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Tag Archives: hymn

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.

The thoroughly original, largely self-taught composer Warren Benson (1924-2005) began his musical life as a percussionist.  He was playing professionally by age 14, and became the timpanist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra by age 22.  With his performance career well underway, he studied music theory at the University of Michigan (BM 1949, MM 1950).  Upon graduating, he received two successive Fulbright grants (two more would come later) to teach in Salonika, Greece, where he set up a co-ed choir at Anatolia College (the first of its kind the country) and developed a bi-lingual music curriculum.  Upon his return to the US, in 1953, he accepted a post as composer-in-residence and professor of music at Ithaca College, where he stayed for 14 years.  He spent the remainder of his career (1967-1993) as a professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music, where he received numerous awards for his music and his teaching.  He had a pioneer spirit in many respects: not only did he start the first co-ed college choir in Greece, he also started the first touring percussion ensemble in the US the moment he started at Ithaca.  He later was one of the founding members of the World Association of Symphonic Band and Ensembles (WASBE), an international advocacy group for wind bands.  He is particularly remembered for his song cycles and his distinctly original contributions to the wind band literature, including The Leaves Are Falling (1964-5), The Solitary Dancer (1966), The Passing Bell (1974) and Symphony II-Lost Songs (1983).

The Leaves Are Falling is a statement of grief following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  For Benson, his feelings on the matter were encapsulated by Rainer Maria Rilke‘s poem Herbst (Autumn):

Autumn

The leaves are falling, falling as from way off,
as though far gardens withered in the skies;
they are falling with denying gestures.

And in the nights the heavy earth is falling
from all the stars down into loneliness.

We all are falling. This hand falls.
And look at others: it is in them all.

And yet there is one who holds this falling
endlessly gently in his hands.

He thus borrowed the first line of the poem as the title of the piece.  It opens with distantly tolling chimes, followed by a long line in the low flute that introduces the melodic material for much of the piece.  In the second half, Benson begins using the hymn Ein Feste Burg while restating the first melody, working the two melodies ever closer together to a climax.  All the while, the chimes continue to toll.  The Leaves Are Falling is an especially demanding piece in many respects.  At 11 and a half minutes, with the half note marked at 32-34 bpm, it demands intense concentration of the ensemble, and masterly pacing by the conductor.  The amount of exposed playing by every section and the level of musicianship demanded of each player also contribute to its difficulty.  Yet a thoughtfully-paced performance (as below) can be a transcendent experience.

Everyone who plans to conduct The Leaves Are Falling MUST read this 1983 article in which Donald Hunsberger interviews Benson about the piece and does a thorough analysis of it.  You can read up further on Benson and his music at Wikipedia and his extensive, up-to-date website.

The Norwegian Windband plays The Leaves Are Falling:

The quoted hymn, Ein Feste Burg: