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Tag Archives: Grade 2

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:

California native John Cage (1912-1992) pushed the boundaries of what was considered music throughout his distinguished career.  Among his most iconic creations was 1952’s 4’33”, presented here in its version for band:

It also exists in versions for orchestra:



And Death Metal combo:

To name a few.  Read more about it here.  Happy April Fools!

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

Some more of my own thoughts on Holsinger: he is nothing if not 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.

Holsinger provides his own program notes for 1994’s Gypsydance:

Once again this composer draws inspiration from his admiration of the piano works of Bela Bartok for young players.  Many times in the early “Mikrokosmos“, we find Bartok attempting to free [his son] Peter’s mind from the “box” mentality by shifting accents in established meters or, as is done in Holsinger’s GYPSYDANCE, shifting keys within a single key signature.  The key signature says E-flat, but no… we obviously start in F minor, hop and skip our way through the home key… and end the piece in B-flat!  GYPSYDANCE also lets the student stylistically explore parallel staccato and full value melodic lines.

Holsinger goes on with learning objectives about style and tonality/modality.  To paraphrase: students should be able to play eighth and quarter notes in staccato, accented, and non-legato (regular, unmarked) style.  The piece explores modes, particularly F dorian and E-flat major (ionian), and it includes a scale exercise for wind players to help spell that out.

A middle school plays an admirable performance of Gypsydance:

For professional recording, see the J.W. Pepper page about the piece.  Also see GIA publications and this extensive lesson plan for more information about the piece.

Bartok’s Mikrokosmos, from which Holsinger drew his inspiration, is a progressive piano method spanning six volumes that begins with the very simplest melodies and progresses to full-fledged virtuoso concert pieces.  It uses Hungarian folk songs for much of its melodic material.  Here are some examples from volume 2:

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.

The Machine Awakes is the result of a 2012 commission from a consortium of 20 schools.  It is unique in at least two respects.  First, while it is a grade 2 piece, it comes with optional grade 3 parts, allowing more advanced players a greater challenge that fits in with the rest of the band.  More importantly, it may be the first piece ever written for young band and electronics.  Bryant gives it a Terminator-like back story as well:

The Machine Awakes is the sound of something not human (but of humans hands) – something not entirely organic, but most definitely alive – waking up for the first time. From the opening swirling textures, we sense the first hesitant sparks of thought, attempting to find form and coherence. This new machine – sentient, aware – comes fully awake, possessed of emphatic self-determination and unfathomable purpose.

Read more about The Machine Awakes at Steven Bryant’s website and his blog (twice).  Read up on Bryant himself at Wikipedia.

Here’s the piece in a live performance by a high school band.

Go to Bryant’s website for more recordings of the piece, including the original MIDI realization and a near-professional live recording.

Obviously 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, is called Hummingbrrd.  Click the link to listen, and prepare to be amazed!

Paul Murtha (b. 1960) is a composer, arranger, and conductor who has distinguished himself through his work as Chief Arranger for both the United States Military Academy Band at West Point (1990-1996) and “Pershing’s Own” United States Army Band (presently).  He has written and arranged hundreds of pieces for bands at all levels.  He wrote Aquia Landing in 2011 “in the classic style of J.P. Sousa using the form that he perfected in the early part of the 20th century.”  He describes his inspiration in the program notes in the score:

Aquia Landing (pronounced /uh kwhy’ yuh/) is located at the confluence of Aquia Creek and the Potomac River in Stafford County, Virginia.  A pivotal transportation hub between southern states and northern ports, passengers, cargo and entire rail cars were transferred from the RF&P Railroad to steamboat vessels which carried them from the Aquia Creek up the Potomac River to Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD.  This key location also positioned Aquia Landing as a major gateway along the ‘Network to Freedom‘ through which fugitive slaves had to pass in order to reach freedom.

Shortly after the start of the Civil War, this important transportation hub became a site of interest to both sides.  Union steamships and Confederate artillery exchanged fire for three days over the landing during the Battle of Aquia Creek (May 31-June 2, 1861).  A year later in April 1862, the Union troops returned to Stafford, rebuilding the landing, and using it as an operations center for approximately five months.  During that period, an estimated 10,000 freedom seekers who sought refuge behind Union lines passed through Stafford, many of whom are believed to have been shipped north from Stafford to Alexandria, VA or Washington, DC.

So what makes Aquia Landing a “Sousa-style” march?  It can be summed up in the form: it opens with a 4-bar introduction, starting on the dominant chord (F major in this case).  It lands firmly on the tonic (B-flat major) for the repeating first strain (m. 5), in which the melody is in the higher instruments.  The melody shifts to the bass instruments in the second strain (m. 22), which also repeats.  An interlude in the percussion (m. 39) leads to the trio (m. 47), which is in a different key (E-flat major, one more flat in everyone’s part), featuring a slower-paced melody.  The trio melody appears a total of three times, each more intense than the one before, and each one separated from the other by a “dogfight” section in which the high and low instruments seem to fight each other.  The march then ends with a classic Sousa stinger.

Click here for a professional-grade recording of Aquia Landing.  If you prefer to hear a live performance, here is an actual middle school band doing it:

Also take a look at Paul Murtha’s publisher, Hal Leonard.

Joy and Joy Revisited both appeared in 2005.  They are companion pieces based on the same material, with Joy being geared for younger players and Joy Revisited designed for a more mature ensemble.  As usual, Ticheli describes his thinking in the scores:

Above all, Joy is an expression of its namesake: simple, unabashed joy.

A boisterous, uninhibited quality is implied in the music, not only at climactic moments, but also by the frequent presence of sudden and dramatic stylistic contrasts. The main melody and overall mood of the work (and its companion piece, Joy Revisited) were inspired by a signal event: the birth of our first child. The intense feelings that most any father would feel on such a day were, in my case, accompanied by a simple little tune which grabbed hold of me in the hours preceding her birth, and refused to let go throughout the day and many days thereafter. Indeed, until I jotted it down in my sketchbook, it did not release its grip.

Seven years and two children later, I stumbled upon that old sketch and discovered (or rediscovered) that it would serve perfectly as the foundation for a joy-filled concert band overture.

About Joy and Joy Revisited

Joy, and its companion piece, Joy Revisited, are the results of an experiment I have been wanting to try for many years: the creation of two works using the same general melodic, harmonic, and expressive content. In other words, I endeavored to compose un-identical twins, two sides of the same coin – but with one major distinction: Joy was created with young players in mind, while Joy Revisited was aimed at more advanced players.

Thus, Joy is more straightforward than its companion piece. Where Joy sounds a dominant chord (as in the upbeat to measure 10), Joy Revisited elaborates upon that chord with a flourish of 16th-notes. While Joy Revisited moves faster, develops ideas further, and makes use of a wider register, Joy is more concise.

Despite these and many more differences between the two works, both come from the same essential cut of cloth, both were composed more or less simultaneously, and both were born out of the same source of inspiration. In short, Joy and Joy Revisited serve as two expressions of the feelings experienced by one expectant father (who happens also to be a composer) on one wonderfully anxious and exciting day.

Here’s a nice professional recording of Joy:

And a comparable rendition of Joy Revisited.  The parallels between the two pieces are clear, as are the more rigorous challenges of the latter:

Ticheli’s publisher hosts a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music on their website – quite a find!  Click the links for more from them on Joy and Joy Revisited.

Frank Ticheli’s personal website,

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.

For those who have forgotten, here’s my short bio on Frank Ticheli: Educated at the University of Michigan, composer Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) has become one of the biggest names in new wind band repertoire.  Since 1991 he has been a Professor of Composition USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.

Patrick Burns (b. 1969) is an American composer and music educator.  He has written extensively for wind bands at all levels.  He founded the Bloomfield Youth Band in New Jersey when he was 17, and continues to direct that group today.   He teaches at Montclair State University and New Jersey City University.  His compositions, which range from beginning band to professional level,  have been performed on at least 3 continents.  He has received commissions from around the country.  He is much in demand as a guest conductor and clinician.

Burns offers his own program notes on Count Not the Hours, which he wrote based on a tune attributed to Francis O’Neill:

Count Not the Hours was commissioned by the Franklin Avenue Middle School Band (James Frankel, Director), Franklin Lake, New Jersey, as a retirement gift for outgoing Superintendent of Schools Dr. Edward J. Sullivan.  The piece takes its title from an Irish jig of the same name.  The melody is here set as a waltz and therefore presents itself much less forthrightly than O’Neill’s original tune.

Patrick Burns main website. – includes a full biography and information on all of his music.  You can also leave the website open and just listen as it automatically plays a random sampling of Burns’s music.  He’s written a lot of it, and it’s all good!  For our purposes, though, check out especially the “music” page, where you can download a free recording of Count Not the Hours in the grade 2 section.

Also check out Patrick Burns’s YouTube channel, which has performances of the great bulk of his music.  Here, for instance, is Count Not the Hours as performed by the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Wind Ensemble.

Have a look at the original tune (pdf).  Or learn to play it on guitar.  It appears to be just a fiddle tune with no lyrics attached.

William Himes (b. 1949) is an American composer of works primarily for wind band, specializing in music for young bands.  He received his education at the University of Michigan.  He has been the music director of the Salvation Army‘s Central Territory since 1977, overseeing their operations throughout the Midwest and conducting the Chicago Staff Band.  This band, like much of Himes’s music, has been heard all over the world.

Barbarossa is one of those ideal young band (grade 2, in this case) pieces that doesn’t sound like it was written for young band.  The musical ideas unfold seamlessly and without sounding limited by technical considerations.  Himes wrote Barbarossa in 1995.  It is inspired by the World War II operation of the same name.  From the score:

By the summer of 1940, World War II was well under way.  Much of Europe was occupied by German troops, and resilient Great Britain was being battered by Germany at sea and from the air.  German dictator Adolf Hitler, along with his generals, now began making plans to invade the Soviet Union.  Germany’s invasion plan was named Operation Barbarossa.

The German invasion on the morning of June 22, 1941 went largely unchallenged, because Russian commanders had orders not to provoke the Germans.  Human casualties and equipment losses were high.  Quickly, however, Russian opposition became much more determined and ferocious, and on July 3, Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union, called upon all Russian citizens to fight fervently against the invasion.  The people responded unselfishly.

Adolf Hitler craved the capture of Russia’s capital, Moscow, but the autumn rains had begun to fall, and roads were turning to mud.  By the end of October, rivers had flooded and muddy roads and fields were next to impassable.  Cloudy conditions limited visibility and reduced the number of air attacks by German bombers.  The weather, and the reorganization of the Russian Air Force, helped to slow the German invasion to less than two miles per day.  Yet it was the spirit of the Russian people that continued to provide the strongest defense.

By November, the forces of winter began to prevail.  Hitler, hoping for a Moscow victory by the end of the year, risked sending his troops through the winter elements to advance on the Russian capital.  By the end of the month, the Germans surrounded Moscow 20 miles outside the city, but that was as close as they were able to get.  The Germans lacked warm clothing and food.  Their machine guns froze, and engines had to be kept running, wasting valuable food supplies.  The attack was called off on December 5, 1941.

The next day, the Russians went on the offensive.  Soldiers brought in from Siberia were well prepared for the harsh conditions.  Weapons were winterized with low-temperature oil.  Russian troops were equipped with white winter gear and thick boots, and could withstand -40 Farenheit temperatures for hours.  They achieved great success against the Germans, who were exhausted by the severe weather conditions.  By the end of December, the Russians had recaptured much of the territory lost in the previous months.

None of this would have happened if Hitler had just listened to the lessons of history, namely the very similar conditions under which Napoleon retreated from Russia with his French Army, famously dramatized by Tchaikovsky in the 1812 Overture.  Himes’s approach is not as literal as Tchaikovsky’s.  Barbarossa begins briskly and powerfully, with a unison minor-key shout.  It sustains a nervous energy until a slower, expressive melody takes over.  The agitation of the opening eventually returns, leading to a grandiose finish.

Read more about William Himes and Operation Barbarossa.  Fun fact: “Barbarossa” means “red beard” in Italian, so there was a Holy Roman Emperor with a red beard who went by that nickname in the 12th century.

A professional recording of Barbarossa:

Brian Balmages (b. 1975) is a young, prolific American composer with several new works making their way into the repertoire at all levels, from elementary school bands to professional orchestras.  His music has been performed all over the country, including at Carnegie Hall.  He wrote his own program note about his 2007 composition Starscapes, to which I’ve added pictures of the constellations that inspired him:

Starscapes  is a three-movement work based on various constellations and their Greek mythologies.  Orion (The Hunter), the opening movement, is one of the most well-known constellations, visible in the northern sky during the winter in the northern hemisphere.  While there are several versions of the Orion myth, typically it is agreed that he became the greatest hunter in the world and had incredible strength and stature.  While no consensus exists on the means of his death, it is often suggested that he was killed by the sting of a small scorpion–an ironic death for such a champion.  The movement opens with an introduction that paints a picture of a starry night, then portrays the majestic nature of Orion.

The second movement, Draco (The Dragon), depicts the most common myth that Draco inhabited a cave and killed Cadmus‘s attendants after they were asked to find fresh water as an offering to Jupiter.  Cadmus went into the cave, discovered the dragon, and killed it with his spear.  While there are many translations of Ovid‘s Metamorphosesa particularly vivid one describes Draco as “the serpent of Mars, a creature with a wonderful golden crest; fire flashed from its eyes, its body was all puffed up from poison, and from its mouth, set with a triple row of teeth, flickered a three-forked tongue.”

The final movement, Pegasus (The Winged Horse), pays tribute to the constellation and famous myth of Pegasus.  Pegasus was born as a result of the battle between Perseus and Medusa.  After Perseus killed Medusa, drops of blood fell into the sea and mixed with the sea foam.  The result was the birth of Pegasus, the brilliant white-winged horse.  The movement portrays the galloping of the horse, then takes the listener on a journey through the skies with the magnificent creature.

Follow the links inserted into the text to learn more about anything else there.

The ancient Greeks saw found pictures of many different mythological characters and other things in the stars.  For a list of some other constellations, click here.

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 commissioned to write a piece in memory of slain band members.

A middle school band plays a fine performance of Starscapes:

Finally, you don’t want to miss the professional recording of this piece.

Daniel Kallman is a composer from Minnesota.  He writes music for varied media, including radio, worship, theater, and concerts. He has worked with such luminaries as Garrison Keillor and Philip Brunelle. His music has won him awards and recognition in the US, Europe, and east Asia. His Promenade and Galop was a finalist in the Columbia Summer Winds’s Outdoor Composition Contest.

Kallman has his own extensive website,, which features a full catalog of his works and recordings of several of them.

Kallman has a very detailed program for Groundhog’s Lament:

The Groundhog’s Lament is a musical “re-enactment” of the legendary purpose of the animal on its special day in February. The following note specifies the creature’s activities as they are mirrored in the music:

Nestled down deep underground in its burrow, a groundhog slumbers on well into the third month of a long winter nap, dreaming cozy dreams about the coming of a warm spring. Suddenly it stirs, sensing a primal need to awaken. It yawns…stretches…then remembers why it has awakened. It is February 2, a day set aside specifically for the creature to perform an important task. Slowly, still half asleep, it begins to make its way up from the burrow. As it ascends, the anticipation of the coming moment gradually awakens and excites the groundhog. Faster and faster it ascends until, finally — ah, fresh air! After a couple of magnificent gulps, the animal remembers its purpose. It looks to the ground and sees, alas, its own shadow! Disappointed (as will be so many of the rest of us), the groundhog descends once again, finally settling back down in the corner of its dark, cool underground home. It resumes the long nap, hopeful that it still has a six week supply of spring dreams to help it through the remainder of winter hibernation.

You can listen to Groundhog’s Lament here.

And to fill in your background knowledge of this piece, hear are some Groundhog Day resources:

Punxatawney Phil’s Groundhog Day FAQ site.

Groundhog Day on wikipedia.

The classic movie Groundhog Day on the Internet Movie Datebase.