Symphonic Band Conductor’s Notes
(excerpts from an interview with Paul Cummings)
The Symphonic Band will play five works to open the concert.
Gavorkna Fanfare by Jack Stamp is just what it says it is—a fanfare. It’s a flashy piece—high, loud, fast and short-- that really shows off the brass section. We have a really good brass section this year so we let them take the lead in this concert. Jack Stamp is an established contemporary composer, almost exclusively for wind band, and this is a full wind band piece. It’s probably his most performed composition.
Handel in the Strand by Percy Grainger. This was originally written for string orchestra and piano, but in 1915 John Philip Sousa asked if he could arrange it for his touring Sousa band. It became one of his concert pieces in the teens and twenties, when his band toured extensively. A lot of people looked forward to Sousa concerts in the spring and summer, so Sousa was much more famous than Grainger.
The version we play is a more recent arrangement by Keith Brion and Loras Schissel. The Sousa band was not very kind to the many and varied contrapuntal lines of the music, especially the woodwinds. Brion and Schiseel lightened the texture so we can hear all the independent parts. Counterpoint is a big part of Grainger’s music, with its independent musical ideas happening simultaneously. This piece is very tuneful, with a melody always present.
The title refers to Handel who spent most of his adult life as a composer in England. Grainger depicts this earlier time when Handel was strolling down the Strand. It’s a delightful piece.
Old Churches by Michael Colgrass.
Colgrass is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, born in 1932. He worked his way through school as a jazz drummer, and became a composer when his percussion teacher suggested he go to some classical concerts. He did, and thought he could do better. His music is widely performed by bands and orchestras throughout the world.
Though he wrote this piece on commission from Bandquest, with its mission to get prominent composers to write music that high school or even junior high musicians could play, it has some complex contemporary compositional techniques. For instance, senza misura, music without measure, or music without time signature or meter in some sections of the work...There’s also some aleatoric music, or music by chance. It’s very good for college music students to have experience with these.
The piece itself attempts to capture the mood of music performed in medieval cathedrals, with Gregorian Chant melodies, but also passages intended to emulate the congregants murmuring. That’s where some of the senza misura and aleatoric music comes in. It’s an interesting combination of the old and the new.
Rikudim by Jan Van der Roost. This is a collection of Israeli folk dances, but with original melodies. It’s a very engaging piece—the harmonies are very western, very modern and straightforward, but combined with exotic Middle Eastern folk melodies. The faster sections especially are very lively, fun to play and fun to listen to. You can definitely picture the dancers as you hear the music.
Strange Humors by John Mackey. This is the newest piece on the program, written in 2006, for a very unusual combination of instruments: string quartet and the West African drum called the djembe. Mackey wrote it while a student at Julliard, and adapted it for the Parsons Dance company. There’s an interesting YouTube video of a performance.
Once again, this has Middle Eastern melodic ideas and syncopated rhythms combined with contemporary harmonies, but this time also with the percussive accompaniment of African drumming. Neil Bost on djembe is featured out in front of the ensemble—it’s quite a tour de force.
John Mackey is known as a crossover composer who uses a lot of rock elements. Almost all of his music has a strong rhythmic drive, and that’s certainly the case with this piece.
Jazz Orchestra Director's Notes
by Dan Aldag
Composed by vibraphonist Milt Jackson of Modern Jazz Quartet fame. (Jackson's nickname was Bags). We're playing an arrangement by John Clayton written for his band, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and featured on an album they recorded with Jackson a year before his death. Featuring Nev Mattinson on vibes, Josh Foster on trombone and Nick Durant on tenor sax.
Seven Steps to Heaven
Victor Feldman's tune, best known from the version on a Miles Davis album of the same name. A new arrangement by Mike Tomaro to which we've added a vocal by Jo Kuzelka.
A new arrangement by our guitarist Dan Fair of this well-known tune, based on a small group recording by Fapy Lafertin, the gypsy jazz guitarist. Features Dan and pianist Alex Espe.
A Mary Lou Williams composition, one movement from her 12-movement Zodiac Suite. Each movement is a psychological portrait of one or more people Williams knew who were born under that sign. Originally for piano trio, this arrangement was written by Williams for the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the mid-1940s, but they never recorded it.
Two Bass Hit
Recorded by the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in 1946, written to feature the great bassist Ray Brown. We'll feature our bassist, Steven Workman, and trumpeter McKenna Smith.
I've Told Ev'ry Little Star
A tune from 1932 by Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers. The arrangement we're playing was written by Michael Philip Mossman for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. Mossman, the former music director for Latin jazz pioneer Mario Bauza, turns the song into first a cha cha chá, and then a mambo, with some humorous twists.