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Monthly Archives: September 2013

James Barnes (b. 1949) is an American composer of primarily works for wind band.  Born in Oklahoma, he studied and continues to teach at the University of Kansas.  His compositions for band have been played all over the world, including in three separate recordings by the renowned Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra.  He is a two-time winner of the prestigious Ostwald award for new band compositions.

Barnes provides the following note in the score to his 1984 Yorkshire Ballad:

Composed in the summer of 1984, James Barnes’s Yorkshire Ballad was premiered at the Kansas Bandmasters Association Convention in Huthcinson, Kansas, by the late Claude T. Smith, who was serving as the guest conductor for the Kansan Intercollegiate Band.  Since being published in 1985, it has become one of the composer’s most popular works.  It has been arranged for full orchestra and string orchestra by the composer, for marimba and piano by Linda Maxey, for flute choir by Arthur Ephross, and for trombone or tuba/euphonium ensemble by Jon Bohls.

The composer writes that “over the years, many conductors and teachers have called me to ask about the work, and whether the tune itself is in fact a folksong.  Yorkshire Ballad is not a folksong, but it is written in that style.  I composed this little piece so that younger players would have the opportunity to play a piece that is more or less in the style of Percy Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry.  Even Grainger’s easier works are too difficult for most youngsters to do them musical justice, so I thought I would write a little piece that might emote of the feelings and colors of Grainger’s wonderful music, but, at the same time, was technically much more accessible to the younger player.”

“People always ask me what I was trying to portray when I wrote Yorkshire Ballad.  All I can say is that I was thinking of the beautiful, green Yorkshire Dales of northern England; the rolling hills and the endless stretch of beautiful pasturelands that my wife and I loved so much when, a year before, we had driven through this most marvelous spot in the world.”

The usual links:

James Barnes on Wikipedia.

Nice long-ish article on Barnes at Suite101.  It happens to have been published on his 60th birthday!

And some video, starting with the band version, from the Tokyo Kosei recordings:

And, for a little something extra, the trombone choir version:

Levi Nichol at Kansas State University prepared a very useful teaching guide (.doc) for Yorkshire Ballad.


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 at the USC Thornton School of Music and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  He is the recipient of many awards, including first prize in the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2and a 2012 Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Ticheli wrote Simple Gifts: Four Shaker Songs in 2002 on a commission from the Tapp Middle School Band in Powder Springs, Georgia, and their director, Erin Cole.  He provides extensive program notes in the score, which are also quoted on the Manhattan Beach Music website (which also features full recordings of the entire piece).  Here are the relevant bits, written by Ticheli himself (with links added by me):


The Shakers were a religious sect who splintered from a Quaker community in the mid-1700’s in Manchester, England. Known then derisively as “Shaking Quakers” because of the passionate shaking that would occur during their religious services, they were viewed as radicals, and their members were sometimes harassed and even imprisoned by the English. One of those imprisoned, Ann Lee, was named official leader of the church upon her release in 1772. Two years later, driven by her vision of a holy sanctuary in the New World, she led a small group of followers to the shores of America where they founded a colony in rural New York.

The Shakers were pacifists who kept a very low profile, and their membership increased only modestly during the decades following their arrival. At their peak in the 1830’s, there were some 6,000 members in nineteen communities interspersed between Maine and Kentucky. Soon after the Civil War their membership declined dramatically. Their practice of intense simplicity and celibacy accounts for much of their decline.

Today there is only one active Shaker community remaining, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine. They maintain a Shaker Library, a Shaker Museum, and a website at

The Shakers were known for their architecture, crafts, furniture, and perhaps most notably, their songs. Shaker songs were traditionally sung in unison without instrumental accompaniment. Singing and dancing were vital components of Shaker worship and everyday life. Over 8,000 songs in some 800 songbooks were created, most of them during the 1830’s to 1860’s in Shaker communities throughout New England.


My work is built from four Shaker melodies – a sensuous nature song, a lively dance tune, a tender lullaby, and most famously, “Simple Gifts,” the hymn that celebrates the Shaker’s love of simplicity and humility. In setting these songs, I sought subtle ways to preserve their simple, straightforward beauty. Melodic freshness and interest were achieved primarily through variations of harmony, of texture, and especially, of orchestration.

The first movement is a setting of “In Yonder Valley”, generally regarded to be the oldest surviving Shaker song with text. This simple hymn in praise of nature is attributed to Father James Whittaker (1751 – 87), a member of the small group of Shakers who emigrated to America in 1774. My setting enhances the image of spring by turning the first three notes of the tune into a birdcall motive.

The second movement, “Dance,” makes use of a tune from an 1830’s Shaker manuscript. Dancing was an important part of Shaker worship, and tunes such as this were often sung by a small group of singers while the rest of the congregation danced. One interesting feature in my setting occurs near the end of the movement, when the brasses state the tune at one-quarter speed in counterpoint against the woodwinds who state it at normal speed.

The third movement is based on a Shaker lullaby, “Here Take This Lovely Flower,” found in Dorothy Berliner Commin’s extraordinary collection, Lullabies of the World, and in Daniel W. Patterson’s monumental collection, The Shaker Spiritual. This song is an example of the phenomenon of the gift song, music received from spirits by Shaker mediums while in trance (see pp. 316 ff. in Patterson, op cit., for a detailed account, and also Harold E. Cook’s Shaker Music: A Manifestation of American Folk Culture, pp. 52 ff.). Although the Shakers practiced celibacy, there were many children in their communities, including the children of recent converts as well as orphans whom they took in. Like many Shaker songs, this lullaby embodies the Shakers’ ideal of childlike simplicity.

The finale is a setting of the Shakers’ most famous song, “Simple Gifts,” sometimes attributed to Elder Joseph Bracket (1797 – 1882) of the Alfred, Maine community, and also said (in Lebanon, New York, manuscript) as having been received from a Negro spirit at Canterbury, New Hampshire, making “Simple Gifts” possibly a visionary gift song. It has been used in hundreds of settings, most notably by Aaron Copland in the brilliant set of variations which conclude his Appalachian Spring. Without ever quoting him, my setting begins at Copland’s doorstep, and quickly departs. Throughout its little journey, the tune is never abandoned, rarely altered, always exalted.

He also provides the lyrics for each song he uses:

In Yonder Valley
In yonder valley there flows sweet union;
Let us arise and drink our fill.
The winter’s past and the spring appears;
The turtle dove is in our land.
In yonder valley there flows sweet union;
Let us arise, and drink our fill.

Virgins cloth’d in a clean white garment,
How they move in a band of love,
Comforts flow in a mighty current,
We shall drink at the fountains above.

Yea, we will rejoice with freedom,
In this straight little narrow way,
Here is the fold and the lambs all feeding,
On this green we’ll skip and play.

Here Take this Lovely Flower
Here take this lovely flower
Thy mother sent to thee,
Cull’d from her lovely bower
Of sweet simplicity.

O place it near thy bosom
And keep it pure and bright,
For in such lovely flowers
The angels take delight.

Simple Gifts
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘Til by turning, turning we come round right.

The best YouTube performance of Simple Gifts comes in four separate videos, one for each movement, so that is how I will look at them, with the source material following each movement.  Here is the first, “In Yonder Valley”:

Like bands, choirs also love Shaker songs.  Here is a university chorus performing “In Yonder Valley”.  Listen especially for how the words fall within the melody:

Ticheli calls the second movement “Dance”:

The best you can do to hear a vocal version of this is follow this link to hear Joel Cohen and his group sing a bit of it, under the title “Virgins Cloth’d in a Clean White Garment.”

Movement III is the sweet song “Here Take This Lovely Flower”:

Again, a choir puts the words to the music for us:

The final movement is based on perhaps the most famous of all the Shaker songs, “Simple Gifts”:

Here it is again, done simply by the Phoenix Boys Choir:

As Ticheli mentions in his notes, Aaron Copland helped to make “Simple Gifts” as famous as it is by using it in his 1944 ballet Appalachian Spring.  For any composer looking to set “Simple Gifts”, Copland’s version is the elephant in the room, yet Ticheli does assert his independence quite well.  Listen and compare:

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.

Wisconsin native Pierre La Plante (b. 1943) is an American composer with French-Canadian roots.  His works for band have been performed internationally.  His approach to composition is informed by his many years teaching both beginning and high school band in Wisconsin.  If you have a chance, look at his very nice website.

American Riversongs was dedicated to and commissioned by the Oberlin (Ohio) High School Band and their director, Stephen Johnson III, in 1988.  La Plante details his inspiration on the cover of the score:

American Riversongs is based on traditional and composed music of an earlier time, when the rivers and waterways were the lifelines of a growing nation.

American Riversongs begins with a rousing setting of “Down the River”, followed by an expansive and dramatic treatment of “Shenandoah” or “Across the Wide Missouri,” as it is sometimes called.  After a brief transition, a brass band is heard playing a quadrille-like version of Stephen Foster‘s “The Glendy Burk.” As the “Glendy Burk” travels along, a second theme is introduced by piccolo, flutes and tambourine.  The second theme is based on a Creole bamboula tune that probably originated in the Louisiana delta region.  Other composers have used this melody, including Louis Moreau Gottschalk in his La Bamboula, Op. 2 for piano and his Symphony no. 1, subtitled A Night in the Tropics. The bamboula theme is marked by an incessant syncopated ragtime rhythm and used to good effect in the coda to bring American Riversongs to a rowdy, foot-stomping close.

An anonymous band gives a mostly quite good rendition of American Riversongs, perhaps with some overzealous performances in the percussion section:

The first song featured is “Down the River”, which is a little lark of a song about being out on the Ohio River.  I first encountered it while teaching elementary school music (I used it to teach contour to second graders), so it is fitting that the best internet source about it is another elementary school music lesson page.  Read Beth’s Music Notes for a taste of the lyrics and the original melody (not much changed in American Riversongs).

Here is just one version of the classic “Shenandoah” (which you can read more about in my entry on Frank Ticheli’s fine version):

“Glendy Burk” is a Stephen Foster song that tells a Mississippi River story.  Here’s a recent arrangement:

Finally, La Plante mentions Gottschalk, whose setting of the bamboula rhythm sounds so very straight-laced compared to what we are used to now, but it caused a sensation in Paris when it was first played in public in 1849:

David Frazier at Kansas State University put together a very good teaching unit for American Riversongs.  Sadly, it is short on information about “Down the River”, but is a wonderful resource for every other aspect of the piece.