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Category Archives: 2007-08

On this July 1, 2014, America stands divided politically after some contentious Supreme Court business, and yet we are united in our support of Team USA at the World Cup against Belgium this afternoon.  America is also united in looking forward to a nice, long, Fourth of July weekend coming up.  I can think of no better time to explore our unofficial national hymn, America the Beautiful.

The hymn really has two authors.  Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) wrote the words, inspired by a visit to Pikes Peak in Colorado and other western vistas.  She was a distinguished professor of English at Wellesley College in Massachusetts who agitated for American involvement in the League of Nations and lived with a female partner for 25 years.  Her poem, originally entitled simply America, was published on July 4th, 1895.  Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903) wrote the tune, which he called Materna, in 1882.  He was a church organist in New Jersey and the last descendent in a long line of Samuel Wards that started with a Rhode Island governor and Continental Congress delegate.  Ward and Bates would never meet.  Their works were not combined until a 1910 publication, 7 years after Ward’s death, presented them in the form that is still familiar today.

There are few things more American than Mormons, so here is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with a very straight-ahead version of the hymn:

Gospel is certainly among the most uniquely American of musical genres.  Here is one of America’s greats, Ray Charles (who, it should be noted, could never behold the beauty of America himself) in 1972 with a truly heartfelt rendition.  Note that he starts with the third verse (see below), which seems to contain a call for putting country before self:

Of the many arrangements of America the Beautiful that exist for band, Carmen Dragon‘s is by far the most epic.  Dragon (1914-1984) was a conductor, composer, and arranger whose work included numerous film scores, a long engagement with the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra, and a long-running classical music radio show on the Armed Forces Network.  He unleashes the full color palate of the band and pushes the harmonic language as far as is possible in a traditional tune.  Here is his arrangement as performed by the US Navy Band, featuring the Sea Chanters Chorus:

Bates’s poem (presented here in its 1913 revision) captures the glory of the American landscape while calling for goodness, unity, and brotherhood from its people.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

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, MusiClassical.com, and Alfred Music.

Giaochino Rossini (1792-1868) was prolific Italian composer best known for his operas, which include William Tell and The Barber of Seville.  He grew up mostly in Bologna in a musical family.  The Rossinis wasted no time starting their son’s musical education: Rossini’s father, a horn player, had his son playing the triangle in his ensembles by the age of 6.  It paid off: Rossini finished his first opera when he was 17.  There followed two decades of continuous composition that would bring Rossini to all of the biggest cities in Italy as well as Paris, and during which time he composed an additional 38 operas, becoming a superstar throughout Europe.  Then, at age 40, he retired from composition almost entirely.  He lived another 36 years writing barely a note.

The Italian Girl in Algiers (L’italiana in Algeri) was Rossini’s fifth opera, written in in 1813 when he was 21 years old.  The mostly comic story revolves around the Bey of Algiers and his desire to add an Italian woman to his harem.  The overture is something of a tribute to Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, with light pizzicato passages interrupted by huge orchestral hits.  It also shows off Rossini’s flair for melodic invention.  It is still frequently performed by orchestras and bands around the world.  The opera itself continues to be performed by major companies everywhere.

An accomplished high school band plays the Lucien Cailliet arrangement:

Georg Solti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the original version:

Read more about the opera and the overture at Wikipedia, the Metropolitan Opera, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Houston Grand Opera (complete with a slideshow of their productions), a detailed pamphlet from the Pittsburgh Opera, the Seattle Opera, or get a score from IMSLP.   There is a lot of colorful material about Rossini.  He has biographies on PBS and Wikipedia.  The Christian Science Monitor did a great couple of articles on him, covering his sense of humor and his chronic procrastination.  One final fun fact: Rossini had a leap day birthday.  He had a Google Doodle in his honor on February 29, 2012, his 220th (or 55th?) birthday.

Patrick Burns (b. 1969) is an American composer and music educator.  He has written extensively for wind bands at all levels.  He founded the Bloomfield Youth Band in New Jersey when he was 17, and continues to direct that group today.   He teaches at Montclair State University and New Jersey City University.  His compositions, which range from beginning band to professional level,  have been performed on at least 3 continents.  He has received commissions from around the country.  He is much in demand as a guest conductor and clinician.

Burns offers his own program notes on Hometown:

I wrote Hometown for Scott Sharnetzka and the Bel Air (Maryland) Community Band.  This fine ensemble has been incredibly supportive of my music and I wanted to express my gratitude to them by writing a piece for them.  Hometown is a musical depiction of my impressions of beautiful Harford County, Maryland and the people I know there.  The words of Garrison Keillor capture the idea of this piece wonderfully:

That yard, the tree–you climbed it once with me,
And we talked of cities that we’d live in someday.
I left, old friend, and now I’m back again,
Please say you missed me since I went away.

Patrick Burns main website. – includes a full biography and information on all of his music.  You can also leave the website open as it automatically plays a random sampling of Burns’s music.  He’s written a lot of it, and it’s all good!  For our purposes, though, check out especially the “music” page, where you can download a free recording of Hometown in the grade 4 section.

Also check out Patrick Burns’s YouTube channel, which has performances of the great bulk of his music.  Here, for instance, is Hometown performed by the Luther College Wind Ensemble:

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

An Outdoor Overture had its genesis as a commission from Alexander Richter, the music director at the High School for Music and Art (now LaGuardia High School) in New York City.  Richter was looking for music that would appeal to American youth.  Copland responded with a brightly optimistic, wide-open triumph of Americana, in versions for both orchestra and band.  It was premiered in December 1938 (ironically, indoors) at the high school.  Copland describes how the piece progresses:

The piece starts in a large and grandiose manner with a theme that is immediately developed as a long solo for the trumpet with a string pizzicato accompaniment.  A short bridge passage in the woodwinds leads imperceptibly to the first theme of the allegro section, characterized by repeated notes.  Shortly afterwards, these same repeated notes, played broadly, give us a second, snappy march-like theme, developed in a canon form.  There is an abrupt pause, a sudden decrescendo, and the third, lyric theme appears, first in the flute, then the clarinet, and finally, high up in the strings.  Repeated notes on the bassoon seem to lead the piece in the direction of the opening allegro.  Instead, a fourth and final theme evolves another march theme, but this time less snappy, and with more serious implications.  There is a build-up to the opening grandiose introduction again, continuing with the trumpet solo melody, this time sung by all the strings in a somewhat smoother version.  A short bridge section based on steady rhythm brings a condensed recapitulation of the allegro section.  As a climactic moment all the themes are combined.  A brief coda ends the work on the grandiose note of the beginning.

Copland’s greatest works started to appear immediately on the heels of this piece.  He even interrupted work on Billy the Kid, the first of his famous Americana-themed ballets, to write An Outdoor Overture.  It is thus a window into an important period in his career, as he developed the musical language that would be associated both with him and with the broader idea of Americana in classical music in the following decades.

The Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra plays the band version An Outdoor Overture:

Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic in the orchestra version:

To see more about An Outdoor Overture, visit the Redwood Symphony, the LA Phil, allmusic, the Fargo-Moorehouse Symphony Orchestra, and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

I’ve played An Outdoor Overture twice with Columbia University Wind Ensemble (2003 and 2007) and once with Columbia Summer Winds (2003).

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

Emblems is the only piece that Copland originally wrote for a large band (although he arranged several of his own orchestral compositions for band, including An Outdoor OvertureA Lincoln Portrait, and Variations on a Shaker Melody, to name a few).  He describes its origin:

In May, 1963, I received a letter from Keith Wilson, President of the College Band Directors National Association, asking me to accept a commission from that organization to compose a work for band. He wrote: ‘The purpose of this commission is to enrich the band repertory with music that is representative of the composer’s best work, and not one written with all sorts of technical or practical limitations.’ That was the origin of Emblems. I began work on the piece in the summer of 1964 and completed it in November of that year. It was first played at the CBDNA National Convention in Tempe, Arizona, on December 18, 1964, by the Trojan Band of the University of Southern California, conducted by William Schaefer.

Keeping Mr. Wilson’s injunction in mind, I wanted to write a work that was challenging to young players without overstraining their technical abilities. The work ist tripartite in form: slow-fast-slow, with the return of the first part varied. Embedded in the quiet, slow music the listener may hear a brief quotation of a well known hymn tune, ‘Amazing Grace‘, published by William Walker in The Southern Harmony in 1835. Curiously enough, the accompanying harmonies had been conceived first, without reference to any tune. It was only a chance of perusal of a recent anthology of old ‘Music in America’ that made me realize a connection existed between my harmonies and the old hymn tune.

An emblem stands for something – it is a symbol. I called the work Emblems because it seemed to me to suggest musical states of being: noble or aspirational feelings, playful or spirited feelings. The exact nature of these emblematic sounds must be determined for himself by each listener.”

Emblems is not Copland’s most accessible piece.  The harmonies that accompany “Amazing Grace” are unabashedly dissonant major/minor chords.  At times the texture is so bare that only a triangle is playing.  Yet the outer sections possess Copland’s signature grandiosity, and energy courses persistently through the middle section, which even suggests a Latin American party atmosphere at times.

William Revelli conducts Emblems in a very early performance (1965) at the University of Michigan:

There’s so much more to read about Emblems. See especially the Wind Repertory Project, Classical Archives, and the US Marine Band.  Also, check out the performance guide (for players) courtesy of the Army Field Band.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

Emblems was a senior choice for clarinetist Mike Haskell and percussionist Morgan Rhodes, both class of 2008.  It was on the bleeding edge of our technical abilities, but it was well worth the effort.

Oliver Caplan (b. 1982) is a Boston-based composer of romantically-tinged music for all combinations of instruments and voices.  He grew up in the Bronx, attending Stuyvesant high school, where he played piccolo in the band.  He left in New York in 2000 for Dartmouth College (he and I met and became friends there) where the rich outdoor environment and mix of musical personalities (like the Dartmouth College Marching Band) inspired his interest in composition.  He went on to study at the Boston Conservatory.  Caplan’s music has been performed all over the United States.  He has received commissions from the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, the Juventas New Music Ensemble, and the Sinfonietta of Riverdale, among many others.  He has received numerous awards, having most recently been named as a Finalist for the American Prize in Composition.

Read more about Caplan on his website, his Twitter feed, and his Facebook page.  Also, consider taking a look at his CD, Illuminations.

Caplan wrote Reason for Hope in a Complex World in 2007 on a commission from the Columbia University Wind Ensemble.  He writes:

Commissioned by the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, Reason for Hope in a Complex World was inspired by the work and words of Jane Goodall. In Spring 2007 Dr. Goodall spoke in Boston, addressing the question: Is there hope for the future? Hope, she responded, stems from the incredible nature of the human spirit, but there is only hope if we all come together as a global community – we must each be a part of compassionate change.

The piece draws from this idea of binding together to become greater than the sum of our parts. Contrasting passages derive from a fanfare theme, presented in its entirety only at the work’s finale. The structure loosely resembles a theme and variations in reverse. The fanfare serves as a point of arrival that unifies the work’s various threads. In a sense, this mirrors Dr. Goodall’s idea of disparate people coming together to realize their common humanity.

The composition opens with chords meant to evoke the tolling of bell towers, focal points of community that mark the passage of time and call people together. Meanwhile, members of the ensemble murmur words of Walt Whitman about the busy egotism of society. The music proceeds through several sections – from urban-inspired reflections on constant sensory input to contemplations of spaces lonely and longing. The bell chords return, and finally the brass section presents a fanfare theme of hope.

You can listen to Reason for Hope in a Complex World on Caplan’s website (scroll all the way to the bottom and you’ll see it).  The performance is the Columbia University Wind Ensemble premiere at Dartmouth College in February, 2008.  You’ll hear some text in there – that’s from Walt Whitman, and reads as follows:

This is the city… and I am on of the
citizens.  Whatever interests the rest
interests me… politics, churches, schools, benevolent
societies, improvements, banks, tariffs, factories,
markets, stocks and stores and real estate and
personal estate.  They who piddle and patter here
in collars and tailed coats… I am aware who
they are… I acknowledge the duplicates
of myself under all the scrape-lipped and
pipe-legged concealments.  I know perfectly
well my own egotism.

Quicksand years that whirl me I know not whither.
Your schemes, politics, fail, lines give way,
substances mock and elude me.  Out of politics,
triumphs, battles, life, what at last finally remains?

Everyone loves videos, so here’s a behind the scenes look at the making of Caplan’s album:

This is one of my absolute favorite band pieces.  I’ve conducted it 3 times, including once at my wife’s request, and once again at my return to Dartmouth College with the CUWE in 2008.  In fact, hearing this piece as a freshman in the Dartmouth Wind Symphony under Max Culpepper in 1997 (along with Lincolnshire Posy and Holst’s First Suite – what a program!) probably started me down the road to becoming a band director.  So I’m in a little bit of shock that I haven’t written about it yet!  Time to fix that.

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 was inspired to write the Suite of Old American Dances in 1948 and 1949 after hearing a very special Goldman Band concert:

When Edwin Franko Goldman arrived at his 70th birthday it was celebrated by a concert sponsored by the League of Composers.  For the concert (January 3, 1948) the engaged the Goldman Band of New York and asked Dr. Goldman to conduct his own band in honor of his own anniversary.  Louise and I went to that concert and I suddenly thought of all the beautiful sounds the American concert band could make that it hadn’t yet made.  That doesn’t mean that the unmade sounds passed in review in my mind at all, but the sounds they made were so new to me after all my years with orchestra, dance bands and tiny “combos,” that my pen was practically jumping out of my pocket begging me to give this great big instrument some more music to play.

Thanks to Edward Higgins’s excellent full score edition of the piece for that quote (and all of the other Bennett quotes to follow).

Bennett came up with a five movement suite that he titled Electric Park, after an actual place in his native Kansas City where, as a youth, he heard all of the day’s popular dances (click here for pictures).  He called the park “a place of magic to us kids.  The tricks with big electric signs, the illuminated fountains, the big band concerts, the scenic railway and the big dance hall.  One could hear in the dance hall all afternoon and evening the pieces the crowd danced to.”  His publisher, presumably with marketing in mind, retitled the piece as Suite of Old American Dances.

The Cincinnati Wind Symphony performs the whole piece, all 5 movements:

Bennett’s source material was all real, living American dance of the day.  Let’s break it down one movement at a time.

The Cakewalk originated in Southern plantations as sort of a game for African-American slaves.  Dancers would do impressive-looking struts and kicks, often while dressed mockingly in the fashion of their white masters, and sometimes while also balancing something on their heads.  Often there would be a prize of a piece of cake, hence the term cakewalk.  Here’s what it looked like:

I love the beach scene at the end there!

Here’s a very genteel version of the Schottische, which is actually a German dance related to the polka:

The “Western One Step” is actually based on a dance called the Texas Tommy, which was probably a brothel dance (“Tommies” being women of the night, if you know what I mean).  Here we can see the dance, but you’ll have to imagine the sound:

The “Wallflower Waltz” is just a 20th century take on the classic Viennese waltz, which you can see here:

In the “Rag”, Bennett pushes the limits of his chosen 2/4 time, creating wild syncopations and 2-against-3 patterns, all in the spirit of ragtime music.  Here’s a simple example of a ragtime dance:

More info:

Robert Russell Bennett on wikipedia.

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.

Suite of Old American Dances on wikia program notes, the Concord Band, and in full, 22-page analysis by David Goza of the University of Arkansas (worth the read!).

Suite of Old American Dances was the senior choice for librarian, piccolo/flute player, and love of my life Lisa Samols ’04.  We played it again that summer in Columbia Summer Winds.  We also played it at our exchange concerts with Dartmouth College in 2008.

Blue Shades (1996) was my introduction to Frank Ticheli and his music back when I played it (2nd trumpet) with the Dartmouth Wind Symphony in 2000.  I’ve seen a lot of his music since then, and I still think it’s one of his best.  Ticheli talks eloquently about the piece and its origins in the score:

In 1992 I composed a concerto for traditional jazz band and orchestra, Playing With Fire, for the Jim Cullum Jazz Band and the San Antonio Symphony.  That work was composed as a celebration of the traditional jazz music I heard so often while growing up near New Orleans.

I experienced tremendous joy during the the creation of Playing With Fire, and my love for early jazz is expressed in every bar of the concerto.  However, after completing it I knew that the traditional jazz influences dominated the work, leaving little room for my own musical voice to come through.  I felt a strong need to compose another work, one that would combine my love of early jazz with my own musical style.

Four years, and several compositions later, I finally took the opportunity to realize that need by composing Blue Shades.  As its title suggests, the work alludes to the Blues, and a jazz feeling is prevalent–however, it is not literally a Blues piece.  There is not a single 12-bar blues progression to be found, and except for a few isolated sections, the eighth-note is not swung.

The work, however, is heavily influenced by the Blues.: “Blue notes” (flatted 3rds, 5ths, and 7ths) are used constantly; Blues harmonies, rhythms, and melodic idioms pervade the work; and many “shades of blue” are depicted, from bright blue, to dark, to dirty, to hot blue.

At times, Blue Shade burlesques some of the cliches from the Big Band era, not as a mockery of those conventions, but as a tribute. A slow and quiet middle section recalls the atmosphere of a dark, smoky blues haunt.  An extended clarinet solo played near the end recalls Benny Goodman’s hot playing style, and ushers in a series of “wailing” brass chords recalling the train whistle effects commonly used during that era.

He goes on to say that the minor 3rd is the most important interval in the piece, showing up in various accompaniment figures and in every major melodic theme.  The piece even starts with that message in mind: the first nine intervals are all minor thirds!  Listen to this nearly perfect (though they don’t swing quite enough at 14) recording of the North Texas Wind Symphony playing it, and you’ll see what I mean:

And here’s the Columbia Wind Ensemble playing it in December 2007.  We’re not North Texas, but as I look at that video, I see one of the most legendary front rows in CUWE history!  Fair warning – this was recorded from the front row of the audience on a camcorder.

Now let’s look at some of the background in that program note: Ticheli talks about how there is no 12-bar blues in the piece, yet it’s full of blue notes, those in-between pitches usually found at the 3rd, 5th, and 7th.  To illustrate where that comes from, here’s John Lee Hooker:

The smoky jazz club of the center section has its roots in slow blues.  Ticheli even calls it “Dirty” in the score.  So, here’s some nice, dirty, slow burlesque-type blues.  This will give you an idea of the sound you’re after.  I would show a dance to go along with it, but many of those are too PG-13 for this space.  Suffice it to say, this section should sound like hair-tossing!

The clarinet solo was inspired by Benny Goodman.  So here’s the man himself:

Finally, Ticheli uses a train whistle effect in the brass wails towards the end of the piece.  You can hear bits and pieces of that in the Chattanooga Choo-Choo as performed by the Glenn Miller Orchestra:

Ticheli’s publisher hosts a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music on their website – quite a find!

Frank Ticheli’s personal website, Frankticheli.com.

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.

For those who have forgotten, here’s my short bio on Frank Ticheli: 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 USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.

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 Second Suite in F was written in 1911, but not performed until 1922.  Each of its four movements uses one or more folk songs as its melodic material.

An unnamed band performs each movement of the suite, each in separate videos.  First, the “March”:

“Song without Words”:

The devilish “Song of the Blacksmith”:

Finally, “Fantasia on the Dargason” at a good, healthy tempo (I like this one fast!):

Holst largely repeated this movement in his St. Paul’s Suite for orchestra:

Holst also wrote a chorale version of the “Song of the Blacksmith”:

There is also a choral version of “Song without Words”, titled “I Love My Love”:

Great program note on Second Suite from the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra.

Second Suite on wikipedia (a rather poorly-researched article, I’m afraid!)

For those interested in singing along with some Holst, many of the folk songs used in the Second Suite have their lyrics published on the internet:

From the “March”: “Morris Dance” is an instrumental dance; “Swansea Town” starts with the euphonium solo; “Claudy Banks” is the 6/8 section. That link leaves out the chorus, which you can find in Bob Garofalo’s great resource book, Folk Songs and Dances in Second Suite.

“Song without Words” is actually “I Love My Love”

“Song of the Blacksmith”

“Fantasia on the Dargason”: The Dargason itself is an instrumental dance tune, related to popular melodies like “The Irish Washerwoman”.  This movement also includes “Greensleeves”, usually a sad-sounding song, as a rather joyous interlude and a powerful climax.

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