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Tag Archives: Percussion-Heavy

John Barnes Chance (1932-1972) was born in Texas, where he played percussion in high school.  His early interest in music led him to the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying composition with Clifton Williams.  The early part of his career saw him playing timpani with the Austin Symphony, and later playing percussion with the Fourth and Eighth U.S. Army Bands during the Korean War.  Upon his discharge, he received a grant from the Ford Foundation’s Young Composers Project, leading to his placement as resident composer in the Greensboro, North Carolina public schools.  Here he produced seven works for school ensembles, including his classic Incantation and Dance.  He went on to become a professor at the University of Kentucky after winning the American Bandmasters Association’s Ostwald award for his Variations on a Korean Folk Song.  Chance was accidentally electrocuted in his backyard in Lexington, Kentucky at age 39, bringing his promising career to an early, tragic end.

Incantation and Dance came into being during Chance’s residency at Greensboro.  He wrote it in 1960 and originally called it Nocturne and Dance – it went on to become his first published piece for band.  Its initial incantation, presented in the lowest register of the flutes, presents most of the melodic material of the piece.  Chance uses elements of bitonality throughout the opening section to create a sound world mystically removed from itself.  This continues as the dance elements begin to coalesce.  Over a sustained bitonal chord (E-flat major over an A pedal), percussion instruments enter one by one, establishing the rhythmic framework of the dance to come.  A whip crack sets off furious brass outbursts, suggesting that this is not a happy-fun dance at all.  When the dance proper finally arrives, its asymmetrical accents explicitly suggest a 9/8+7/8 feel, chafing at the strictures of 4/4 time.  In his manuscript (and reprinted in the 2011 second edition score) Chance provides the following performance note pertaining to these passages:

Because there is no musical notation to indicate a “non-accent,” it may be necessary to caution the players against placing any metric pulsation on the first and third beats of the syncopated measures of the dance: to accent these beats in the accustomed way will destroy the intended effect.

He goes on to demonstrate the first two bars of the dance as written in 4/4, then rewritten as the accents would suggest: 3/4, 3/8, 2/4, 3/8.

Incantation and Dance has been extremely popular with wind bands ever since it was written.  Wikia program notes has a page about it. David Goza wrote an indispensable, must-read article about the piece.  Even the blurb at Hal Leonard is informative.

Some links on the composer:

Listing of a John Barnes Chance CD on Amazon.com with an extensive customer review at the bottom that is required reading.

Also, here’s John Barnes Chance’s wikipedia bio.

The Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra plays Incantation and Dance:

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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 Paul Dooley (b. 1983) has received many awards for his music, which has been performed by ensembles of all stripes around the US.  Early experience in percussion and improvisation led him to study composition with Frank Ticheli while at the University of Southern California (where he also received a math degree).  He is currently a lecturer in performing arts technology at the University of Michigan, where he is working towards a doctorate in composition, with Michael Daugherty among his teachers.

Dooley’s music tends to blend Western classical traditions with other world and contemporary musics, and Point Blank is no exception.  Dooley describes it well in his own program notes.  From his website:

Point Blank (2012) for band was commissioned by a consortium of wind bands organized by Gary D. Green and the University of Miami Frost Wind Ensemble.

Point Blank, is inspired by the sounds, rhythms and virtuosity of New York City-based new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, who premiered a chamber version of the piece in 2010. Featuring synthetic sound worlds and tightly interlocking percussion ideas, the drum set, timpani and strings whirl the ensemble through an array of electronically inspired orchestrations, while the winds and brass shriek for dear life. Point Blank is a central processing unit of floating point tremelos, discrete pizzicatos, multi-threading scales and random access modulations.

In the score he adds:

Point Blank for wind ensemble is inspired by electronic music, in particular a style called Drum & Bass.  I explore the interaction between computer generated musical material and the human performer.  For the wind ensemble’s percussion battery, I transcribe tightly interlocking electronic rhythmic material.  The drum set, mallets and timpani whirl the ensemble through an array of electronically inspired orchestrations, while the winds and brass shriek for dear life!

Point Blank exists in versions for large chamber ensemble (the original, written in 2010), wind ensemble (2012) and full orchestra (2011).  Links are to each page on Dooley’s website, each of which contains a recording and score.  For those who prefer to SEE their performances, here is the Baylor University Wind Ensemble:

And the premier of the original version by Alarm Will Sound (notice a fair bit of difference, especially at the end):

And the orchestra version (please forgive the conductor view):

Finally, here is just one example of what Drum & Bass sounds like.  This is just one example, so please explore further for a better, fuller picture:

Paul Dooley has a website of his own and biographies at the Wind Repertory Project and the University of Michigan.

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 non-musical training, he is gaining attention as a composer of unique and sophisticated works for wind band and other media.  City Trees was commissioned in 2012 by the Lesbian and Gay Band Association “to commemorate 30 years of Music, Visibility, and Pride.”  It was premiered on September 15 of that year in Dallas, Texas by the LGBA 30th Anniversary Band.  Markowski describes the origin of the piece:

I had just moved from Arizona to New York City when I began sketching the first fragments of City Trees. After being born, growing up, and living in the desert for 25 years of my life, moving to New York so suddenly was and continues to be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I think it has also been one of the bravest. I left my friends, my family, and my ridiculously cheap rent all without much planning.

Every time I walk down a street in New York, I notice the trees shackled by the sidewalk. Some have little fences around them, many have trash nestled up next to their exposed roots, and others have grown so big and become so strong that they have broken right through the concrete pavement. As I pass beneath them, they all seem to wave their leafy pom-poms in the wind, a thousand leaves applauding, cheering me on as if I had just returned from the moon.

These trees have learned how to brave the concrete jungle, and it gave me solace knowing that they had flourished in such a challenging environment. Over time, the impossibilities of the city have become familiar, and although I continue to learn new lessons everyday, I’ve slowly begun to assimilate, finding my way around, discovering new places, and making friends while still keeping close with those who aren’t close by. The music in City Trees began to take on a growing sense of perseverance, embodied by the expansive melodies that sweep over the pensive, rhythmic undercurrent.

For me, City Trees is a reflection of the bravery that it often takes to venture into new worlds, embrace other cultures, and lovingly encourage new ideas. I am deeply honored to dedicate this piece to the Lesbian and Gay Band Association. Although I may never completely understand the unique challenges my friends have faced and had to overcome, I am inspired by the overwhelming courage that has been so firmly planted for 30 years and that continues to grow, perhaps slowly, but always stronger.

Everything you’ll ever need to know about City Trees 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, an analysis by Dr. Marc R. Dickey, the program note I quoted above, and more.

Now, in case you didn’t already find it among the links above, here is City Trees on video:

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)

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: 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.

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:

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 non-musical training, he is gaining attention as a composer of unique and sophisticated works for wind band.  Elixir (2012) starts with a sparse texture and explodes into something of a Latin feel.  Markowski describes its genesis thusly:

So many of us spend our entire lives working tirelessly at what we love to do, striving to become experts in our field, passionately in search of something to be remembered for, something we can change the world with, something that gives us purpose.

It’s a bold idea—the thought that a small part of us might, in some way, live forever—but it seems that the bold idea, itself, has had an inexhaustible life of its own. Across the span of history, folklore has given mankind a way to find this meaning, be it through a quest for the Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth, or even the legendary sword Excalibur. The mythology behind Elixir is a brother to these legends, probably most associated withElixir Vitae, or as it’s better known, the Elixir of Life—a special potion with magical properties said to extend a person’s life indefinitely, allowing him or her to become immortal, to be forever young. By drinking the potion, man is enabled to overcome his inherent limitations and achieve the greatness that he has always longed for.

Elixir is dedicated to Scott Coulson, a man who has passionately devoted his life to others through music. Above all, the piece is a musical “toast”—a “cheers” to a continued journey and to a long, healthy life not only to Mr. Coulson, but also to the students at Poteet High School, whose amazing journeys are just beginning.

Michael Markowski
May 13, 2012

Everything you’ll ever need to know about Elixir is on Markowski’s comprehensive website for the piece, which includes a recording, an interactive sample score (here’s the pdf version), a YouTube video, an analysis by Dr. Marc R. Dickey, the program note I quoted above, a link to all of his blog postings on the subject, and more.

Now, in case you didn’t already find it among the links above, here is Elixir on video:

Samuel R. Hazo is a music educator and composer of several band works.  He provides his own program notes for Ride:

RIDE was written as a gesture of appreciation for all of the kind things Jack Stamp has done for me; ranging from his unwavering friendship to his heartfelt advice on composition and subjects beyond.

During the years 2001 & 2002, some wonderful things began to happen with my compositions that were unparalleled to any professional good fortune I had previously experienced. The common thread in all of these things was Jack Stamp. I began to receive calls from all over the country, inquiring about my music, and when I traced back the steps of how someone so far away could know of my (then) unpublished works, all paths led to either reading sessions Jack had conducted, or recommendations he made to band directors about new pieces for wind band. The noblest thing about him was that he never let me reciprocate in any way, not even allowing me to buy him dessert after a concert. All he would ever say is, “just keep sending us music,” which I could only take as the privilege it was, as well as an opportunity to give something back that was truly unique.

In late April of 2002, Jack had invited me to take part in a composer’s forum he had organized for his students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I was to present along side Joseph Wilcox Jenkins, Mark Camphouse, Bruce Yurko and Aldo Forte. This forum was affectionately referred to in my house as “four famous guys and you.” It was such a creatively charged event, that everyone who took part was still talking about it months after it happened. Following the first day of the forum, Jack invited all of the composers to his house, where his wife Lori had prepared an incredible gourmet dinner. Since I didn’t know how to get to Jack’s house (a/k/a Gavorkna House) from the university, he told me to follow him. So he and his passenger, Mark Camphouse, began the fifteen minute drive with me behind them. The combination of such an invigorating day as well as my trying to follow Jack at the top speed a country road can be driven, is what wrote this piece in my head in the time it took to get from the IUP campus to the Stamp residence. RIDE was written and titled for that exact moment in my life when Jack Stamp’s generosity and lead foot were as equal in their inspiration as the beautiful Indiana, PA country side blurring past my car window.

Sam Hazo’s website, including his bio and the full program notes for Ride.

Finally, a YouTube rendition of the piece – not much to look at, but a note-perfect performance.

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

About Lauds (Praise High Day), Nelson writes:

Lauds (Praise High Day) is an exuberant, colorful work intended to express feelings of praise and glorification. Lauds is one of the seven canonical hours that were selected by St. Benedict as the times the monks would observe the daily offices. Three (terce, sext, and none) were the times of the changing of the Roman guards and four (matins, lauds, vespers, and compline) were tied to nature. Lauds, subtitled Praise High Day, honors the sunrise; it is filled with the glory and excitement of a new day.

Lauds received its world premier by the United States Air Force Band under the direction of Lt. Col. Alan L. Bonner at the College Band Directors National Association/National Band Association Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 24, 1992.

Nelson is known for writing challenging parts for clarinet (and every other instrument), and Lauds is no exception.  Clarinetists, check out this forum about tremolo fingerings in the piece.

Lauds program notes at windband.org.

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

The Dallas Wind Symphony knocks it out of the park, as usual:

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), The Solitary Dancer (1966), The Passing Bell (1974) and Symphony II-Lost Songs (1983).

The Solitary Dancer is six-and-a-half minutes of simmering energy, unlike anything else in the repertoire.  It was commissioned by the Clarence, NY Senior High School Band, directed by Norbert J. Buskey, and contains a dedication to Bill Hug.  The score, in a passage both descriptive and promotional, reads:

The Solitary Dancer deals with quiet, poised energy that one may observe in a dancer in repose, alone with her inner music.  The work is a study in the economy of resources and sensitivity for wind and percussion colors, and subtle development and recession of instrumental and musical frenzy.  It is not surprising to find another perfect jewel for wind from Warren Benson, and this short, succinct work has a quality of understatement that makes it stand apart.

It’s also worth quoting what Carl Fisher, the piece’s publisher, has to say about it (rather than sending you to their poorly-formatted website):

Rarely rising above mezzo piano, even when most of the band is playing, the music of The Solitary Dancer has a unique ability to suggest stillness within purposeful energy. The simple melodic and rhythmic motives from which Benson constructed this amazing and original piece are assembled and re-assembled in a continual tapestry of quiet magic that testifies to the composer’s instrumental mastery. The large percussion functions as a “continuo”, keeping the pace constant (“with quiet excitement throughout”) and adding wonderful touches of light and idiosyncratic color.

When asked to give advice to ambitious young composers, Benson answered:

I tell them to take a look at the repertoire and see what’s not there that is present in life. That thought is one of the reasons why I wrote The Solitary Dancer. There just wasn’t any work that was fast and exciting and quiet. Like when a group of people get together and whisper, there is a lot of intensity and excitement, but it never gets loud. It never goes anywhere in that sense. It may bubble and cook but it never really blows the lid off. There are a lot of situations in life like that—just quiet moments.

That last quote comes from the book Program Notes for Band by Norman Smith.  But I was lucky enough to find on the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra’s Blog.  You can read up further on Benson and his music at Wikipedia and his extensive, up-to-date website.

The Peabody Wind Ensemble plays:

Clifton Williams (1923-1976) was born in Arkansas and attended high school in Little Rock, where he became an accomplished french horn player. He studied composition at Lousiana State University and the Eastman School of Music. He taught composition for 17 years at the University of Texas at Austin before becoming chair of the composition and theory department at the University of Miami in 1966.  He held this post until his untimely death.  His first compositions were written for orchestra.  His career as a wind band composer took off in 1956 when Fanfare and Allegro, his first composition for band, won the inaugural Ostwald Award given by the American Bandmasters’ Association.  His Symphonic Suite won him the award again the following year.  He went on to write over 3 dozen works for band, many of which are considered essential repertoire.

No one describes Symphonic Dance no. 3: Fiesta better or more succinctly than the Foothill Symphonic Winds:

Fiesta was originally one of Clifton Williams’ five Symphonic Dances, commissioned by the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 1964. In the original suite, each of the five dances represented the spirit of a different time and place relative to the background of San Antonio, Texas. Fiesta is an evocation of the excitement and color of the city’s numerous Mexican celebrations. The modal characteristics, rhythms, and finely woven melodies depict what Williams called “the pageantry of Latin-American celebration – street bands, bull fights, bright costumes, the colorful legacy of a proud people.” The introduction features a brass fanfare that generates a dark, yet majestic atmosphere that is filled with the tension of the upcoming events. The soft tolling of bells herald an approaching festival with syncopated dance rhythms. Solo trumpet phrases and light flirtatious woodwind parts provide a side interest as the festival grows in force as it approaches the arena. The brass herald the arrival of the matador to the bullring and the ultimate, solemn moment of truth. The finale provides a joyous climax to the festivities.

Fiesta will be the sole piece played by the Columbia Festival Band , which will open the 4th annual Columbia Festival of Winds on 3/4/2012.  Dr. Christian Wilhjelm of the Ridgewood Concert Band will conduct this band, which will be made up of members from each of the bands participating in the Festival.  We also played it in Columbia Wind Ensemble in 2003.

Since I won’t be conducting it this time around and don’t know exactly how Dr. Wilhjelm will like it, here are several version of Fiesta for your listening (and hopefully practicing!) pleasure:

First, a studio recording by an anonymous band:

A live performance by a Japanese high school band:

Finally, here’s a slightly different live interpretation by a Texas honor band:

Clifton Williams bio at Wikipedia.

Clifton Williams on the Ostwald Award site.

Clifton Williams at the Wind Repertory Project.