Mother Earth: A Fanfare by David Maslanka
This is a very exciting, high energy piece but very challenging because of the fast tempo and the unrelenting forward momentum. If you get lost in the music as a player you get left in the dust. It was commissioned by the South Dearborn High School Band of Aurora, Indiana. They must be a very good group, because it's definitely college level material. It's a good fanfare that gets everybody playing, with lots of brass.
Don Ricardo by Gabriel Musella
It's really authentic Spanish music, rather than being stylized. It's got a lot of the rhythmic and lyrical elements of the pasodoble--you can picture Spanish dancers enjoying this music as it's being played. There's a lot of variety: full band passages with just about everybody involved, and in the trio it is very thinly textured, more like chamber music.
Earl of Oxford March from the William Byrd Suite
Gordon Jacob, an early 20th century British composer who was very interested in musicology and history, found a collection of music by Elizabethan composers called the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. It collected not only Byrd but a lot of his contemporaries, with music mostly written for the English virginal, a smaller version of the harpsichord. This is the primary manuscript source for English music of the period.
Jacob extracted pieces by Byrd and collected them in the six movements of the William Byrd Suite. We're playing the first movement, the Earl of Oxford March. It's a good example of a slow British march, the antithesis of an American, John Phillip Sousa style march. It's rather subdued, doesn't have a fast tempo and it's very lyrical, with a lot of different instruments involved in the melodic and thematic presentation. Whereas in a Sousa march you have certain instrument groups that are always playing afterbeats, like French horns, and other instrument groups are always playing the melody, and other instrument groups always playing the baseline, so the roles are pretty strictly defined. But there's tremendous variety in the Earl of Oxford March. It's almost the anti-march.
NITRO for Concert Band by Frank Ticheli
Ticheli writes: “Nitrgogen is the most abundant component of the Earth's atmosphere—78% by volume—and is present in every living thing. The sheer prevalence of nitrogen in all of nature, and the infinite range of compounds it is part of, all appeal to me and serve as the inspiration for my music. The main musical idea for Nitro is a powerful angular theme first announced by trombones and horns and then imitated in the trumpets, trumpet fanfare call, and a busy and relentless chattering of the woodwinds enhance the bright festive mood."
So it's bright festive, fast, exciting-- and short. It's also full of meter changes—in one passage, consecutive measures go from 4/4 to 8/8 to 3/4/ to 8/8/ back to 3/4 and later 5/8, 4/4 and so on. In this piece Ticheli seems to defy listeners impulse to tap their feet. The downbeat is constantly changing.
I like Ticheli's writing in part because he understands the characteristics of wind instruments so well—he understands what they're capable of doing, especially from a technical standpoint, and the players enjoy that type of idiomatic writing—music that just fits the instrument.
Sheltering Sky by John Mackey
Mackey some exotic sounds and timbres, for example at the beginning there's a marimba solo along with a single clarinet that sets the stage for an alto sax solo.
It's a very quiet opening, but the piece builds to a big climax, as is typical of Mackey's music. He’s a very melodically-oriented composer—there's always some lyrical line to follow, and one of the challenges in playing his music is to make sure that line is not obscured. He employs a lot of counterpoint, which is lovely and adds great complexity and variety to the music, but it's risky from the standpoint that it can obscure the main musical line at any given moment.
So it is a simple, slow piece—but simple only in technical terms. The challenges are more aesthetic, and involve careful listening among the players. After that big climax in the middle, it unwinds to a very soft peaceful ending similar to the beginning.