Tag Archives: wind ensemble

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.

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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.

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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.

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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"