Essential Repertoire: August 2013

Mike Lawson • ChoralRepertoire • August 19, 2013

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Concert Band Music Reviews, August, 2013

Essential Repertoire: From the Top draws upon “Frank Ticheli’s List,” core repertoire selected by Frank Ticheli, and “Above The Rest,” the best newer material chosen and reviewed by Dr. Jeffrey Gershman. Together, these reviews form a comprehensive guide to the best in new and core repertoire for concert band.

Frank Ticheli’s List

“A Tallis Prelude” by Douglas Akey

Queenwood/Kjos  •  Approximate Duration: 3:30   •   Grade Level: 2

It is no surprise that Douglas Akey is found on Frank Ticheli’s List of exceptional band works, as Akey himself has produced equally influential lists of meritorious compositions for young band, as well as composing equally meritorious works, including his celebrated “A Tallis Prelude.”

Akey chose Thomas Tallis’ celebrated psalm tune, “Why Fumeth in Fight,” a melody familiar to many, as it is the same tune chosen by Ralph Vaughan Williams for his “Fantasia on a Theme” by Thomas Tallis and by Fisher Tull for his “Sketches on a Tudor Psalm.” But Akey’s composition is not Vaughan Williams “lite.” “A Tallis Prelude” is original and quite imaginative. Individual phrases from the tune are manipulated in ways uncommon in grade 2 literature. Akey injects the Phrygian melody with unexpected chromaticism and then at other times with sudden shifts to major tonalities. He employs diminution, augmentation, and metric modulation. He shifts from legato lyricism to driving rhythmic strains – and all this in less than four minutes of music. The original tune is never presented in its entirety until the end of the composition, where Akey provides a grand climax.

“Why Fumeth in Fight” is touted as among Tallis’ best Anglican Church service music, as well as ushering in a new, more sophisticated English music to come in the Baroque. It is perhaps then just a happy coincidence (but one that merits mention) that Akey’s composition likewise is universally cited as a fine example of the better music that is possible for young bands.

Review by Lawrence Stoffel.


“George Washington Bridge” by William Schuman

G. Schirmer   •   Approximate Duration: 7:00   •   Grade Level: 5

William Schuman ascribes a virtually human personality to New York City’s “George Washington Bridge.” He sees it in contrasted moods depending on the weather, the time of day, the traffic, or his own feelings, and produced a watershed work in the band literature – the first to employ polytonality, pointillism, and cluster harmonies. Like the bridge itself, the composition is in arch form.

In the opening section, loud, block polychords probably represent the heavy towers of the bridge’s structure. Syncopation and percussion outbursts add momentum to these static blocks. Also introduced are motivic figures that will recur throughout the piece. Section two is a complete contrast. Fast, light, rhythmic, and pointillistic, it juxtaposes woodwind and brass timbres perhaps depicting car lights crossing the bridge at night. The ensuing “C” section employs extended melodic lines and “line clusters” – passages that begin on unison pitches and expand outward into cluster or polychordal harmonies. The final few bars consist of a series of rapid crescendos in a variety of timbral blends. Curiously, the peak of the arch, ostensibly the climax of the work, is a quiet brass chorale, probably reflecting the spiritual element in Schuman’s view of the bridge.

The remainder of the piece restates and adapts earlier music in reversed order. A substantial coda featuring pyramids, kaleidoscopic textures, rapid crescendos, and accented versions of earlier material completes the work. In this cornerstone of the band repertoire, Schuman produced serious, artistic music encompassing current compositional techniques within a masterful use of the band medium.

Review by Keith Kinder.


“Symphony in B-flat” by Paul Hindemith

Schott Music   •   Grade Level: 7

Approximate Duration: 17:00

“Symphony in B-flat” was not the first “symphony” written for the wind band genre; however, it remains an extraordinary example of some of the finest and most difficult writing for winds and percussion from any composer. It is also significant that a world-recognized composer of Hindemith’s stature agreed to compose a major work for winds at a time when serious literature for wind bands was still in its relative infancy.

In the 1950s when other major composers were embracing serial techniques, Hindemith rejected his German contemporaries and chose to compose in the neo-classical style during his mature period. However, Hindemith’s neo-classical style is drastically different from the neo-classic works by Stravinsky, owing more to the contrapuntal language of Bach and the clarity of Mozart, while utilizing contemporary harmonic language that is clearly identifiable as his own. Although “Symphony in B-flat” features unique uses of dissonant chords and non-harmonic tones, it preserves neo-classical tonality, forms, and rhythmic and melodic patterns. The first movement form is sonata-allegro and features extreme shifts in texture, mood, and articulations. The second movement begins with a dialogue between alto saxophone and cornet followed by the scherzo, which is a rapid, bustling affair given entirely to woodwinds and tambourine. The third movement is an excellent example of the fugue form in a modern context. Much of Hindemith’s music begins in consonant territory, progresses rather smoothly into dissonance, and resolves at the end in full, consonant chords providing a definable arc form.

Reviewed by John Darling.               


Above the Rest: The best new concert material selected and reviewed by Dr. Jeff Gershman


“On Cliff’s Edge” by Christopher Tucker

TMW Press   •   Grade Level: 1   •   Approximate Duration: 3:0

While there’s no doubt that the principal function of Grade 1 music is to develop the basic playing fundamentals of its young musicians, so often it results in pieces that are 100 percent function and, well, zero percent music. Cue Christopher Tucker. Tucker has justly earned a reputation as one of the best and most original composers of young band music with pieces like “Americans Lost” and “Twilight in the Wilderness,” so it should come as no surprise that his latest piece is one of the best Grade 1 pieces written in the past five years.

Set in a fast 4/4 time, “On Cliff’s Edge” features an advanced harmonic palette, a welcome amount of instrumental independence, and a carefully crafted sense of orchestration that skillfully integrates the percussion section as part of the ensemble. The result is a piece that is both imminently playable and inherently exciting. If you’re looking for a piece that makes your students better players and exposes them to the visceral excitement of music, then put “On Cliff’s Edge” on their stands. 


“Reflections on an English Hymn” by Carl Strommen

Carl Fischer Music   •   Grade Level: 3    •   Approximate Duration: 3:30

Emerging out of a grade level that’s particularly bloated with badly written, painfully overblown new music comes this wonderful, refreshingly straightforward little gem from Carl Strommen. Filled with carefully conceived orchestration and interesting, sophisticated harmonies, this setting of the old English hymn, “Jerusalem” is an honestly affecting throwback to when chorale and hymn settings were more about craft and substance than horn rips and wind chimes. If you want to build the sound of your ensemble and the musicianship of those sitting in it, this piece should be in your library.


“Popcopy” by Scott McAllister

Lydmusic   •  Approximate Duration: 13:30    •   Grade Level: 4-6, depending on the movement

One of the most entertaining pieces of recent memory, Scott McAllister’s suite is inspired by famous catchphrases from popular culture. This piece is viscerally exciting (no one writes a more authentic hard rock groove better than McAllister), sometimes moving, and, perhaps just as important, always funny. From the four “antiphonally” placed cowbell players that surround the ensemble that invoke Saturday Night Live’s Will Ferrell character Gene Frenkle to the extended flute solo in homage of American Pie’s favorite band nerd, to the musical representation of Frank Costanza’s battle between sanity and insanity on Seinfeld (complete with aleatoric and unmetered sections as well as random quotes from Holst’s Second Suite, the Hindemith Symphony in B-flat and “The Stars and Stripes Forever”), this piece is as entertaining as it is well-crafted.

Each movement can easily be programmed separately as a standalone piece. Even if your ensemble isn’t able to perform music at any of these difficulty levels, I urge everyone to at least give “Popcopy” a listen on McAllister’s website. I think that it’s important to remember that in our constant search to find music for our ensembles, we sometimes forget that it’s actually okay to listen to band music for fun – even if it’s music that your group might never play.

“Frank Ticheli’s List” and “Above the Rest” are repertoire review columns that debuted in MBM Times, published by Manhattan Beach Music.

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. His works for concert band are among the most celebrated in the industry.

 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.

Lawrence Stoffel serves as director of Bands at California State University, Northridge (in Los Angeles).

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