Friday, December 04, 2015

Symphonic Band: Director's Notes

Notes edited from an interview with Paul Cummings, director.

Star Wars Suite:
Yoda's Theme
Main Star Wars Theme
by John Williams

We're doing a very challenging and exciting version of Star Wars by John Williams, the great film composer. It's hard to find a good arrangement of Star Wars--it's been hacked up and deranged by a multitude of people, but Donald Hunsberger has made the definitive arrangement for college wind bands.  That's the version we're going to do.

In this concert we'll play the final two movements, then the entire suite in the spring semester.  We're also going to take it on tour to various high schools and junior colleges in April.

The fourth movement is Yoda's Theme--very majestic music in keeping with the legendary trainer of the Jedi.  The last movement is the main Star Wars theme, representing the triumph of the Force. This is well-written music, using the forces of the wind band in very effective ways.

Hunsberger was the conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble from 1965 to 2001, and a professor at the Eastman School of Music.  This is one of several arrangements he did.  This version of Star Wars is definitely the most challenging one out there.  With the new Star Wars movie featuring some of the characters in the original coming out in just a few weeks, we decided to play it for this concert.

Illyrian Dances
by Guy Woolfenden

The composer was the main musical director for the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1963 until 1998.  He wrote all the incidental music for their productions.  When you're writing incidental music you become very good at your craft, just from the sheer volume of music you have to produce.  It has to fit the scenic and dramatic context as well. This particular piece is very dramatic in nature.

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night takes place in Illyria, which is basically an imaginary land.  "What excited me was the resonance of Illyria itself, and the romance of all faraway, make-believe places," the composer wrote. "Illyria is a never-never land, and the idea of inventing dances for such a place intrigued me."

The three movements of this piece are in fact dance forms: Rondo (which goes back to the medieval period), Aubade (a dawn or morning song) and then a Gigue (a lively dance that goes back to the Renaissance at least.)

There are some rhythmic challenges but Woolfenden is very much a British composer--he writes very tuneful music, a very gifted melodic writer.  He's a good orchestrator, he knows how to write for the instruments.  There's great variety in textures--some passages with the full band but more often alternation of many instruments with just a few, so you'll hear chamber music but also full ensemble playing.

Fantasia in G Major
by Johann Sebastian Bach
transcription by Richard Franko Goldman and Robert L. Leist

Bach didn't write band music.  The medium of the wind band--consisting as it does today of brass, woodwinds and percussion--did not exist in Bach's lifetime.  So band students don't get to play any Bach, unless we do arrangements like this.

Richard Franko Goldman had his own band in New York.  It was his father's band, and he was associate conductor beginning in 1937.  In 1956 he became conductor, and the Goldman Band of New York City played its last concert in 1984. It was a very famous band in and around New York.  Goldman was a great band leader and great arranger.  He commissioned and premiered a lot of band music.

This Fantasia is all one continuous movement.  A Fantasia is a through-composed form, meaning that it does not have a lot of sectional repetition.  Instead it just evolves over the course of the piece.  It's rather a free form, so the composer does not have to fit a prescribed structure.

This was an organ piece originally, so it works well for band.  A good wind band can sound like a pipe organ, so doing music originally written for organ makes a lot of sense.  The challenge is to keep the air flowing through the wind instrument so you do simulate the sound of a big church organ.

One reason we're doing this is to give our band students the opportunity to play music by J.S. Bach, one of the greatest composers of western music.

The William Byrd Suite
1.  Earl of Oxford March
2. Pavana
3. "Jhon come kisse me now"
4. The Mayden's Song
5. Wolsey's Wilde
6. The Bells

We performed a couple of these movements in October, and now we're doing all six. William Byrd was one of the foremost English composers of the Renaissance, known mostly for his sacred choral music.  But he did write secular music for a keyboard instrument of his time, the virginal, the English equivalent of the harpsichord.  These pieces were collected in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book but were forgotten until the 20th century, which is when Gordon Jacob rediscovered them.

Jacob selected these six out of some 70 Byrd pieces and arranged them for wind band. The Suite is now a classic in the wind band literature.  Like the work of most English composers, these pieces are very tuneful.

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