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Category Archives: Summer 2009

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!
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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.

Here are some well-researched program notes on Stars & stripes from the Band Music PDF Library.

Stars and Stripes Forever (march) is considered the finest march ever written, and the same time one of the most patriotic ever conceived.  As reported in the Philedelphia Public Ledger (May 15, 1897) “… It is stirring enough to rouse the American eagle from his crag, and set him to shriek exultantly while he hurls his arrows at the aurora borealis.” (referring to the concert the Sousa Band gave the previous day at the Academy of Music). (Research done by Elizabeth Hartman, head of the music department, Free Library of Philadelphia.  [Quote] taken from John Philip Sousa, Descriptive Catalog of his Works (Paul E. Bierley, University of Illinois Press, 1973, page 71)).

The march was not quite so well received though and actually got an over average rating for a new Sousa march.  Yet, its popularity grew as Mr. Sousa used it during the Spanish-American War as a concert closer.  Coupled with his Trooping of the Colors, the march quickly gained a vigorous response from audiences and critics alike.  In fact, audiences rose from their chairs when the march was played.  Mr. Sousa added to the entertainment value of the march by having the piccolo(s) line up in front of the band for the final trio, and then added the trumpets and trombones [to] join them on the final repeat of the strain.

The march was performed on almost all of Mr. Sousa’s concerts and always drew tears to the eyes of the audience.  The author has noted the same emotional response of audiences to the march today.  The march has been named as the national march of the United States.

There are two commentaries of how the march was inspired.  The first came as the result of an interview on Mr. Sousa’s patriotism.  According to Mr. Sousa, the march was written with the inspiration of God.

“I was in Europe and I got a cablegram that my manager was dead.  I was in Italy and I wished to get home as soon as possible.  I rushed to Genoa, then to Paris and to England and sailed for America.  On board the steamer as I walked miles up and down the deck, back and forth, a mental band was playing ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ Day after day as i walked it persisted in crashing into my very soul.  I wrote in on Christmas Day, 1896.” (Taken from program notes for the week beginning August 19th, 1923.  Bierley, John Philip Sousa, page 71.)

Researched by Marcus L. Neiman, Medina, Ohio

 

The wikipedia article on Stars & Stripes is bit thin on references, but it does allow you to listen to a vintage recording of Sousa himself conducting the march, from 1909.  The Stars & Stripes page at the Dallas Wind Symphony has other old recordings and Sousa’s original lyrics for the march.

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at naxosdirect.com. 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

Stars & Stripes is one of many Sousa marches (and other pieces by turn of the 19th-20th century composers) available at the Band Music PDF Library for free.  I encourage any enterprising band directors to take a look.

Check out this legit performance of Stars & Stripes, courtesy of the President’s Own United States Marine Band.  If you don’t like the conductor’s very informative monologue, skip to the performance at around 1:00.

Now, the Muppets’ take on Stars & Stripes:

Finally, an inspiring trombone choir version:

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.”

An American in Paris came about after the success of Rhapsody in Blue had solidified Gershwin’s classical music credentials and made him a superstar.  It was inspired by Gershwin’s several trips to the bustling French capital in the 1920s.  He completed it in 1928 on a commission from conductor Walter Damrosch and the New York Philharmonic.

An Italian website featuring a full recording of the original orchestral piece.

An American in Paris program notes at the Kennedy Center.  Click around on here for a Gershwin bio and an educational video about the piece.

More program notes at musicweb-international.com.

Wikipedia article on An American in Paris.

About the composer:

Gershwin.com – the official Gershwin family website.

George Gershwin bio at balletmet.org.

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

An excellent Japanese band plays our version of An American in Paris, arranged by Jerry Brubaker.  They unfortunately didn’t get the authentic Parisian taxi horns!

The 2008 revival of South Pacific was a Broadway sensation.  The production won seven 2008 Tony awards (out of eleven nominations) and enjoyed great popular and critical support in its run at the Lincoln Center Theatre.  The musical tackles issues of racial prejudice against the backdrop of the American war effort in the South Pacific during World War II.

The original Broadway production premiered in 1950 and won all ten Tony Awards for which it was nominated.  It also received the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1950.  It was the fifth collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.  They based their work on two short stories by James A. Michener from his book Tales from the South Pacific.

This video of Harry Connick Jr. introducing the 2008 Tony Award performance pretty much sums up the show’s cultural and musical value:

Now some other links:

Richard Rodgers biography on Wikipedia.

Oscar Hammerstein biography on Wikipedia.

Rodgers & Hammerstein on Wikipedia.

Arranger Robert Russell Bennett biography on Wikipedia.

South Pacific on Wikipedia

Broadway revival homepage

New York Times review of Broadway revival.

Finally, a bonus video: “Some Enchanted Evening” very convincingly performed on The View in 2008:

Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) wrote several legendary classical-pops pieces that remain popular, many of which he also arranged for wind band.  Among them are Sleigh Ride, The Irish Washerwoman, Bugler’s Holiday, and Belle of the Ball.  Bugler’s Holiday (1954) is one of his most enduring classics.  Originally scored for trumpet trio and orchestra, it has been performed by groups of nearly every instrument imaginable, often to great comic effect.

LeroyAnderson.com – a treasure trove of information on the composer and his music, including a listening room.

Once Upon a Sleigh Ride – a PBS documentary about Anderson and his music.

Bugler’s Holiday at Answers.com.

There are so many performances of Bugler’s Holiday on YouTube that I just had to pick some that stood out.  I highly recommend going and looking at a bunch more if you have the time.  Here’s a YouTube search link for you.

An excellent performance by a German band that appears to have memorized their music. Watch out for the bari sax player!

One among many adaptations, this one for bassoon quintet:

Finally, I present without comment a choral version:

Jaromir Weinberger (1896-1967) was a Czech composer who emigrated to the United States and eventually became a US citizen.  His opera Schwanda the Bagpiper is his most famous contribution to the standard repertoire.  While the opera was wildly popular following its premiere in 1927, today it is all but forgotten, and its concert suite, Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper, is performed much more frequently than the opera itself.

As a side note, this opera has a fantastic German name: Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer.

Jaromir Weinberger on wikipedia.

Extensive article on Weinberger at the Orel Foundation, a group dedicated to uncovering neglected works of 20th century composers.

Description and plot synopsis of Schwanda the Bagpiper at boosey.com.

Link to the Naxos CD recording of the opera, as well as a thoughtful article about it and the composer.

Finally, some videos.  First, William D. Revelli and the University of Michigan Symphony Band from 1965:

Then a Cincinnati Pops version under Erich Kunzel.  Be aware that it’s slightly different in form from what we’re playing and is in a different key with one different modulation in the fugue as well.  And of course it’s for orchestra.

Dutch composer Johan de Meij (b. 1953) studied trombone and conducting at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague.  He now resides in suburban New Jersey. He rose to international fame as a composer with his Symphony no. 1 “The Lord of the Rings”.  Written between 1984 and 1987, it was premiered in Brussels, Belgium in 1988.  It went on to win first prize in the Sudler International Wind Band Composition Competition in 1989, and a Dutch Composers Fund award in 1990, and has since become a cornerstone of the repertoire for high-level bands worldwide.

The Symphony is based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy of fantasy novels by the same name, which has recently also been immortalized in director Peter Jackson’s film trilogy.  Each of the symphony’s five movements illustrates an important character or event from the Lord of the Rings story: “Gandalf”, the wizard; “Lothlorien”, home of the Elves; “Gollum”, the pitiful former keeper of the ring; “Journey in the Dark”, a chronicle of an expedition through abandoned Dwarf mines; and “Hobbits”.  Says De Meij of each movement:

I) GANDALF (The Wizard)

The first movement is a musical portrait of the wizard Gandalf, one of the principal characters of the trilogy. His wise and noble personality is expressed by a stately motif which is used in different forms in movements IV and V. The sudden opening of the Allegro vivace is indicative of the unpredictability of the grey wizard, followed by a wild ride on his beautiful horse “Shadowfax”.

II) LOTHLORIEN (The Elvenwood)

The second movement is an impression of Lothlorien, the elvenwood with its beautiful trees, plants, exotic birds, expressed through woodwind solos. The meeting of the Hobbit Frodo with the Lady Galadriel is embodied in a charming Allegretto; in the Mirror of Galadriel, a silver basin in the wood, Frodo glimpses three visions, the last of which, a large ominous Eye, greatly upsets him.

III) GOLLUM (Smeagol)

The third movement describes the monstrous creature Gollum, a slimy, shy being represented by the soprano saxophone. It mumbles and talks to itself, hisses and lisps, whines and snickers, is alternately pitiful and malicious, is continually fleeing and looking for his cherished treasure, the Ring.

IV) JOURNEY IN THE DARK

The fourth movement describes the laborious journey of the Fellowship of the Ring, headed by the wizard Gandalf, through the dark tunnels of the Mines of Moria. The slow walking cadenza and the fear are clearly audible in the monotonous rhythm of the low brass, piano and percussion. After a wild pursuit by hostile creatures, the Orks, Gandalf is engaged in a battle with a horrible monster, the Balrog, and crashes from the subterranean bridge of Khazad-Dum in a fathomless abyss.

V) HOBBITS
The fifth movement expresses the carefree and optimistic character of the Hobbits in a happy folk dance; the hymn that follows emanates the determination and noblesse of the hobbit folk.  The symphony does not end on an exuberant note, but is concluded peacefully and resigned, in keeping with the symbolic mood of the last chapter “The Grey Havens” in which Frodo and Gandalf sail away in a white ship and disappear slowly beyond the horizon.
The symphony in its entirety is quite substantial, so the movements are often performed individually.  “Gandalf” and “Hobbits” are the most frequently performed movements.

Website for Johan de Meij and his publishing company. Includes an extensive bio and works list, as well as a link to program notes of the symphony.

Review of a CD containing the symphony and de Meij’s trombone concerto.

One more program note on Symphony no. 1, from everything2.com.

Now some videos.  Notice, it’s largely different bands for each movement.  They’re not easy!

Gandalf, by the Amsterdam Winds.  I’m pretty sure they used cellos to beef up the low brass/bassoon solos that pepper the movement.

Lothlorien, by the TMK Bad Wimsbach Neydharting:

Gollum LIVE.  Watch this monstrous soprano sax player!

Journey in the Dark by a nameless ensemble (orchestra version).

Finally, Hobbits by an accomplished Dutch band.

Now some Lord of the Rings background for the uninitiated.  The various internet sources below can tell its story much more succinctly and completely than I can.  Suffice it to say that The Lord of the Rings laid the foundation for modern fantasy writing and has inspired countless tributes and adaptations to other media, including notably Peter Jackson’s film trilogy.

Lord of the Rings on wikipedia.

The official movie trilogy site.

Lord of the Rings Fanatics site, for true fans only.

National Geographic’s Beyond the Movie feature on Lord of the Rings.

J. R. R. Tolkien on wikipedia.

Video of the opening scenes of the movie (complete with Chinese subtitles).  Pretty much gives the context for the whole story.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Please go forth and find more on your own!

Karl Lawrence King (1891-1971) got his start in circus bands.  There he began writing circus marches including the classic Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite.  He was a euphonium player, so he made sure to feature the low brass prominently in all of his marches.  The Trombone King (1945) is no exception: as the title implies, it spotlights the trombone section throughout the piece.  The Columbia Summer Winds dedicates its performances of this piece to the memory of Debra Silver, whose trombone and baritone playing will be forever missed by the whole band.

Now, some resources:

Karl King’s website.  Maintained by the Karl King Band in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Karl L. King on wikipedia.

Karl King at C. L. Barnhouse publishing.  Includes an extensive biography and works list.

Notes on many of Karl King’s compositions, including The Trombone King.

A high school band in Louisville plays the march quite well:

Brian Balmages (b. 1975) is a young, prolific American composer with several new works making their way into the standard wind band repertoire.  He has this to say about Summer Dances:

Summer Dances was written for the Columbia Concert Band, Columbia, Maryland, for an outdoor summer concert. The piece was written to capture the beauty and spirit of the many festivals and events associated with the season.  In writing the piece, elements were included to make it very appropriate to perform in or out of the concert hall.

The piece thrives on rhythmic pulse throughout.  The fast rhythmic figures of the opening are contrasted with the more stately motives presented later in the piece in the slower, more lyrical section.

Performers should approach this piece using light articulations, in order to achieve a festive mood.

It’s nothing but a happy coincidence that this piece was written for another “Columbia” group so similar to ours.  Our performances of Summer Dances are dedicated to the memory of Debra Silver.  She was a devoted advocate for the Columbia Summer Winds.  She was also an avid dancer.  This piece perfectly captures two of her great loves and her lightness of spirit.

Brian Balmages’s website, including bio and extensive works list with many recordings.

Brian Balmages profile at James Madison University, his alma mater (class of 1998).

A moving Baltimore Sun piece on a middle school concert in which Balmages was comissioned to write a piece in memory of slain band members.

The best resource on Summer Dances is the quote above.  For some more amusing reactions to the piece, check out the comments in any of the several YouTube clips of the piece.  It seems as though every middle school (!!) and high school in Texas has played this piece, and all the kids want to talk about it.

I’ve picked the best recording to embed here on the resource site: A professional-level band plays a flawless performance of Summer Dances.