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Tag Archives: Grade 3

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

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

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

Sheltering Sky came into being in 2012, and was premiered on April 21 of that year.  It was a commission from two junior high school bands: Traughber (Rachel Maxwell, director) and Thompson (Daniel Harrison, director), both in Oswego, Illinois.  Mackey thus wrote the piece for players of junior high school ability, ending up somewhere around grade 3.  Somehow, it retains the usual Mackey-isms (functional harmony colored by diatonic clusters, unforced expressive lyricism, occasional unprepared sharp dissonances, harmonies that bloom from a single pitch) without asking too much from individual players.  Jake Wallace provides the usual excellent program note, featured both in the score and on Mackey’s website (links added by me):

The wind band medium has, in the twenty-first century, a host of disparate styles that dominate its texture. At the core of its contemporary development exist a group of composers who dazzle with scintillating and frightening virtuosity. As such, at first listening one might experience John Mackey’s Sheltering Sky as a striking departure. Its serene and simple presentation is a throwback of sorts – a nostalgic portrait of time suspended.

The work itself has a folksong-like quality – intended by the composer – and through this an immediate sense of familiarity emerges. Certainly the repertoire has a long and proud tradition of weaving folk songs into its identity, from the days of Holst and Vaughan Williams to modern treatments by such figures as Donald Grantham and Frank Ticheli. Whereas these composers incorporated extant melodies into their works, however, Mackey takes a play from Percy Grainger. Grainger’s Colonial Song seemingly sets a beautiful folksong melody in an enchanting way (so enchanting, in fact, that he reworked the tune into two other pieces: Australian Up-Country Tune and The Gum-Suckers March). In reality, however, Grainger’s melody was entirely original – his own concoction to express how he felt about his native Australia. Likewise, although the melodies of Sheltering Sky have a recognizable quality (hints of the contours and colors of Danny Boy and Shenandoah are perceptible), the tunes themselves are original to the work, imparting a sense of hazy distance as though they were from a half-remembered dream.

The work unfolds in a sweeping arch structure, with cascading phrases that elide effortlessly. The introduction presents softly articulated harmonies stacking through a surrounding placidity. From there emerge statements of each of the two folksong-like melodies – the call as a sighing descent in solo oboe, and its answer as a hopeful rising line in trumpet. Though the composer’s trademark virtuosity is absent, his harmonic language remains. Mackey avoids traditional triadic sonorities almost exclusively, instead choosing more indistinct chords with diatonic extensions (particularly seventh and ninth chords) that facilitate the hazy sonic world that the piece inhabits. Near cadences, chromatic dissonances fill the narrow spaces in these harmonies, creating an even greater pull toward wistful nostalgia. Each new phrase begins over the resolution of the previous one, creating a sense of motion that never completely stops. The melodies themselves unfold and eventually dissipate until at last the serene introductory material returns – the opening chords finally coming to rest.

The official recording, played by the Texas State University Wind Symphony conducted by Caroline Beatty:

You can read more about Sheltering Sky on Mackey’s website and this question and answer session with the composer.  I also highly recommend reading the glowing comments about the piece on its Soundcloud page.

Spokane native Frank Erickson (1923-1996) was a composer, conductor, arranger, and educator known primarily for his band works.  Among these are three symphonies, a Symphonette, and the famous Air for Band, as well as many others.

Erickson wrote Air in 1956 and subsequently revised it in 1966. It is simple in conception, with A and B sections that lead to a climactic coda.  It was one of the first original (as in non-transcription) slow and pretty pieces that was playable by young bands.  As such, it showed the way for future composers to explore phrasing and delicate playing with younger players.  Here it is, ably handled by the University of North Texas Wind Symphony:

Much has been written about Air for Band.  The highlights from the internet include this conductor’s outline, this study guide from a website dedicated to small bands, and this Prezi by a teacher for her band.  Erickson himself has bios on Wikipedia and the Wind Repertory Project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

Choir:

Piano:

And Death Metal combo:

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

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 Gloriosawhich 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.

Below are the program notes from the score of Ito’s 2012 Jalan-jalan di Singapura.  Note that I had to edit the rehearsal letters mentioned in the notes, since they seemed to point to the wrong places:

Singapore is a vibrant city.  Though modern buildings line its streets, cultures of Chinese, Indians, and Malays can still be found everywhere.

The cheerful march has been composed to capture this crosslink of cultures in Singapore.  The title Jalan-jalan di Singapura is in Malay and translates literally to “A Walk in Singapore”.  Singapura-ku, a melody from Singapore, can be heard at the end of the march at rehearsal letter [J].  A motif from Movement 2 of Sinfonia Singaporia (Singapore Symphony, composed [by Ito] in 2005) can also be heard from rehearsal letters [F] to [H].  With this short march, the composer aims to capture a variety of musical characteristics that are clearly unique and symbolic of Singapore.

This work is commissioned by and dedicated to the Band Directors’ Association, Singapore.  (BDAS) The premiere was performed on the 25th of July 2012 under the baton of the composer with the NYWO (Singapore Youth Wind Orchestra) during the Opening Ceremony gala of the concert of the 17th Conference of the Asia Pacific Band Directors’ Association held in Singapore at the SIA Theatre of Lasalle College of Arts.

Interestingly, Jalan-jalan di Singapura has no snare drum part, yet Ito indicates that “percussion can be substituted by players’ own idea”, leaving the door open to that and much more.

Here is the march itself, recorded by the NYWO in rehearsal:

Ito very clearly quotes his own Sinfonia Singapuriana in the middle of the march.  Below is the second movement:

Singapura-ku is a national folk song that is popular enough to have been performed in this spectacular context:

It is worth it to read up on the history of Singapore, a small and prosperous island city-state on the crossroads between Malaysia and Indonesia, to understand the cultural influences that led to the creation of this march.

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

Louisiana native William Latham (1917-2004) was a composer and teacher who had a distinguished teaching career at the University of Northern Iowa and the University of North Texas.  He wrote 118 pieces throughout his career, many of which have been performed internationally.

Brighton Beach was Latham’s first work for wind bands, written the same year he finished his doctoral studies at the Eastman School of Music (1954).  Despite the descriptive title (apparently chosen by the publisher), it has no specific program.  It is built like a British march, yet the marked tempo of 126-132 beats goes against the British march convention of 116 bpm.  Thus, performances of it vary from stately to speedy.  Here is a slower performance by the Washington Winds, who take it at 114:

On the other hand, here is the Arizona State University Concert Band under my direction.  We took it at 132.  Please excuse the conductor view of the video.  This was originally my reference recording, but I could find no other decent version of this piece at this (what I feel is the correct) tempo, so I share this with you for your reference as well.

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.

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 at the USC Thornton School of Music and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  He is the recipient of many awards, including first prize in the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2and a 2012 Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Ticheli wrote Simple Gifts: Four Shaker Songs in 2002 on a commission from the Tapp Middle School Band in Powder Springs, Georgia, and their director, Erin Cole.  He provides extensive program notes in the score, which are also quoted on the Manhattan Beach Music website (which also features full recordings of the entire piece).  Here are the relevant bits, written by Ticheli himself (with links added by me):

THE SHAKERS

The Shakers were a religious sect who splintered from a Quaker community in the mid-1700’s in Manchester, England. Known then derisively as “Shaking Quakers” because of the passionate shaking that would occur during their religious services, they were viewed as radicals, and their members were sometimes harassed and even imprisoned by the English. One of those imprisoned, Ann Lee, was named official leader of the church upon her release in 1772. Two years later, driven by her vision of a holy sanctuary in the New World, she led a small group of followers to the shores of America where they founded a colony in rural New York.

The Shakers were pacifists who kept a very low profile, and their membership increased only modestly during the decades following their arrival. At their peak in the 1830’s, there were some 6,000 members in nineteen communities interspersed between Maine and Kentucky. Soon after the Civil War their membership declined dramatically. Their practice of intense simplicity and celibacy accounts for much of their decline.

Today there is only one active Shaker community remaining, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine. They maintain a Shaker Library, a Shaker Museum, and a website at www.shaker.lib.me.us.

The Shakers were known for their architecture, crafts, furniture, and perhaps most notably, their songs. Shaker songs were traditionally sung in unison without instrumental accompaniment. Singing and dancing were vital components of Shaker worship and everyday life. Over 8,000 songs in some 800 songbooks were created, most of them during the 1830’s to 1860’s in Shaker communities throughout New England.

THE CREATION OF SIMPLE GIFTS: FOUR SHAKER SONGS

My work is built from four Shaker melodies – a sensuous nature song, a lively dance tune, a tender lullaby, and most famously, “Simple Gifts,” the hymn that celebrates the Shaker’s love of simplicity and humility. In setting these songs, I sought subtle ways to preserve their simple, straightforward beauty. Melodic freshness and interest were achieved primarily through variations of harmony, of texture, and especially, of orchestration.

The first movement is a setting of “In Yonder Valley”, generally regarded to be the oldest surviving Shaker song with text. This simple hymn in praise of nature is attributed to Father James Whittaker (1751 – 87), a member of the small group of Shakers who emigrated to America in 1774. My setting enhances the image of spring by turning the first three notes of the tune into a birdcall motive.

The second movement, “Dance,” makes use of a tune from an 1830’s Shaker manuscript. Dancing was an important part of Shaker worship, and tunes such as this were often sung by a small group of singers while the rest of the congregation danced. One interesting feature in my setting occurs near the end of the movement, when the brasses state the tune at one-quarter speed in counterpoint against the woodwinds who state it at normal speed.

The third movement is based on a Shaker lullaby, “Here Take This Lovely Flower,” found in Dorothy Berliner Commin’s extraordinary collection, Lullabies of the World, and in Daniel W. Patterson’s monumental collection, The Shaker Spiritual. This song is an example of the phenomenon of the gift song, music received from spirits by Shaker mediums while in trance (see pp. 316 ff. in Patterson, op cit., for a detailed account, and also Harold E. Cook’s Shaker Music: A Manifestation of American Folk Culture, pp. 52 ff.). Although the Shakers practiced celibacy, there were many children in their communities, including the children of recent converts as well as orphans whom they took in. Like many Shaker songs, this lullaby embodies the Shakers’ ideal of childlike simplicity.

The finale is a setting of the Shakers’ most famous song, “Simple Gifts,” sometimes attributed to Elder Joseph Bracket (1797 – 1882) of the Alfred, Maine community, and also said (in Lebanon, New York, manuscript) as having been received from a Negro spirit at Canterbury, New Hampshire, making “Simple Gifts” possibly a visionary gift song. It has been used in hundreds of settings, most notably by Aaron Copland in the brilliant set of variations which conclude his Appalachian Spring. Without ever quoting him, my setting begins at Copland’s doorstep, and quickly departs. Throughout its little journey, the tune is never abandoned, rarely altered, always exalted.

He also provides the lyrics for each song he uses:

In Yonder Valley
In yonder valley there flows sweet union;
Let us arise and drink our fill.
The winter’s past and the spring appears;
The turtle dove is in our land.
In yonder valley there flows sweet union;
Let us arise, and drink our fill.

Dance
Virgins cloth’d in a clean white garment,
How they move in a band of love,
Comforts flow in a mighty current,
We shall drink at the fountains above.

Yea, we will rejoice with freedom,
In this straight little narrow way,
Here is the fold and the lambs all feeding,
On this green we’ll skip and play.

Here Take this Lovely Flower
Here take this lovely flower
Thy mother sent to thee,
Cull’d from her lovely bower
Of sweet simplicity.

O place it near thy bosom
And keep it pure and bright,
For in such lovely flowers
The angels take delight.

Simple Gifts
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘Til by turning, turning we come round right.

The best YouTube performance of Simple Gifts comes in four separate videos, one for each movement, so that is how I will look at them, with the source material following each movement.  Here is the first, “In Yonder Valley”:

Like bands, choirs also love Shaker songs.  Here is a university chorus performing “In Yonder Valley”.  Listen especially for how the words fall within the melody:

Ticheli calls the second movement “Dance”:

The best you can do to hear a vocal version of this is follow this link to hear Joel Cohen and his group sing a bit of it, under the title “Virgins Cloth’d in a Clean White Garment.”

Movement III is the sweet song “Here Take This Lovely Flower”:

Again, a choir puts the words to the music for us:

The final movement is based on perhaps the most famous of all the Shaker songs, “Simple Gifts”:

Here it is again, done simply by the Phoenix Boys Choir:

As Ticheli mentions in his notes, Aaron Copland helped to make “Simple Gifts” as famous as it is by using it in his 1944 ballet Appalachian Spring.  For any composer looking to set “Simple Gifts”, Copland’s version is the elephant in the room, yet Ticheli does assert his independence quite well.  Listen and compare:

Frank Ticheli’s personal website, Frankticheli.com.

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

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

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.