Essential Repertoire: October 2013

Mike Lawson • ChoralRepertoire • October 17, 2013

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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.


“Train Heading West and Other Outdoor Scenes” by Timothy Broege

Manhattan Beach Music

Grade Level: 1

Approximate Duration: 4:30

“Train Heading West and Other Outdoor Scenes” is a three-movement work intended for beginning band. Each movement describes a different “outdoor” scene, providing the opportunity to introduce the concept of program music at a very young age. The first movement is subtitled “Solemn Ceremony” and is intended to portray a Native American dance ritual; the second movement is self-explanatory, “Rain on the Mountains”; and the third movement follows a “Train Heading West” as it pulls out of a train station and disappears into the horizon.

            While it is carefully crafted to be accessible at the beginning level, Broege has skillfully incorporated several techniques into this work that are normally reserved for more advanced compositions. Performers will be required to maintain the sometimes difficult intonation aspects of the P5 interval in moving passages. Four-note chord structures of the major 7th and minor 7th are used in all movements. Rhythm issues are very appropriate for this level, even with some simple syncopated rhythms at the beginning of the third movement. A short passage of two eighth notes in call-and-response fashion one beat apart may prove more challenging in terms of precision and proper execution. Percussion requirements are normal for this level. There is no thematic carryover between movements as each was originally composed separately to highlight specific harmonic and rhythmic elements present in each movement. Conductors will need to pay close attention to a slow and gradual accelerando in the third movement and meticulous articulations throughout the entire work. Review by John Darling.


“Courtly Airs and Dances” by Ron Nelson

Ludwig Music

Grade Level: 3

Approximate Duration: 12:00

Nelson’s Suite consists of a short Intrada and five dances based on courtly dances of the 1500s: Basse Dance (France), Pavane (England), Saltarello (Italy), Sarabande (Spain) and Allemande (Germany). An imaginative blend of recreated Renaissance performance style and contemporary practices in texture, counterpoint, structure, and scoring, this is exciting, varied, and captivating music.

The Intrada is a fanfare, perhaps calling a dance troupe to the stage. Its primary theme is reused as the theme of the Allemande, giving the work a satisfying sense of overall unity. The Bass[e] Dance, in 3/2 time, tilts off the beat producing a delightful rhythmic tension. The melody of the Pavane is accompanied by quiet flute and mallet percussion tremolos, perhaps an evocation of the rustling of the elaborate dresses of female royalty, since this dance was associated with ceremonial occasions (including funerals). In the exuberant Saltarello, Nelson’s rhythmic countermelody contributes to the forward momentum and heavy accents in the middle of the melodic line replicate the dramatic leaps characteristic of this dance. Nelson’s band works often require the ensemble to sing. The gentle and deeply expressive Sarabande obliges the group to sing an actual Spanish folk (on the single syllable “Lu”). In Spain these slow dances were often sung. Instrumental versions of the Allemande were often highly contrapuntal, reflected here with both active countermelodies and a nine-voice fugato.

Dance music and wind instruments have been linked since the Middle Ages. Nelson’s well-written Suite allows young wind musicians to participate in a longstanding aesthetic tradition. Review by Keith Kinder.


“Bali” by Michael Colgrass

Colgrass Music/Carl Fischer

Grade Level: 4

Approximate Duration: 8:30

Michael Colgrass’ knack for evocative soundscapes is evident once again in Bali. Here, Colgrass evokes the traditional music of Bali: the gamelan. Gamelans serve primarily as accompaniment for religious dancing and drama. In addition to using commonplace concert band percussion, Colgrass evokes the exotic sounds of a gamelan with an assortment of atypical percussion instruments. He mimics Balinese gamelan with sounds from ceramic bowls, aluminum mixing bowls, and clay pots. The gamelan rincik (zither) is present in the form of a piano outfitted with bobby pins clipped onto the strings.

Gamelan tuning is complex from the Western perspective. But Colgrass captures the essence of the five-pitch slendro scale by using a pentatonic scale. While not authentic, his pentatonic scale does inject a Balinese flavor.

Colgrass further evokes gamelan character through the use of heterophony. Much of gamelan music is constructed by layering a single melody over itself resulting in a hypnotic composite texture.

Bali is constructed in three sections. The outer sections are dancing music while the middle section is a lament. The music begins with the sparkling sound of flutes and various bells. The five-pitch motif bounces about rhythmic woodwinds, clanging clay pots, warm brass, and twanging piano. The lament opens with the depiction of an explosion (recalling a terrorist attack on the city of Denpassar), which quickly subsides into a haunting series of descending, cascading parallel thirds and sobbing pulses. Then, suddenly, the music spins back to dancing with dotted-rhythm patterns propelling the music into a rambunctious end.

Review by Lawrence Stoffel.


“… and the mountains rising nowhere” by Joseph Schwantner

Schott Helicon Music

Grade Level: 7

Approximate Duration: 11:30

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Joseph Schwantner created the groundbreaking work
 “… and the mountains rising nowhere” for the Eastman Wind Ensemble in 1977. Schwantner’s intention was to create a piece for winds and percussion that did not sound like a traditional “band” composition by synthesizing aspects of tonal and atonal techniques. The methods and non-traditional compositional applications of twentieth-century technique that Schwantner introduced in this piece were rarely if ever used in a band composition before.

Following the premiere, the band genre saw an explosion of experimentation using similar techniques with new pieces by mainstay band composers. This composition still remains an important addition to the wind band genre due to its extraordinary craftsmanship and creativity. Four of the six flute players will need to double on piccolo; two of the four oboes will need to double on English Horn; two of the six percussion battery parts will need water gongs; bowed tam-tam, vibraphone and crotales are called for; and an amplified grand piano is needed.

Schwantner utilizes extensive use of temporal notation with this piece. In addition, he uses asymmetrical meters and non-traditional time signatures to show intended meters. Set theory, modes, and octatonic scales are used to derive the melodic material. The timbre and textural technique referred to as “shared monody” is another mature performance concept used throughout the piece. Extreme shifts in texture and dynamics will need to be carefully executed during the approximately 11 minutes and 30 seconds required to perform this piece. Review by John Darling.


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

Dr. Jeff Gershman reviews the best in new concert band repertoire.


“Lullabye” by Randall Standridge

Grand Mesa Music Publishers

Grade Level: 2+

Approximate Duration: 3:30

This wonderful, unpretentious little waltz from Randall Standridge features a beautiful, almost nostalgic, melody, a full range of ensemble dynamics, and wonderfully conceived, tasteful percussion writing that is seamlessly integrated into the texture of the ensemble (including a terrific percussion-only introduction). Even better, the piece offers musicians at this grade level the rare opportunity to play in a fast triple meter that can be conducted in a quick three or in a slow one. Standridge’s piece isn’t as much an outstanding Grade 2 piece as it’s an outstanding piece that just happens to be written at a Grade 2 level. I wish more music publishers understood that distinction.


“Hymn to a Blue Hour” by John Mackey

Osti Music, Inc.

Grade Level: 4

Duration: 8:00

Over the past decade, John Mackey has become one of the band world’s most performed composers. His distinctive style seamlessly blends popular and classical music and frequently features a near-constant underpinning of driving rhythmic energy. It’s because of this, then, that Hymn to a Blue Hour is so special. A marked departure from many of his other titles, Mackey’s new piece is slow, lush, and almost pastoral in nature – perfectly capturing the idea of the “blue hour” (a French expression for the period of twilight when there’s neither full daylight nor complete darkness). Sensitively scored, the piece moves between moments of serene beauty, poignant lyricism, and visceral power and features an ending that can only be described as haunting. This is a wonderful addition to the Grade 4 repertoire and further reinforces why John Mackey is among the leading compositional voices of his generation.


“Rest” by Frank Ticheli

Manhattan Beach Music

Grade Level: 4

Approximate Duration: 8:00

With the release of “Rest,” Frank Ticheli once again shows that there is no one better today at writing genuinely moving pieces that still lay well within the technical means of many ensembles. Although comparisons to earlier works like “Amazing Grace” and “Shenandoah” are only natural, “Rest is unique in Ticheli’s output because the music is completely original. Adapted and expanded from his often-performed choral work from 1999, “There Will Be Rest,” “Rest” is among the most introspective, intimate, and sublimely beautiful pieces he’s written. This is destined to become a new cornerstone of the Grade 4 repertoire and has the emotional depth to move you, your students, and your audience perhaps more deeply than anything he’s written for band.


“Symphony No. 1, My Hands Are a City” by Jonathan Newman

OK Feel Good Music

Grade Level: 5/6

Approximate Duration: 27:00

(Disclosure: I was the organizer of the consortium of high schools and universities that commissioned Jonathan Newman to write this work.)

Inspired by the Beat Poetry movement of the 1950s, the music of Newman’s symphony is as diverse and unique as the original material that inspired it. The first movement channels Jack Kerouac’s On the Road by creating six minutes of perpetual motion, fueled by a constant, restless rhythmic energy. The second movement perfectly captures the sense of pensiveness and quiet hope that pervades Robert Frank’s landmark photography book from 1958, The Americans. The musical result is a piece that, in my opinion, is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces written for band in the last 25 years. The final movement runs its players through a wide gamut of styles, ranging from introspective to minimalist, even including a subtle nod to the bop of Charlie Parker and Lester Young. The work lends itself to performance of its individual movements as standalone pieces. And again, as with the McAllister, above, even if your ensemble isn’t able to play music this difficult, I strongly recommend that you visit Newman’s website to give it a listen.

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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