Essential Repertoire: From the Top

Mike Lawson • ChoralRepertoire • July 18, 2013

SBO is proud to present the debut of this new repertoire review column. Drawing upon “Frank Ticheli’s List” and “Above The Rest,” this resource will offer core repertoire works personally selected for review by composer Frank Ticheli, as well as reviews of exciting new music chosen by Dr. Jeffrey Gershman. Together, these form a comprehensive guide to the best repertoire for concert band.



Frank Ticheli’s List




“Air for Band” by Frank Erickson

Bourne Music

Grade Level: 1

Approximate Duration: 3:30

A classic in the young band literature, “Air for Band” is an excellent training piece, but is also convincing musically. Erickson’s melody is attractive and memorable, but requires young players to sustain a musical line and to understand phrasing that is not strictly symmetrical. The counterpoint is simple, but provides all performers with significant parts that necessitate independence and attention to balance. Carefully graded dynamics teach sound and breath control and provide the overall work with a persuasive musical shape. Neo-Romantic harmony offers opportunities for rubato and exposes inexperienced players to the tension and relaxation inherent in good voice leading and harmonic progression. While the work is carefully scored with young bands in mind, the composer has also managed to exploit instrumental color effectively.

“Air for Band” is a masterful blend of pedagogy and musicianship. The materials used are straightforward; however, this work offers many opportunities for imaginative interpretation.

Review by Keith Kinder.



“Sinfonia VI” by Timothy Broege

Manhattan Beach Music

Grade Level: 3

Approximate  Duration: 5:45

While “Sinfonia VI” is a multi-movement work intended for young players, the design and structural aspects of this piece will challenge even more advanced performers.

Although the piece is subtitled “The Four Elements” and each movement is further identified as “Wind,” “Earth,” “Water,” and “Fire,” this is not a program piece in the Romantic tradition. In the four movements of this work, Broege has incorporated contrasts between emotions and timbre. The first and third movements convey the emotions of “melancholy” and “somber,” while the second and fourth movements convey the emotions of “playful” and “boisterous.”

Tempos also contrast between the movements. The timbral contrasts are manifested through the use of the Baroque concerto or concerto grosso structural format of a soloist(s) contrasted against the ensemble. The first movement uses three solo clarinetists; the second uses a solo euphonium; the third movement has a duet of alto saxophone and trumpet; and the fourth movement uses the entire percussion section as the “solo” part. While the structure is clearly Baroque, the harmonic language is modern. Stacked thirds resulting in chord structures of sevenths and ninths are prevalent in all of the movements. The vertical alignment of the chords will require proper balance and intonation.

Broege has orchestrated the duet in the third movement in an unusual way. By giving the lead to the alto saxophone rather than the expected trumpet, the resulting timbre is surprisingly effective.

Review by John Darling


“The Passing Bell” by Warren Benson

E. C. Schirmer

Grade Level: 5

Approximate Duration: 11:00

“The Passing Bell” is an elegy for Dennis Rathjen, a clarinetist in the Luther College band. The title evokes the long-standing association of bells with funeral processions.

The basic musical materials are two hymns: the Lutheran chorale “Jesu, meine Zuversicht,” representing “Death;” and “Merthyr Tydvil,” a triumphant Welsh hymn signifying “Resurrection.” At the climax of the work, “Merthyr Tydvil” overwhelms “Jesu, meine Zuversicht” in a sensational outpouring of sound, symbolizing a central tenet of the Christian religion – Resurrection triumphs over Death.

Bell sounds (orchestra bells, chimes, vibraphone) are a prominent feature in the 35-bar introduction. Also, the wind instrument entries are usually accented and often decorated with the “Scotch snap” – a rhythm that can be easily heard in any pealing of bells. Fragments of both hymns also appear.

The “A” section features “Jesu, meine Zuversicht” appearing quietly in three-part flute harmony over a spare accompaniment and a timpani/snare drum “heartbeat” that gradually fades away. A conventional cadence in C major, the only such cadence in the entire composition, reinforces the programmatic image of Death. At the “B” section, “Merthyr Tydvil” arises quietly in the clarinets and the timpani “heartbeat” reappears, symbolizing Resurrection. Both tunes occur simultaneously in the final section (“AB”), but the Welsh hymn always predominates over the Lutheran chorale. The work ends by recalling the bell sounds of the introduction supported by powerful percussion gestures.

The Passing Bell is an emotionally overwhelming work that combines an appealing aesthetic with masterful use of harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, and scoring.

Review by Keith Kinder


Above the Rest

by Dr. Jeffrey Gershman

Being a band director is more time-consuming than it’s ever been. And it seems that with each new task, we’re pushed farther away from the things that truly matter – especially when it comes to finding the very best new music for our students. I’m thrilled to present this new col- umn, which was created to tell you about the best new band music – music that I believe is above the rest. For the past several years, I’ve combed through the newer releases of nearly 20 music publishers as well as a large number of self-published com- posers to find you the very best pieces – some of which you may know and, more often than not, some of which you won’t. Additional information about each piece as well as a full recording can be found on the website of each publisher.


“Hexagony” by Ben Hawkins

C.L. Barnhouse Company

Grade Level: 0.5

Approximate Duration: 1:30

Six notes. That’s all that composer Ben Hawkins allows himself to use in “Hexagony.” Despite these significant limitations, Hawkins takes the first six notes presented in most beginning method books and crafts them into an evocative and affecting piece. Set in c minor, the work features surprisingly sophisticated harmony and highly independent percussion writing expertly integrated into the music. What’s more, the piece offers even these youngest of musicians the rare chance to play in a fast triple meter that can be conducted either in a faster three or a slow one. How refreshing to have a composer use such limited compositional resources as an opportunity, not as an excuse.

“Paper Cut” by Alex Shapiro

American Composers Forum

Grade Level: 3

Approximate Duration: 5:30

Over the last decade, the American Composers Forum has invited some of the world’s leading classical composers to write for the BandQuest series. This series has produced remarkable pieces by such noted composers as Chen Yi, Michael Daugherty, Libby Larsen, Stephen Paulus, and Pulitzer Prize winners Jennifer Higdon, Michael Colgrass, and Kevin Puts.

One of the more recent additions to their catalog by Washington-based composer Alex Shapiro may be the series’ most innovative piece yet. In “Paper Cut,” Shapiro creates an ethereal sonic world that marries the traditional band with pre-recorded electronic sounds. The piece gets its title by the manipulation of printer paper (the composer recommends that it be recycled) that the students “play” in a variety of ways. The result produces a surprisingly diverse amount of timbres that effectively bridge the gap between the traditional and the electronic. This is a piece rooted in rhythmic independence and timbral exploration, with the students’ responsibilities equally split between their use of the paper and actually playing his or her instrument. For those hesitant about the use of electronics, the setup uses equipment found in most band rooms and is explicitly detailed by the composer in the score (as are the instruction about how to create the different timbres using the paper).

“Paper Cut” produces an aural and visual experience that is unmatched for music at this grade level and is easily one of the most original and interesting pieces written at any grade level in recent memory. quest

“The Shadow of Sirius” by Joel Puckett

Bill Holab Music

Grade Level:

Approx. Duration: 19:00

Written in response to a personal tragedy, Joel Puckett’s flute concerto, “The Shadow of Sirius,” was inspired by poet W.S. Merwin’s collection of the same name. The three-movement work is scored for flute soloist, flute choir, and wind orchestra. The concerto is unique in that while it is certainly technically virtuosic in the traditional sense, much of the piece centers around what the composer calls a “virtuosity of expression.” And in the exploration of this concept, Puckett has created an incredibly evocative piece. Ethereal, haunting, and always engrossing, the music manages to create a sound world that elicits both the deep sadness and perpetual hope inherent in Merwin’s poetry. This deeply thoughtful concerto is not only one of the best pieces of the past several years; I believe it’s one of finest concerti ever written for band.

Jeffrey D. Gershman is an associate professor of Music at the I.U. Jacobs School of Music. Dr. Gershman also serves as the associate director of bands at Indiana University, where he teaches classes in conducting, music education, and concert band repertoire.

 Frank Ticheli is a professor of Composition at USC Thornton School of Music, and is the recipient of a 2012 Arts and Letters Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the principal judge of the Frank Ticheli Composition Contest, sponsored by Manhattan Beach Music. 

John Darling is an associate professor of Music at Bismarck State College where he teaches theory and conducts the wind ensemble.

Keith Kinder is professor of Music at McMaster University, where he teaches conducting and music education.


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