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Category Archives: Summer 2014

Oh what a summer it was, with trips all over the place and conducting like crazy, not to mention the beginning stages of my doctoral thesis research on symphonies for winds.  Also, this blog passed 100,000 all time hits on Sunday, August 10!

My first stop was the New York City area, where I re-connected with some of my great friends and worked with their bands.  I started on May 27 in the Grand Street Campus High School with Jeff Ball and Jasmine Britt, whose wind ensemble was playing:

Second Suite in F – Gustav Holst

The Hobbits – Johan de Meij

I also worked with their symphonic band, which was very jazzed about playing:

Sinfonia VI – Timothy Mahr

Among other things.  I stuck around until that evening for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony rehearsal.  They were preparing a concert of movie-themed music, but they had me in to conduct a recording session on Michael Markowski’s new grade 2 piece, The Cave You Fear.

That night, I arranged with Jennifer Schechter to visit her middle school in Queens.  What a treat that was!  They were working on an EXCELLENT arrangement of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance for their graduation.

Later in the week on May 30, I traveled up to White Plains High School to work with my great friend Bill Tonissen and his students.  They were preparing an end-of-year pops concert, with the music selected by the students:

Chicago – John Kander, arr. Victor Lopez

Music from The Incredibles – Michael Giacchino. arr. Jay Bocook

Night on Fire – John Mackey

Later in June, I traveled to two Texas schools for the first time to participate in their conducting workshops.  First came the University of North Texas Conductors Collegium starting on June 9, featuring Eugene Corporon and Dennis Fisher as clinicians.  I had the opportunity to conduct Dana Wilson’s Speak to Me in a concert, with three days of rehearsal preceding.  I then went directly to the University of Texas Art of Band Conducting and Rehearsal Workshop, with clinicians Jerry Junkin, Richard Floyd, H. Robert Reynolds, Robert Carnahan, and Tony Marinello.  This featured a variety of repertoire across the week:

Octet – Igor Stravinsky

Serenade in E-flat, op. 7 – Richard Strauss

Gran Partita – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Lincolnshire Posy – Percy Grainger

March from Symphonic Metamorphosis – Paul Hindemith, arr. Keith Wilson

O Magnum Mysterium – Morten Lauridsen, arr. H. Robert Reynolds

Three Chorale Preludes – William Latham

Trauermusik – Richard Wagner, ed. Votta/Boyd

In July I returned to New York to rejoin the Columbia Summer Winds and their conductors, Bill Tonissen and Sarah Quiroz, as a guest on two of their concerts: Thursday, July 24 at 5:30pm in Union Square Park, and Saturday, July 26 at 1pm in the Central Park Bandshell.  These were part of a series of Americana concerts, featuring:

American Overture for Band – Joseph Wilcox Jenkins

Sea of Fury – Jim Territo

Spoon River – Percy Grainger

Old Home Days – Charles Ives

Turkey in the Straw – Michael Markowski (featuring me as guest conductor)

The Cowboys – John Williams

Buckaroo Holiday – Aaron Copland, arr. Megan (featuring me as guest conductor)

Hoedown – Aaron Copland, arr. Hilliard

America the Beautiful – Samuel Augustus Ward, arr. Carmen Dragon

The Stars and Stripes Forever – John Philip Sousa

Amidst all of this, I continued preparing for my role as a conducting TA at Arizona State University in the fall, which was set to include an appearance with the Wind Ensemble and my own recital with the Wind Orchestra, plus my continued research into symphonies for winds.  All told, I was very busy for most of the summer!

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!

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!!

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

Rodeo was originally a ballet choreographed by Agnes DeMille and scored by Copland in 1942 for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  It premiered that year at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City with DeMille in the title role to great acclaim.  Copland converted the music into an orchestral suite, Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, which was premiered by the Boston Pops in 1943.  This version, whose chief difference from the ballet music was the removal of one movement and the trimming of other sections, became one of Copland’s most popular and enduring works.  This is especially true of the first movement, Buckaroo Holiday, and the last, Hoedown.  Both of these have been arranged for band.

First, a snippet of the original ballet as performed by the American Ballet Theatre in 1973.  This clip includes an interview with Agnes DeMille and most of the opening Buckaroo Holiday scene:

Sadly, there is no good version of Buckaroo Holiday as arranged for band (very capably by Kenneth Megan) on the internet.  This adds to the heap of evidence that it is actually very difficult to play any of Copland’s music, despite the ease and accessibility of his sound.  I hope to be able to add a video of Columbia Summer Winds playing this movement once I conduct my two performances with them this July.

Here is Hoedown in its original version, in a zippy live performance:

Conductors, DO NOT hold your baton like that guy – his grip leaves him zero wrist flexibility!

Here is a good (if primitively recorded) rendition of Mark Rogers’s band transcription:

Of course, you can’t talk about Hoedown without mentioning the ad campaign that introduced those of us of a certain age to the piece in the early 1990s:

Finally, the completionists out there will enjoy both this full recording of the complete Four Dance Episodes:

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.

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: