Skip navigation

Category Archives: Original works for wind band

David Holsinger was born in Hardin, Missouri, December 26, 1945. His compositions have won four major competitions, including a two time ABA Ostwald Award. His compositions have also been finalists in both the DeMoulin and Sudler competitions.  He holds degrees from Central Methodist College, Fayette, Missouri, and Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. Holsinger has completed course work for a DMA at the University of Kansas. The composer was recently honored by Gustavus Adolphus College with the awarding of a Doctor of Humane Letters Degree for lifetime achievement in composition and the Gustavus Fine Arts Medallion, the division’s highest honor, designed and sculpted by renowned artist, Paul Granlund. Holsinger, as the fourth composer honored with this medal, joins a distinguished roster which includes Gunther Schuller, Jan Bender, and Csada Deak. Holsinger is the Conductor of the Wind Ensemble at Lee University, in Cleveland, Tennessee.

(short biography courtesy http://americanbandmasters.org/award/HOLSINGER.HTM)

Holsinger is a prolific composer for band. While he has his occassional tics (ostinatos, an “everything including the kitchen sink” approach to percussion), his music is consistently thrilling to play. His faster pieces blaze by in a whirlwind of excitement, and his slower numbers are thoughtful and genuinely beautiful. It is for these reasons that he is a favorite of players and audiences alike.

Holsinger has his own website: davidrholsinger.com, which answers really ANY questions you might possibly have about him, including a fascinating testimonial about the search for his birth mother. There is much multi-media content as well, including videos of him ruminating on expressive performance.  Definitely check it out!  Also, Absolute Astronomy did an extensive profile on him that is worth a look.

The score for On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss (1989) provides the following program note:

On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss is a radical departure of style of this composer.  The frantic tempos, the ebullient rhythms we associate with Holsinger are replaced with a restful, gentle, and reflective composition based on the 1876 Philip BlissHoratio Spafford hymn, “It is Well with my Soul“.  Written to honor the retiring Principal of Shady Grove Christian Academy, On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss was presented as a gift from the SGCA Concert Band to Rev. Steve Edel in May of 1989.

Here is the North Texas Wind Symphony performing Holsinger’s version:

Here is a contemporary reading of the hymn, complete with the lyrics.  They come from a dark place, penned by Spafford after he lost his four daughters in a shipwreck.

Read more about the hymn in Spafford’s bio (above), and on Wikipedia and ShareFaith.  You can learn more about Holsinger’s version at TRN Music.

Advertisements

Willem van Otterloo (1907-1978) is best remembered as a conductor of international stature.  He began his career in his native Netherlands, conducting the Utrecht Municipal Orchestra in the 1930s and 40s.  From 1949-1973 he was the chief conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague.  From this post he built an international career, conducting orchestras around the world and landing other music director positions in Australia, first in Melbourne, then in Sydney.  What compositions he left behind largely come from the period before 1945, when he was still firmly based in the Netherlands and had not yet taken off as a conductor.

The Symphonietta for sixteen winds is among those early compositions, dating from 1943.  This was a dark time in The Netherlands, which was under the occupation of Nazi Germany with no end in sight.  This darkness is reflected in the Symphonietta, especially in its first movement, which alternates between abject despair and pleading desperation.  The mood lightens considerably in the second movement, an octatonic scherzo in sonata form.  A solo cadenza connects these two movements, as it does the second and the third.  Movement three is a quiet, reflective song anchored by D-flat.  The fourth and final movement continues after the slightest pause, again lightening the mood with running sixteenth notes on an octatonic scale.  It is currently available from Floricor Editions.  Here is a good, recent performance of the whole thing:

Born in Russia, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was on track to become a lawyer until he began composition studies with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  He started his career in Paris with three ballets written for choreographer Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes: The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring, the last of which is legendary for causing a riot at its premiere.   The Rite especially was a model of neo-primitivism, in which Stravinsky used very small cells of notes to create orchestral textures that often featured intense, driving rhythms.  In the 1920s he largely abandoned his primitivist tendencies and began writing consciously Neoclassical music, which at first baffled his contemporaries, although not as much as his turn to serialism in the 1950s.  Still, his music remained popular, and he was consistently seen as a bold and hugely influential composer, perhaps one of the most important of the 20th century.  His reputation endures today, with hundreds if not thousands of performances of his works happening every year.  He died an American citizen, having moved to California in 1939.

It was from this perch in sunny Hollywood that Stravinsky wrote his Ebony Concerto in 1945.  In it, he distilled American jazz through his own compositional lens.  The score (untouched since its first edition in 1946) has this to say about its origin and inspiration:

Ebony Concerto was written by Igor Stravinsky for Woody Herman and his Orchestra.  It was introduced by that orchestra in a memorable concerto at Carnegie Hall, New York, on March 25, 1946, to the acclaim of public and critics alike.

Igor Stravinsky is one of the greatest and most representative figures in modern-day music.  His music has shocked, delighted, amazed, and irritated, but never bored people.  Stravinsky’s revolutionary musical precepts, his constant search for the new, for the true mirror of our changing world, find expression in music that is based on sound musicianship and great genius.  That is why his Firebird SuiteRite of Spring, and Petrouchka, to name only a few of his major works, are modern classics.

That is why Stravinsky was so impressed by the Woody Herman Orchestra and by their recordings of Bijou, Goosey Gander, and Caldonia.  His creativeness, invention, and deep sense of the modern, matched the characteristics of the Herman Orchestra.  A few months after Stravinsky had met Woody Herman, he presented the popular bandleader with Ebony Concerto… a composition that marks an epochal collaboration between the “jazz” and the “modern” schools of thought.

In truth, this origin story is somewhat romanticized.  Another account (see the Chicago Tribune link below) has it that a member of Herman’s band boasted of a meeting with Stravinsky which never actually happened, leading their mutual publisher to arrange the commission for the cash-strapped composer.  Regardless, Stravinsky did possess enough affinity for jazz that he did not hesitate in completing the project.

Listen to the original recording, and notice the delicious clash of styles happening:

Now listen to another recording that Stravinsky conducted, this time with Benny Goodman as the soloist:

The astute listener in possession of a score will have noticed that in both recordings, Stravinsky does not take his own printed tempos.  The interpretations on these recordings have now become standard.

The tunes mentioned in the program notes give great context to what inspired Stravinsky.  Here is Bijou:

And here is Caldonia:

For further reading on the Ebony Concerto, visit the Center for Jazz Arts, the Chicago Tribune, New York City Ballet, and Boosey & Hawkes.  Get a partial look at the score here.

Stravinsky has biographies on Wikipedia, IMDb, and Boosey & Hawkes, as well as a Foundation in his name with an Internet presence.  So much has been written about him in print that the Internet hardly does him justice.  But here are some articles from humanitiesweb and Cal Tech (on his religious works), and some quotes from him, just to whet your appetite.

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:

Composer Michael Markowski (b. 1986) claims that he is “fully qualified to watch movies and cartoons” on the basis of his bachelors degree in film from Arizona State University.  Despite this humility regarding his musical training, he is gaining attention as a composer of unique and sophisticated works for wind band and other media.  His works are being performed across the United States, leading to an ever-growing list of commissions for new works.

Turkey in the Straw came out of Markowski’s early association with Manhattan Beach Music after winning the first Frank Ticheli Composition Contest.  Publisher Bob Margolis introduces the piece in the score:

When we asked Frank Ticheli Composition Contest Winner Michael Markowski to create a concert band arrangement of the fiddle tune, Turkey in the Straw, we were figurin’ to get a ‘merican-soundin’ creation.  Square dance, anyone? No way.

Instead it was “Fire up the Markowski Phantasmagoricon!” and hold on tight.

Markowski has created, in effect, Turkeys Gone Loco — music for a wild cartoon, a crazy surrealist extravaganza, an eclectic, filmic frolic.  In a work overflowing with ideas, yet tightly wound and carefully crafted, Markowski has composed a Turkey in the Straw of today’s Zeitgeist.

Markowski himself follows that with a good, substantial program note:

We all know the melody, even if not by name.  But for me, Turkey in the Straw is nostalgic, beckoning back to a childhood where grandma and grandpa would sit me in front of their TV with a bowl of orange Jell-O (in a small room papered wall-to-wall with decorative clowns), to watch old-time cartoons on VHS.  From its early days in vaudeville to its silver-screen premiere in Disney’s cartoon, Steamboat Willie (1928), the tune has become a staple of Americana (and my favorite — cartoons).

Most arrangements stay true to the song’s Southern roots.  But for a contemporary ensemble such as the concert band, I wanted my arrangement to be what Ivesian, and, as colleagues have described it, closer to Quirky in the Straw.  Above all, I wanted this piece to resemble classic cartoon scoring.  Rather than simply arranging a brief melody in a handful of contrasting styles (as is typical of theme-and-variations), the form instead takes on an almost storytelling narrative or three act structure.

Each successive treatment of the melody increases the orchestration and contrapuntal complexity, starting with the simplest orchestration within the first 35 measures.  The melody quickly modulates, twists and turns, loses itself and finds itself in musical vignettes (already in development by measure 36).  Each new scene seems to bring its own musical plot, orchestrational characterization, and many a custard pie in the face.

Here is the piece as realized by the US Air Force Band of the Golden West:

The piece is published by Manhattan Beach Music, which links to a preview score with a recording that is even better than the one above.  Markowski links to an EVEN BETTER recording from his website.

There far too many versions of Turkey in the Straw to list here.  Here’s one played straight on the fiddle, which is how the tune first came into being:

Here’s another old version from a black and white movie, complete with comic hayseeds and questionable lyrics:

Here’s the Steamboat Willie that Markowski mentioned above.  Its treatment of Turkey in the Straw starts around the 4 minute mark:

Disney used it again in a later cartoon (and a personal favorite of mine as a kid) to great effect:

One final bonus video: Turkeys Gone Loco!!

American composer Dana Wilson (b. 1946) has won numerous awards and grants for his work.  His music has been performed and recorded across the United States, Europe, and Asia.  He has been commissioned to write new works by organizations and prominent soloists around the world.  His output includes music for orchestras, chamber groups, choirs, and a wide-ranging repertoire for bands at all levels.  Educated at the Eastman School of Music (DMA, 1982), he is currently the Charles A. Dana Professor of Music in the School of Music at Ithaca College.  To read more about his distinguished career, visit his website, wikipedia, his Ithaca faculty page, or the American Composers Forum.  For an overview his music by one of the distinguished figures in our field, visit Tim Reynish’s website.

Speak to Me (2010) is the result of a commission from John F. Kennedy High School in La Palma, California.  Wilson’s program notes describe both inspiration for the piece and the way he uses its main idea:

There is a long tradition in jazz of instruments carrying on a conversation–either intricate, soloistic dialogues (often improvised) or the call and response of larger forces. Speak to Me is above all such a conversation, at first among soloists and then among more and more performers as they gradually join in. This piece begins with a simple tune that increasingly overlaps with–and is interrupted by–other ideas, generating enormous energy along the way.

Aside from its jazz elements, Speak to Me is also a study in the chromatic scale for almost every instrument in the band, with its main motive built on chromatic fragments that are gradually extended to cover more than two octaves at times.

CLICK HERE to listen to the University of North Texas Wind Symphony play Speak to Me.

I had a small part in bringing that recording into being, since I conducted rehearsals and a preliminary performance of it at the University of North Texas Conductor’s Collegium in the summer of 2014.

For some context on this piece, here is a clip of the type of jazz conversation that Wilson has in mind, in the form of a TEDx talk:

Here is another, less academic, example, with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie:

Composer Michael Markowski (b. 1986) claims that he is “fully qualified to watch movies and cartoons” on the basis of his bachelors degree in film from Arizona State University.  Despite this humility regarding his musical training, he is gaining attention as a composer of unique and sophisticated works for wind band and other media.  His works are being performed across the United States, leading to an ever-growing list of commissions for new works.

The Cave You Fear was commissioned by the Gravelly Hill Middle School Bands and their director Arris Golden.  Markowski describes his inspiration for the piece on his website (also printed in the score):

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the opportunities we’re given day-to-day to try something new or to go somewhere we’ve never been before—the opportunity to take a spontaneous road trip, to go see a concert by a band we’ve never heard of at a venue we’ve never been to, to try that new restaurant down the street where the menu is in a language we don’t quite understand. Some people have an innate sense of adventure, who go-with-the-flow, who live life for the unexplored, and I couldn’t be more inspired by them.

For a long time, I was the opposite. I used to prefer to stay at home, working on my computer because it was the safe and responsible thing to be doing, listening to the same albums on my iPod, ordering the same meal at the same, familiar restaurants. And while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with having a routine or knowing what you like, I eventually realized that my life was starting to have a certain predictability to it. It was a few years ago, while I was still living in the same state that I was born and raised in, that I had the most terrifying epiphany that I think I’ve ever had. I was becoming increasingly bored and incredibly boring.

In film schools around the world, Joseph Campbell‘s book The Hero With A Thousand Faces is required reading for filmmakers, screenwriters, and storytellers because Campbell has single-handedly identified what we refer to as “The Hero’s Journey” — the series of events and conflicts that arise along a character’s path as he or she fights their way to some ultimate goal. After studying Campbell, it’s easy to question where we are on our own paths. What is our own story? What are we fighting for? What does it mean to be a ‘hero’ and how can we be more ‘heroic’ ourselves? When we hear our own call-to-adventure, will we jump up, prepared, or will we ignore it, sit idly and take the easy way out because we would rather life be quiet and comfortable? According to Campbell, each of our adventures are already out there, waiting for us. That’s not the problem. For him, “the big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty ‘yes’ to your adventure.”

So for the next four minutes, let’s take a chance, let’s venture into the dark unknown, let’s fight whatever monsters we find in there. And although we might not always prevail, at least we’ll have a story to tell by the end.

Everything you’ll ever need to know about The Cave You Fear is on Markowski’s comprehensive website for the piece, which includes a recording, an interactive sample score (here’s the pdf version), a SoundCloud recording, the program note I quoted above, and more.  Of special interest are the videos demonstrating some of the more unusual techniques he calls for in the score, which I will reproduce below.  These are especially useful, as this is a piece intended to be playable by middle school bands.

I had the great privilege of leading the Brooklyn Wind Symphony in a recording session for this piece.  My thanks to both their director Jeff Ball and Michael Markowski for getting me involved in the project!  Here is the wonderful result:

Now, those technical videos I promised.  First, the Amplified Lion’s Roar:

Next, the Saxophone Multiphonic:

Finally, two different demonstrations of the Superball Mallet.  First, on timpani:

Next, on tam-tam:

Chris Lamb (b. 1989) is an award-winning, American-born composer who has lived in various locales around the United States and the world (which you can read about further on his wonderful website).  His compositions include several works for band, a handful of orchestral pieces, a wealth of chamber music, and a three-act opera.  2014’s Crypto-Atlas was written on a commission from Andy Pease (yes, that’s me) and the Arizona State University Concert Band for their Wet Ink concert, meant to feature new compositions for band.  Asked for a grade 3 work using extended techniques, Lamb incorporated aleatory, hisses and tongue-clicks, and instrumental air sounds into the piece, making for a truly unique yet accessible sound world.  He provides the following program note:

Across the United States mysterious beasts are sighted every year.  From a Nessie-like creatures in the Chesapeake Bay and Lake Powell, AZ to a Giant Killer Octopus in Oklahoma and a Winged Alligator-Snake in Washington State, these beasts have enraptured our land and captured our imagination.  The question of “what lies beneath that body of water” haunts us and the unexplained phenomena that can only be attributed to the presence of such mythical creatures.

These wondrous beasts enhance our country’s rich history.  The answer the unanswerable and inspire awe in believers and skeptics alike.  They are America’s mythology, supernatural, and tall-tales all wrapped up into a legend that will live for years to come.

Below is the world premiere performance, with ASU Concert Band under my baton on April 22, 2014.  I encourage you to read along in the perusal score that Lamb provides!  Note that it starts VERY softly – give it a minute or so to get going.

Steven Bryant (b. 1972) is an acclaimed, award-winning composer whose works often straddle different media.  He is a three-time recipient of the National Band Association’s William D. Revelli Composition Award (2007, 2008, 2010). His first orchestral work, Loose Id for Orchestra, was “orchestrated like a virtuoso” according to celebrated composer Samuel Adler.  His epic work for wind band and electronics, Ecstatic Waters, has received more performances than any other piece of its kind.  His other work includes pieces for wind band (some with added electronics), orchestra, chamber ensembles, and electronic music.  He studied composition at The Juilliard School with John Corigliano, at the University of North Texas with Cindy McTee, and at Ouachita University with W. Francis McBeth.

Concerto for Wind Ensemble is a virtuosic showpiece for winds: each player is a soloist with a completely independent part.  Bryant has extensively documented his inspiration and his compositional process on his website.  First, his program note:

My Concerto for Wind Ensemble came into existence in two stages, separated by three years. The first movement came about in 2006, when Commander Donald Schofield (then director of the USAF Band of Mid-America) requested a new work that would showcase the band’s considerable skill and viscerally demonstrate their commitment to excellence as representatives of the United States Air Force. From the outset, I decided against an outright depiction of flight, instead opting to create a work that requires, and celebrates, virtuosity. Initial discussions with Cdr. Schofield centered on a concerto grosso concept, and from this, the idea evolved into one of surrounding the audience with three groups of players, as if the concertino group had expanded to encompass the audience. These three antiphonal groups, along with the onstage ensemble, form the shape of a diamond, which, not coincidentally, is a core formation for the USAF Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron. As a further analog, I’ve placed Trumpet 5 and Clarinet 5 in the back of the hall, serving as an ‘inversion’ of the ensemble onstage, which mirrors the role of the No. 5 pilot who spends the majority of the show flying inverted. The musical material consists of a five-note ascending scale-wise motive and a repeated chord progression (first introduced in the Vibraphone about 2’30” into the work). The rhythm of this chord progression (inspired by a Radiohead song) informs the rhythmic makeup of the remainder of the movement.

As the piece took shape, I realized I wanted to write much more than the “five to seven minutes” specified in the original commission, so I intentionally left the end of the work “open,” knowing I would someday expand it when the opportunity presented itself. That chance came in 2009, thanks to Jerry Junkin: shortly after his fantastic 2009 performance of Ecstatic Waters at the College Band Directors National Association conference in Austin, we discussed my desire to write more movements, and he graciously agreed to lead a consortium to commission the project.

In expanding the work, I planned to reuse the same few musical elements across all five movements. Economy of materials is a guiding principle of my approach to composing, and I set out to tie this work together as tightly as possible. The original ascending five-note motive from movement I returns often (in fact, the number 5 insinuates itself into both the melodic and rhythmic fabric of the entire work).

In Movement II, this scalar passage is stretched vertically, so that its total interval now covers a minor seventh instead of a perfect fifth. The F# Phrygian harmony eventually resolves upward to G major, acting as five-minute expansion of the F#-G trills introduced in the Clarinets at the beginning of Movement I. The second movement exploits the antiphonal instruments for formal purposes, as the music gradually moves from the stage to the surrounding instruments. Extended flute solos permeate the movement.

Movement III is bright, rhythmically incessant, and veers toward jazz in a manner that surprised me as it unfolded. The accompaniment patterns revisit the Vibraphone rhythm from movement I, which various scalar threads swirl around the ensemble. The melodic material for this movement comes from a trumpet solo my father played years ago, and which I transcribed in 2006, while composing the first movement. I knew from the beginning that this would end up in the work, though my original plan was to set it in toto in the fourth movement. Instead, it wound up in the much brighter third movement, and led the music into a completely unexpected direction.

Movement IV’s weighty character, then, comes from that initial plan to set my father’s solo, however, I realized it wasn’t going to sound as I had anticipated – I had envisioned something similar to IvesThe Unanswered Question, but it simply wasn’t working. Once I let go of the solo and focused on the surrounding sonic landscape, the music formed quickly, recalling various fragments from earlier in the piece. The movement also pays homage to Webern‘s Six Pieces for Orchestra (elements of which appear in other movements), and Corigliano‘s score to the film Altered States. Both of these have been early, powerful, lasting influences on my compositional choices.

Movement V returns to the opening motive of the entire work, this time with a simmering vitality that burns inexorably to a no-holds-barred climax. Where the first four movements of the work only occasionally coalesce into tutti ensemble passages, here, the entire band is finally unleashed.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Jerry Junkin and the consortium members for allowing me the opportunity to create this work – all 54,210 notes of it.

Concerto for Wind Ensemble is a true one-on-a-part wind ensemble work. Exact instrumentation is listed here.

Read more about Concerto for Wind Ensemble, including a look at the score, at Steven Bryant’s website and his blog.  Read up on Bryant himself at Wikipedia.

Here is the piece in performance by the University of Texas and Jerry Junkin:

Bryant also kept a video diary from the composition process:

He talks about several influences in his program notes.  The Radiohead song he refers to is Pyramid Songwhich is based on a symmetrical but uneven rhythm:

Movement IV references both Anton Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra:

And Bryant’s teacher John Corigliano’s Altered States:

Bryant likes and is comfortable in electronic media.  He has a YouTube account, a Twitter handle, and a Facebook fan page.  He has a fantastic website with a blog attached.  He also numbers the revisions of his music like computer software: for instance, his latest version of Dusk is version 1.4.  In his words, “The old version (1.2) is NOT compatible” with the new.  He also writes dedicated electronic music.  My favorite, which I heard when I sat in at his session at the Ball State University Conducting Workshop in 2012, is called Hummingbrrd.  Click the link to listen, and prepare to be amazed!

John Mackey (b. 1973) once famously compared the band and the orchestra to the kind of girl a composer might meet at a party. The orchestra seems like she ought to be your ideal woman, but she clearly feels superior to you and talks a lot about her exes (like Dvorak and Beethoven). The band, meanwhile, is loud and brash, but loves everything you do and can’t wait to play your stuff, the newer, the better! (I’ve rather poorly paraphrased Mackey – it’s best understood in his original blog post on the subject).

With this attitude and his prodigious talent, John Mackey has become a superstar composer among band directors. He has even eclipsed his former teacher, John Corigliano, by putting out more than a dozen new band works, including a symphony, since 2005. All are challenging, and all are innovative. Mackey’s works for wind ensemble and orchestra have been performed around the world, and have won numerous composition prizes. His Redline Tango, originally for orchestra and then transcribed by the composer for band, won him the American Bandmasters Assocation/Ostwald Award in 2005, making him, then 32, the youngest composer ever to recieve that prize.  He won again in 2009 with Aurora Awakes.  His compositional style is fresh and original. I once heard him state that he counted the band Tool among his musical influences.

John Mackey publishes his own music through Osti Music.  The website for this company doubles as his personal website and his blog, which is very informative for anyone looking for a composer’s perspective on new music. He is featured on wikipedia and the Wind Repertory Project.  He is also on Twitter 20 or so times a day.  And he has a Facebook composer page.

Mackey wrote Harvest: Concerto for Trombone in 2009.  It was commissioned by a consortium of bands organized by Chris Wilhjelm of the Ridgewood Concert Band and LTC Timothy Holtan of the West Point Military Academy and their famous band.  It was written as a feature for Joseph Alessi, principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic, and premiered by the West Point Band in March, 2010.  Mackey provides his own program notes:

Harvest: Concerto for Trombone is based on the myths and mystery rituals of the Greek god Dionysus. As the Olympian god of the vine, Dionysus is famous for inspiring ecstasy and creativity. But this agricultural, earth-walking god was also subjected each year to a cycle of agonizing death before glorious rebirth, analogous to the harsh pruning and long winter the vines endure before blooming again in the spring. The concerto’s movements attempt to represent this dual nature and the cycle of suffering and return.

The concerto is set in three connected sections, totaling approximately 18 minutes. The first section begins with a slow introduction, heavy on ritualistic percussion, representing the summoning of Dionysus’s worshippers to the ceremony. The rite itself builds in intensity, with Dionysus (represented, of course, by the solo trombone) engaging in call and response with his followers, some of whom are driven to an ecstatic outcry — almost a “speaking in tongues” –represented by insistent woodwind trills. But when Dionysus transitions to a gentler tone, his frenzied worshippers do not follow. Their fervor overcomes them, and they tear their god to shreds in an act of ritual madness.

This brutal sacrifice by the ecstatic worshippers — the pruning of the vine — is followed without pause by the second section, representing Dionysus in the stillness of death, or winter. The god is distant, the music like a prayer.

The shoots of spring burst forth in the final section, following again without pause. The earth is reborn as Dionysus rises again, bringing the ecstasy and liberation that have been celebrated in his name for centuries.

Harvest: Concerto for Trombone is dedicated to Joseph Alessi.

Mackey scored Harvest for orchestral winds (sorry, saxes), brass (sorry, euphists), and percussion plus harp, piano, and string bass.  While it has been widely played by America’s top wind ensembles, its orchestra-friendly instrumentation has seen it played beyond the wind band sphere in such places as the Cabrillo Festival (which described it as “scored for solo trombone and orchestra without strings”), where legendary maestra Marin Alsop conducted.

You can look at the score and hear a recording of the piece at Mackey’s website.  You can also read about the piece at the Wind Repertory Project.  Mackey also talks in some detail about the piece on his very candid blog, including features on the original concept for the concerto, working with Joe Alessi, and the premiere.

Those who are averse to clicking a link can hear Harvest via YouTube here, as performed by Alessi and the West Point Band:

The rest of the commissioning consortium includes:

The Ridgewood Concert Band, The West Point Military Academy Band, University of Texas at Austin, United States Air Force Academy, Illinois State University, University of Florida, Miami University, University of Georgia, Texas Tech University, Case Western Reserve University, Ithaca College, University of South Carolina, University of Washington, Roxbury High School, University of South Florida, Florida State University, Baylor University, Syracuse University, McNeese State University, Arizona State University, University of Alabama.