Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: August 2013

Minnesota native Thomas Root is the Director of Bands and Professor of Music at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.  His 23 published compositions, including 1977’s Polly Oliver, are played by bands around the United States.  See more about him at Weber State and Grand Mesa Music.

Sweet Polly Oliver is an English folk song that tells the tale of a young woman who dresses as a male soldier to follow her true love off to war.  The lyrics, from Wikipedia:

As sweet Polly Oliver lay musing in bed,
A sudden strange fancy came into her head.
“Nor father nor mother shall make me false prove,
I’ll ‘list as a soldier, and follow my love.”

So early next morning she softly arose,
And dressed herself up in her dead brother’s clothes.
She cut her hair close, and she stained her face brown,
And went for a soldier to fair London Town.

Then up spoke the sergeant one day at his drill,
“Now who’s good for nursing? A captain, he’s ill.”
“I’m ready,” said Polly. To nurse him she’s gone,
And finds it’s her true love all wasted and wan.

The first week the doctor kept shaking his head,
“No nursing, young fellow, can save him,” he said.
But when Polly Oliver had nursed him back to life
He cried, “You have cherished him as if you were his wife”.

O then Polly Oliver, she burst into tears
And told the good doctor her hopes and her fears,
And very shortly after, for better or for worse,
The captain took joyfully his pretty soldier nurse.

An anonymous band plays Root’s varied treatment of Polly Oliver:

English composer Benjamin Britten also composed a treatment of Sweet Polly Oliver for voice and piano.  Here it is with Britten at the piano and tenor Peters Pears:

Adolphus Cornelius Hailstork III (b. 1941) is an African-American composer whose music often blends European and African-American traditions.  He studied composition with such luminaries as H. Owen Reed, David Diamond, and Nadia Boulanger.  His compositions in several genres have won him awards throughout his career.  He is currently Professor of Music, Composer-in-Residence, and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Virginia.  See more about him at Wikipedia, Theodore Presser, AfriClassical, and Old Dominion.

New Wade ‘N Water (2000) is a characteristic marriage of African-American and European elements.  From the score:

New Wade ‘N Water is a contemporary adaptation of the traditional African American Spiritual Wade in the Water As many trained composers throughout history, Dr. Hailstork also uses folk music as his source of inspiration for his compositions.  New Wade ‘N Water opens with an introduction that is constructed using a G blues scale and mixed meter.  Throughout the piece, the material from the introduction serves as an interlude between each variation of the Wade in the Water main melody.  This melody is frequently stated in a hocket style, with fragments of the melody being passed from one section of the band to another.  Motives from the introduction are also combined with the Wade in the Water melody.  New Wade ‘N Water concludes with the same motive that began the piece.

Spirituals are one of the earliest forms of traditional folk music that once functioned within African American communities in multiple ways.  While Spirituals expressed deeply held religious meaning, they also mirrored a desire for freedom, which was often communicated through hidden messages within the text.  Wade in the Water is known for such messages that served as directions to help enslaved Africans to escape cruelty in the pursuit of freedom.  Wade in the Water was an instruction to fleeing slaves to move through rivers and streams to erase their scent and confuse the bloodhounds tracking their path.  The text also includes a reference about Moses, which refers to Harriet Tubman, and African American woman called “The Moses of her People” because of the many enslaved people she led to freedom.

With this old spiritual as a foundation, Hailstork creates an exciting new composition.  He provides musical representation of rolling water and crashing waves giving one the ominous feeling that the phrase “God’s gonna trouble the water” has come to life in the music, while maintaining some of the folk song’s original melody and form.  Here is one of the earliest written versions of the folk song Wade in the Water as documented by African American composer H. T. Burleigh (1925)

WADE IN THE WATER (1925)
chorus:
Wade in the water,
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water.

verse 1:
See that band all dress’d in white,
God’s a goin’ to trouble the water,
The leader looks like the Israelite,
God’s a goin’ to trouble the water.

verse 2:
See that band all dress’d in red,
God’s a goin’ to trouble the water,
It looks like the band that Moses led,
God’s a goin’ to trouble the water.

Here it is in performance (minus a few percussion details):

There are several great vocal versions of this spiritual.  We’ll start with Sweet Honey in the Rock:

Also check out Ella Jenkins:

And this choral version:

Leland Forsblad (1920-2006) was a music educator in Fresno, California.  He honed his composition skills as Prisoner of War during World War II, when he wrote for the ensembles at his POW camp.  Back in the US, he had hundreds of works published for band, orchestra, and chorus.  See more on him here and here.

According to the score of the piece, Forsblad arranged Baroque Celebration in 1985 “in honor of the 300th anniversary of the birth of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel”.  He went on: “Honoring two truly great men of music, BAROQUE CELEBRATION captures the essence of BACH along with the artistry of HANDEL.  The melodic Sarabande coupled with the spirited Little Fugue present a fitting testimonial to these two musical giants.”  Sadly, Baroque Celebration has since gone out of print, but Forsblad did an admirable job making these two short pieces work for band, so I am very glad to have the chance to revive it with the Arizona State University Concert Band.

This arrangement is not available on YouTube, but the source material is.  The “Sarabande” comes from Bach’s French Suite no. 1, the first of a set of six suites for clavier (pre-piano keyboard instrument) that he wrote around 1722, probably as a gift for his second wife, Anna Magdalena.  They only came to be called the “French” Suites by accident, and not with the blessing of the composer.  The “Sarabande”, based on a Spanish dance form, displays Bach’s full expressive powers.  Here it is in a piano version, featuring the legendary Glenn Gould:

And again on the perhaps-more-authentic harpsichord:

About the composer: 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.

The second movement of Baroque Celebration is a treatment of Handel’s Little Fugue, about which I can find little information.  Here it is on harpsichord, with some characteristically Baroque liberties of tempo:

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was a German (born in Halle) who became an Englishman, making his life and career mostly in London.  He wrote operas, instrumental music, and oratorios, including the Messiah, which includes the famous “Hallelujah” chorus.  Along with Bach, he is a towering figure of Baroque music, especially in his adopted homeland of England.

Washington, D.C. native and legendary bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote a dozen operettas, six full-length operas, and over 100 marches, earning the title “March King”.  He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at an early age and went on to become the conductor of the President’s Own United States Marine Band at age 26.  In 1892 he formed “Sousa and his Band”, which toured the United States and the world under his directorship for the next forty years to great acclaim.  Not only was Sousa’s band hugely popular, but it also exposed audiences all over the world to the latest, cutting-edge music, bringing excerpts of Wagner’s Parsifal to New York a decade before the Metropolitan Opera staged it, and introducing ragtime to Europe, helping to spark many a composer’s interest in American music.

Sousa wrote The Thunderer in 1889.  The origin of its title is unclear.  According to Marcus Neiman, the march was dedicated to Sousa’s Masonic organization, so it may have some connection to part of the Masonic symbolism or a person within the organization.  The title may also refer to the thunderous trumpet and drum parts in the first half of the march.   Whatever the case may be, it has stood the test of time as one of Sousa’s most accessible, easily playable marches.  For more, look at Wikipedia, Answers.com, and the Band Music PDF Library (which also has a full set of performable parts.)  You can get even more free editions of The Thunderer at IMSLP.

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at naxosdirect.com. Click the link that says “Read more about this recording.”

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

John Philip Sousa on Wikipedia

The Thunderer in a modern performance by the US Marine Band:

And again by Sousa himself and the US Marine Band in a vintage 1890 recording:

Texas native William Francis McBeth (1933-2012) was a prolific composer for many media, especially wind band, and a revered conductor and educator.  He spent his entire career at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, where he was a professor of music as well as composer-in-residence.  While there, he also conducted the Arkansas Symphony.  He named Arkansas’s Composer Laureate in 1975, making him the first Composer Laureate in the United States.  He had many famous students throughout his career, including Wynton and Branford Marsalis, composer Steven Bryant, and future president Bill Clinton, who played under him in the Arkansas All-State Band in 1962.

McBeth wrote Grace Praeludium in 1982.  It highlights his characteristic use of extended tonality and his talent for orchestration.  He provides his own program note in the score:

GRACE PRAELUDIUM was commissioned by the Arkansas Bandmasters Association in celebration of Ruth and Raymond Brandon for what they have meant and still mean to Arkansas bandmasters.  It was first performed by the Arkansas All-State Band in February 1982 with the composer conducting.

J. Raymond Brandon began his teaching career in Arkansas in 1922 and in 1950 became conductor of bands at North Little Rock High School where he served until his retirement in 1973.  During these 23 years the North Little Rock High School Band set a standard of excellence for the state.  In 1977 at the 25th anniversary of the American School Band Directors Association convention Raymond Brandon was presented the Goldman Award, the highest award of ASBDA.  He is also a past president of that organization.

He is presently the Executive Secretary (or should I say he and his wife Ruth are the Executive Secretaries) of the Arkansas Bandmasters Association.  He is the only living member in the Arkansas Bandmasters Hall of Fame.

Raymond Brandon was one of the most important friends and supporters that this composer had in his early career, and it is with love and admiration that this work is dedicated to him.

The “Grace” part of the title comes from the hymn that McBeth uses, the ever-popular “Amazing Grace”.  The first half of the piece only hints at the hymn melody, presenting fragments of it amidst a dramatic harmonic landscape.  This finally settles on an F-major chord shortly after the midpoint of the piece, allowing the hymn to be heard in full twice.  The dramatic harmonies return for a powerful coda.

The Quakertown (Pennsylvania) High School Symphonic Band plays Grace Praeludium:

For more on the hymntune “Amazing Grace”, visit my post about the settings of the hymn by Frank Ticheli and William Himes.  Sadly, there are no more internet resources for Grace Praeludium just yet.

Francis McBeth had enough fans in his lifetime to warrant pages on Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, and the Wind Repertory Project.  There are several memorial tributes to him as well, including at Ouachita University and the Arkansas Music Educators Association.  Finally, look at this interview he gave in 2010, less than two years before his passing.

Summer 2013 was full of great repertoire!  Columbia Summer Winds had a thrilling season planned, with performances all over Manhattan.  In addition, I was the conductor at the Young Musicians’ Summer Academy in Caroline County, Maryland.   That summer was my last as a full-time New Yorker,  as left to start my DMA in wind conducting at Arizona State University with Gary Hill.  It was an incredibly bittersweet time!

 

COLUMBIA SUMMER WINDS
FUNDRAISER – Tuesday, May 28 from 7:30-10pm at the Village Pourhouse, Amsterdam Avenue between 108th & 109th streets.
FORT TRYON PARK (Near Cabrini Blvd & 190th street) – Saturday, July 13 at 2pm – CANCELED
UNION SQUARE PARK (North Side near 17th street) – Thursday, July 25 at 6pm
CENTRAL PARK BANDSHELL (Near 72nd street) – Saturday, July 27 at 1pm
WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK (Garibaldi Plaza) – Saturday, August 3 at 2pm – CANCELED

Procession of the Nobles – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, arr. Leidzen

A Summer Breeze – J. Scott McKenzie

Songs from the Catskills – Johan de Meij

Elixir – Michael Markowski

Down a Country Lane – Aaron Copland, arr. Patterson

Suite of Old American Dances – Robert Russell Bennett

Selections from Les Misérables – Claude-Michel Schönberg, arr. Barker

Light Cavalry Overture – Franz von Suppé, arr. Fillmore

Stars and Stripes Forever – John Philip Sousa

 

The Young Musicians’ Summer Academy
June 25-27, Caroline County, Maryland

9-12 BAND:

Adrenaline Engines – Randall Standridge

As Summer Was Just Beginning – Larry Daehn

King Cotton – John Philip Sousa

6-8 BAND:

Clouds – Anne McGinty

Midsummer Overture – Andrew Pease

Gypsydance – David Holsinger

COMBINED BANDS

The Machine Awakes – Steven Bryant