Music Appreciation: Early One Morning by Percy Grainger

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!

(Looking for some sheet music? Check out Sheet Music Plus and support the blog!)

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.

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,

Chorus

Oh gay is the garland,
And fresh are the roses,
I’ve culled from the garden,
To place upon thy brow.

Chorus

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!

See you next time!

Sheet Music Plus Homepage

Get a recurring 10% discount!

Save

Music Appreciation: Variations on a Korean Folk Song by John Barnes Chance

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

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.

Theme

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.

Variation II

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.

Variation III

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.

Variation IV

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).

Variation V

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 🙂

Sheet Music Plus Homepage

Get a recurring 10% discount!

Save

Music Appreciation: Shepherd’s Hey by Percy Grainger

Grainger again? Yes. I do have a reason for this.

Shepherd's Hey sample page

First clarinet part of Shepherd’s Hey by Percy Grainger

The last piece I discussed was Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry, a gorgeous setting of the tune most of us know as “Danny Boy”. Those of us who have played this piece in band know it was published with a companion piece – Shepherd’s Hey. Depending on which instrument’s part you’re looking at, Irish Tune may take up just two-thirds or so of the page. The rest of the page shows the beginning of Shepherd’s Hey, with that tune continuing on to the second page of music. The two pieces weren’t written specifically to be together, like the movements in Arnold’s Three Shanties; they were just published together.

Whoever made that publishing decision way back in 1918 made a good choice, though. The two pieces do work well together. Unfortunately, not as many people get to hear Shepherd’s Hey. It is more technically challenging than Irish Tune; consequently, fewer ensembles decide to tackle it. ‘Tis a pity – I love this piece and wish I got the chance to play it as often as Irish Tune. If you’d like to see the music score, check it out at the IMSLP Petrucci Music Library (PDF).

Shepherd’s Hey is based on an old folk tune, like so many of Grainger’s other pieces. It is a Morris dance, although he makes sure to note that this setting is not meant for dancing. The main theme (A) is heard straight away in the opening few moments of the piece, with a countermelody underneath it. Those two parts get repeated immediately, though with slightly different instrumentation. We then break off into the B section with the oboe taking the lead at 0:10 and the accompaniment bouncing along below.

One thing to notice about this piece is that Grainger is relentless in repeating the A and B themes throughout, although he does introduce a new countermelody at 0:29. However, he continually changes up elements such as the instrumentation, rhythm, and mood, which helps keep the listener’s (and performer’s!) interest. We’ve learned about composers doing those things in previous posts, but I believe this is the first piece I’ve discussed where the melody is pretty much set on “repeat”. Because of that, I won’t go through the piece quite the same way as I’ve done before.

As you listen to the piece, try to identify where the melody is. It’s okay if you don’t know the name of the instruments; the idea is to listen for the change in tone color. Also listen for the countermelodies and melodic snippets that show up now and then. The horn, unsurprisingly, has a particularly juicy one from about 1:13-1:16. Yum! Speaking of melodic snippets, one thing I had not fully noticed in all the times I’ve listened to this piece is a brief quote of Country Gardens by a trumpet at 0:46. Thanks, YouTube commenter, for pointing that out! And it just goes to show that there’s always something new to learn.

For the most part, the rhythm has been pretty straightforward for the first 25 seconds or so. Grainger starts to shake things up a little at 0:27 in the clarinet melody, giving us a fun little syncopated part. At 0:48, he changes the accompaniment slightly from its regular 1-2-3-4 pattern to having rests here and there. We get some more syncopation at 1:10, leading into the next iteration of the B theme and countermelody. Then we get to one of my favorite parts – I love the syncopated accompaniment at 1:21! It’s so much fun to play, and very effective when played well (as this group does).

Grainger also keeps the mood rather lively and bouncy throughout, with instruments playing staccato (“separated”). But as with the rhythm, he’s won’t allow us to get complacent. He introduces a legato (“smooth, connected”) line at 1:03 that contrasts with the bouncy melody above. After giving us that taste, he takes the whole band into a brief legato section. It’s another effective trick, as it changes the mood completely. It’s a great example of why musicians need to pay attention to articulation marks in their music. If the players in this group had ignored the instruction to play legato, we’d miss out on this great change of mood.

During this piece, you probably heard a couple of exciting flourishes (the first one happens at 0:24). To me, they’re little flashes of brilliance – they sparkle. Can you hear where it happens again?

At 1:35, we get a brief chance to get set for the insanity that is the end of this piece. Grainger brings back the duet from the beginning plus accompaniment, though with the entire band playing. We get faster and faster (accelerando poco a poco) through the A and B themes, with a big run up to a big chord, then fly through one last thematic statement, followed by what I can only describe as a “smear” from the band. It’s quite an interesting effect – he has instruments going either up or down a scale, at different rates of speed. It’s one of those moments where you aim for your last note and pray your fingers get you there at the right time!

That wraps up my thoughts on Irish Tune‘s companion piece. See you next time!

Sheet Music Plus Homepage

Get a recurring 10% discount!

Save