Andrei Strizek

Music | Musings

Filtering by Tag: wind 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!

Happy Birthday, Percy Grainger!

via Wikimedia CommonsAustralian-born composer Percy Aldridge Grainger was born on July 8, 1882. For a composer, performer and folk-song collector who had a place of importance and popularity during his lifetime, his stature has lessened in the intervening years.

Unless, that is, you're in the field of wind bands. Grainger holds a special place in the hearts of wind band conductors and performers. I was first introduced to him, as are many people, at a young age by playing his Irish Tune from County Derry (commonly known as "Danny Boy" or "Londonderry Air"). (The history on this tune is long and still somewhat mysterious, but the words for "Danny Boy" were written after Grainger first found this folk song and starting writing is multitude of settings of it.) As a euphonium player (now on hiatus), how could I not love this piece? The euphonium part has the great melody in the beginning and the countermelody towards the end. Finally: a piece that is more than just boom-chicks!

His compositions span from original lyrical tunes to highly chromatic melodies and harmonies, from simple folk-song settings to the creation of new folk songs. His Lincolnshire Posy is widely regarded as one of the top 5 pieces ever composed for wind bands. He made concert piano settings of several Gershwin tunes. He was friends with Grieg and Delius, toured the globe as a concert pianists, and was a pioneer with using electronics in music and with "free" music. Ever the oddball, much as been written about his non-musical life, including his relationship with his mother.

Personality and quirks aside, I enjoy so much of Grainger's music. His folk song settings are unique and inventive. And though the popular setting of Irish Tune holds a special place in my heart, my favorite setting is his highly chromatic version, heard below in a version for wind band (performed by the Cincinatti Conservatory of Music):

Related links:

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.

Powered by Squarespace. Background image by Andrei Strizek.