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Category Archives: Barnes, James

James Barnes (b. 1949) is an American composer of primarily works for wind band.  Born in Oklahoma, he studied and continues to teach at the University of Kansas.  His compositions for band have been played all over the world, including in three separate recordings by the renowned Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra.  He is a two-time winner of the prestigious Ostwald award for new band compositions.

Barnes provides the following note in the score to his 1984 Yorkshire Ballad:

Composed in the summer of 1984, James Barnes’s Yorkshire Ballad was premiered at the Kansas Bandmasters Association Convention in Huthcinson, Kansas, by the late Claude T. Smith, who was serving as the guest conductor for the Kansan Intercollegiate Band.  Since being published in 1985, it has become one of the composer’s most popular works.  It has been arranged for full orchestra and string orchestra by the composer, for marimba and piano by Linda Maxey, for flute choir by Arthur Ephross, and for trombone or tuba/euphonium ensemble by Jon Bohls.

The composer writes that “over the years, many conductors and teachers have called me to ask about the work, and whether the tune itself is in fact a folksong.  Yorkshire Ballad is not a folksong, but it is written in that style.  I composed this little piece so that younger players would have the opportunity to play a piece that is more or less in the style of Percy Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry.  Even Grainger’s easier works are too difficult for most youngsters to do them musical justice, so I thought I would write a little piece that might emote of the feelings and colors of Grainger’s wonderful music, but, at the same time, was technically much more accessible to the younger player.”

“People always ask me what I was trying to portray when I wrote Yorkshire Ballad.  All I can say is that I was thinking of the beautiful, green Yorkshire Dales of northern England; the rolling hills and the endless stretch of beautiful pasturelands that my wife and I loved so much when, a year before, we had driven through this most marvelous spot in the world.”

The usual links:

James Barnes on Wikipedia.

Nice long-ish article on Barnes at Suite101.  It happens to have been published on his 60th birthday!

And some video, starting with the band version, from the Tokyo Kosei recordings:

And, for a little something extra, the trombone choir version:

Levi Nichol at Kansas State University prepared a very useful teaching guide (.doc) for Yorkshire Ballad.

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This summer, Columbia Summer Winds is taking a trip over the rainbow, down the yellow brick road, to the Emerald City.  James Barnes’s arrangement of Harold Arlen’s famous tunes is so ravishingly good, it almost makes it sound like they were originally written for band.  Here it is, performed by the Alabama All-State Red Band (in a gymtorium – what does that say about Alabama?) in a truly fine 2007 performance:

I’m not sure what I can possibly add to the mountain of Wizard of Oz knowledge that’s out there.  So here are a few highlights:

The movie vs. the book on Wikipedia.

There are too many spin-offs of The Wizard of Oz to even conceive of naming, but here are a few.  L. Frank Baum, the author of the original book, wrote two sequels himself, Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz (which was itself reinterpreted as a comic in 2010).  These two together spawned a nightmare-inducing movie sequel by Disney in 1985.  But most spin-offs come from the original.  There’s the 2005 Muppet version, and the crummy, steampunky Syfy version (how is it so bad with Alan Cumming and Zoey Deschanel?!) from 2007.   There’s the 1995 book and the 2003 musical (not to mention the band arrangementWicked, which recasts the Wicked Witch of the West as the misunderstood protagonist.  There’s also 1978’s the Wiz, which retells the tale through the lense of African American culture.  These two musicals have given us a treasure of excellent music.  But none of these have come close to rivaling the beloved status or the cultural pervasiveness of the original 1939 film.

For those who have spent their lives under a rock: The Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale, who lives on a grey farm in Kansas.  She wants to see what’s over the rainbow.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, a tornado comes to town and sweeps her, her house, and her dog, Toto, to Oz, where everything is in brilliant color.  Her house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her and freeing the Munchkins from her tyranny.  The Munchkins and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, hail her as a hero and tell her to follow the yellow-brick road to the Wizard of Oz in Emerald City if she wants to get home.  Before she leaves, they give her the Wicked Witch of the East’s ruby slippers.  Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow, who needs a brain, the Tin Man, who lacks a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, who lacks courage.  Together, they travel to the Emerald City, only to be told by the mysterious and powerful Wizard that they have to kill the Wicked Witch of the West in order to get their wishes granted.  The Witch captures them.  When all seems lost, Dorothy throws water on the Witch, causing her to melt away.  They return to the Wizard, only to find that he’s just an ordinary guy from Omaha with no powers at all.  Still, he makes things right, and in the end, everyone gets home.

Here’s the iconic performance of the film: Judy Garland sings “Over the Rainbow”:

Finally, I have to mention my favorite Oz-related thing: Play the Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon along with the movie (sound off, of course), and a great many interesting coincidences happen!  They call this phenomenon Dark Side of the Rainbow.

Brooklyn’s Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, were among the leading Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1920s and 30s, with countless popular songs and six Broadway musicals to their name.  But George (1898-1937), who wrote all of the music to Ira’s lyrics, longed for a place in the classical music pantheon.  In 1924, his Rhapsody in Blue for piano and band (later orchestra) established his credentials as a serious composer.  Its use of jazz elements within classical structures became a hallmark of Gershwin’s style.  His Piano Concerto in F and An American in Paris continued in this direction, culminating in his 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.  Despite his success in the classical arena, Gershwin’s requests for lessons with other major composers were repeatedly denied.  Arnold Schoenberg, for example, told him “I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you’re such a good Gershwin already.”

Porgy and Bess is based on DuBose Heyward’s novel Porgy.  It follows the adventures of Porgy, a crippled black beggar in South Carolina.  All of its major roles are black characters, which has led some to see the opera as racist.  These concerns have largely given way to the beauty and intensity of the music, helped by Ira Gershwin’s insistence that the opera only be performed with a black cast.  Because of this requirement the opera is rarely given a full staging.  However, the many memorable numbers from the opera can be heard regularly in a variety of arrangements such as the one we are playing.

Porgy and Bess on Wikipedia.

Origin of the opera and detailed story synopsis on classical.net.

A preview of Heyward’s Porgy on Google Books.

Porgy and Bess on PBS Great Performances.

About the composer:

Gershwin.com – the official Gershwin family website.

George Gershwin bio at balletmet.org.

Another Gershwin bio, with portraits, at naxos.com.

And now some video!

The South Jersey Area Wind Ensemble plays the James Barnes arrangement of Porgy and Bess, played be the Columbia Summer Winds in the 2010 under the baton of Bill Tonissen:

There is also a Robert Russell Bennett version of Porgy and Bess for band, called the Porgy and Bess Selection.  Unfortunately there are no decent recordings of this at my disposal, including the CUWE recordings in 2003 and 2006, which are marred by a terrible recording device and a terrible performance venue (Miller Theatre) respectively.

An excerpt from the opera itself, as recorded for film based on a 1986 Glyndebourne Opera production:

There are several other clips like this on YouTube which you can find if you click around a bit.

Finally, a bonus: Gershwin plays his hit “I Got Rhythm” in 1931.


James Barnes (b. 1949) is an American composer of primarily works for wind band.  Born in Oklahoma, he studied and continues to teach at the University of Kansas.  His compositions for band have been played all over the world, including in three separate recordings by the renowned Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra.  He is a two-time winner of the prestigious Ostwald award for new band compositions.

Barnes provides the following note to his 1987 Pagan Dances:

The Pagan Dances completes the cycle of four “primitive” works for symphonic band I began with Visions Macabre in 1978, followed by Invocation and Toccata in 1980, and Torch Dance in 1984.  All of these works employ highly dissonant harmonic combinations, repetitive melodic material, and driving rhythm to showcase the symphonic band’s immense power and dramatic color combinations.  This suite is intended to portray an imaginary scene from prehistoric times as if it were a scene from a ballet.  It begins with the entrance of the worshipers performing a Ritual dance before their idol god.  Mystics, or high priests, appear, evoking incantations and performing feats of sorcery before the worshipers.  Suddenly, The Master of the Sword enters, performing a savage dance that culminates with his execution of a sacrifice on the high altar with his broadsword.

The usual links:

James Barnes on Wikipedia.

Nice long-ish article on Barnes at Suite101.  It happens to have been published on his 60th birthday!

And some video: