Repertoire Review: August, 2014

Mike Lawson • ChoralRepertoire • August 20, 2014

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This installment of concert band repertoire reviews features music in a range of difficulty levels by John Kinyon, Larry Daehn, Steve Rouse, Aaron Copland, and Dana Wilson. “Frank Ticheli’s List” is a compilation of core repertoire for concert band selected by composer Frank Ticheli of USC. These pieces have been reviewed by Gregory Rudgers and John Darling.

“Londonderry Air” by John Kinyon

Alfred Music  •  Grade Level: 1  •  Approximate Duration: 3:05

John Kinyon may aptly be referred to as one of the patriarchs of the modern school band era. His many works for elementary and junior high level performers are standards of the literature and, in the early days of band publishing, they lent a certain dignity and substance to youth performances. “Londonderry Air,” while a genuine level-one work, could appropriately be performed by virtually any concert band or wind ensemble. The subtitle of the piece states, “Featuring the clarinet section” and, indeed, the clarinets present the timeless melody in the opening measures and are prominent throughout the work. The clarinets are joined briefly by the flutes with the first statement of a counter melody. Kinyon then proceeds to develop the tune by assigning the melody to the flutes, with clarinets in octaves on another counter melody, and adds additional colors eventually leading to a tutti, fortissimo, climax, replete with percussion.

After a delicate denouement, the “B” theme returns with another crescendo in both dynamics and orchestration to a second fortissimo climax before a gentle, quiet ending of brass and saxophones in a brief half note chorale. The work is challenging in that it demands a lyrical, legato approach with phrases that are longer than many grade one tunes. Still, this splendid composition provides young players and their directors with an excellent opportunity to develop the essential elements of expression, style, and phrase.

Reviewed by Gregory B. Rudgers.



“Song for Friends” by Larry Daehn

Daehn Publications   •   Grade Level: 1   •   Approximate Duration: 2:30

In a similar style to his other slow works intended for beginning band, “Song For Friends” features a beautiful melody, lush harmonies, and a skillfully crafted orchestration. It is the simplicity of the orchestration that makes this work stand out amongst other works of similar difficulty. All of the instruments remain in their lower ranges, giving the tonal pallet a warm and luxurious aural impact. All of the clarinet parts remain in the “chalumeau,” adding to the wonderfully rich tone color of the entire piece. This work also provides an excellent opportunity to develop the concepts involved with phrasing and “rubato” tempo with young players.

The consistent four-measure phrases can be interpreted in various ways depending on the musical maturity of the ensemble. There is nothing hurried or complicated in the metrical or rhythmic schemes. The consistent triple meter adds to the straightforward formal structure ,giving the work a well-grounded foundation. The rhythm schema is very basic with nothing more intricate than the divided-beat. A simple two-measure rhythmic motive anchors the melodic line and provides the opportunity to introduce the concept of motivic elements to young players. Tasteful use of suspension and resolution are an integral part of the harmonic framework. The performance practice of using weight to stress the suspension and then relaxing on the resolution note will provide depth and contour to the steady and uncluttered harmonic progression.

Reviewed by John Darling.


“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” by Steve Rouse

Manhattan Beach Music   •   Grade Level: 3   •   Approximate Duration: 4:10

Steve Rouse explains in the program notes to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” that he was moved to set the haunting melody for band as a result of his childhood in the deep south and his association with the Southern Baptist churches there. His treatment of the spiritual is loyal to conventional style and at the same time hints at the harmonies of modern jazz derived from the African American tradition. The voicing of much of this composition lies in the most comfortable of ranges to create the richness and warmth called for. This gifted composer compliments the dignity and soulfullness of the original melody with lovely counter-melodies, often imitating the cascading nature of the opening measures. A developmental passage, again using the falling third as a basis, creates a near melismatic feeling which floats along peacefully, gradually yielding another rich, warm rendition, this time of the “B” section of the melody. This in turn builds in anticipation to a most powerful and majestic declaration that shouts both the pain of servitude and the joy of redemption.

Band directors and their students wishing to include passion, sorrow, and joy into their experience will find ample inspiration from this compelling setting of an essential part of our heritage. The publisher has provided extensive program notes and explanations of the history and background of this wonderful old song. Rouse also provides analysis in terms of suggestions for performance.

Reviewed by Gregory B. Rudgers.


“An Outdoor Overture” by Aaron Copland

Boosey & Hawkes   •   Grade Level: 5   •   Approximate Duration: 9:30

There are few works written for the modern concert band by composers with the notoriety of Aaron Copland. Composed originally for orchestra, this transcription for concert band was penned by the composer himself, another rarity. The overture begins with a signature motive that dominates the first 40 measures, both in its original and inverted forms. This is followed by a vibrant dance replete with syncopation and boisterous celebration. A beautiful lyric section or interlude then occurs, simple and elegant, before the dance returns with a sudden burst of energy. From that point forward, the work presses on, employing the opening measures, the spirited dance, and the lyrical song in many varied combinations. It finishes with a triumphant restatement of the opening motive for a most exciting finale.

This is a challenging work, as it demands virtuosity from the solo trumpet, and technical agility from virtually all players. An authentic transcription, Copland refuses to defer to band tradition and writes in C, Bb, Eb, D, and E Major keys before returning to the joyful and sunny C major for the final statement. Mature bands will find it refreshing to spend some time in the sharp keys, a rarity in band literature. This overture is aptly named, offering the modern Concert Band a bright, refreshing, and playful style. The band world is fortunate to have this work from a major composer.

Reviewed by Gregory B. Rudgers.


“Piece of Mind” by Dana Wilson

Ludwig Masters   •   Grade Level: 6   •   Approximate Duration: 19:51

Dana Wilson’s “Piece of Mind” offers the performer and listener a challenging view into the world of no less than the workings of the human mind itself. Wilson provides four movements, each of which captures with joyfully creative and innovative insight, one of four basic areas of human thought: “Thinking,” “Remembering,” “Feeling,” and “Being.” Wilson states that while many of the aspects of the mind are quite inexpressible, the four in this work appealed to him as possible for musical depiction. The musical construction of the work is as creative as the ideas expressed. The first movement, “Thinking,” begins with the simple four note motive expressed by marimba and advances in pointillistic style

The dream-like second movement, “Remembering” is a misty collection of reminiscences, which at first seem completely out of context, much as one’s memories may shift from one recollection to another. “Feeling” is much broader and more ponderous than the previous movements with large ideas stated in both a sensitive and powerful manner. “Being,” most appropriately reflects the Eastern influence of contemplation. In true symphonic fashion, Wilson has created a marvelous journey through ourselves; a journey that considers the infinite while adhering to the earthly- a contemplation of the workings of the mind with all of its mysteries, while still retaining a sense of unity. This is a major work for winds, well deserving of it many awards and accolades.

Reviewed by Gregory B. Rudgers.



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.


Gregory B. Rudgers of Ithaca College has spent his career studying, conducting, composing, and interpreting wind band literature from beginning bands to college and university levels.


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

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