Andrei Strizek

Music | Musings

Filtering by Tag: concert band

America's Oldest Professional Music Organization

My birthday celebrations will die down and there will be more substantial posts here soon, I promise, but I couldn't let this one go by, either: the country's oldest professional music organization - the US Marine Band - was founded on July 11, 1798, and has an exciting history that traces many elements of music history and American history throughout its 213 years.

via Wikimedia Commons

John Philip Sousa was probably their most famous conductor, made the first recordings with the ensemble, and brought them to the high level of performance and prestige that they are renowned for today. (Today they are led by Colonel Michael Colburn - formerly principal euphoniumist with the band.) They play for official Military services, are the President's go-to ensemble for formal events, and have a wealth of recordings available free to schools and libraries.

First instance of B-A-C-H, in the trombonesOne of my favorite USMB recordings: Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H) by Ron Nelson. Not only is it a fantastic composition, the ensemble handles the 12-minute long crescendo with ease. (Listen to the ring of the open 5ths at the end of the piece!) The piece reminds me of a large machine slowly winding up into action. It is partially based on the famous B-A-C-H motive Bach used in his unfinished Art of Fugue. Nelson also quotes from Bach's famous Passacaglia in C minor. He passes the passacaglia bass throughout the entire ensemble, sometimes disguising it so the listener has to go on an aural scavenger hunt to hear it.

Enjoy Nelson's Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H), and Happy Birthday to the President's Own!

July 4th Playlist

Happy Independence Day!

To help celebrate your July 4th:

"The Egg" from 1776

America the Beautiful arr. Carmen Dragon (guaranteed to get audiences on their feet)

Final movement (V. Allegro molto vivace) from Charles Ives' Symphony No. 2

When Jesus Wept by William Schuman (New England Triptych, mvt 2, based on William Billings' hymn)

Chester by William Schuman (New England Triptych, mvt 3, based on William Billings' hymn)

And, finally, John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever

Roberto Sierra's Sinfonia No. 3: La Salsa

This weekend I'll be performing this piece, on piano, with the Illinois Wind Symphony. Below is the first movement of four.

It has a lot of memorable Latin melodies and styles, with a great mix of contemporary classical compositional style.

The entire Sinfonia is available on iTunes, performed by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (in its world premiere). (The band transcription is by Mark Scatterday.)

It's a fun piece with a hefty piano part. We'll also be recording it this weekend to release on a CD later this year.

Politics and Music

via www.windrep.orgLast night I was at the Illinois Music Educators' Association Conference (IMEA) to perform with the Illinois Wind Symphony. Prior to our performance I was walking through the exhibit hall, checking out the new book and CD offerings (and sampling the occasional piece of cheesecake or pizza).

While I was at a CD booth I overheard a customer talking to the salesman about David Maslanka. My ears perked up because he is one of my favorite contemporary composers. Most of what I've heard about him from other people has been complimentary. But this person took a different angle.

The jist of what he said was that he was fond of Maslanka's music, until he discovered Maslanka's politics. The paton followed that up by saying that he was going to focus on composers (presumbly for his ensemble to perform) who are Republican.

This caught me off-guard, because I usually don't think of composers in political terms. When I do, I usually am not in disagreement because of my decidedly left-leaning political views, and thus it doesn't negatively affect my opinions of their music.

Knowing what I know about Maslanka, and for the sake of this discussion, I'd like to add the composer's religious/spiritual views in to the mix. (That may not have been implied in what the patron above said, but I want to expand the topic.)

via www.wikimedia.orgThere are some notable examples of composers who's politics we know, especially before our contemporary era: Beethoven (at least regarding his Eroica Symphony); Wagner; Richard Strauss. Of some more modern composers, we know of Copland's and Bernstein's political views. We know of Bach's religious views, among others.

In some clear cases, these views influenced their compositions. Maslanka wrote a Mass that includes the Latin mass, but also includes poetry by Richard Beale called “Hymn to Sophia, Holy Wisdom," talking about the Sophia wisdom of ancient Christianity, and his recent Give Us This Day - partly based on a Bach chorale like so much of Maslanka's music is - is influenced by a book by Thich Nhat Hanh.

But I can't imagine avoiding composers because of their political or religious view points, and the influence those views have on their music. Again, maybe it's because I typically tend to agree with composers, politically at least. Spiritually, though, that's more up in the air. I don't frequently attend church (maybe it's a symptom of being a PK), yet I find Bach's church music and Bernstein's Mass some of the most moving music I've heard or performed.

In my opinion, I don't think we should separate the composer from the larger society. A composition might be that person's way of speaking to larger truths or struggles of his time. ("His" being a generic term, not one implying a specific gender.) But at the same time, should we avoid those who hold views we don't share, even if it doesn't come across plainly in their music?

I'm interested in hearing what you think. Do you take politics and spirituality into consideration when listening or performing? Should we? Should we pretend that the composer doesn't hold those views, that he's separate from society? How should we let these views affect our understandings of his music?

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