Saturday, October 04, 2014

Symphonic Band: Director's Notes

From an interview with Symphonic Band director Paul Cummings

The pieces we are doing aren’t the best or the best known by these composers. Their best work is in forms other than for wind band. Still, this music is of high artistic merit. Some of these pieces are very short, but there is an art to composing a well-crafted piece that only last three minutes, and we have a couple of those.

 Sea Songs by R. Vaughan Williams

This was the second movement of Williams’ English Folk Song Suite for wind ensemble from 1923, probably his best-known work for wind. But these days this is usually performed as a self-contained composition. It’s a simple march setting in the British style, with a tempo that’s slower than American marches.

 The folk songs that Williams quotes drive the melodic interest. Some of the songs are “Admiral Benboe,” “Princess Royal” and “Portsmouth.” It’s fun to play and very tuneful music to hear.

Second Prelude by George Gershwin. Arranged by John Krance. 

 This is the second of his three piano preludes, arranged for wind band by John Krance, one of the better known arrangers. He did a good job with this piece—it translates pretty well to wind band. As far as I know this is the only one of the three that has been arranged for band.

 This is the slow movement with a very strong blues feel to it. It certainly has the Gershwin style, the jazz-inflected writing of the 1920s and 30s. If listeners find it similar to Rhapsody in Blue, it’s no mistake. It’s a three minute piece with trumpet and alto sax solos.

 Second Suite for Military Band op 28 no. 2 by Gustav Holst 
 1. March: Morris Dance, Swansea Town, Claudy Banks
 2. Song Without Words: "I'll Love My Love"
 3. Song of the Blacksmith
4. Fantasia on the Dargason

 This is considered one of the greatest band pieces ever. It’s also one of the earliest written expressly for wind band, in 1911. It’s very similar in style to his first suite of 1909: four movements—a march, then the Song Without Words which is based on a shepherd’s mournful song, played on clarinet.

 The Song of the Blacksmith is the famous movement. It evokes the blacksmith’s shop with sudden, sharp striking blows of the hammer on the anvil—a very rhythmic piece. There’s a melody but the emphasis is on the very pronounced rhythm.

 The fourth movement uses the melody of the English folk song “Greensleeves” in combination with other melodies. It demonstrates Holst’s craftsmanship as a young composer, in his ability to combine different thematic material.

Danza Final (Estancia) by Alberto Ginastera Arranged by David John 

 This is the last movement of a suite of dances that Ginastera pulled from his ballet, Estancia. Originally composed for orchestra, it’s been transcribed for band. Estancia is set in the open plains of Argentina, where the gauchos live on rancherias. The ballet has a love story. This final movement is a frenetic dance with a delirious quality—they are dancing so fast and so long that it’s intoxicating. This is part of the ritual of this Argentine gaucho lifestyle. We might think of it as an Argentine version of an American barn dance of 1880s Pennsylvania.

 There’s a very simple structure, very repetitive. It’s all about the dancing and the energy. It’s because of the unrelenting repetition and the very fast tempo that it is very difficult to play. But it’s a rousing, exciting number, and that’s our closer.

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