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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Viet Cuong (b. 1990) is a rising star in the music world.  At age 23 (as of this writing), his music for large ensembles and chamber groups has already been performed on four continents, and it has won him a litany of awards.  He was trained at the Peabody Conservatory (BM and MM) and Princeton (PhD in progress).  We can expect to see much more from him.

Sound and Smoke is Cuong’s first mature piece for wind band, written in 2011 while he was an undergraduate at Peabody.  It won him the Walter Beeler Memorial Prize for new wind band compositions in 2012.  He gives detailed program note in the score:

Both the title and concept of Sound and Smoke were derived from a line from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust, when Faust equates words to “mere sound and smoke” and declares that “feeling is everything.” Each of the two movements has been given an abstract, parenthetical title to further incorporate Goethe’s conjecture that words will never be able to fully express what feelings and, in this case, music can. Therefore, these titles serve merely as starting points for personal interpretation and should not interfere with the music itself.

The first movement, (feudal castle lights), blurs the many different timbres of the ensemble to create a resonant and slowly “smoldering” effect. Because reverb is essentially built into the orchestration, harmonies must shift using common tones and are always built upon the notes preceding them. The second and final movement, (avalanche of eyes), opens with an alternating unison-note brass fanfare that is then spun out into a fast-paced toccata. Suspense and excitement are created as the spotlight moves quickly between the various colors of the ensemble and the fanfare is transformed.

The original concept of “sound and smoke” unifies these two otherwise dissimilar movements; often times ideas are presented and then promptly left behind or transformed. Musical events therefore appear and dissipate as quickly as sound and smoke.

The Peabody Wind Ensemble performs Sound and Smoke:

Viet Cuong has an excellent website that has his bio, an up-to-date works list, and the latest news on his developing career.

Joseph Schwantner (b. 1943) is an American composer and teacher.  He grew up in Chicago playing guitar and tuba.  He had early success at composition, winning the National Band Camp Award in 1959 when he was just 16.  He went on to undergraduate studies at the American Conservatory in Chicago, then masters and doctoral work at Northwestern University, which he finished in 1968.  He has served on the faculties of the Eastman School, the Juilliard School, and Yale.  His compositions have won him the Pulitzer Prize (1979), several Grammy nominations, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  He is known for his eclectic combination of compositional techniques and his mystical orchestrations.

…and the mountains rising nowhere is the result of a commission from Donald Hunsberger and the Eastman Wind Ensemble with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1977.  It was premiered that year by Eastman at the CBDNA national conference in College Park, Maryland.  It is dedicated to the children’s author Carol Adler, whose poem arioso is excerpted in the score and which inspired the work:

arioso     bells
an afternoon sun blanked by rain
and the mountains rising nowhere
the sound returns
the sound and the silence   chimes

…and the mountains rising nowhere holds a very unique place in the repertoire for wind bands.  It is scored for an extended orchestral wind section: 6 flutes (4 doubling piccolo), 2 clarinets, 4 oboes (2 doubling English Horn), 4 bassoons, 4 trumpets, 4 horns, 4 trombones (the 4th being a bass), and tuba, plus string bass.  It also calls for a six percussion players who play 46 different instruments in the course of the piece.  The feature player is an amplified piano.  In addition to all of the effects that Schwantner achieves with his percussion menagerie and conventional piano and wind sounds, he calls for unusual techniques in the winds like singing, whistling, aleatoric effects, and even tuned glass crystals which the oboists play for more than half of the piece.  These combine to make a mystical soundscape unlike anything that has come before or since.

Structurally, …and the mountains rising nowhere is in three broad sections defined by its beginning around B, its middle move to A-flat, and its final return to B.  Within that framework, there are nine distinct sections plus an introduction and a coda.  Otherwise, the work is unified by its use of sevens: arioso has seven lines, the piece was written in 1977, it is loaded with seven-note chords and seventh leaps in the melody, it uses septuplets and other seven-note groupings, it uses seven groups of whistler, its main tonal centers are related by a diminished seventh, etc.  In addition, diatonic (seven-note) scales are contrasted with octatonic (eight-note) scales for much of the piece.  This is not to say that it is a tonal creation, but neither can it be considered purely atonal.  It does have strong pitch centers for most of the work, but not necessarily in a way that Bach or Mozart would recognize.  This ambiguity is a hallmark of Schwantner’s eclectic use of compositional techniques.  Listen to the result as played by the North Texas Wind Symphony:

More information about …mountains… is available from the Wind Repertory Project, Nikk Pilato‘s doctoral dissertation from 2007 (skip to page 20), the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra blog, two different papers (here and here) by Cynthia Folio, this LiveJournal, University of Texas program notes, a chapter by Scott Higbee, Ronald Montgomery‘s dissertation, and Jeffrey Renshaw‘s articles in The Instrumentalist and Teaching Music through Performance in Band.

Joseph Schwantner has a biography on Wikipedia and his own website.

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.

Country Gardens is an English folk tune that Cecil Sharp collected in 1908 and passed on to Grainger, who played improvisations on it during his World War I tours as a concert pianist for the US Army.  According to Grainger, it is a dance version of the tune “The Vicar of Bray“.  Once published in its original piano form, the tune brought Grainger great success.  However, it was not among his favorite compositions.  To quote Keith Brion and Loras Schissel‘s score of the Sousa edition:

Later in life, despite the steady stream of income from its royalties, the fame of Country Gardens and the widespread public association of this work as being his best known piece, came to haunt Grainger.  Mentally, it became his albatross.  He came to think of his own brilliant original music as “my wretched tone art.”.  He once remarked, “The typical English country garden is not often used to grow flowers in; it is more likely to be a vegetable plot.  So you can think of turnips as I play it.”

When asked in 1950 by Leopold Stokowski to make a new arrangement for Stokowski’s orchestra, Grainger obliged with a wildly satirical version that literally sticks out its tongue at the success of the little tune.  In 1953, he rescored that arrangement for band.  Reflecting his mood at the time, it is a bitingly sophisticated parody that was to become his only band setting of the music.

Aside from that extremely worthwhile score which you should all read, you can see more about Country Gardens at Wikipedia, IMSLP (piano version), and Song Facts.

There are a great many different versions of Country Gardens, including at least four for band. Here is the bitingly satirical one from 1953 by Grainger himself:

There is another that John Philip Sousa arranged in 1925 with Grainger’s blessing:

And another that Brant Karrick arranged from Grainger’s piano version in 2013:

And yet one more arranged by Tom Clark in 1931 that is out of print and does not get played anymore.  As you can hear, all but Grainger’s treat the tune as a light romp.  But that is just the tip of this piece’s iceberg, lest we forget Grainger’s 1950 orchestral version:

Or his original piano version from 1918 (here played twice):

Or the Muppets’ 1977 four hands (paws?) piano version: – 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 the New York metro 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

Two interesting Grainger articles at The Guardian and WRTI.

Dr. Edward Green is an award-winning composer and music educator, as well as a prolific scholar in the field of music history.  He currently sits on the faculties of both the Manhattan School of Music and the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.  He has received numerous awards for his work.

He provides his own extensive notes, plus some additional biography, for his 1999 orchestral suite, Music for Shakespeare:

This orchestral suite was composed in 1999 and premiered by the Minnesota Sinfonia early in 2000. In 2013, Andy Pease gave it a parallel form for concert winds.

This suite grew out of incidental music Dr. Green had originally written to accompany Shakespearian productions by the Aesthetic Realism Theater Company—and throughout the writing of this music, he explained, he was inspired by this principle of Aesthetic Realism, which he learned from the great American philosopher Eli Siegel:  “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

A key pair of opposites is old and new; in this music, the composer has said, he wanted to be true to both the Elizabethan spirit and the music of our own times.  With melody always in the forefront, the suite evokes the dances of Shakespeare’s day, and the rhythms of our own. As a result, the style is both heartfelt and surprising: serious, yet filled with warmth, charm, humor.

“Love Music” is the title to the opening movement, and its long-arched melody is in the bright tonality of E Lydian. “When I wrote this melody,” the composer has said, “I had in mind Shakespeare’s heroines and also my wife, the actress Carrie Wilson.  In fact, I wrote this melody immediately after seeing her in the role of Desdemona with the Aesthetic Realism Theater Company.”

The second movement is in five parts: a complete “Dance Suite” unto itself. It begins with an Elizabethan “Gigue”—only written not in the traditional 12/8 meter, but in a modernistic 11/8—which gives it delightful irregularity. It is followed by an “Air,” and then three dances which flow into each other: a “Galliard”—depicting some of Shakespeare’s more comic (and slightly drunken) characters, such as Sir Toby Belch—a “Pavane,” and then a “Rigadoon,” which is written in rousing five-bar phrases.

Music for Shakespeare is perhaps Edward Green’s most frequently performed orchestral work. But hardly his only one—for orchestras across the US and also in England, Russia, Argentina, Australia, the Czech Republic and several other countries have also performed such works as his Piano, Trumpet and Saxophone concertos, all three of which have appeared on commercial CDs. He has also written much chamber and choral music, and a Symphony for Band, which was jointly commissioned by a consortium of thirteen of America’s leading concert wind ensembles.  He is currently at work on a ballet based on Milton’s Paradise Lost, and on a symphony commissioned by the Catskill Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to his creative activities—which likewise includes work as a film composer in collaboration with the Emmy Award-winning director Ken Kimmelman—Edward Green is also an active music educator.  He teaches at Manhattan School of Music, where he is a professor in the departments of Composition, Music History, and Jazz, and also at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. Trained in Ohio (Oberlin Conservatory) and New York (NYU), he has appeared as a guest composer and lecturer throughout Europe and both North and South America.  He is editor of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington, and was editor of China and the West: The Birth of a New Music (Shanghai Conservatory Press).

Among his many professional honors is the Zoltan Kodaly Composers’ Award, and a 2009 Grammy nomination for his Piano Concertino (Best Contemporary Classical Composition). He also was the recipient, in 2004, of the highly sought-after Music Alive! Award from the American Symphony Orchestra League.

In putting together the wind band version of Music for Shakespeare, I retained the opening “Love Music” as a separate movement and split the second “Dance Suite” movement into its five component dances: “Gigue”, “Air”, “Galliard”, “Pavane”, and “Rigadoon”, of which the last three run together attacca.  I made several key adjustments, so that the “Love Music” is now in E-flat rather than E, and the final four movements are down a whole step from where they began, putting them in more wind-friendly keys.  I also rebarred the “Gigue” from 11/8 to a mix of 5/8 and 6/8, making it easier for players (and hopefully conductors) to interpret the length of each beat.  At every step, I was in contact with Dr. Green, who approved all of the changes and endorsed the final product.

Listen to a MIDI mock-up below.  Feel free, also, to read along in the score (.pdf):

Here is the Arizona State University Concert Band performing the first movement, “Love Music”, on March 1, 2014.  Please excuse the trumpet-heavy mix, owing to the camera placement:

As Green said, the orchestral version has been performed around the world.  The band version will have its first partial airing by the Arizona State University Concert Band on Saturday, March 1 on the ASU campus.  Anyone else who is interested performing it should contact me: misterpease “at”

Dr. Green has an extensive website that includes his full biography.  I recommend exploring the site a good deal.  His scholarly articles are probing and very accessible.  The site also has mp3s of several of his compositions, including this recording of the orchestral Music for Shakespeare (scroll to the bottom to find it).  These are very much worth a listen as window into his style.

Dr. Green’s faculty page at the Manhattan School of Music.

His faculty page at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  His rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

The Broadway musical West Side Story first came into being in 1957 as a collaboration between Bernstein (as composer), choreographer Jerome Robbins, writer Arthuer Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.  Its story is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Set in the 1950s on Manhattan’s West Side, it tells the tragic tale of Tony and Maria, whose rival gangs doom their young love.  The musical became a film in 1961, winning 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.  Bernstein’s music was often a character itself, giving the film psychological direction in many long dance sequences.  Originally written in English, West Side Story was recently revived on Broadway in a bilingual version, with the Puerto Rican Sharks speaking and singing mostly in Spanish while the white Jets retain their English.

This set of West Side Story Selections comprises sort of a greatest hits collection from the musical.  It is a single movement that transitions smoothly from one tune to the next, focusing on the most popular melodies from the musical.  Here it is in full:

While the playing on that recording is excellent, some of those tempos are flatly bizarre, so do not take that recording as gospel.  Instead, take a listen to the songs as they appear in the film version.  The medley starts with “I Feel Pretty”, Maria’s crazy-in-love song:

Next up is “Maria”, which Tony sings after meeting her for the first time:

This segues to “Something’s Coming”, Tony’s song from early in the film in which he expresses his feelings of endless, unknowable possibilities in front of him:

This is followed by another song of anticipation, “Tonight”, in which Tony and Maria sing of the excitement of their newly discovered feelings:

It is used again later in the climactic number leading up to the Jets’ and Sharks’ big confrontation:

Maria and Tony play at getting married (and it gets rather serious), and they sing “One Hand, One Heart”:

After the rumble, in which each gang has lost a member, the Jets regroup and sing “Cool”, reminding each other to play it cool despite their intense anxiety and anger:

The medley ends with “America”, in which the Puerto Ricans sing of the promise (and pitfalls) of their new life in New York (the song proper starts about 3 minutes in):

There is much material about both Bernstein and West Side Story on the web.  The survey below only scratches the surface. – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at

West Side Story main website.  Includes information on performances all over the world, lyrics to the songs, and other information.

West Side Story the musical on Wikipedia.

West Side Story new Broadway production website.

Preview of West Side Story book (for the musical) on Google Books.

Anthony Iannaccone (b. 1943) is a composer and conductor on the faculty of Eastern Michigan University.  He studied at the Manhattan School of Music and the Eastman School of Music under such notable composers as Aaron Copland, David Diamond, and Vittorio Giannini.  He has published more than 50 compositions which have won him many awards, including the 1995 ABA Ostwald Award for Sea Drift.

Iannaccone wrote After a Gentle Rain in 1979.  He says:

After a Gentle Rain is a work in two contrasting movements – the first quiet, meditative and introverted and the second sparkling, dance-like and extroverted.  The piece is dedicated to Dr. Max Plank and the Eastern Michigan University Symphonic Band and was recorded by the band for Golden Crest Records (ATH-5072).

1. “The Dark Green Glistens With Old Reflections”.  The first movement begins with a gently rippling, arpeggiated figure that contains the main harmonic and melodic idea of the entire piece: two superimposed major triads. The figure subtly changes color as it migrates through various registers, spacings, and doublings.  While the external shape of the sextuplet seems frozen, one can hear an internal, textural progression of changing resonance qualities.  Against this backdrop is painted a wide spectrum of both dark and bright mixtures of soft brass, reeds and percussion.  Those colorful mixtures constantly re-define the background and foreground of this introverted scenario.

The play on words in the title suggests images of light reflecting off moist green foliage in turn evoking reflections “off” old memories in a quiet, meditative context.  Memories, images and colors become bolder and more powerful, culminate in a climax and gradually recede into the past with the same delicate afterglow of soft bell sounds heard in the opening measures.

2. “Sparkling Air Bursts With Dancing Sunlight”.  Extroverted and dance-like in nature this movement gallops with the joy and freshness that seems to fill the air after a gentle rain.  The cleansed air sparkles with a sense of re-birth and the celebration of life.

The Austin Symphonic Band performs After a Gentle Rain:

Read up on Anthony Iannaccone at the Wind Repertory Project, Wikipedia, and his own website.  After a Gentle Rain also has a study guide available, published by GIA.

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.

ImPercynations is the result of a 2002 commission from Joe Brashier and the Valdosta State University Wind Ensemble in honor of retired professor Ed Barr’s years of service to the Department of Music.  In it, Bryant combines pieces of Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy in new ways.  As he describes it:

ImPercynations evolved from a similar impulse as another work of mine, Chester Leaps In, both of which are a part of my Parody Suite. Melodic fragments from various pieces of music tend to embed themselves in my mind, and repeat in short little loops incessantly, necessitating some sort of exorcism. In the case of Chester Leaps In, I took the initial phrase of the melody and juxtaposed it with radically different music, in order to provide some humorous contrast (and perhaps also to try and jar the whole thing loose from my head). With ImPercynations, I took a different approach with the source music, and used various melodies and melodic fragments from each of the six movements of Lincolnshire Posy as foils for each other, so that the entire work is built from material drawn from Percy Grainger‘s original. The motivic and rhythmic foundation of the piece is from the first movement, “Lisbon”, which provides the (mostly) 6/8 meter and the majority of musical material, followed closely by melodies from the sixth movement (“The Lost Lady Found”), with sprinklings of fragments from the middle movements.

Grainger described his Lincolnshire Posy, based on English folk-songs, as a bouquet of musical “wildflowers.” If his music is a bouquet, then ImPercynations is the genetically-altered, crossbred, hybrid offspring of his wildflowers – a musical “Franken-flower.” Welcome to my laboratory.

Read more about ImPercynations at Steven Bryant’s website and his blog.  Read up on Bryant himself at Wikipedia.

Here’s the piece in a live performance by the Sunderman Conservatory Wind Symphony at Gettysburg College.

Go to Bryant’s website for a slightly cleaner recording of the piece.

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, his latest 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 in 2012, is called Hummingbrrd.  Click the link to listen, and prepare to be amazed!

In fall 2013, I found myself in an entirely new place.  I started my DMA in wind conducting at Arizona State University, studying with Gary HillWayne Bailey, and Timothy Russell.  Here’s a look at what the bands played at ASU:

CONCERT BAND (non-auditioned, mostly non-music major undergrads, and my responsibility for the year):

Folk Songs – Tuesday October 8, Evelyn Smith Music Theatre

The Thunderer – John Philip Sousa (guest conducted by Serena Weren)

Polly Oliver – Thomas Root

Yorkshire Ballad – James Barnes

New Wade ‘N Water – Adolphus Hailstork

Simple Gifts – Frank Ticheli

American Riversongs – Pierre La Plante

Ancient Influences (shared with String Orchestra)- Monday December 2, Evelyn Smith Music Theatre

Brighton Beach – William Latham

Baroque Celebration – Leland Forsblad

Courtly Airs and Dances – Ron Nelson

First Suite in E-flat – Gustav Holst


The other bands on campus are the Wind Ensemble, which is mostly undergrad music majors, and the Wind Orchestra, which is mostly comprised of graduate performance majors.  Both were primarily conducted by Wayne Bailey, with some assistance from myself and my fellow DMA wind conducting TA, Serena Weren.  Together, they put on three concerts:

Around the World in 80 Minutes – October 1

Wind Ensemble:

Variations on a Korean Folk Song – John Barnes Chance

English Folk Song Suite – Ralph Vaughan Williams

Suite Francaise – Darius Milhaud, conducted by Serena Weren

Wind Orchestra:

Concerto for Nay – Daniel Schnyder

Selected Octets – Alec Wilder


Chamber Music – October 27 (Wind Ensemble only)

Selections for Brass Ensemble – Giovanni Gabrieli and JS Bach

Milonga del Angel – Astor Piazzolla (chamber version)

Selections from Bach Buch – J. S. Bach, transcribed by Carter Pann, conducted by me

Serenade in E-flat – W. A. Mozart, conducted by Serena Weren


From Dusk to Dawn – November 24

Wind Ensemble:

Aurora Awakes – John Mackey

Dusk – Steven Bryant, conducted by me

Pele – Brian Balmages

Wind Orchestra:

Hammersmith Prelude and Scherzo – Gustav Holst, conducted by Serena Weren

Konzertmusik, Opus 41 – Paul Hindemith


I also got to conduct a full reading of Paul Hindemith’s Symphony in B-flat with the wind orchestra, part of a series of rehearsals where we read through pieces that they might encounter in military band auditions.

Louisiana native William Latham (1917-2004) was a composer and teacher who had a distinguished teaching career at the University of Northern Iowa and the University of North Texas.  He wrote 118 pieces throughout his career, many of which have been performed internationally.

Brighton Beach was Latham’s first work for wind bands, written the same year he finished his doctoral studies at the Eastman School of Music (1954).  Despite the descriptive title (apparently chosen by the publisher), it has no specific program.  It is built like a British march, yet the marked tempo of 126-132 beats goes against the British march convention of 116 bpm.  Thus, performances of it vary from stately to speedy.  Here is a slower performance by the Washington Winds, who take it at 114:

On the other hand, here is the Arizona State University Concert Band under my direction.  We took it at 132.  Please excuse the conductor view of the video.  This was originally my reference recording, but I could find no other decent version of this piece at this (what I feel is the correct) tempo, so I share this with you for your reference as well.

Born in Missouri and educated at Louisiana State University and the Eastman School of Music, Herbert Owen Reed (1910-2013) served on the theory and composition faculty at Michigan State University from 1939 to 1976.  He wrote music in a variety of genres, and has especially made an impact in the wind band world, where several of his compositions are widely performed.  Among these, La Fiesta Mexicana stands out as his masterpiece.

Reed came to write La Fiesta Mexicana after receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship for study in Mexico for six months in 1948-49.  While there, he heard Mexican music from the many different cultures that make up the country’s heritage, including Aztec, Roman Catholic, and mariachi music.  He used these various ideas, often quoting them nearly verbatim, and stitched them together with elements of his own contemporary style in La Fiesta Mexicana‘s three movements.  He provides conductor’s notes in the work’s score (bear in mind the composition date of 1949 while reading).  Numbers he mentions are rehearsal marks in the score:

The Mexican, as a result of his religious heritage, feels an inner desire to express love and honor for his Virgin.  The Mexican fiesta, which is an integral part of this social structure, is a study in contrasts: It is both serious and comical, festive and solemn, devout and pagan, boisterous and tender.

“La Fiesta Mexicana,” which attempts to portray musically one of these fiestas, is divided into three movements.  These movements, plus possible choreographic notes, are described below.

I. Prelude and Aztec Dance
The tolling of the church bells and the bold noise of fireworks at midnight officially announce the opening of the fiesta (opening pages of the score).  Groups of Mexicans from near and far slowly descend upon the huge court surrounding the old cathedral–some on foot, some by burro, and still others on bleeding knees, suffering out of homage to a past miracle.

After a brave effort at gaiety, the celebrators settle down on their serapes to a restless night (No. 1) until the church bells and fireworks again intrude upon the early quiet of the Mexican morn (No. 4).

At midday a parade is announced by the blatant blare of trumpets (No. 5).  A band is heard in the distance (No. 6). The attention is focused on the Aztec dancers, brilliantly plumed and masked, who dance in ever-increasing frenzy to a dramatic climax (No. 7 to end of the movement).

II. Mass
The tolling of the bells is now a reminder that the fiesta is, after all, a religious celebration.  The rich and poor slowly gather within the walls of the old cathedral for contemplation and worship.

III. Carnival
Mexico is at its best on the days of the fiesta, a day on which passion governs the love, hate and joy of the Mestizo and the Indio.  There is entertainment for both young and old–the itinerant circus (first part of the movement), the market, the bull fight, the town band, and always the cantinas with their band of mariachis (Nos. 22-28)–on the day of days: fiesta.

The score also contains a dedication: “To Lt. Col. William F. Santelmann and the U.S. Marine Band”, the conductor and group that premiered the work in 1949.  It further contains a subtitle: “A Mexican Folk Song Symphony for Concert Band”, making it perhaps the first full symphony for band written by an American-born composer.

An anonymous band performs the piece:

I. Prelude and Aztec Dance

II. Mass

III. Carnival

The mariachi episode in movement III is a direct quote of “La Negra”, played here along with old-timey mariachi photos:

The first movement uses another tune which Reed calls “El Toro”.  This is not showing up easily on YouTube (nor is it particularly easy to search, given the number of other things out there called “el toro”), so we must survive without a video for now.

Finally, here is a taste of an authentic Aztec dance:

Read more about H. Owen Reed on Wikipedia and a nice article for his 103rd birthday.  La Fiesta Mexicana is featured at the Wind Repertory Project, Wikia Program Notes,, and Alfred Music.