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Cook Strait Crossing

Tiffany Hitz • Great Music ReviewsOctober 2022 • October 13, 2022

by Laura Estes, Excelcia Wind Band Music

Published in 2021, Cook Strait Crossing is a newer band piece composed by retired MS and HS band director Laura Estes.  The piece tells the story of the passenger ferry Wahine running aground onto New Zealand’s Barrett Reef in the Cook Strait.  Not only am I a fan of the piece from musical and teaching perspectives, but I also appreciate the opportunity for students to explore the geography of New Zealand.

It is obvious the piece was composed from a teacher’s perspective. While written at a grade 1 level, there are many advancing skills presented in ways accessible to younger musicians. There is a tempo transition, but the only instruments playing are percussion and flute/alto sax, making it easy for students to experience the concept. Additionally, the slower opening provides an opportunity to showcase students, as the flute/alto sax part can be played as a solo or a soli. The piece is written in 3/4 time and has an obvious “sea shanty” feel. It’s key of C minor offers the opportunity to build experience in minor tonality but also to practice the concert AH pitch. The piece has only a few accidentals, and they are generally followed by courtesy accidentals to remind the players of the key signature. 

The melody moves around to all voices, even the low voices. There is a woodwind choir followed by a brass choir, providing an opportunity for young brass players to receive pitch assistance from the woodwind model, and the horn part is played in unison by the tenor sax and solidly set in the middle of the staff.  There are a lot of unusual percussion instruments in the Percussion 2 part (rain stick, ocean drum, anvil, castanets, and gong in addition to tom-tom, suspended cymbal, triangle, crash cymbals, wind chimes, and tambourine), but all of the instruments can be covered by two to three players, making all percussion parts coverable by seven to eight players (Percussion 2 needs three players and the mallet part needs two players to simultaneously cover the chimes and bells). Some creativity could get all parts covered by seven players. Finally, I like that the tom and snare parts both get “active” drumming parts so more students can gain that type of performance experience.

There are a lot of subtleties in the piece that allow it to stay fresh. I look forward to introducing all this piece has to offer to future students! 

Tiffany Hitz is director of bands and music department chair at Rachel Carson Middle School in Fairfax County, VA. A member of the Virginia Music Educators Association, Hitz was identified by the organization as an emerging leader and is currently on the state’s new music grading committee.

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