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Category Archives: 2012-2013

Spring 2013 was a busy semester!  In addition to the usual Columbia Festival of Winds and EPIC concert(s) with the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, I also conducted an honor band for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in Westchester County, New York.  The repertoire was spectacular!  This semester at Columbia had special meaning: it was my last with the Columbia Wind Ensemble, as I’ll be starting my DMA in wind conducting this fall at Arizona State University with Gary Hill.  I’m very excited to move on, but also very sad to leave Columbia after 11 years!


EPIC – Monday, April 22 at 8pm at Roone Arledge Auditorium, repeated Sunday, April 28 at 2pm in the EPIC Barnard Quad.  It was also our Senior Choice concert, and my final concert with the CUWE.  EPIC it was indeed!

Raise of the Son – Rossano Gallante (for bassoonist Jimmy Caldarese)

Selections from Star Wars Trilogy – John Williams, arr. Donald Hunsberger (for trombonist and web wizard Curtis Cooper)

Italian in Algiers Overture – Gioachino Rossini (for multi-clarinetist Victor Chang)

Selections from Carmina Burana – Carl Orff, arr. Krance (for trumpeter and master politician Thomas Callander)

Hands Across the Sea – John Philip Sousa (for trombonist and future educator Sam Alexander)

Jupiter from “The Planets” – Gustav Holst, arr. Clark McAlister (for bass trombonist Matt Cowen)

Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah – Camille Saint-Saens (my choice, a repeat from my very first CUWE concert in 2002)


Westchester County School Music Association Elementary All-County Band
Saturday, March 16 at 11am, SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center
A wonderful experience – my first honor band!

Aquia Landing – Paul Murtha

Count Not the Hours – Patrick Burns

Joy – Frank Ticheli

Starscapes – Brian Balmages



Sunday, March 3 at 2pm – Roone Arledge Auditorium, Columbia University

The Columbia Festival Band opened the show with Chester Overture by William Schuman, conducted by Emily Threinen.

The Columbia University Wind Ensemble played:

Festive Overture – Dmitri Shostakovich (Senior Choice for trumpeter Tim Foreman)

Acrostic Song from “Final Alice” – David del Tredici, arr. Mark Spede

The Last Polka – Beck Hansen, arr. Andrew Pease

First Suite in E-flat – Gustav Holst
Sarah Quiroz, guest conductor

Reason for Hope in a Complex World – Oliver Caplan

At the end of the Festival, all of the participating bands massed together and played Sousa’s Liberty Bell March.


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 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.

From the Oklahoma City University Band Program Note Archive:

Hands Across the Sea was composed in 1899 and premiered during the same year at the Philadelphia Academy of Music.  Although a number of ideas have been presented concerning the title, Paul Bierley believes that Sousa was inspired by a line credited to John Hookham Frere:  “A sudden thought strikes me — let us swear an eternal friendship.”  In the Great Lakes Recruit of March 1918, Sousa discussed the justification of the Spanish-American War, quoted Frere’s line, and added, “That almost immediately suggested the title Hands Across the Sea.  Sousa’s music and his musicians had the ability to affect people in many lands.  Extensive European tours were made by Sousa’s band between 1900 and 1905.  In December 1910, a world voyage was begun, which included England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Canary Islands, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, the Hawaiian Islands, Canada, and the United States.  The tour lasted one year, one month, and one week.

You can find out more about Hands Across the Sea at Wikipedia and Classical Archives.  You can also download free, public domain sheet music at the IMSLP (piano score and another recording) and the Band Music PDF Library (full set of parts).

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at 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

Hands Across the Sea performed by an anonymous band:

The Library of Congress has this recording of Sousa’s band playing the piece in 1923.

Hands Across the Sea shares its title with a play by Noël Coward and several nonprofit groups.

Hands Across the Sea is a senior choice for Sam Alexander ’13, trombonist and co-leader of Making Music Matter.

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.

Beck Hansen (born Bek David Campbell in Los Angeles in 1970) is known everywhere by his first name.  He is a multi-platinum recording artist who defies genre labels, pulling his influences from every corner of the music universe.  He also has a way with words, dreaming up song titles like “Devil’s Haircut” and “Nicotine & Gravy”, and lyrical phrases like “On a government loan with a guillotine in your libido” (from “Profanity Prayers”).  He has released 11 studio albums, which cover a wide range of musical styles, and provided music for the film Scott Pilgrim.

Beck’s 12th album, Song Reader, looks conspicuously backward.  He recorded nothing for the album, but rather partnered with publishing house McSweeney’s to produce new songs to be released exclusively as sheet music.  There are 20 songs in the set, each in its own richly decorated folio.  The set includes a preface (read the whole thing here on the New Yorker blog) in which Beck describes his motivation in such an unusual project.  An excerpt:

Initially I was going to write the songs the same way I’d write one of my albums, only in notated form, leaving the interpretation and performance to the player. But after a few discussions [with author Dave Eggers], the approach broadened. We started collecting old sheet music, and becoming acquainted with the art work, the ads, the tone of the copy, and the songs themselves. They were all from a world that had been cast so deeply into the shadow of contemporary music that only the faintest idea of it seemed to exist anymore. I wondered if there was a way to explore that world that would be more than an exercise in nostalgia—a way to represent how people felt about music back then, and to speak to what was left, in our nature, of that instinct to play popular music ourselves.

He goes on to say that he intends for people to play these songs themselves and make their own versions, changing as much or as little as they like.  And so we are going to do in the Columbia University Wind Ensemble.  Beck included two instrumentals in the set, and I have arranged one of them, The Last Polka, for wind band.  The original is a prelude for solo piano.  Beck gives no dynamic markings or tempo indications, allowing for a huge range of interpretations.  The only interpretive hints lie in the initial expressive marking, (“Premonitory”), the title, and the cover illustration, which shows a deserted street in a brown palette, suggesting a softly post- (or pre-) apocalyptic scene.  The music itself supports that interpretation: the melody is rife with descending chromatic contours, a classic figure of lament.  The form is ABA, with a brief, chaotic transition from A to B.  Despite its title, The Last Polka is not a polka at all: the A section reads almost like a comical lament, and the B is, if anything, a waltz.  Sticking with the idea of a lament, I decided to keep it slow, accelerating only in the transition section.  The B section builds in intensity, such that the return of A seems like an even more heartfelt lament for a disappearing world.  Textures melt away at the end to a feeling of accepting the inevitable. Even so, there is little tragedy in this music.  It feels almost like a quiet version of the words, to quote REM, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

The Columbia Wind Ensemble plays my arrangement at the Columbia Festival of Winds on March 3, 2013:

Pianist Hanna Silver plays the original and provides her interpretive notes:

A chamber group plays a version that, in the spirit of Beck’s wishes, deviates quite a bit from the original:

Beck has a great website and a Wikipedia page.  All of his lyrics are collected here.  Song Reader also has its own site, complete with descriptions of the songs and versions by musicians from all over the place.  Whiskey Clone keeps a running tab of new versions, including mine (they found it in less than 12 hours).  New versions are constantly popping up, so stay on the lookout!  For now, here is Beck talking to NPR about the album, as well as a cello ensemble playing all 20 songs from it.  Finally, Diffuser lists their five favorite versions of Song Reader songs so far.

Carmina Burana is the iconic secular work for chorus and orchestra.  It’s opening and closing moments have been used in countless films and commercials – they make any situation sound epic.  The texts come from a collection of 12th- and 13th-century poems of the same name.  Although they were found in a Benedictine monastery at Beuern, Bavaria (the title translates as “Songs of Beuern”), they deal exclusively with secular subjects, from the unpredictability of fortune to the moral failings of the Catholic Church of the time to a catalog of all the people who drink (hint: everyone).  They were written by the Goliards, a group of vagrant students, clergy, and poets who satirized the church through their writings.  German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982) discovered the poems for himself in 1934 and spent the next two years setting 24 of them to music.  The result was so successful that Orff wrote to his publisher: “Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana, my collected works begin.”

Seiji Ozawa conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in a 1989 performance:

So, what business does this piece have being in a wind band blog?  In 1967, John Krance took the choral/orchestral work and, with the composer’s enthusiastic blessing, transcribed a big chunk of it (12 movements) for band, incorporating the vocal parts into the instrumentation.  It works spectacularly well, as proven by this performance of Jerry Junkin conducting the 2011 California All-State band:

The wind ensemble version allows for movements to be selected out for a shorter program.  This year in the Columbia Wind Ensemble (at the request of senior trumpeter and Festival guru Thomas Callander ’13), we are doing the following:

1. O Fortuna (just the famous intro)

2. Fortune plango vulnera:

6. Were diu werlt alle min

10. In trutina
13. Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

Carl Orff is famous in the world of music education as well, where his Orff Schulwerk method of teaching children music remains hugely influential.  Read more about him at his own very informative and up to date website, Wikipedia, Naxos, and, for something slightly more probing and political, look at this article about music and the Holocaust as it relates to him.

There is no shortage of Internet material about Carmina Burana.  Read on Wikipedia about the texts and the music.  NPR has a piece from 2006 about why it’s still so popular.  This article has links to the texts of all of the poems that Orff used.  Dr. John Magnum wrote extensive program notes on the piece for the Hollywood Bowl.  Similar to the piece listed above, WQXR classical radio did a piece about Carmina Burana‘s connection to Nazi GermanyThis article deals exclusively with the text and its origins.  There are many different ballet versions of the piece.  There is an entire Wikiepdia article just about the opening movement, “O Fortuna”, in popular culture.  One of my favorites:

Finally, if you’ve read this far, you might as well hear my favorite Carmina Burana joke (although you may not like it):

(sung to the tune of Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off):
I say Carmina, you say Carmana,
I say Burina, you say Burana,
Carmina, Carmana, Burina, Burana,
Let’s Carl the whole thing Orff.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  And I can’t take full credit for this one: I first heard it from my Dartmouth classmate, now an operatic soprano, Laura Choi Stuart.

Buffalo native Rossano Galante (b. 1967) is known for several short, energetic overtures for band including The Redwoods, Resplendent Glory, and Transcendent Journey.  He studied with Jerry Goldsmith at the prestigious film scoring program at the University of Southern California.  He continues to receive commissions from bands around the United States and to work as an orchestrator of film scores.

Galante wrote Raise of the Son in 1998.  From the score:

Galante likes music with variety and a lot of climaxes.  “With Raise, I wanted something to rise and fall and then rise again to exhibit a splendid reaffirmation of the work’s best moments.” There are two primary themes with a recapitulation of the first.

The title is a play on words.  Without seeing the words, one would think of the morning sunrise and transcendent sun’s rays.  Upon seeing the words, however, one is immediately drawn to the Resurrection.  Both are very stimulating and dramatic images and fit nicely into the overall feeling of the music.

With its opening fanfare, the work evolves to an intense climax only to withdraw to a more melodic and flowing second theme.  At precisely the right moment, the second theme builds once more a final uplifting climax as in raising of the son, or sun.

Galante’s most extensive biography exists on Alfred.  He also has an IMDb page.

This band takes Raise of the Son at exactly the right tempo.  Any faster, and the 32nd-note subdivisions that pop up throughout the piece become nearly impossible to play either accurately or musically.  Any slower, and it loses the forward energy that it needs.

This piece is a senior choice for bassoonist Jimmy Caldarese ’13.

2012 was the year of the wind conducting workshop for me.  I went to 5 of them all over the country.  Each was unique in some way, but every one of them introduced me to some wonderful professionals and made me a stronger conductor.  Every one was worth the time, effort, and money required to attend, not to mention the raw emotion and true soul-searching that often come with the experience.  These things are never easy: no matter how much of a glittering past you have, conducting a group you’ve never worked with while big names in your field pick you apart sounds like the stuff of nightmares.  But the payoff outweighs the pain tenfold.  Bottom line, if you have the opportunity to go to any conducting symposium anywhere, do not hesitate: Go!


My first stop was Ball State University, where the band program is run by Thomas Caneva and Shaun Vondran.  They had Craig Kirchhoff from the University of Minnesota in as the clinician, who worked with every conductor twice.  Immediately after your own session, you watched your video with Dr. Vondran, who provided more comments and insights.  This one was over a weekend in February, with the Ball State bands in residence.  A key part of the weekend was a rehearsal and performance of those bands, featuring Dr. Kirchhoff as guest conductor.  A great bonus was the presence that weekend of the composer Steven Bryant, who is currently making big waves with his music for band and electronics.  Repertoire-wise, participants could choose from:

Holst – Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo
Turina/Reed – La Procession du Rocio
Strauss – Serenade in E flat, Op. 7
Whitacre – October
Dello Joio – Scenes from “The Louvre”
Jacob – Old Wine in New Bottles
Schuman – Chester
Bernstein – Overture to “Candide”
Grainger – Ye Banks & Braes o’ Bonnie Doon
Schuman – George Washington Bridge


Things really ramped up in the summer, when I resumed my adventures at the CBDNA symposium at the University of Colorado Boulder.  This was a 5-day symposium at which everyone got to conduct members of the CU bands 4 times.  Allan McMurray was the host, along with the rest of his conducting staff, and Gary Hill from Arizona State University came in as the guest clinician.  One of the great features of this workshop was McMurray’s insistence that we study and conduct Copland’s Appalachian Spring in its original 14-instrument form, which includes a double string quartet and bass.  We divided it up so each conductor that day got one part of the piece (I got the prayer at the very end, after the famous variations) allowing both conductors and players to experience the whole thing.  Also wonderful about this was the participation of Gary Lewis, CU Boulder’s orchestra director.  He tagged in for everyone’s conducting session that day, adding to what the other clinicians had to say.  Like at Ball State, there was an opportunity after each session to watch your video and get additional feedback, this time from CU Assistant Director Matthew Roeder.  Beyond the musical experience, the environment was stunning: the Rocky Mountains were omnipresent, and the city of Boulder was an excellent and fun place to spend our (limited) free time.  It was all capped by a trip up into the mountains in which we had time to reflect, bond, and receive further wisdom from the clinicians.  As for the repertoire:

FULL ENSEMBLE (2 or 3 Pieces)
Bernstein – Overture to Candide
Grainger – Lincolnshire Posy or Irish Tune from County Derry
Holst – First Suite or Second Suite
Milhaud: Suite Francaise
Ticheli: Rest or Cajun Folk Songs II
Whitacre: Noisy Wheels of Joy

CHAMBER ENSEMBLE (1 or 2 Pieces)

Beethoven: Octet
Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite
Gounod: Petite Symphonie
Mozart: Serenade in C minor, K 388


My next stop was Northwestern, where Mallory Thompson led a 6-day symposium with her excellent staff, band, and graduate students.  The guest clinician was the legendary H. Robert Reynolds.  He and Dr. Thompson had a wonderful rapport that helped to set an overwhelmingly positive, constructive tone for the otherwise very challenging week.  The band was filled out with the conductors and auditors (this was by far the biggest symposium I went to), so when I was not conducting, I was part of an amazing, 15-person trumpet section.  Somehow, it all balanced out.  There was also a day of chamber music, featuring the Northwestern players exclusively.  One of the unique activities at this symposium was the small group conducting sessions in the morning.  Both conductors and auditors got to conduct our peers in groups of about 15 using reduced versions of standard rep.  The clinicians (Thompson and Reynolds plus Northwestern’s Dr. Tim Robblee) rotated every day to a different group.  This essentially doubled the contact time with each clinician.  The graduate students organized outings to one of Evanston’s many fine establishments every night, so it was possible (though not necessarily advisable) to both work hard and play hard while there.  An unforgettable experience.  Lots of rep here:

Arnold/Paynter – Four Scottish Dances
Bernstein/Grundman – Candide Suite (all movements)
Copland/Patterson – Down A Country Lane
Daehn – As Summer Was Just Beginning
Grainger – Lincolnshire Posy (mvts. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6)
Grantham – Spangled Heavens
Holst/ed. Matthews – First Suite in E-flat
Shostakovich/Hunsberger – Festive Overture
Strauss/arr. Davis – Allerseelen
Stuart – II.“Ayre for Eventide” from Three Ayres from Gloucester
Ticheli – Nitro
Vinson – Echoes of the Hollow Square (all movements)
Whitacre – Lux Aurumque

Gounod – Petite symphonie
Jacob – Old Wine in New Bottles
Mozart – Serenade No. 11 in E-flat, K.375
Strauss – Serenade in Eb, Op.7
Stravinsky – Octet, Mvt. 1


Immediately on the heels of the long-established Northwestern symposium, I attended the first-ever wind conducting symposium at Temple University, hosted by Dr. Emily Threinen with Michael Haithcock visiting from the University of Michigan.  This was another playing-in-the-band symposium, with a handful of Temple students helping out.  Over 4 days, each conductor got to conduct every day.  There was also a chamber music track, in which 4 conductors (I was not so lucky, unfortunately) spent their mornings rehearsing a chamber group in preparation for a concert at week’s end and getting additional feedback from the clinicians.  During that time, the rest of us had some very valuable morning sessions on topics ranging from free movement to conducting recitative.  This was a nicely varied week that will certainly show up bigger on the radar every year. The repertoire:

Arnold/Paynter – Prelude, Siciliano, and Rondo
Chance – Variations on a Korean Folk Song
Dello Joio – Scenes from “The Louvre”
Erickson – Air for Band
Grainger – Irish Tune from County Derry and Lincolnshire Posy
Holst – First Suite in E-flat
Ives – Variations on “America”
Milhaud – Suite Francaise
Persichetti – Psalm for Band
Schuman – Chester
Stuart – Three Ayres from Gloucester
Ticheli – Sun Dance
Whitacre – Sleep
Vaughan Williams – English Folk Song Suite


After a break at the beginning of the school year, I flew down to Georgia for the Columbus State symposium over a weekend in November.  I also went in 2011, and liked it enough to go back again.  In addition to Columbus’s own Jamie Nix, I also got to work with Steve Davis from UMKC and to have another session with Mallory Thompson.  Like Ball State, this symposium involved a concert of the home band featuring the clinicians as guest conductors.  There was also an open rehearsal beforehand.  In a hall where there is seating above and behind the stage, both of these were extremely valuable for a conductor.  Then, in less than 24 hours, each conductor had 3 sessions, including two with large bands and one with a chamber group.  It was a lot of activity packed into a very short period, and well worth the trip.  And it had some fantastic repertoire to choose from:

Chance – Variations on a Korean Folk Song
Del Tredici – Acrostic Song from “Final Alice”
Milhaud – Suite Francaise (Mvts. I, III, IV, or V)
Hahn – Le Bal du Beatrice d’Este (Mvts. I, II, IV, VI, VII)
Weill – Little Threepenny Music
Bernstein – Profanation
Holst – First Suite in E-flat
Whitacre – Sleep

Reflecting back on all of this, I honestly can’t wait to go to another symposium.  At each one, I became intimate with new repertoire that I may otherwise never have conducted.  I met amazing people, not just the 16 conductors I got to work with, but the MANY people whom I now count as friends among my fellow participants (and who I hope are reading this!).  Seriously, I must have met nearly 100 new people this year just through these things.  And I was constantly inspired by their musicianship.  I am much more in touch with my own musicianship and my conducting now.  This year’s experiences will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life.

Paul Murtha (b. 1960) is a composer, arranger, and conductor who has distinguished himself through his work as Chief Arranger for both the United States Military Academy Band at West Point (1990-1996) and “Pershing’s Own” United States Army Band (presently).  He has written and arranged hundreds of pieces for bands at all levels.  He wrote Aquia Landing in 2011 “in the classic style of J.P. Sousa using the form that he perfected in the early part of the 20th century.”  He describes his inspiration in the program notes in the score:

Aquia Landing (pronounced /uh kwhy’ yuh/) is located at the confluence of Aquia Creek and the Potomac River in Stafford County, Virginia.  A pivotal transportation hub between southern states and northern ports, passengers, cargo and entire rail cars were transferred from the RF&P Railroad to steamboat vessels which carried them from the Aquia Creek up the Potomac River to Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD.  This key location also positioned Aquia Landing as a major gateway along the ‘Network to Freedom‘ through which fugitive slaves had to pass in order to reach freedom.

Shortly after the start of the Civil War, this important transportation hub became a site of interest to both sides.  Union steamships and Confederate artillery exchanged fire for three days over the landing during the Battle of Aquia Creek (May 31-June 2, 1861).  A year later in April 1862, the Union troops returned to Stafford, rebuilding the landing, and using it as an operations center for approximately five months.  During that period, an estimated 10,000 freedom seekers who sought refuge behind Union lines passed through Stafford, many of whom are believed to have been shipped north from Stafford to Alexandria, VA or Washington, DC.

So what makes Aquia Landing a “Sousa-style” march?  It can be summed up in the form: it opens with a 4-bar introduction, starting on the dominant chord (F major in this case).  It lands firmly on the tonic (B-flat major) for the repeating first strain (m. 5), in which the melody is in the higher instruments.  The melody shifts to the bass instruments in the second strain (m. 22), which also repeats.  An interlude in the percussion (m. 39) leads to the trio (m. 47), which is in a different key (E-flat major, one more flat in everyone’s part), featuring a slower-paced melody.  The trio melody appears a total of three times, each more intense than the one before, and each one separated from the other by a “dogfight” section in which the high and low instruments seem to fight each other.  The march then ends with a classic Sousa stinger.

Click here for a professional-grade recording of Aquia Landing.  If you prefer to hear a live performance, here is an actual middle school band doing it:

Also take a look at Paul Murtha’s publisher, Hal Leonard.

If you don’t want to read William Schuman’s bio, skip down to the bottom of the page for a video version of sorts.  For those who do: 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 1961.  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.

Chester is the third movement of the New England Triptych, a collection of three pieces based on tunes by the colonial-era New England composer William Billings.    Schuman wrote the collection in 1956 on a commission from Andre Kostelanetz and the orchestra at the University of Miami.  Schuman created his own versions for band later, one movement at a time.  Chester came first, right on the heels of the original.  The orchestration of the two versions is obviously different in important ways, and unlike the other movements, Schuman actually expands his treatment of Chester in the band version.  It begins as a chorale before being broken into pieces in an intense development that comprises most of the piece.  Much later (1988) Schuman also produced a set of piano variations on the tune.

Nobody could describe the history of Chester better than Schuman himself (from the band score of the piece):

The tune on which this composition is based was born during the very time of the American Revolution, appearing in 1778 in a book of tunes and anthems composed by William Billings called THE SINGING MASTER’S ASSISTANT. This book became known as “Billings’ Best” following as it did his first book called THE NEW ENGLAND PSALM SINGER, published in 1770. CHESTER was so popular that it was sung throughout the colonies from Vermont to South Carolina. It became the song of the American Revolution, sung around the campfires of the Continental Army and played by fifers on the march. The music and words, both composed by Billings, expressed perfectly the burning desire for freedom which sustained the colonists through the difficult years of the Revolution,

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav’ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England’s God forever reigns.

The Foe comes on with haughty Stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their Vet’rans flee before our Youth,
And Gen’rals yield to beardless Boys. 

What grateful Off’ring shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs let us Sing,
And praise his name on ev’ry Chord.

Billings himself is described by William Bentley, of Salem, a contemporary, as “the father of our New England Music.  Many who have imitated have excelled him, but none of them had better original power.  He was a singular man, of moderate size, short of one leg, with one eye, without any address, and with an uncommon negligence of person.  Still he spake and sang and thought as a man above the common abilities.”  Billings, born in Boston in 1746, started his career in life as a tanner’s apprentice but soon gave up this trade for music in which he was apparently self-taught.  He organized singing schools, composing music for them which was all the more welcome because relations with England had reached the breaking point and the colonists were glad to have their own native music.  Billings’ many “fuguing tunes” achieved great popularity, but by the time he died in 1800 this kind of music gradually fell into disfavor leaving Billings poor and neglected.  Today given the prospective [sic] of history we see Billings as a major figure in American music.  His indomitable spirit still shines through the sturdy tunes he wrote.

The Ball State University Symphony Band plays the band version of Chester:

The orchestral version, while broadly similar in its chorale-allegro design, takes a very different form than the band version does, and it is about half as long:

Schuman appeared as the mystery guest on the game show “What’s My Line” in 1962.  Sadly, his episode of the show was removed from YouTube.  Instead, you can watch this video portrait of the composer made by his publisher:

More on Chester at the Wind Repertory Project, Wikia Program Notes, an analytic paper by Christopher Ritter, and a high school listening assignment based on the piece (try it!).  Schuman has bios on Wikipedia, his own official website, G. Schirmer, Theodore Presser, and Naxos.  And William Billings has at least one giant column of a website devoted to him and his music.

Fall 2012 was quite the semester at the Columbia Wind Ensemble.  Aside from some especially intense Lerner Hall nonsense, which forced us to sometimes rehearse at odd hours and in very alternative locations, we lost a rehearsal (thankfully nothing else) due to Hurricane Sandy.  Still, the ensemble stayed positive and tackled some fantastic and challenging music, including an arrangement of my own with a phenomenal soloist, and the world premiere of a new symphony for band.  To recap the repertoire:



Sunday, October 21 at 2pm

Lauds (Praise High Day) – Ron Nelson

Hymn to a Blue Hour – John Mackey

Scenes from the Louvre – Norman Dello Joio

La Muerte del Angel – Astor Piazzolla, arr. Andrew Pease
Featuring the flute talents of Sarah Frisof

Blue Shades – Frank Ticheli



Sunday, December 9 at 2pm

Pageant – Vincent Persichetti
Featuring guest conductor Courtney Snyder

Symphony for Band – Edward Green
World Premiere

Shepherd’s Hey – Percy Grainger