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Tag Archives: 1980s

Michael Colgrass (b. 1932) has distinguished himself as an innovative composer and a dedicated teacher of the creative process of composition.  He started his career as a jazz drummer in Chicago and New York, studying composition all along.  Composition is where he has made his mark, with commissions from prestigious ensembles all over the English-speaking world and a Pulitzer Prize among many other awards under his belt.  He currently lives in Toronto when he is not touring the world teaching middle- and high-school teachers and their students how to compose.  To see deeper into Colgrass’s fascinating life, check out the blog related to his autobiography, or visit his website, or watch the Emmy-winning documentary that his son made about his music.  Or, for extra kicks, see his Wikipedia biography.

1985’s Winds of Nagual (subtitled: A Musical Fable for Wind Ensemble on the Writings of Carlos Castaneda) is one of Colgrass’s most fascinating pieces, and perhaps the greatest major work to be written for wind band in the 1980s, and even the entire last quarter of the 20th century.  its instrumentation, sound pallets, creative conception, and approach to its program are all strikingly original.  Colgrass chose an unusual ensemble for this tale of peyote-fueled spiritual exploration in the desert.  Among its unique features are 2 alto flutes, no oboes, contra-alto AND contrabass clarinets, contrabassoon without regular bassoons, soprano and alto saxophone only, a standalone flugelhorn, celeste, harp, and all of the percussion instruments one can possibly dream of.  The score comes with the following program note (to which I have added hyperlinks):

Winds of Nagual is based on the writings of Carlos Castaneda about his 14-year apprenticeship with don Juan Matis, a Yaqui Indian sorcerer from Northwestern Mexico.  Castaneda met don Juan while researching hallucinogenic plants for his master’s thesis in Anthropology at UCLA.  Juan became Castaneda’s mentor and trained him in pre-Colombian techniques of sorcery, the overall purpose of which is to find the creative self–what Juan calls the nagual.

Each of the characters has a musical theme: Juan’s is a dark and ominous, yet gentle and kind; Carlos’ is open, direct and naïve.  We hear Carlos’ theme throughout the piece from constantly changing perspectives, as Juan submits him to long desert marches, encounters with terrifying powers and altered states of reality.  A comic aspect is added to the piece by don Genaro, a sorcerer friend of Juan’s who frightens Carlos with fantastic tricks like disappearing and re-appearing at will.

The score is laced with programmatic indications such as “Juan entrances Carlos with a stare,” “a horrible creature leaps at Carlos,” “He feels a deep calm and joy,” etc.  The listener need not have read Castaneda’s books to enjoy the work, and I don’t expect anyone to follow any exact scenario.  My object is to capture the mood and atmosphere created by the books and to convey a feeling of the relationship that develops as a man of ancient wisdom tries to cultivate hear in an analytical young man of the technological age.

Winds of Nagual was commissioned by the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble and is respectfully dedicated to its director, Frank Battisti.

Listen.  Then listen again.  And again.  This is a piece that I have never gotten tired of – every hearing leaves me wanting more!  This is the Baylor University Wind Ensemble in live performance, which I chose despite its recording quality for its close attention to ensemble precision and especially balance, not to mention the wonderful interpretive touches by the individual players and the ensemble.

To enhance your listening experience, here is the full list of programmatic text in the piece, with the timing to match the recording above.  Follow along, if you so choose.  Movement titles are in bold.  Text in the final movement is somewhat interpolated from parenthetic indications.

The Desert 0:04

Don Juan emerges from the Mountains 1:07

Carlos approaches Don Juan 3:08

Carlos unsure of himself 3:33

Don Juan shows Carlos a new concept of himself 3:50

Don Genaro appears 4:36

Genaro clowns for Carlos 4:46

Genaro satirizes Carlos 5:14

Genaro laughing 6:10

Genaro leaps to a mountain top 6:23

Genaro disappears 6:33

Carlos Stares at the River and Becomes a Bubble 6:41

Carlos stares at the water 6:41

…is transfixed by the ripples on the water 7:00

Carlos is mesmerized by the bubbles 7:15

…and becomes a bubble… 7:33

…and travels with the river… 7:37

Carlos tumbling in cascades of water 8:34

Juan jolts Carlos awake with a shrill voice 8:47

Carlos feels euphoric 8:56

…climbs out of the water 9:11

Gait of Power 9:29

Don Juan shows Carlos how to leap between boulders in the dark 9:29

Carlos tries it 9:42

Something moves in the dark 10:01

A terrifying creature leaps at Carlos 10:44

Carlos runs 10:47

It chases Carlos 10:49

It grabs his throat 10:51

Carlos exerts his will 11:01

Asking Twilight for Calmness and Power 11:34

Carlos calls to the desert from a hilltop 11:34

Carlos dances 11:45

Carlos meditates 12:56

Carlos moves again 14:48

He feels a deep calm and joy 15:57

Nightfall 16:54

Mist rolls in and the moon rises 17:11

Juan Clowns for Carlos 17:32

Last Conversation and Farewell 20:05

Juan speaks 20:05

Carlos speaks 20:21

Juan speaks 20:32

Carlos speaks 20:46

Juan speaks 21:10

Carlos speaks 21:18

Juan speaks 21:28

Carlos speaks 21:33

Juan speaks 21:45

Carlos speaks 21:49

Juan speaks 21:54

Carlos speaks 21:59

Juan speaks 22:07

Carlos speaks 22:15

Juan speaks 22:20

[Carlos understands everything] 22:36

Carlos leaps into the abyss 23:03

…and explodes into a thousand views of the world 23:12

You can read more about this magnificent piece on Wikipedia (it has its own entry!), the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra Blog, the Wind Repertory Project, and this dissertation about instrumentation.  Also, read up on Castaneda’s original work on Wikipedia.

Stephen Sondheim (b. 1935) is a New York native and one of the most celebrated composers of musical theatre.  He began his career under the mentorship of Oscar Hammerstein II, one of the great names of 20th century Broadway.  Sondheim got an early career break writing the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in 1957.  He has since had a distinguished career that has encompassed almost two dozen musicals, many of which have been made into films, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd (1979), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), and Into the Woods (1986).  He has won more Tony Awards (8) than any other composer.

Into the Woods, with music by Sondheim and book and lyrics by James Lapine, debuted on Broadway in 1987.  It tells the story of a childless Baker and the Baker’s Wife, who are cursed by an evil Witch.  Their adventures intersect several fairy tale stories by the Brothers Grimm, including Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk.  The original production won Tony Awards for Best Original Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason). The musical has been revived several times around the world.  In 2014, it was released as a movie version by the Walt Disney company.

Stephen Bulla’s band arrangement of Selections from Into the Woods covers four of the numbers from the musical, including “Into the Woods,” “No One Is Alone,” “I Know Things Now,” and “Children Will Listen.”  Here it is in live performance:

To give you an idea of the visuals, here is a preview reel from the Public Theater‘s production in 2012.  This also includes a substantial portion of the song “Into the Woods” that opens the medley:

Here is “No One Is Alone” from a 1989 PBS special that filmed the original Broadway production:

Next, “I Know Things Now” from the 2014 Disney movie version:

Finally, “Children Will Listen” sung in concert by Bernadette Peters, one of the great Sondheim interpreters and Into the Woods‘s original Broadway Witch:

Bonus: my personal favorite song from the musical, which did not make the Selections: “Agony!”

Read more about Into the Woods on Wikipedia and IMDB.  Sondheim has tributes everywhere and then some, but a look at his Wikipedia page will give you plenty of insight into the man and the artist.

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

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:, 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.

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.

Wisconsin native Pierre La Plante (b. 1943) is an American composer with French-Canadian roots.  His works for band have been performed internationally.  His approach to composition is informed by his many years teaching both beginning and high school band in Wisconsin.  If you have a chance, look at his very nice website.

American Riversongs was dedicated to and commissioned by the Oberlin (Ohio) High School Band and their director, Stephen Johnson III, in 1988.  La Plante details his inspiration on the cover of the score:

American Riversongs is based on traditional and composed music of an earlier time, when the rivers and waterways were the lifelines of a growing nation.

American Riversongs begins with a rousing setting of “Down the River”, followed by an expansive and dramatic treatment of “Shenandoah” or “Across the Wide Missouri,” as it is sometimes called.  After a brief transition, a brass band is heard playing a quadrille-like version of Stephen Foster‘s “The Glendy Burk.” As the “Glendy Burk” travels along, a second theme is introduced by piccolo, flutes and tambourine.  The second theme is based on a Creole bamboula tune that probably originated in the Louisiana delta region.  Other composers have used this melody, including Louis Moreau Gottschalk in his La Bamboula, Op. 2 for piano and his Symphony no. 1, subtitled A Night in the Tropics. The bamboula theme is marked by an incessant syncopated ragtime rhythm and used to good effect in the coda to bring American Riversongs to a rowdy, foot-stomping close.

An anonymous band gives a mostly quite good rendition of American Riversongs, perhaps with some overzealous performances in the percussion section:

The first song featured is “Down the River”, which is a little lark of a song about being out on the Ohio River.  I first encountered it while teaching elementary school music (I used it to teach contour to second graders), so it is fitting that the best internet source about it is another elementary school music lesson page.  Read Beth’s Music Notes for a taste of the lyrics and the original melody (not much changed in American Riversongs).

Here is just one version of the classic “Shenandoah” (which you can read more about in my entry on Frank Ticheli’s fine version):

“Glendy Burk” is a Stephen Foster song that tells a Mississippi River story.  Here’s a recent arrangement:

Finally, La Plante mentions Gottschalk, whose setting of the bamboula rhythm sounds so very straight-laced compared to what we are used to now, but it caused a sensation in Paris when it was first played in public in 1849:

David Frazier at Kansas State University put together a very good teaching unit for American Riversongs.  Sadly, it is short on information about “Down the River”, but is a wonderful resource for every other aspect of the piece.

Leland Forsblad (1920-2006) was a music educator in Fresno, California.  He honed his composition skills as Prisoner of War during World War II, when he wrote for the ensembles at his POW camp.  Back in the US, he had hundreds of works published for band, orchestra, and chorus.  See more on him here and here.

According to the score of the piece, Forsblad arranged Baroque Celebration in 1985 “in honor of the 300th anniversary of the birth of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel”.  He went on: “Honoring two truly great men of music, BAROQUE CELEBRATION captures the essence of BACH along with the artistry of HANDEL.  The melodic Sarabande coupled with the spirited Little Fugue present a fitting testimonial to these two musical giants.”  Sadly, Baroque Celebration has since gone out of print, but Forsblad did an admirable job making these two short pieces work for band, so I am very glad to have the chance to revive it with the Arizona State University Concert Band.

This arrangement is not available on YouTube, but the source material is.  The “Sarabande” comes from Bach’s French Suite no. 1, the first of a set of six suites for clavier (pre-piano keyboard instrument) that he wrote around 1722, probably as a gift for his second wife, Anna Magdalena.  They only came to be called the “French” Suites by accident, and not with the blessing of the composer.  The “Sarabande”, based on a Spanish dance form, displays Bach’s full expressive powers.  Here it is in a piano version, featuring the legendary Glenn Gould:

And again on the perhaps-more-authentic harpsichord:

About the composer: today, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is revered as one of the greatest composers of all time whose multitudinous compositions, with their combination of  intellectual rigor and transcendent beauty, are among the foundational documents of Western art music.  In his day, J.S. Bach was seen as a church musician who dazzled his contemporaries with his organ playing and churned out new compositions with almost alarming speed and frequency.  Though he was well-known and widely respected, he was not revered as he is now.  His reputation received a facelift in the early 19th century (long after his death) with the publication of a biography in 1802, the revival of his Saint Matthew’s Passion by the composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, and ultimately the creation of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalog) in 1850.  Since then, Bach’s legacy has only grown.  Among his famous compositions are the Brandenburg Concertos, the Cello Suites, the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Art of Fugue, hundreds of cantatas and oratorios, and dozens of short chorales.  And that is but the tip of the iceberg.  Bach has over 1000 known compositions, and perhaps as many that have been lost forever.

Other interesting Bach facts:

  • He was a genuine patriarch, fathering 20 children (10 of whom survived to adulthood) with 2 successive wives.  See the family tree.
  • Several of his children became famous composers in their own right, most notably Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.
  • There are streets all over Germany named for Bach, although he never left the country and never lived more than 250 miles from his birthplace in Eisenach.  See the map.
  • He was once put in prison by an employer who didn’t want to let him move jobs.
  • He wrote a cantata about coffee addiction.  Read about it here.
  • Finally, Anthony Tommasini recently named Bach the greatest composer of all time.

The second movement of Baroque Celebration is a treatment of Handel’s Little Fugue, about which I can find little information.  Here it is on harpsichord, with some characteristically Baroque liberties of tempo:

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was a German (born in Halle) who became an Englishman, making his life and career mostly in London.  He wrote operas, instrumental music, and oratorios, including the Messiah, which includes the famous “Hallelujah” chorus.  Along with Bach, he is a towering figure of Baroque music, especially in his adopted homeland of England.

Texas native William Francis McBeth (1933-2012) was a prolific composer for many media, especially wind band, and a revered conductor and educator.  He spent his entire career at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, where he was a professor of music as well as composer-in-residence.  While there, he also conducted the Arkansas Symphony.  He named Arkansas’s Composer Laureate in 1975, making him the first Composer Laureate in the United States.  He had many famous students throughout his career, including Wynton and Branford Marsalis, composer Steven Bryant, and future president Bill Clinton, who played under him in the Arkansas All-State Band in 1962.

McBeth wrote Grace Praeludium in 1982.  It highlights his characteristic use of extended tonality and his talent for orchestration.  He provides his own program note in the score:

GRACE PRAELUDIUM was commissioned by the Arkansas Bandmasters Association in celebration of Ruth and Raymond Brandon for what they have meant and still mean to Arkansas bandmasters.  It was first performed by the Arkansas All-State Band in February 1982 with the composer conducting.

J. Raymond Brandon began his teaching career in Arkansas in 1922 and in 1950 became conductor of bands at North Little Rock High School where he served until his retirement in 1973.  During these 23 years the North Little Rock High School Band set a standard of excellence for the state.  In 1977 at the 25th anniversary of the American School Band Directors Association convention Raymond Brandon was presented the Goldman Award, the highest award of ASBDA.  He is also a past president of that organization.

He is presently the Executive Secretary (or should I say he and his wife Ruth are the Executive Secretaries) of the Arkansas Bandmasters Association.  He is the only living member in the Arkansas Bandmasters Hall of Fame.

Raymond Brandon was one of the most important friends and supporters that this composer had in his early career, and it is with love and admiration that this work is dedicated to him.

The “Grace” part of the title comes from the hymn that McBeth uses, the ever-popular “Amazing Grace”.  The first half of the piece only hints at the hymn melody, presenting fragments of it amidst a dramatic harmonic landscape.  This finally settles on an F-major chord shortly after the midpoint of the piece, allowing the hymn to be heard in full twice.  The dramatic harmonies return for a powerful coda.

The Quakertown (Pennsylvania) High School Symphonic Band plays Grace Praeludium:

For more on the hymntune “Amazing Grace”, visit my post about the settings of the hymn by Frank Ticheli and William Himes.  Sadly, there are no more internet resources for Grace Praeludium just yet.

Francis McBeth had enough fans in his lifetime to warrant pages on Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, and the Wind Repertory Project.  There are several memorial tributes to him as well, including at Ouachita University and the Arkansas Music Educators Association.  Finally, look at this interview he gave in 2010, less than two years before his passing.

Objectively, Les Misérables stands as a genuine cultural phenomenon of 3 different centuries: it was originally a hugely popular novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862; it was adapted into a French language musical by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricists Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel in 1980, then translated into English by Herbert Kretzmer for a still-running London production in 1985, followed by a 1987 Broadway production that won 8 Tony Awards and set records for the length of its run; in 2012 that musical was adapted into a film, which won 3 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway as Fantine.

It tells the story of Jean Valjean, who is about to be released from prison as the story opens.  Valjean violates his parole and starts his life anew as a good man, only to be pursued for by Javert, a justice-obsessed police inspector.  These two and the many other characters are set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, culminating in the last stand of a band of young revolutionaries (one of whom is in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter) at a street barricade during the 1832 Paris Uprising, 17 years after the story begins.

The music from Les Misérables has become well known all over the world, and has been arranged for band many times.  The arrangement we are playing was done by Warren Barker in 1987, right when the musical first hit Broadway.  Here it is, played by the Acadian Wind Symphony:

One note: I am not a fan of drum set parts in symphonic music, even semi-pop tunes like this, so we will leave them out of our performance.

To go to the source, here are some performances of the songs in the arrangement.  It starts with “At the End of the Day”, a primarily choral number which depicts the misery of the lower classes in early 19th-century Paris.  This performance comes from the musical’s 10th anniversary concert staging at London’s Royal Albert Hall:

“I Dreamed a Dream” is Fantine’s solo about her unfulfilled dreams, sung as she faces the darkest days of her life, having lost her job and her daughter and been forced into prostitution.  This is Anne Hathaway’s Oscar-winning performance, intercut with other scenes from the film:

“Master of the House” is our introduction to the Thénardiers, a corrupt innkeeper and his wife who have been caring for Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (and taking her money) while neglecting her and showering gifts on their own daughter, Éponine.  This performance comes from the 2006 Broadway revival.  The meat of the song starts around 1:00:

The teenage Éponine sings “On My Own” as she realizes and accepts that the revolutionary leader, Marius, is in love with Cosette rather than her.  Sung by one of the classic Éponines, Linzi Hateley:

“Do You Hear the People Sing” is the big choral number in which the young revolutionaries rally the people of Paris to their cause.  Here it is as sung by 17 different Valjeans from around the world:

Mark Camphouse (b. 1954) is an American composer and conductor.  He has written more than a dozen emotional works for wind band.  He also directs the bands at George Mason University.  He is the creator and editor of the series Composers on Composing for Band, published by GIA publications. He coordinates the National Band Association’s Young Composer Mentor Project which matches emerging composers with experienced professionals.

Tribute is a relatively early work in Camphouse’s oeuvre.  He provides his own program note:

Tribute was composed to meet a commission from the Leader and Commander of the United States Army Band, Colonel Eugene W. Allen and his wife, Claire, to honor all American women who have served their country in the armed forces.

The work was premiered in April, 1985, at Radford University with the composer conducting the United States Army Band.  Other significant pre-publication performances include those by the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble under the direction of John P. Paynter.  The work is ceremonial in character with two outer fanfare-like sections contrasted by a lyrical middle section.  Tribute was runner-up for the 1986 Ostwald Award for band composition, sponsored by the American Bandmasters Association.

If YouTube is a representative sample of how often a piece gets performed, then Tribute is virtually ignored, with only 2 performances posted.  One of them is the original Northwestern performance conducted by Paynter.  It’s really good, but unfortunately the whole thing got transposed up a half step from the published version.   The other come from a Florida State University Symphonic Band concert in 2010, which is also quite good!  The reason for this paucity of performances may be the difficulty of the piece.  It is loaded with rigorously intense rhythms.  It has solos in nearly every instrument.  The horn and trumpet parts pull no punches, with the first trumpet hitting an E-flat near the end of the piece and all of the horns routinely hitting high B-flats.  Couple these challenges with the fact that Camphouse has written two dozen other intense and expressive works for band, most of which are not as jaw-droppingly difficult to play, and Tribute‘s relative scarcity of performances starts to makes sense.

Interview with Camphouse in the George Mason University Gazette.

And here’s that FSU performance:

Yasuhide Ito (b. 1960) is one of Japan’s premier composers of original music for wind band.  He is best known for his 1990 suite for wind band Gloriosa, which is performed frequently all over the world.  He has written several dozen other pieces for band and other media, including symphonies for band and at least one full opera, going back to his first band work, On the March, of 1978, written when he was in his third year of high school.  Ito is also a renowned pianist, conductor, lecturer, and translator.

Ito wrote Festal Scenes in 1986.  He says he “was inspired to write Festal Scenes after receiving a letter from a wandering philosophical friend in Shanghai, who said ‘- everything seems like Paradise blooming all together.  Life is a festival, indeed.'”  The piece uses four Japanese folk songs from Aomori Prefecture, home of the famous Nebuta Festival, as its source material.  It also calls for 2 Japanese percussion instruments that are used in the Nebuta Festival: the Tebiragane, a type of antique cymbal, and the Nebuta-daiko, alarge drum played with long bamboo sticks.

Here’s a nice, punchy performance of Festal Scenes by what I can only conclude is a Japanese band.  I can’t read the Japanese text below the video, so I’m not sure.  Don’t be put off by the fast tempos in the outer sections, but DO listen very carefully to how crisply articulated everything is in the woodwinds!

Now to the folk songs: the first, called “Jongara-jamisen” by Ito, seems to be based on the playing of the shamisen, a banjo-like instrument with three strings.  Listen to this video to get an idea of the sound – this is the sound that Ito is going for in the opening bars of the piece!

The next song is “Hohai-bushi”, which you can hear in a modern version in this video.  One commenter (ok, the only commenter) aptly calls it “Japanese mountain music”.

What Ito calls “Tsugaru-aiya-bushi”, and interprets as a lyrical melody, appears to come from another shamisen tune.  The closest I could find to the melody as in Festal Scenes comes in this performance:

The fourth folk song is impossible to track down, given that Ito calls it “Nebuta-festival”, which also happens to be the name of the very lively and ongoing festival which inspired it.  Suffice it to say, it appears alongside the long section of Nebuta-daiko drumming from 125-151, and it is very expressive and lyrical, with grace notes galore and an octave jump at the end of each phrase.  In lieu of the song itself, you’ll have to settle instead for a video of some Nebuta-daiko-like drumming.  Watch the moves!

And finally, more Nebuta-daiko drumming (and so much more) in a video from the 2010 Nebuta Festival:

More on the composer on wikipedia, Bravo Music, and his own (Japanese language!) website.