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Category Archives: Chance-John Barnes

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.

Incantation and Dance came into being during Chance’s residency at Greensboro.  He wrote it in 1960 and originally called it Nocturne and Dance – it went on to become his first published piece for band.  Its initial incantation, presented in the lowest register of the flutes, presents most of the melodic material of the piece.  Chance uses elements of bitonality throughout the opening section to create a sound world mystically removed from itself.  This continues as the dance elements begin to coalesce.  Over a sustained bitonal chord (E-flat major over an A pedal), percussion instruments enter one by one, establishing the rhythmic framework of the dance to come.  A whip crack sets off furious brass outbursts, suggesting that this is not a happy-fun dance at all.  When the dance proper finally arrives, its asymmetrical accents explicitly suggest a 9/8+7/8 feel, chafing at the strictures of 4/4 time.  In his manuscript (and reprinted in the 2011 second edition score) Chance provides the following performance note pertaining to these passages:

Because there is no musical notation to indicate a “non-accent,” it may be necessary to caution the players against placing any metric pulsation on the first and third beats of the syncopated measures of the dance: to accent these beats in the accustomed way will destroy the intended effect.

He goes on to demonstrate the first two bars of the dance as written in 4/4, then rewritten as the accents would suggest: 3/4, 3/8, 2/4, 3/8.

Incantation and Dance has been extremely popular with wind bands ever since it was written.  Wikia program notes has a page about it. David Goza wrote an indispensable, must-read article about the piece.  Even the blurb at Hal Leonard is informative.

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.

The Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra plays Incantation and Dance:

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.

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.

Chance wrote Blue Lake Overture in 1971 for the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan.  The outer sections of the piece feature rhythmic intensity brought about by Chance’s free use of both 3- and 2-eighth note groups in 4/4. While this often produces a 3+3+2 pattern which matches the length of the 4/4 bar, more often the note groupings defy that meter altogether, spilling over barlines and creating moments that sound like 5/8, 9/8, and even unknown hybrid meters.  The middle section settles into a circusy waltz with wandering tonality.  Every section of the band gets a soli in this rhythmic thrill ride.

Blue Lake Overture is a much-loved but not much-played piece.  Program notes and reviews of the piece abound.  The highlights:

banddirector.com program notes and analysis.

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.

For extra fun, here is the website of the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp for which this piece was composed.

More performances of Blue Lake Overture are popping up on YouTube.  This one is still the best.  It is a high school band from Florida.  They go quite a bit faster than necessary, but it’s quite exciting that way!

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 Elegy:

When a member of the West Genesee Senior High School Band died, Elegy was commissioned in his memory.  It is a single-movement, solemn work based on a five-note motif stated initially in the low woodwinds.  The piece builds to a bold statement in the horns which grows to a dramatic climax.  A brass fanfare played with the theme in the woodwinds again ends abruptly, after which the piece closes in a fragmented echo of the beginning.  The music symbolizes the tragedy of a life cut short, seemingly unfinished, as a portion of the original motif is left hanging while each instrument dies away.

Sadly, Chance wrote Elegy only months before his own sudden and tragic death.  The piece stands as an emotional monument to this composers unfinished career.

Some links:

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.

This performance of Elegy is among the best you will ever hear.  It is Frederick Fennell conducting the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, the finest conductor the wind band has ever known leading one of the finest bands in the world.  Together Fennell and the Kosei folks play this tragic piece with all the necessary gravitas and emotion.