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Category Archives: 2004-05

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:

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

About Lauds (Praise High Day), Nelson writes:

Lauds (Praise High Day) is an exuberant, colorful work intended to express feelings of praise and glorification. Lauds is one of the seven canonical hours that were selected by St. Benedict as the times the monks would observe the daily offices. Three (terce, sext, and none) were the times of the changing of the Roman guards and four (matins, lauds, vespers, and compline) were tied to nature. Lauds, subtitled Praise High Day, honors the sunrise; it is filled with the glory and excitement of a new day.

Lauds received its world premier by the United States Air Force Band under the direction of Lt. Col. Alan L. Bonner at the College Band Directors National Association/National Band Association Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 24, 1992.

Nelson is known for writing challenging parts for clarinet (and every other instrument), and Lauds is no exception.  Clarinetists, check out this forum about tremolo fingerings in the piece.

Lauds program notes at windband.org.

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

The Dallas Wind Symphony knocks it out of the park, as usual:

John Barnes Chance (1932-1972) was born in Texas, where he played percussion in high school.  His early interest in music led him to the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying composition with Clifton Williams.  The early part of his career saw him playing timpani with the Austin Symphony, and later playing percussion with the Fourth and Eighth U.S. Army Bands during the Korean War.  Upon his discharge, he received a grant from the Ford Foundation’s Young Composers Project, leading to his placement as resident composer in the Greensboro, North Carolina public schools.  Here he produced seven works for school ensembles, including his classic Incantation and Dance.  He went on to become a professor at the University of Kentucky after winning the American Bandmasters Association’s Ostwald award for his Variations on a Korean Folk Song.  Chance was accidentally electrocuted in his backyard in Lexington, Kentucky at age 39, bringing his promising career to an early, tragic end.

The OCU School of Music Band Program Note database offers this note on Variations on a Korean Folk Song:

While serving in Seoul, Korea as a member of the Eighth United States Army Band, Chance encountered “Arirang,” a traditional folk song sung by native Koreans when experiencing circumstances of national crisis. The Korean word “arirang” means literally rolling hills, and the song relates the story of a man who is forced to leave his significant other, despite her persistent pleas to accompany him. Chance overheard “Arirang” while riding a public bus in Korea and later incorporated it into his work, Variations on a Korean Folk Song.

Variations on a Korean Folk Song is comprised of a theme and five distinct variations. Though the theme is of Eastern origin, Chance maintains a traditional Western tonal function based on triadic harmony and a pentatonic melody. Formal techniques used in the piece are canon, inversion, imitation, augmentation, ostinato, and polymeter. Chance maintains the theme’s Eastern influence by featuring distinct percussive instruments like gong, temple blocks, cymbals, timpani, vibraphone, and triangle. In 1966, Variations on a Korean Folk Song was awarded the American Bandmaster’s Association’s Ostwald Composition Award and the piece remains a standard of band repertoire today.

The piece has Internet presence of its own via wikipedia, the Wind Repertory Project, the Wikia Program Notes site, and a Facebook page.  Some anonymous saints have even put an extensive set of rehearsal notes and a teaching unit about it!

Some links on the composer:

Listing of a John Barnes Chance CD on Amazon.com with an extensive customer review at the bottom that is required reading.

Also, here’s John Barnes Chance’s wikipedia bio.

A rousing performance by an anonymous band:

Wikipedia has a bunch to say about the original folk song, “Arirang”.  And there are several videos of the song on YouTube, of varying degrees of authenticity and antiquity.  Here’s a modern version done in South Korea by their National Classical Orchestra and singers from their Traditional Songs Institute:

This was a senior choice for tenor saxophonist and CUWE co-president John Meyers in 2005.  In 2011, it will be conducted by Sarah Quiroz.

Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) was a piano and organ prodigy who was supporting himself with his musical talents by age 11.  A lifelong Philadelphia resident, he took full advantage of that city’s music institutions.  At age 20, he was simultaneously the head of the music department at Combs College, a conducting major with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute, and a piano and composition student at the Philadelphia Conservatory.  His distinctly original compositions began to be recognized internationally before he was 30.  His skyrocketing reputation led to his appointment at the Juilliard School, where he became the chair of the composition department at age 47.  He died in 1987, leaving behind a unique body of work in almost every musical medium, including a number of masterpieces for the wind band.  Among these is the Divertimento for Band, op. 42, written for the Goldman Band.

There are many articles out there about the Divertimento: the Wind Repertory Project, The Concord Band, BandDirector.comThe Claremont Winds, and the OCU Band Program Notes Database all shed light on the piece.  But the authority on all of Persichetti’s wind music, as with all other composers, is Frederick Fennell, whose chapter on the piece in the book A Conductor’s Interpretive Analysis of Masterworks for Band brims with scholarship and creative, interpretive insight.  To paraphrase: Persichetti started writing this piece with an orchestra in mind in 1949.  He began with a prologue that featured the brass section tossing the woodwinds back and forth.  Midway through this movement, he realized that the strings were never going to enter – thus began this master’s impressive oeuvre of sophisticated, accessible wind music.  The Divertimento showcases Persichetti’s lyricism, playfulness, harmonic daring, and superb orchestration skills, all while remaining accessible to the player and listener.  A listen will certainly help us understand, so I give you the North Texas University Wind Ensemble with Eugene Corporon conducting:

And for variety, our friends at the Manhattan Wind Ensemble:

You can find out more about Persichetti himself at Theodore Presser, Wikipedia, and his own Society’s website.

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was a British composer and teacher.  After studying composition at London’s Royal College of Music, he spent the early part of his career playing trombone in an opera orchestra.  It was not until the early 1900s that his career as a composer began to take off.  Around this same time he acquired positions at both St. Paul’s Girls’ School and Morley College that he would hold until retirement, despite his rising star as a composer.  His music was influenced by his interest in English folk songs and Hindu mysticism, late-Romantic era composers like Strauss and Delius, and avante-garde composers of his time like Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  He is perhaps best known for composing The Planets, a massive orchestral suite that depicts the astrological character of each known planet.  His works for wind band (two suites and a tone poem, Hammersmith) are foundational to the modern wind literature.

The First Suite is particularly important to the later development of artistic music for wind band.  Holst wrote it in 1909 for an ensemble that came to define the instrumentation that bands would use for at least the next century and beyond.  Oddly, it was not performed until 1920, and published a year later.  Since then, the First Suite has left an indelible mark on band musicians and audiences around the world.  Its appeal is in its simplicity and its artistry.  While there are difficult passages and exposed solo work in many instruments, it places few extreme demands on the players, and it uses a straightforward and easily-identifiable theme throughout its 3 movements.  Yet this theme is turned and pulled into many different forms, and put on an emotional roller-coaster of doubts, sweet reveries, ecstatic joy, and triumph.  Truly, the impact that the First Suite still makes on those who hear it is impossible to put into words.  It is a classic piece of art music that has helped to define the development of a century of wind band music.

The US Marine Band performing the complete Suite on Youtube.  Not much to look at, but GREAT listening!

Detailed historical discussion of First Suite on Earfloss.com.

First Suite on Wikipedia.

First Suite program notes on philharmonicwinds.org (Singapore).

Gustavholst.info – a major web resource for information on the composer.

Robert Jager is an American composer educated at the University of Michigan.  He has written dozens of works for several media.  He is the only composer to have won the Ostwald Prize from the American Bandmasters’ Association three times.  He wrote Esprit de Corps in 1984 on a commission from the United States Marine Band and its conductor, Colonel John Bourgeois.  The piece is a fantasy on The Marine’s Hymn, taking the familiar theme in new, exciting directions.

From the title page of the Esprit de Corps score:

Based on The Marines’ Hymn, this work is a kind of fantasy-march, as well as a tribute to the United States Marine Band. Full of energy and drama, the composition has its solemn moments and its lighter moments (for example, the quasi-waltz in the middle of the piece). The composer intends that this work should display the fervor and virtuosity of the Marine Band and the musical spirit and integrity of its conductor, Colonel John R. Bourgeois, for whom the initial tempo marking, “Tempo di Bourgeois,” is named. Colonel John Bourgeois is a dramatic, spirited conductor, who reflects the excitement of the music being played. When a tempo is supposed to be “bright” he makes sure it is exactly that. Because the tempo of Esprit de Corps is to be very bright, the marking just had to be “Tempo di Bourgeois!”

Robert Jager’s website – including bio, list of compositions, and more.

Esprit de Corps page on Robert Jager’s website including a better-quality audio recording of the last minute or so of the piece.

Official history of The Marines’ Hymn
on the United States Marine Band website.

“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band website. They are, without question, one of the finest bands in the world, no matter who is president.

Clifton Williams (1923-1976) was born in Arkansas and attended high school in Little Rock, where he became an accomplished french horn player. He studied composition at Lousiana State University and the Eastman School of Music. He taught composition for 17 years at the University of Texas at Austin before becoming chair of the composition and theory department at the University of Miami in 1966.  He held this post until his untimely death.  His first compositions were written for orchestra.  His career as a wind band composer took off in 1956 when Fanfare and Allegro, his first composition for band, won the inaugural Ostwald Award given by the American Bandmasters’ Association.  His Symphonic Suite won him the award again the following year.  He went on to write over 3 dozen works for band, many of which are considered essential repertoire.

Fanfare and Allegro proceeds through many moods.  It opens with a jubilant fanfare that gives way to a dark woodwind theme accompanied by busy ostinatos.  After an interlude of crescendoing chords, the brass introduces the allegro in a joyous fugato that again leads to plaintive woodwind melodies.  The tension builds as the rhythms tighten, tempos quicken, and tessituras are tested in every instrument. The piece ends in the midst of a thrilling accelerando.

Fanfare and Allegro will be the sole piece played by the CFW Festival Band , which will open the 3rd annual Columbia Festival of Winds on 3/6/2011.  Dr. William Berz of Rutgers University will conduct this band, which will be made up of members from each of the bands participating in the Festival.  We also played it in Columbia Wind Ensemble in 2004.

Since I won’t be conducting it this time around and don’t know exactly how Dr. Berz will like it, here are several version of Fanfare and Allegro for your listening (and hopefully practicing!) pleasure:

First, a vintage recording from 1957ish, just a year or 2 after the piece was written.  The band is made up of Chicago Symphony players and other Chicago-area pros.  Legend has it that they kept a case of beer handy at the session!  That may explain the insane fast tempos, especially at the end of the piece.  Thanks to Richard Schneider, CUWE’s longtime concert tubist, for the recording and the pictures used in most of the video:

A live performance by the FSU band:

A highly (overly?) polished studio recording:

A less polished live recording from Plymouth State University in Vermont that puts a couple extra beats in at the end:

Clifton Williams and Fanfare and Allegro at windband.org.

Clifton Williams bio at Wikipedia.

Clifton Williams on the Ostwald Award site.

Clifton Williams at the Wind Repertory Project.

Fanfare and Allegro at the Wind Repertory Project.

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.  Originaly written in English, West Side Story is currently being 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.

Four Dances from West Side Story features some of the highlights of these dance sequences transcribed for band.  The “Scherzo” is a light-hearted, care-free movement that aptly opens the suite.  The “Mambo” comes from the gym scene where the Jets and the Sharks meet and dance while trying to suppress their hostility towards each other.  The “Mambo” fades into the “Cha-Cha” as Tony and Maria notice each other for the first time and dance together, transfixed.  The anxiety-ridden “Fugue” is based on material from the song “Cool”, in which the Jets are convincing each other to bottle up their overwhelming emotions.  The fugue’s subject is a 12-tone row, lending a worrisome and tense feeling to the movement.  Each new statement of the theme adds more layers until the texture explodes into a percussion-heavy statement of the main theme from “Cool”.

There is much material about both Bernstein and West Side Story on the web.  The survey below only scratches the surface.

Leonardbernstein.com – 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 classicalnotes.net.

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.

Website of Ian Polster, arranger.

And now, some YouTube action:

Aside from the fact that they don’t shout “MAMBO!” and some mistaken rhythms at the beginning of “Cool”, this is a really nice performance of the Four Dances:

The movie version of “Cool”, featuring the bits we play from about 1:30-4:00.

Gym scene, featuring bits of our “Mambo” and “Cha-Cha” (starting around 2:54):

This piece was a Senior Choice for clarinetist Angelica Ortega ’05.

Kansas City native Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) was Broadway’s pre-eminent arranger and orchestrator for most of his career.  His ease with instruments enlivened the scores of George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and many others.  He was composer in his own right, having studied with the renowned Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger.  He wrote nearly 200 original pieces for several media, including two dozen works for wind band.  The best known of these are his Suite of Old American Dances and the Symphonic Songs for Band.

Bennett wrote Symphonic Songs for Band 1957 on a commission from the National Intercollegiate Band, which premiered the piece at Salt Lake City’s Tabernacle.  Subsequent early performances by the Goldman Band and the University of Michigan Symphony Band featured Bennett as guest conductor.  According to George Ferencz, Bennett scholar and editor of the latest full-score edition of the piece, Bennett provided the following note for the piece’s performance with the Goldman Band:

Symphonic Songs are as much as suite of dances or scenes as songs, deriving their name from the tendency of the principal parts to sing out a fairly diatonic tune against whatever rhythm develops in the middle instruments.  The Serenade has the feeling of strumming, from which the title is obtained, otherwise it bears little resemblance to the serenades of Mozart.  The Spiritual may possibly strike the listener as being unsophisticated enough to justify its title, but in performance this movement sounds far simpler than it really is.  The Celebration recalls an old-time country fair; with cheering throngs (in the woodwinds), a circus act or two, and the inevitable mule race.

More info:

Robert Russell Bennett on wikipedia.

Symphonic Songs sheet music for sale on the Canadian Brass website.  Includes a nice bit of history on the piece.

Robert Russell Bennett on IMDB.

Bennett bio on Naxos.com.

Broadway.com tribute to Bennett on the eve of the 2008 Tony Awards.

Google books preview of “The Broadway Sound”, Bennett’s autobiography and selected essays, edited by George Ferencz.

Now for a performance.  It’s the Tokyo Kosei!  And they are very fine indeed, but they miss some of the spirit of the piece.  For instance, I think the first movement needs to be a little faster and a bit looser and more heartfelt in the lyricism.  Then they breeze a little too easily through most of the Spiritual.  Their energy at the beginning of the Celebration is perfect, but then they use the wrong kind of whistle in the middle.  So use this recording only as a reference:

The 2008 revival of South Pacific was a Broadway sensation.  The production won seven 2008 Tony awards (out of eleven nominations) and enjoyed great popular and critical support in its run at the Lincoln Center Theatre.  The musical tackles issues of racial prejudice against the backdrop of the American war effort in the South Pacific during World War II.

The original Broadway production premiered in 1950 and won all ten Tony Awards for which it was nominated.  It also received the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1950.  It was the fifth collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.  They based their work on two short stories by James A. Michener from his book Tales from the South Pacific.

This video of Harry Connick Jr. introducing the 2008 Tony Award performance pretty much sums up the show’s cultural and musical value:

Now some other links:

Richard Rodgers biography on Wikipedia.

Oscar Hammerstein biography on Wikipedia.

Rodgers & Hammerstein on Wikipedia.

Arranger Robert Russell Bennett biography on Wikipedia.

South Pacific on Wikipedia

Broadway revival homepage

New York Times review of Broadway revival.

Finally, a bonus video: “Some Enchanted Evening” very convincingly performed on The View in 2008: