Wednesday, November 9, 2016

More Great Music - Concert Band Style

With the approach of the first concert of the year for Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band, I thought I would do another edition on great music that you should all listen to.  This time I am doing a preview of some of the material that the groups will be playing next week.  You should, of course, make sure to come to the concert and hear these tunes in real life, though!  It will happen on Thursday, November 17 at 7:00 p.m. in DeWitt Auditorium.

Though I am not one to always plan a concert around a certain theme, it turns out that the first couple of pieces I chose for the Wind Ensemble to sight read ended up fitting together well.  One of the coolest things about being here for a long time and having a music library that dates back some decades before even my time is that I can program music that I've done in the past that I know will be successful.  It also means we save a little budget money.  And the past few years I've been able to look at lots of the really old stuff and use it for sight-reading to see if it's worth playing at this point.  

So we ended up with a Sousa march, The Glory of the Yankee Navy, and an old, somewhat obscure piece called Tres Danzas de Mexico.  I had never done the Sousa, and never heard of the other.  Well, those two pieces kind of morphed into the theme of "World Tour," so we added an Irish piece by Grundman, an English piece by Grainger (surprise!), and one of my all-time favorites, Variations on a Korean Folk Song.  

Eventually we narrowed those down a bit and ended up with four pieces for next week.  The jazz band will add four of their own, including one with a vocalist from the Varsity Voices, that also fit the world tour idea.

The Wind Ensemble will open with American Overture by Joseph Willcox Jenkins.  This composition evokes the "old west" style of the 1950s and 60s western movies, and was written by Jenkins at the age of 25 for the US Army Band.  Written to feature virtually every section, it is considered a classic composition for French horn players, as it features them throughout.

Percy Grainger is one of my favorite composers for concert band.  His style is definitely old school classic, and he uses all of the colors of the instrument families very effectively.  Written in 1916, The Sussex Mummers' Christmas Carol was originally scored in two versions, one for piano and violin and the other for piano and cello.  There are several band transcriptions of this piece; Larry Clark chose the latter version for his transcription as he felt that setting more exemplified what the modern wind band could accomplish.  I've linked the Goldman version here; perhaps you can compare the two after next week.

Tres Danzas de Mexico by William Rhoads, uses dance music from three Mexican villages in a three-movement suite.  As is common in a suite of anything, the three movements are fast, slow, and fast again.  Each one represents a different folk dance from a particular village.

I usually tell the band the story of my first experience with Variations on a Korean Folk Song.  To this day I can see the middle school band room at West Ottawa, and remember when Mr. Lucas brought the high school band to perform for the middle school classes.  I was in the seventh grade and can see it like it was yesterday; this piece truly is one that helped shape my career.  As the title suggests, it is indeed variations on a theme.  Arirang, the folk song the piece is based on, is sung widely in South Korea.  The melody is introduced softly and calmly by the clarinets, followed by the rest of the woodwind family, and is followed by five distinct variations that feature all of the instrument families - woodwind, brass, and percussion - ending with the full band bringing all of the elements together.  John Barnes Chance did a great job utilizing western instruments and tone colors in this composition.


I've even included this link to the Sousa - we will be performing this in January.  Next time: some jazz favorites from Frank Sinatra!