me for quoting his website on almost every important point here.  He writes with a wonderful sense of humor.  His bio:

Scott McKenzie is a composer, arranger, and conductor currently serving as a band officer in the United States Army.  His oath and personal ethics stipulate that he can’t use his grade or position for personal gain, so that’s all he can say about that.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Virginia Tech and a Master of Music degree in composition from George Mason University, where he was a student of Dr. Glenn Smith and Mark Camphouse. He previously studied music education and conducting at Old Dominion University and the Peabody Conservatory. Prior to doing a crazy thing and enlisting in the Army, he taught band, chorus, and general music at the middle school level for four years.  If you taught middle school general music for any length of time, you might not think joining the Army was that crazy, either.

His Fanfare for Enduring Freedom was a 2007 winner of Dallas Wind Symphony’s ‘Call for Fanfares,’ and most recently, A Summer Breeze was named winner of the 2012 Columbia Summer Winds Outdoor Composition Contest (even  though it was composed almost entirely indoors).

Mr. McKenzie and his wife, Anne, have three children, Jimmy, Colleen, and Allie.  They reside wherever the Army sends them.

As he mentioned above, A Summer Breeze won the Columbia Summer Winds Outdoor Composition Contest, so I will conduct the New York premieres of it with that group this summer.  It is a short overture driven by a spritely 6/8 figure that McKenzie plays with throughout the piece: he spins it out into a dancing theme, then plays it against a more lyrical melody, reminiscent of the final movement of Holst’s Second Suite.  Says McKenzie:

Composed for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Band and premiered during the Independence Day and Change of Command concerts July 3,4, & 5, 2012 with the composer conducting

This piece was composed as a farewell gift to the TRADOC Band at the end of my two-year command.  My goal was simple: to write a short, fun, energetic, tuneful work that an Independence Day audience would enjoy on a first hearing.

As of now, I’ve written two pieces inspired by the seasons.  They are not necessarily intended to be performed together or as a suite, but if you think they’d work together in that fashion, knock yourself out.  The other piece is A Winter Flurry.

McKenzie has a wonderful website and a Soundcloud page with recordings of some of his work.  He was even kind enough to put up a rehearsal recording of A Summer Breeze!  Furthermore, you can look at McKenzie’s description of it on his website (quoted above) and view the full score here.  Finally, the Columbia Summer Winds played it at Central Park, and it sounded like this: