Essential Repertoire: September 2013

Mike Lawson • ChoralRepertoire • September 17, 2013

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Concert Band Music Reviews, September 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 new and core repertoire for concert band.


“Fanfare Ode & Festival” by Bob Margolis (after Claude Gervaise)

  • Manhattan Beach Music
  • Grade Level: 2
  • Approximate Duration: 4:00

This set of dances is drawn from the Danceries published by Pierre Attaignant in the mid-1500s. As dance music and wind instruments have been connected since the Middle Ages, modern representations of such music are appropriate for current band performance.

In his setting, Margolis maintained the modal harmony, the robust rhythmic character of the fast movements and the plaintive quality of the “Ode.” The bright, energetic “Fanfare” is focused on the brass instruments, with six-bar phrases (one five-bar phrase) usually elided by changes of timbre. Carefully marked articulation and dramatic percussion support the high-spirited character.

The scoring of the “Ode” is unusually transparent for music at this level. Timbral contrasts are distinctive, and provide modifications of mood. For example, the first full statement of the melody is scored for flutes and clarinets; at the second the clarinets are transposed down an octave, resulting in a striking darkening of the atmosphere. The ending also reflects serious views. A chord in fifths on G resolves to a somber G-minor triad.

“Festival” returns to the cheerful mood of the first movement and adds several subtle touches of humor. For example, in the closing section, a loud woodwind passage arrives one beat too early, is answered by a brass whisper, and dissipates to a quiet finish featuring a timpani solo.

“Fanfare Ode & Festival” is aurally attractive and effective young band music. The composer has linked imaginative compositional ideas with a well-considered musical aesthetic to create a work that, while practical, is musically engaging.

Review by Keith Kinder   

“Crystals” by Thomas C. Duffy

  • LudwigMasters Publications
  • Grade Level: 3
  • Approximate Duration: 5:30

“Crystals” is a one-movement tone poem that is divided into four distinct sections with each section representing a different crystal. Duffy explains that the work was conceived as a “primer” for young players to introduce them to 20th-century compositional techniques and performance practices. He included most of the same techniques that Schwantner used to compose, “and the mountains rising nowhere.” “Crystals” is not intended to be a watered-down version of Schwantner; the techniques and performance practices were meticulously placed in a more accessible form for young players.

The four sections musically describe “Dark Ice,” “Underwater Rubies,” “Cyanide,” and a “Monolith” of granite. The extensive use of temporal notation requires that all of the players understand the intricacies connected with this technique. Aleatoric passages, “half-valve” mummers, and crystal glasses rubbed with the finger provide a sense that time is being suspended throughout much the piece. The music exists in time, but “time” doesn’t always have to a tempo connected to it. Enhancing the aural palate, Duffy uses the unique sounds of a Lion’s Roar and Water Gongs to help the audience visualize each crystal. The players are also asked to add non-traditional sounds by whistling to specific pitches and singing non-text passages. Woodwind players are expected to perform trills between specific notes, which is more commonly seen in string technique as tremolos. With a running time of approximately 5:30, this piece has numerous applications for programming with young players and more advanced players alike.

Reviewed by John Darling.                           

“Caccia and Chorale” by Clifton Williams

  • C.L. Barnhouse Co.
  • Grade Level: 4
  • Approximate Duration: 6:50

There is an immediate appeal to Clifton Williams’ “Caccia and Chorale” – from the engaging, galloping rhythmic drive which is so incessant throughout the first section of the work, the “caccia” (literally a musical “chase”), to the noble, majestic brass chords that begin the chorale (a musical hymn, or song of praise). Then again, this immediate appeal to the work on the whole could simply be found in the atypical ordering of the two sections – fast then slow (an ordinary composer would have undoubtedly written a “Chorale and Caccia”). But there is a deeper significance to this reversed order than first might be apparent.

Clifton Williams is among those celebrated American composers writing for the concert band from the 1950s into the ’70s. While his compositional style is more conservative than of his contemporaries (say, Persichetti), there is no denying his significant contribution to the band repertory. Williams was the first recipient to the ABA/Ostwald Original Band Composition Award, after all!

In the published score, Williams provides a general admonition to all conductors to question “whether music can convey any message other than purely a musical one.” But with Caccia and Chorale, Clifton Williams acknowledges the clear and deliberate allegorical ties to his carefully chosen title. Here the music has a veiled spiritual meaning that transcends the literal title. This work is Williams’ personal, urgent chase (“Caccia”) for religious liveliness (“Chorale”). This is no mere school band composition. It is one man’s final testament to all of humanity.

Reviewed by Lawrence Stoffel.                          

“Suite Francaise, Op. 248” by Darius Milhaud

  • Leeds Music Co.
  • Grade Level: 6
  • Approximate Duration: 16:30

Darius Milhaud is one of many composers who fled Nazi-occupied Europe in the 1930s and ‘40s and emigrated to the United States. This historical fact is not lost in the score of his “Suite Française.”

Each of the five movements bears the name of a specific province in France and a folk tune from that same province. The result is a diorama of French provincial life. “Normandie,” is a quick-stepped tune. “Bretagne” plods along much like a dirge, providing a stark and sudden contrast. The lively dance “Ile de France” is a whirlwind tune propelled by a constant eighth-note pulse. “Alsace-Lorraine” (the slowest tempo in the suite) opens with a tune (in a minor) which is heavy-footed but transforms into a grand, heroic climax (in C major) through a clever juxtaposition of two different melodies placed in counterpoint. The suite concludes with a lively and well-known tambourin (fife and drum) tune from Provence.

Milhaud composed the suite in 1944 specifically for American school bands. Today when we read Milhaud’s dedication in the score, we are perhaps surprised to read his blunt castigation of the “German invaders” who wreaked such destruction upon France. But this music was not composed simply for American school bands. “Suite Française” is a gift of gratitude from this fiercely patriotic Frenchman to the American people for the inevitable liberation of France from Nazi occupation. Here is music that speaks directly to the human experience and condition. This is music that captures the human spirit.

Reviewed by Lawrence Stoffel.


Composer Frank Ticheli. Photo by Charlie Grosso

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).



Above the Rest: Reviews of the best new concert repertoire by Dr. Jeff Gershman

“Chorale Prelude: For The Beauty of the Earth” by Don Colquitt

  • Twin Towers Music Publications
  • Grade Level: 1.5
  • Approximate Duration: 4:30

From a publishing company in East Texas comes Don Colquitt’s remarkable chorale prelude setting on the traditional hymn “For The Beauty of the Earth.” With a lush and unique harmonic vocabulary, a wide array of ensemble textures (including a surprising amount of solo and chamber sections), and careful, tastefully chosen orchestration, I’ve never heard a piece at this grade level quite like it. Colquitt has succeeded here in giving us something quite rare: a Grade 1 piece that somehow respects a young musician’s playing ability as well as their intellect.

“Meditation” by Dwayne S. Milburn

  • Neil A. Kjos Music Company
  • Grade Level: 3
  •  Approximate Duration: 5:00

Written in memory of a popular and much beloved student who passed away, Dwayne Milburn’s “Meditation” demonstrates the genuine power and catharsis that can occur when a tribute piece chooses to honestly address loss and reflection instead of masking it in false sentimentality and bluster. Built upon the presentation and combination of the Lutheran hymn “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee” and the 19th-century spiritual, “Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger,” Milburn’s piece is brilliantly orchestrated and harmonically sophisticated, including some very unusual and unique progressions. Finding a Grade 3 work of this kind of poignancy and depth is indeed rare and, if carefully done, this piece has the potential to be profoundly moving.

“Moonscape Awakening” by Joni Greene

  • Manhattan Beach Music
  • Grade Level: 4
  • Approximate Duration: 7:30

Written by promising young composer Joni Greene, this delicate, haunting work is so different from the generic harmonies and orchestration that fill our promotional recordings it’s hard to believe it’s only a Grade 4, and an easy one at that. With a true gift for orchestrating winds and percussion, Greene’s piece will both elevate your students’ playing ability and their intellect through its high level of instrumental independence and with a harmonic vocabulary largely unexplored at this grade level. This is the kind of piece that challenges its players to reach a level of understanding that they probably didn’t know existed. This is the kind of piece that leaves a band changed for good.

“Scherzo à la Britten” by John Leszczyński

  • John Leszczyński
  • Grade Level: 6
  • Approximate Duration: 3:15

John Leszczyński’s “Scherzo à la Britten” was written as a tribute to the English composer’s much beloved A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Formally and compositionally similar to the fugue that closes the work, Leszczyński’s piece successfully balances paying homage without being derivative and very much has the feeling of Britten as interpreted through 21st-century eyes. The result is an absolute tour-de-force for any ensemble. The piece is densely contrapuntal and almost athletically virtuosic, all building to a final apex of such visceral impact that it literally takes your breath away. At only 26 years old, Leszczyński demonstrates an exceptional compositional ability and leaves little doubt that more great things are to come.

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

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