I feel like I say this every year, but is it the end of December already? As with any year, 2016 has had ups and downs.
String of festive lights
I feel I’ve grown musically thanks to some of the opportunities I’ve had, and look forward to continuing on that journey in 2017. I’m happy with the progress I’ve made with my music over at Sheet Music Plus and plan on adding several more pieces to my catalog next year. (If you’re a composer or arranger and want to start selling on SMP, I’d be grateful if you used my referral link to sign up). I enjoy playing with several ensembles, and I’m happy to see my Knock on Wood Clarinet Choir grow in membership. I do have things to work on, though, and more regular posting for this blog is one of those things. But at least I’m here now, with one last post of 2016. And what better song to chat about than Auld Lang Syne?
Most of us are familiar with this tune, as it’s played and sung on New Year’s Eve around the world. The lyrics are attributed to Robert Burns, though he said he was simply the first person to write down the old words. (For regular readers of the blog, you’ll remember that we talked about ol’ Robbie before, with the piece Tam O’Shanter). This particular version was arranged by Charles A. Wiley (1925-1992), a prominent band director who later founded TRN Music Publisher, Inc. This is my favorite arrangement of Auld Lang Syne. I think that’s partly because it has a similar feel to Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry, which is another favorite of mine.
The piece begins with the melody in the middle to low voices, most notably first trombone and baritone. The accompaniment is understated, with some slow movement here and there throughout the band. At 0:33, as we begin the chorus, there’s a lovely descant line above the melody. The music swells toward the climax of the first section, then fades to a final chord.
The second verse begins with the melody in the upper winds (1:07), bringing out a different tonal quality than we heard at the beginning. The accompaniment starts out similarly understated, with the range extending downward throughout the first several measures of the verse. Around 1:17, however, you start to sense a running line happening in the clarinets. The flutes join that line at 1:25.
As we transition from the verse to the chorus (1:38), there’s a series of “bell tones“ that rise up through the brass and percussion. The band crescendos to a nice, full sound for the chorus. We still have some bell tones, then the brass take over the running line (1:52), albeit more punctuated than what we’d previously heard in the woodwinds. The chorus quiets down a bit as it reaches the end, but not much since it turns around into a crescendo to bring us into the final stretch.
Instead of going into a third verse, Wiley takes us into a repeat of the chorus (2:17). He expands the music in volume and range, pushing in new directions compared to what we’ve heard throughout the piece so far. The first line of the chorus has the melody with powerful chords supporting it; the second line treats us to a forceful horn line running through it (2:26). We also hear percussion that waited to have its say until now (cymbals and timpani). As we reach the last lines of the song, the ensemble quiets down to a peaceful ending.
And so we say goodbye to another year. Whether 2016 was good, bad, or indifferent for you, I wish you all a happy and healthy 2017. Thank you for joining me on this musical journey at Tonal Diversions!
Well, I didn’t intend to miss all of July (and most of August…). Sorry about that. Between band and travel, July simply flew by in a flash and August has been time to regroup. But here I am, finally, with a new post!
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I’ve talked about Percy Grainger before, and I think I’ve waited a respectable time before talking about another piece of his. “Early One Morning” is a beautiful little folk song setting. If you’ve ever heard the traditional tune, it’s a fairly cheery-sounding song. Of course, if you know the lyrics, they describe a sorrowful lass mourning the loss of her beau (which is a rather standard subject in old English folk songs).
Dandelions. CC0 Public Domain license.
Early one morning,
Just as the sun was rising,
I heard a young maiden,
In the valley below.
CHORUS: Oh, don’t deceive me, Oh, never leave me, How could you use A poor maiden so?
Remember the vows,
That you made to your Mary,
Remember the bow’r,
Where you vowed to be true,
Oh gay is the garland,
And fresh are the roses,
I’ve culled from the garden,
To place upon thy brow.
Thus sang the poor maiden,
Her sorrows bewailing,
Thus sang the poor maid,
In the valley below.
We begin with a somewhat ominous-sounding chord from the clarinets, bassoons, and a tuba; Grainger lets us know right away that we’re not going to hear the same lilting ditty we’re used to with this tune, at least not right away. The euphonium presents the first, soulful statement of the melody in a deliciously minor key. Given that, overall, the lyrics to this song really aren’t all that cheery, it makes sense that Grainger wouldn’t sound too happy here. The accompaniment has some movement, but it’s more of a low, subtle moaning than any sort of typical accompaniment beat.
The euphonium sings the chorus starting at 0:23 (Oh, don’t deceive me), followed by the bassoon providing the second line at 0:27 (Oh, never leave me). The euphonium takes over to finish the chorus. Listen the accompaniment starting around 0:34 and how it starts to shift away from the dark moodiness we’ve been hearing so far.
At 0:41 we shift slightly into another key. It’s not obvious at first, but then the horns, followed by the trombones, come in with simple (yet very lovely) lines at 0:43.
The flute brings a refreshing bit of happiness in the melody at 0:50. Now we get to hear the tune closer to how it’s normally performed: in a major key. The accompaniment, while still mostly held chords by the trombones and first clarinet, doesn’t sound as dismal as before.
The oboe takes over at 1:05 for the first line of the chorus. Listen to the horns underneath, as they play the three-note motif we heard back at 0:43. The second line is given to the clarinet (1:09), though the horn continues with the idea of the three-note motif. The flute comes back in for the remainder of the chorus, with the clarinet playing a harmonic line underneath (1:12). The horn echoes the last line of the chorus, though a bit modulated. It provides the briefest transition into the new verse.
Now the trumpet solo takes over the verse (1:24). The clarinets and saxes provide a chordal accompaniment that rises steadily upward in pitch. The horn inserts a lovely bit of suspension at 1:38 before the upper winds come in for the chorus. This is the closest we’ve come to having the full ensemble play at once. If you look at the score, you’ll see Grainger isn’t afraid of having people rest for long periods of time. (As a composer/arranger, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to do that.) The trumpet comes back in for the second line of the chorus at 1:44, then the winds play again to finish out the theme.
While the melody folks finish, the accompaniment is simultaneously building up for the final verse and chorus. Some of the winds and trumpets give us the theme and there’s a wonderful, suspended countermelody happening in some of the saxes and other trumpets, among others (1:57). There are some beautiful, squishy chords happening throughout all this in the accompaniment; try to listen beyond the melody to hear what else is going on.
Grainger generally keeps the same instrumentation throughout the chorus, adding a floating trumpet line over the melody that he marks “much to the fore” (2:12). At the end of the second line of the chorus, listen for the quick rhythm in the bass line (2:19), but keep your ears open for the continuation of the trumpet line (especially the reach up to concert A at 2:23) as the entire ensemble hits the apex of the piece. Everyone then comes back down toward finishing the melody.
At 2:29, the maiden apparently can’t handle it any more, and starts bawling. Click To TweetAt 2:29, the maiden apparently can’t handle it any more, and starts bawling. We go back to the not-so-merry version of the chorus at 2:29, this time in the bass voices. The horns get their own “much to the fore” section here as well, quoting the “oh, don’t deceive me” line at a slower pace than what’s happening below. There are some angry-sounding chords in the rest of the ensemble while this is going on. But in time, the anger subsides, and the maiden lets out a couple more sobs that resolve into a final, major chord.
Thank you for joining me, and I hope to send out my next post a bit quicker than this one. If you like my blog, please take a moment to spread the word. The individual posts have “share” buttons that can be used to send content to various social media platforms. Thank you to those who have already shared – it means a lot to me!
I was having a hard time figuring out which piece to discuss next, so I decided to talk about one of Hubby’s favorite pieces: “America the Beautiful” as arranged by Carmen Dragon (1914-1984). I like it, too. I think it’s hands-down the best arrangement of this song.
“America the Beautiful” began life as a poem by Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929), written in 1893 after a trip to Pike’s Peak. Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903) was a composer and organist. His hymn tune, “Materna,” was first used as a setting for “O Mother Dear Jerusalem.” In 1904, the tune was used for Bates’s poem, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 1960, Carmen Dragon set the piece for concert band. Dragon had a long a lustrous career. He was especially known for conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and composing quite a few film scores. I know he had some sort of a connection with Ohio State University, but I’m having a hard time finding info on exactly what that connection was. [Thanks to Ron for shedding more light on the occasion – check it out in the comments section]. Regardless of the type of connection, Dragon’s arrangement was done for (and premiered by) the university’s concert band. For some neat archive audio (including the premiere performance), click here. [Fun fact: Carmen’s son is none other than Daryl Dragon of Captain and Tennille]
The piece starts with a bang, quite literally, from the timpani. The hit turns into a roll that crescendos, with the other instruments joining in on held notes or runs. It’s a short-but-effective pre-intro to the actual introduction that begins at 0:04. From there, we catch a glimpse of the refrain. Just a glimpse, though, as Dragon takes that little snippet and moves it around, modulating it until we hit the peak of the intro (0:21). Listen especially to the arpeggios moving underneath and the luscious chord progression that happens throughout this section.
The first iteration of the tune (0:30) is rather straightforward (though still quite lovely). We get the melody in the reeds (clarinet, sax, and English horn), with a mid- to low brass chordal accompaniment. It has a reverent feel to it; in fact, the tempo marking is “quasi religioso.” At 1:00, a few more instruments join in and we get a little bit louder, but we come back down at 1:15 as we close out the theme. Listen for that wonderfully placed note of tension in the horn (and other middle voices) at 1:13. Delicious! Then it has a great, small line at 1:17-1:18. At 1:23, the last line of the theme, we start in unison but branch out into harmony right before the interlude.
The entire ensemble joins in quietly at 1:29 (except the poor baritones – not sure why they’re left out in the cold for a couple measures). There’s new melodic content for the interlude, with arpeggios and held chords underneath. There’s a subtle change at 1:35, where the accompaniment has long triplets and the chords get a bit squishier than regular triads. The horns and saxes make a comment at 1:42, and the transition continues to build up tension. We relax just a bit before the next time through the theme.
At 1:51, we start the theme anew. This time, it’s mostly woodwinds who start us off. The melody is straightforward, but the harmony has some crunchy notes added. We change moods at 2:06; most of the upper winds are on the melody, and the horns (and some middle winds) have a slow line upward. [Note: Hubby would like me to point out how that line splits into octaves at 2:10 and really helps build power. I agree it’s quite effective.] The rest of the brass (and some winds) take over that line at 2:13, speeding it up and giving it even more power. There’s also a crescendo happening from the entire group throughout all this.
There’s the briefest slowdown around 2:18 before the apex of the piece hits at 2:19 with a cymbal crash. We have everyone at full bore here, with a nice counter-melodic line from some winds and the horns. We get another well-placed tension note at 2:31, this time from the trombone and baritone. The group quiets down as we reach the last phrases of the hymn. Naturally, there’s a nice descending horn line at 2:35 (they really are good at that sort of thing), and there’s some ebb and flow in the tempo. I like the clusters of chords happening here; it lets you know we’re not quite ready for a final resolution.
At 2:46, we hear the final phrase “from sea to shining sea.” Earlier, this was done in unison. This time, the rhythm is unison, but the notes have harmony. While the chord at 2:53 sounds like it could end the piece, Dragon has the group quickly crescendo into a coda section. We get a powerful triplet motif starting at 2:55, led by the upper winds and brass, a powerful chord coming in on beat two as an echo. This repeats, then at 3:00 there’s a bunch of neat stuff happening: repeated triplets from the brass, triplet runs from the winds, powerful punctuation from the rest of the brass, middle winds, and the chimes. The ensemble unites in slower triplets at 3:05 to reach the final hurrah. They strike a chord, followed by echoes and a grand glissando down to the final, powerful note.
Thank you for joining me in learning about one of Hubby’s favorite pieces. I’ll see you next time!
Throughout the course of this blog, I’ve talked a lot about my college music experience. I was recently reminded of something else from that era when I saw the music for “Cuernavaca” by Joseph Willcox Jenkins show up on my music stand at our first band rehearsal this season. Way back in either my freshman or sophomore year, we played this piece in band.
I hated it.
Now that so much time has passed, I honestly couldn’t tell you why I hated this piece so much. I had forgotten that I’d ever played it until I saw the music again. Was it something about the piece itself? Did we play it badly? Did I not like something the conductor was doing? Did we spend a disproportionate amount of time on this piece compared to other things we played that term? Did I simply like other pieces better?
Cuernavaca, Mexico (image license: CC0 Public Domain)
I’m sure there are many other questions I could ask about my experience with Cuernavaca, but I don’t know if I would ever really learn the answers. I will say, though, for whatever reason, I rather like the piece now. I couldn’t tell you if it’s because I’ve learned more or my tastes have changed. Perhaps both? But now I can say I’m looking forward to working on the piece over the next semester.
Joseph Wilcox Jenkins had a lengthy career in composition, working as the arranger for the U.S. Army Field Band, the U.S. Army Chorus, and later as a professor of theory and composition at Duquesne University. By and large, his most popular work is American Overture for Band, which I’ve played several times over the years. It’s easy to find recordings and information about that piece. Cuernavaca? Not so much. I took a look at the score (dated 1969), and there’s just this brief note:
“Cuernavaca, a work in Latin-American style, was premiered by the Duquesne University Band in Pittsburgh. The main idea of the work is a fast Rhumba, which evolves into a frantic type of “Mexican Hat” dance in 6/8 meter. The secondary idea is a reposeful Tango. The treatment of the material is in a relatively free Rondo form. The work is included in the Educational Record Reference Library band series.”
The piece begins with a bold statement by the trumpets and percussion, answered by the middle and lower voices of the band. The trumpets restate their theme, almost note for note, with the last bit echoing to lead us into the body of the piece.
At 0:20, the accompaniment sets the tone for the rhumba. The melody enters at 0:26, played by the upper winds. After their first statement, the trumpets answer with a fanfare. We hear another section of melody and fanfare (0:37), then the horns push forward with a syncopated motif (0:45). The upper winds continue with the melodic line, with the horns in an echo (0:55). The melody adds some bounce to it before smoothing back out to end the phrase. A brief, three-note motif is passed around beginning at 1:03 to take us into the next part.
Although the trumpets repeat their initial statement at 1:09, the answer changes moods from what we heard at the beginning. The winds have a bouncy motif at 1:18, then at 1:25 the trumpets take over the transition. There are two bars of syncopated 4/4 time at 1:28, then we transition into 6/8 time and lay the foundation for the dance.
At 1:35, the trumpets and piccolo (flutes, too? It’s hard to hear in this recording) take over the melody. While they essentially repeat the first statement of this theme, it’s been shifted in time just slightly (1:40). At 1:50, the mood changes just a little for the next bit of the theme, and this time there’s more of a melodic echo (1:54). The trumpets enter again at 2:04. Although it feels at first they are starting another new melodic section, they’re actually setting up a transition. Beginning around 2:09, they play a four-note descending motif that is echoed by other instruments, similar to what happened at the piece’s introduction. Listen for all the four-note snippets between here and 2:31. There’s also a gradual slowing down and softening of the ensemble to lead us into the tango.
The bassoons provide us with a tango rhythm at 2:32, then a solo flute and bass clarinet play a snippet from a previous melodic line (2:41; it’s hard to hear the bass in this recording, but it’s there). But this is still introductory material for the tango; the oboe solo enters with the theme at 2:53. The bassoon, and then the clarinets, answer with their own motifs. The oboe plays again at 3:30, but doesn’t finish her theme with a firm ending (3:51). Instead, the clarinets take the last few notes and repeat them, waiting for something to happen…
Which it does at 4:05, when the percussion decides they’ve had enough of the slow tango section and want to pep things up. But the rest of the group isn’t quite as ready yet, compared to what we heard way back at 0:26. This time the theme is played by a flute solo, and instead of accented accompaniment notes, there’s just a sustained chord, which adds a tense feeling to all of it. The trumpets still have their fanfare (apparently they agree with the percussion!), but then it’s right back to the solo flute and the sustained chord (4:27).
Instead of continuing with the rhumba, at 4:34 we switch over to the fast dance theme similar to what we heard at 1:50. The horns get a chance to echo at 5:03 then usher in the four-note descending motif. At 5:10, the trumpets recall the opening melodic line of the piece. When they repeat it, we expect to continue with that we’d heard earlier, but Jenkins isn’t ready to take us there, yet. Instead, he slows it back down again in order to give us one last glimpse of the tango section (5:46). The line passes from flute, to oboe, then to the horn, before making our last transition into the rhuma (6:21).
The trumpets shout out an abbreviated fanfare at 6:27, and we embark on a recap of the first rhumba theme. Jenkins keeps it note-for-note here (Well, except for the power drill at 6:48. That’s new.)
Around 7:19, we shift into the coda section so we can bring the piece to a close. Jenkins bases the ending on the fanfare. I like the excitement at 7:30, especially with the piccolo emphasizing the upward sweep of notes. The piece ends with big, accented chords, with the percussion hammering away. The last chord isn’t a straightforward major triad, which kinda goes along with pieces of this era. It works, though, and it’s what Jenkins gave us.
I’m glad I got a chance to revisit this piece. While I love “American Overture for Band,” it’s nice to hear another work by Joseph Willcox Jenkins and perhaps bring it back into our concert band consciousness. Sadly, the music appears to be out of print, but maybe there’s hope for a resurgence.
In case anyone is interested in how our community band performance went, here’s the audio:
Let’s return to the band world and talk about one of the staples of the repertoire, “Variations on a Korean Folk Song” by John Barnes Chance. I’ve had the opportunity to play this several times over the years – it’s such a great piece.
Gyeonghoeru Pavilion at Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea
Chance (1932-1972) pursued bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Texas and served in the military as part of a military band. While stationed in South Korea, he was introduced to the folk song “Arrirang.” The tune stuck with him and he eventually used it as the basis for “Variations on a Korean Folk Song.”
Before we dig in to the piece, I’d like to talk about the pentatonic scale. So far, most everything I’ve discussed here on the blog has been based on major or minor scales. Those are the ones most familiar to us from piano lessons, band, and choir. But I’d wager you know the pentatonic scale even if you don’t think you do – just play the black keys on the piano. Everyone’s done that, right? If you want to construct the scale in a different key, use the pattern W-3H-W-W-3H (i.e. C-D-F-G-A-C). “Arrirang” is based on the pentatonic scale.
I selected the reference video because 1) the excellent musicianship and 2) Frederick Fennell was the conductor. Fennell was (and still is, actually) an icon in the band world.
The piece begins with the melody on its own, played by the clarinet section in its lowest register, which is called the “chalumeau” (referring to the instrument from which the clarinet descended). At 1:27, other woodwinds join in to finish the first time through the theme.
The theme repeats at 1:44, this time with saxes and baritone. One thing to observe is that it starts on the same note as the previous section ended (A♭), effectively changing the key for this part. We’re used to melodies starting and ending on the same note; that doesn’t happen here. The piece began on E♭ and ended on A♭. Now we’re starting on A♭ and will end on D♭. Anyway, the saxes and baritone have taken over the melody, with sustained chords from most of the rest of the band. Midway through, the clarinets and horns have the melody, with half of the horns breaking into harmony on the downward phrase (2:03). The parts come back together to finish out the theme, then repeat the last motif several times as the sustained chords modulate (2:18), leading us into the first variation. The trumpets, who have managed to stay silent so far, decide they can’t wait any longer and join in with the high winds in an echo of part of the melody (2:27).
Variation I (2:38)
With just a small hit from the gong, we’re off into our first variation. Some of the winds and the temple blocks dash off into a whirlwind of activity beginning on beat three. Try to listen how the up and down of the melody corresponds to the theme we heard at the beginning. At 2:45, there’s another gong hit and the other woodwinds start the variation melody on beat two, echoed by the original group of woodwinds (plus a few more) on beat three. The flurry intensifies, leading up to the trumpets coming in boldly with a phrase from second half of the theme (2:52). Another flurry finishes out this part.
At 2:58, we start the variation over, this time with the flutes, piccolo, and low clarinets (unfortunately, it’s hard to hear those low clarinets in this particular video. But if you stick with me, I’ll make it up to you at the end of the post). Another difference is that the percussion is getting a bit more active, especially during the second half. The oboes and trumpets come in with the statement at 3:05, with the original group of flutes and low clarinets continuing on beat three. The clarinets, horns, and baritone take their turn at the bold motif (3:11) while the others scurry about.
The bass line jumps in with the variation melody at 3:17, but Chance changes it up a bit: he has them playing right on beat one. There are now two echoes that come in on beats two and three. But then the first echo (trumpets) essentially skip a beat and come in on beat one (3:20) with the second echo (high winds) on beat two, forcing the original line (low instruments) to wait until beat three. I can tell you from experience that the bass line doesn’t like to have to wait! In every group I’ve played this with, the bass line always tries to jump in a beat or two early. It’s a band fact of life. We just hope we finally get it right during the concert.
Anyway, there’s a cacophonous rush to 3:25, a catch of breath, and then the band presents a final flourish as one to end the variation.
The clarinets, low reeds, and horns play a slow accompaniment to bring in the next variation (3:33). Chance highlights the oboe here with a beautiful solo. This whole section is sumptuous. And while it’s easy to get lost in the lush music, listen to the line of the melody. It’s an inversion of the theme, meaning that its ups and downs are flip-flopped from what we heard before. I feel it works particularly well here and is just as good a melody as the original tune. The clarinets and flutes (playing in a low register) take over for a few measures at 4:00, but everyone really just wants to hear the oboe again. We’re given that at 4:08.
Similar to what happened in the theme, this variation repeats itself using the last note of the melody as the new beginning note (4:20). The flutes, alto sax, and first horn lead the way; the clarinets, low reeds and brass, and the rest of the horns have a similar but slightly different accompaniment. The end of the melody gets repeated a few times in preparation for the ending of this variation.
A trumpet solo soars over the low accompaniment, the melody back to its right-side-up form. He plays just the first half of the theme, sustaining his final note as transition into the next variation.
A quick “fweep” from the group, and we’re off into a brisk march tempo (5:03), the horns, baritone, tuba, and timpani forging ahead toward a new variation. Now we’re in 6/8 time, and the trumpets take the lead on the melody, a rollicking line that plays with the timing of the original theme. The woodwinds continue to “fweep” here and there, adding punctuation to what the trumpets are saying.
The woodwinds take over at 5:22, the trombone accompaniment more sustained (but not slower) than the previous group’s accompaniment. It’s not a long statement, as the middle voices come in at 5:28 with just a brief quote. Then we’re back into the fray – the trumpets playing their melody, the woodwinds swirling about in the stratosphere, and the lower voices stomping out an accompanying rhythm.
At 5:42, the horns repeat their brief quote, with the winds cascading down to a single sustained note in the lowest clarinets, saxes, and brass. The snare drum’s rhythm provides the intro for the new melody.
The band moves together in rhythm here, the theme stripped down to its bare bones. You can hear the upper voices playing the normal line and the lower voices playing the inverted version. Only the percussion give us any reference to the sprightly section we just heard. There’s a sweep up to the second half of the melody (6:11). The flute and piccolo sustain a high trill while the rest of the group finishes the tune. This is the shortest variation, and there’s only a slight pause on a sustained chord before leaping into Variation V (6:27).
We haven’t heard much from the percussion since Variation I, but that changes right here. Holy cow, what a great group of players! The dude on the temple blocks is freaking amazing (6:38), and all the other parts are spot-on. The vibraphone comes in with a motif at 6:42, with the flutes echoing at 6:44 and the E♭ and first clarinets following at 6:47. Not content with that, Chance adds one more layer in the second and third clarinets and alto and tenor saxes at 6:50.
Amidst all that chaos, the brass arrive triumphantly with the melody at 6:53. It’s a bit more ornamented than in the previous variation, but still slightly simplified from the original statement way back at the beginning of the piece. To pack an extra punch, the bass voices don’t enter until 6:57. We hear a glorious combination of steady vs. frantic, with almost everyone coming together at 7:09 (the percussion are too caught up in the frenzy to realize something different is happening). The majority of players have sustained melody and accompanying chords, with several flourishes from the reeds. At 7:18, the trumpets and a few other voices play the motif that we heard at the end of the theme, then the percussion dance through one last brief moment before the final flourish of the piece.
Here is the other recording I thought about using, mainly because you can really hear the bass and contra clarinets in Variation I and II. Enjoy 🙂