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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Born in the Bronx, William Schuman (1910-1992) dropped out of business school to pursue composition after hearing the New York Philharmonic for the first time.  He became a central figure in New York’s cultural institutions, leaving his presidency of the Juilliard School to become the first director of Lincoln Center in 1962.  All the while he was active as a composer.  He received the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for music in 1943.  He shared a fondness for wind music with his Juilliard contemporaries Vincent Persichetti and Peter Mennin, from which came many classic works for wind band.

Schuman wrote George Washington Bridge in 1950.  It was premiered that summer at the Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan.  From the score:

There are few days in the year when I do not see George Washington Bridge.  I pass it on my way to work as I drive along the Henry Hudson Parkway on the New York shore.  Ever since my student days when I watched the progress of its construction, this bridge has had for me an almost human personality, and this personality is astonishingly varied, assuming different moods depending on the time of day or night, the weather, the traffic and, of course, my own mood as I pass by.

I have walked across it late at night when it was shrouded in fog, and during the brilliant sunshine hours of midday.  I have driven over it countless times and passed under it on boats.  Coming to New York City by air, sometimes I have been lucky enough to fly right over it.  It is difficult to imagine a more gracious welcome or dramatic entry to the great metropolis.

The Cincinnati Wind Symphony performs the piece:

The bridge itself is an iconic monument connecting New York City to Fort Lee, New Jersey.  For some facts about it, visit this website, run by the town of Fort Lee.

Read more on George Washington Bridge the piece at Music Sales Classical, WQXR, and the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra blog.  Schuman has bios on Wikipedia, his own official website, G. Schirmer, Theodore Presser, and Naxos.

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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.

Frederick Fennell’s program notes to his edition of The Black Horse Troop tell the whole story of the march from a personal perspective:

The Black Horse Troop was completed December 30, 1924, at Sousa’s Sands Point, Long Island estate.  It was played for the first time about ten months later on October 17, 1925, at a concert of the Sousa Band in the Public Auditorium, Cleveland, Ohio – and I was there.  I had not been to such an event as this one; I remember that as Sousa’s march was being played, Troop A rode the stage and stood behind the band to the tumultuous cheering of all.  The March King enjoyed a long relationship with the men and horses of Cleveland’s Ohio National Guard, known as Troop A.

Once again his special comprehension of the thrilling spectacle of regimental movement produced a compelling musical experience for both the player and the listener, commanding our particular awareness of his use of the trumpets and drums at various dynamic levels.

During the half-century of his career as the most successful bandmaster who ever lived, there was both reason and necessity for his creating these wonderful marches – and among them all The Black Horse Troop is a positive standout.

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 Black Horse Troop in a modern performance by the US Marine Band:

Massachusetts native Frank Perkins (1908-1988) made his name as a composer while working for Warner Brothers in Los Angeles.  His works crossed genres from songs, notably “Stars Fell on Alabama”, to light classics like Fandango to a wealth of television and film music.  He was nominated for an Oscar for his work on 1962’s film version of Gypsyin which he served as conductor, arranger, and music supervisor.  He graduated in 1929 from Brown University (with an economics degree), then toured Europe as a pianist in the 1930s before returning to the US and forming his own dance band.  Subsequent work with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians led to the job at Warner Brothers in 1938, where he stayed until retirement in the late 1960s.

Floyd Werle (1929-2010) was a University of Michigan alumnus who served as the arranger for the US Air Force Band for 32 years.  He created hundreds of arrangements and was renowned for his harmonic daring and orchestrational finesse.  He arranged Perkins’s Fandango in 1954.  Here it is (with the first 8 or so bars cut off) performed by a very fine German band:

And here is Perkins’s own orchestra performing his original version:

The fandango is a song and dance form from Spain and Portugal that originated in the early 1700s.  It became popular as an instrumental form for serious treatment by composers by the end of the 18th century.  It is a 3/4 dance that is accompanied by castanets and often features a descending harmonic progression.  See one early treatment by Luigi Boccherini:

And another that focuses on the castanet-bearing dancers:

Sadly, Fandango for band is currently out of print.  Write a review of it on the JWPepper site so we can push to get it back!

Morton Gould (1913-1996) was an American conductor, composer, and pianist.  He was recognized as a child prodigy very early in his life, and as a result he published his first composition before his seventh birthday.  His talents led him to become the staff pianist for Radio City Music Hall when it opened in 1932.  He went on to compose movie soundtracks, Broadway musicals, and instrumental pieces for orchestra and band while also cultivating an international career as a conductor.  Among the honors he received were the 1995 Pulitzer Prize, the 1994 Kennedy Center Honor, a 1983 Gold Baton Award, and a 1966 Grammy Award.  By the time of his death in 1996 he was widely revered as an icon of American classical music.

Cowboy Rhapsody exists in both an orchestral version (the original) and a band version, arranged with some edits by David Bennett.  The band version was premiered by the University of Michigan Band under William Revelli in 1940.  This performance reportedly inspired Gould to write more for band, leading to his several famous contributions to the literature.  Cowboy Rhapsody uses several famous cowboy songs, including “The Trail to Mexico“, “Little Old Sod Shanty“, “Home on the Range“, “Old Paint“, and others, to create a piece that straddles the line between tone poem and medley.  Gould’s treatment, especially the off-stage echoes in the middle, captures the wide-open atmosphere of the cowboy lifestyle of legend.

I performed this with the Arizona State University Concert Band on March 1. You’ll hear a lot of trumpet given the camera placement, but otherwise this is a solid performance that represents how the piece is supposed to go:

“The Trail to Mexico” performed by country music legend Foy Willing:

“Little Old Sod Shanty” performed by Yodelin’ Slim Clark

“Home on the Range”, still famous across the USA:

A good deal of my Cowboy Rhapsody information came from this dissertation.  It also gets a mention in these program notes, and it is featured (in its orchestral version) on this compilation.  It is a piece that deserves more study and performance.

There are several short biographies of Gould on the Internet.  Each one is more glowing than the last:

Wikipedia – concise biography and list of works.

G. Schirmer – Gould’s publisher gives a much more eloquent account of the composer’s life (which wikipedia seems to have stolen and mangled).

Kennedy Center – Heaps yet more praise on the composer.

There is even an entire book dedicated to the biography of Morton Gould, by Peter W. Goodman.  It is called American Salute.

Google books preview of the book here.

Review of said book here.