Category Archives: Music

Music Plug #6: Ticheli, Schuman

(That's "tih-KAY-lee" for those of you who don't grok Italian, by the way.)

Frank Ticheli is one of those composers that writes the sort of modern stuff that typically only gets played by academic ensembles.  As expected, he gives us lots of atmospherics, mixed measure, drifting tonality, purely rhythmic stuff, etc.  The thing is, while his compositions aren't ground-breaking, some of them are quite exceptional and deserve a wider audience than just the few tens of friends and family who can make it to the Krannert Center for a Thursday night Wind Symphony concert.

While Ticheli follows in the footsteps of the great 20th Century composers, William Schuman is one of those composers.  His works are very cool, very orchestral (even when written for wind band) and a pain in the ass to read, as they're written without key signatures and with rehearsal numbers ever 5 or 10 measures instead of at natural phrase breaks.  Some things I'm glad we've left behind...

This edition of Plugs is a bit of a cop-out since I've recently played two of these pieces, but they're also two of the better wind ensemble compositions from the respective composers.

Continue reading Music Plug #6: Ticheli, Schuman

Music Plug #5: Christopher Tin

Many of you may be familiar with the award-winning trailer music for Civilization IV, "Baba Yetu".  In addition to winning a Grammy, it's been featured in a number of video game music concerts alongside classics from Nobuo UematsuKoichi Sugiyama, and Martin O'Donnell.

But Baba Yetu is just the first track on a larger, Grammy-winning album of international orchestral/electronic/choral music titled "Calling All Dawns".  Each of the songs on this album is in a different language, and while many are uplifting, all have strongly different themes.  Some are religious; "Baba Yetu" is a setting of the Lord's Prayer in Swahili.  Some are secular; "Rassemblons-Nous" is a French protest song.  All are powerful, rich, and definitely worth listening to.

You can hear the entire thing in sequence here, but you should really go throw some cash at Mr. Tin so he can keep composing.  Since it's in a single video, here's the track list:

  1. Baba Yetu - 0:00 - "Our Father" (The Lord's Prayer in Swahili)
  2. Mado Kada Mieru - 3:29 - "Through the Window I See" (Japanese seasonal poem)
  3. Dao Zai Fan Ye - 8:15 - "The Path is Returning" (Daoist meditation)
  4. Se É Pra Vir Que Venha - 11:31 - "Whatever Comes, Let It Come" (Portuguese meditation on death)
  5. Rassemblons-Nous - 15:46 - "Let Us Gather" (French protest song)
  6. Lux Aeterna - 20:13 - "Eternal Light" (Last movement of the Latin Requiem)
  7. Caoineadh - 24:12 - "To Cry" (Irish "keen", or funeral lament)
  8. Hymn Do Trojcy Swietej - 29:56 - "Hymn to the Holy Trinity" (Polish inspirational song)
  9. Hayom Kadosh - 36:45 - "This Day Is Sacred" (Hebrew hymn of rebuilding)
  10. Hamsáfár - 38:31 - "Journey Together" (Farsi inspirational song)
  11. Sukla-Krsne - 41:23 - "Light and Darkness" (Excerpt from the Bhagavad-Gita)
  12. Kia Hora Te Marino - 43:24 - "May Peace Be Widespread" (Maori benediction)

Music Plug #4: Holst, Elgar

Everybody loves The Planets.  Well, more accurately, everyone knows Mars and Jupiter, and probably wouldn't recognize anything else as part the suite even if you told them the name of the movement was "Saturn" or "Venus".  But pimping Uranus (ha ha) isn't the point of this post.  One of the things people don't know about Gustav Holst is that he was a trombone player and did a lot of non-orchestral composition, much of it for wind or military band.  And unless you're a band geek like me, you probably won't be familiar with any of his other literature.

One of Holst's contemporaries was a fellow Briton named Edward Elgar.  Elgar is best known for his Pomp and Circumstance marches.  (You already know the first one because it's played at every single graduation ceremony in the Anglosphere.)  While the marches are quite good, I'm actually a bigger fan of his other compositions - especially his Enigma Variations, a cryptographic musical love letter to his family, friends, and (in the true hubristic spirit of the 19th Century artist) himself.

Unlike Holst, Elgar never wrote directly for wind band, but his compositions are relatively simple and have been transcribed for (and largely played by) wind ensembles.  I'm going to exclusively use band arrangements for both composers here.  I encourage you to find orchestral versions and listen to those as well.

Continue reading Music Plug #4: Holst, Elgar

Music Plug #3: Brahms

I said last time that I'd been planning on plugging Brahms, but I got a little distracted by some other awesome stuff.  And yeah, it feels like a bit of a cop-out to plug one of the most famous Romantic composers, but compared to his contemporaries, I think Brahms gets short shrift.

Ludwig van Beethoven started in the Classical period but paved the way for musical Romanticism. Johannes Brahms started in the Romantic period but created works with the epic solidity of his Classical forebearers.  Brahms' compositions are deep, patient, and philosophically weighty.  He does more storytelling with color and harmony and dynamics (especially in his vocal compositions) than any of his predecessors and the vast majority of his successors.

Continue reading Music Plug #3: Brahms

Music Plug #2: Camphouse, Maslanka

This is the second in a series of music plugs. I'd originally planned on making Brahms the second post, and I'll still get around to him, but I've recently played a couple of really powerful pieces by two modern wind ensemble composers, David Maslanka and Mark Camphouse, and felt that both of them deserved some more attention.

The biggest problem with good wind ensemble literature is that if you're not in a top amateur group  you tend to not be exposed to it.  Wind ensembles always play second fiddle to orchestras (if you'll pardon the pun).  They don't have the same dynamic and color range.  Nobody uses them for movie soundtracks.  But they can produce a bolder and in some ways more masculine sound than their stringed cousins - at least that's how Sousa characterized the difference.  And the two men I'm going to feature today use that difference to create some really unique sounds.

Continue reading Music Plug #2: Camphouse, Maslanka

Music Plug: Symphony #1 "Lord of the Rings"

In the mid-2000s, Time-Life released a compilation of the "heaviest" orchestral pieces - stuff that they figured would still move modern audiences jaded by years of rock-n-roll and heavy metal.  They called it "Classical Thunder", it was technically all from the Romantic and Modern periods.

Most of the pieces were good, though they were all very famous stuff and tended towards the loud and thinly scored.  But what makes music powerful is the emotion it draws out in the listener, and straight loud (or just familiar) is about the worst way to do that.  Good instrumental music doesn't just overpower you - it tells a story; it draws you into its world; it moves you.

So here's my effort to come up with a playlist of stuff that is largely symphonic in nature and will - if you understand a little bit of background on the pieces - totally blow your mind.  This will likely be a recurring feature on this blog.

Continue reading Music Plug: Symphony #1 "Lord of the Rings"