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USF Wind Ensemble
September 29, 2011
Marching Song of Democracy
Percy A. Grainger
Grainger wrote A Marching Song of Democracy after attending the Paris Exhibition in
1900. He first wrote the work for voices and whistlers only, to be performed by a chorus
of me, women, and children whistling and singing to the rhythmic tramping of their feet as
they marched along. Grainger realized later that he needed the contrast available with an
instrumental ensemble and began scoring the piece for band in 1948. Form the program
notes in the beginning of the score "...a sprawling tone poem which encapsulates the post-
romantic expressive qualities of Wagner, Richard Strauss, Mahler, and Bruckner. But the
music is infused with Grainger's own original composition techniques and humanistic spirit."
This is a one movement, Grade IV piece with a very thick texture. Grainger also uses
nearly every possible band instrument including piccolo, Eb Clarinet, Alto Clarinet,
Contrabassoon, Soprano Saxophone, Bass Saxophone and Cornet. He also uses a very
extensive percussion section. The work starts out building with the Theme and goes into a
legato lyrical section with thinner instrumentation. It ends with the entire ensemble sounding
like a bell tower and crescendoing to the final note.
Piece of Mind
Piece of Mind is a musical pun on an old expression. It is composer Dana Wilson's
representation of the workings of the human mind. The first movement, "Thinking", begins
with a very simple four note idea which grows seemingly of its own inertia - as thinking
about something often does - while sometimes being joined or overwhelmed by other,
"Remembering", the second movement, is structured in a manner similar to the way memory
serves most of us - not as complete, logical thought, but as abrupt flashes of images or
dialogue. In this case, the flashes provide a view of the original four-note idea through
various musical styles vividly entrenched in the composer's own memory and hopefully, that
of much of the audience.
The third movement, "Feeling", explores various states throughout the emotional spectrum,
and the final movement, "Being", addresses a mental state that is rarely considered in our
culture. Non-Western - particularly East Indian - musical styles are called upon to shape the
four-note idea so as to conjure up and celebrate this marvelous attribute (this peice, this
peace...) of mind.
Piece of Mind was premiered in New York City by the Ithaca College Wind Ensemble
under the direction of Rodney Winther.
Hymn to a Blue Hour
The blue hour is an oft-poeticized moment of the day - a lingering twilight that halos the sky
after sundown but before complete darkness sets in. It is a time of day known for its
romantic, spiritual, and ethereal connotations, and this magical moment has frequently
inspired artists to attempt to capture its remarkable essence. This is the same essence that
inhabits the sonic world of John Mackey's Hymn to a Blue Hour.
Programmatic content aside, the title itself contains two strongly suggestive implications -
first, the notion of hymnody, which implies a transcendent and perhaps even sacred tone;
and second, the color blue, which has an inexorable tie to American music. Certainly Hymn
to a Blue Hour is not directly influenced by the blues, per se, but there is frequently
throughout the piece a sense of nostalgic remorse and longing - an overwhelming sadness
that is the same as the typically morose jazz form. Blue also has a strong affiliation with
nobility, authority, and calmness. All of these notions are woven into the fabric of the piece -
perhaps a result of Mackey using what was, for him, an unconventional compositional
"I almost never write music 'at the piano' because I don't have any piano technique. I
can find chords, but I play piano like a bad typist types: badly. If I write the music
using an instrument where I can barely get by, the result will be very different than if
I sit at the computer and just throw a zillion notes at my sample library, all of which
will be executed perfectly and at any dynamic level I ask. We spent the summer at an
apartment in New York that had a nice upright piano. I don't have a piano at home in
Austin - only a digital keyboard - and it was very different to sit and write at a real
piano with real pedals and a real action, and to do so in the middle of one of the most
exciting and energetic (and loud) cities in America. The result - partially thanks to my
lack of piano technique, and partially, I suspect, from a subconscious need to balance
the noise and relentless energy of the city surrounding me at the time - is much
simpler and lyrical music than I typically write."
Though not composed as a companion work to his earlier Aurora Awakes, Hymn to a
Blue Hour strikes at many of the same chords, only in a sort of programmatic inversion.
While Aurora Awakes deals with the emergence of light from darkness, Hymn to a Blue
Hour is thematically linked to the moments just after sundown - perhaps even representing
the same moment a half a world away. The opening slow section of Aurora Awakes does
share some similar harmonic content, and the yearning within the melodic brushstrokes seem
to be cast in the same light.
The piece is composed largely from three recurring motives - first, a cascade of falling
thirds; second, a stepwise descent that provides a musical sigh; and third, the descent's
reverse: an ascent that imbues hopeful optimism. From the basic framework of these
motives stated at the outset of the work, a beautiful duet emerges between horn and
euphonium - creating a texture spun together into a pillowy blanket of sound, reminiscent of
similar constructions elicited by great American melodists of the 20th century, such as
Samuel Barber. This melody superimposes a sensation of joy over the otherwise "blue"
emotive context - a melodic line that over a long period of time spins the work to a point of
catharsis. In this climactic moment, the colors are at their brightest, enveloping their
surroundings with an angelic glow. Alas, as is the case with the magical blue hour, the
moment cannot last for long, and just as steadily as they arrived, the colors dissipate into the
encroaching darkness, eventually succumbing at the work's conclusion with a sense of
peaceful repose. Program note by Jake Wallace
Per la Flor del Lliri Blau
The composer comments ,''The title of the work is not in Castilian, but in the
language of the province where I was born. It means "For the flower of the blue
lily". The music is based on a Valencian legend, and takes the form of a
symphonic poem. The end of the text is also in Valenciano and must not be
translated; it reflects the mourning of all nature for the death of the young prince."
The written poem, which is included in the score, tells of the legend of three sons of a king,
who are promised great wealth if they can find and bring back the flower of the blue lily,
with which to cure the king of a sickness. The young prince who finds the flower after
much searching returns triumphant, only to be slain by his jealous brothers. Nature itself
weeps at the deed: "Passa, passa, bon germa; passa, passa i no em nomenes; que
m'han mort en riu d'Arenes per Ia flor del 1/iri blau."
Rodrigo's music is chivalric and lyrical by turns, reflecting the composer's interest in and
enthusiasm for the music and literature of Spain's past, which he would later develop to
remarkable effect in works such as Cuatro madrigales amatorios, and Concierto
madrigal. The idiom of "Per Ia flor del lliri blau" falls recognizably within the European
late-Romantic tradition, although the voice is unmistakably Rodrigo's own, especially in
the eloquent melody heard at various times throughout, and the spirited march-like central
section, based on a popular song, "Eis tres tambors". The work was dedicated to the
conductor Jesus Arambarri, one of Rodrigo's classmates during the years of study with
Paul Dukas. (notes from score)
The three movements of “Popcopy” each stem from a moment in popular television or film.
The first movement comes from a famous “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which a
recording session is continually interrupted by the producer's need of "More Cowbell." The
second movement titled "One Time, at Band Camp" features solo flute and relates to the
movie “American Pie.” The final movement, "Serenity Now!" draws on an episode of the
TV series “Seinfeld” and the less-than-serene mood of George Costanza's father.