Entry 1: Phi Mu Alpha
Entry 2: Words on Conducting #1
Entry 3: What of the Future?
Entry 4: speaking of Sousa
Entry 5: Personal opinion of new music for band
ESSAY – “PHI MU ALPHA SINFONIA.
SOMETIMES YOU JUST . . . FORGET . . .”
Forty-eight years ago, in the spring of 1964, I pledged Beta Mu Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia at, then, Central Methodist College in Fayette, Missouri. Every Thursday evening the chapter would meet, in the highest accessible room above the campus, the Tower Room of Linn Memorial Church. I was almost immediately elected as secretary to the group and served rather bombastically at that position until I graduated. At the end of every meeting, we would throw open the windows of the Tower Room and “Sing from the Ramparts”, as it were. Many times, for hours. I rather imagine that we could be heard for literally miles around. Those were great and heady days as a young musicians at Central. Our faculty included one of the eminent choral conductors of the state, Dean Luther Spayde, and our band directors were Ken and Nancy Seward, whom we all considered somewhat the equivalent of direct descendants of the “Gods of Band Music on Mount Olympus” at the time.
I also was a member of a “social fraternity” on campus. And they were nice guys, but I was not so much a member as I was the “PR Guy” who always headed up the campaign and final rally for the fraternity’s candidate for Student Council President. My candidate always won. But . . don’t ask me to remember their names. Or sadly, the members. I don’t mean to disparage my association with them, but actually the only guys I remember were the other musicians in the group!
But I can recall events from three and a half years of Sinfonia. I suppose it’s because ALL of us had at least one thing in common. Obviously, our enthusiastic love for music and probably a somewhat distorted idea that we were destined to change the world or at least, add to it significantly. It WAS the 1960’s and “revolution” of all kinds was in the air.
On our first “married” Christmas, my wife paid all of $25 to give me a life membership in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. (I would imagine it’s a bit more in 2012.) And then, “Life” began to intercede. Army. Family. More school. Composition. Conducting. Ministry. Travel.
A few years after arriving at Lee University there was a move to start both a SAI and Phi Mu Alpha Chapter. Being, literally, the ONLY Sinfonian on the campus, I became the charter sponsor of the new chapter. However, as soon as other faculty members were inducted over the next several years, I passed the torch. Basically, I was on the road so much that it was virtually impossible to be at meetings, etc.
There’s that. And anyway, I’m a grown-up now.
Last winter, however, a friend called about commissioning a fanfare for the upcoming PMA Convention and a larger work for the 2015 convention. He also indicated if I should come to the convention, something special was going to happen.
Now, I admit, getting to meet and talk with and eventually share induction into Sinfonia’s esteemed Alpha Alpha Chapter with Carlisle Floyd, the legendary American opera composer, was “special” enough for the weekend. Having the Signature Sinfonian Medallion presented to me was a totally unexpected honor. But all that wasn’t really the “special” event of the weekend.
The memorable peak of the weekend was actually hearing 800 young men sing out at the top of their lungs and radiate, through their enthusiastic love for music that, they too, even in this bleak, politically angry, saturated-with-hate world, believe they are destined to bring revolution through their art to a generation starving for grace in the human spirit. I was confronted by the same youthful ebullience that I had enthusiastically followed to my dreams 48 years ago, and the founding young men of Sinfonia had espoused nearly 50 years before that, in these youthful collegiate gentlemen.
So thank you, Men of Sinfonia, for reminding me of youthful exuberance, fanatical dedication, and all the wonderful times of college days in Beta Mu chapter, singing Sinfonian songs from the Tower Room, high above the campus. I had, in the fullness of “growing up”, forgotten one of the most exhilarating first steps of that life journey.
Thanks for stirring the memories.
ESSAY – “WORDS ON CONDUCTING” (#1)
It was almost alarming how many emails I received from supervising teachers following a recent interview in the INSTRUMENTALIST concerning “inexperienced” student-teacher conductors and their lack of “fix-it” knowledge. A number of the writers mentioned that their student teachers admitted that, although they knew something was wrong in the music they were conducting, they couldn’t figure out what it was or how to address it.
That is somewhat of an indictment on two fronts. First, we who teach those young conductors are obviously missing something in our methods. And those young conductors, who sit in our ensembles day after day as playing musicians are not paying attention! Or at best, they are not realizing that all that is being poured into them day after day is meant to be musically articulated and poured back out on others in the future.
Admittedly, most student teachers go out with only two semesters of classroom instruction in “conducting” as part of their degree program. In some smaller colleges, there may be only one class of conducting offered. Unless the students get to conduct in some regular arena on campus, there’s only enough time to teach the basic patterns and “book” gestures in one semester. Of course, there is a wealth of conducting “tips” found daily in professional magazines and on the internet that deal with the “artistry” of conducting. But I think the alarm I hear from supervising teachers is not concerned with knowing a beat pattern, or how “pretty” they look in the execution, but rather with knowing how to think and express to young musicians the essence of musical expression.
I am constantly encouraging, most of the time literally demanding, that my musicians develop fundamental truths about music. That each of them develop a “belief system” about specific aspects of music. Obviously I believe that being a conductor is more about being a “teacher” than being an “artiste”!
And yes, I am assuming that the teacher has taught the foundations of the physical aspects of playing an instrument. And yes, I am assuming that the ensemble is past the point of “right notes in the right places” in their musical journey. What I am concerned about is the young conductors lack of “personal musical and expressive attributes” that they REALLY believe are essential to producing fine musical moments.
Admittedly, every conducting class suffers the mass of handouts detailing the “facts” of conducting. I have several that I have collected over the years – one with 28 separate items and sub-items, another with literally a different list of 38 “a conductor should…” items, and a final list of 11 “functions of a conductor” that I borrowed from a colleague I respect. The problem with “facts” is that, unlike the music history exam on tropes and lauds (and no offense to musicology buffs in the audience), just regurgitating the facts on the final exam doesn’t close the door on your “commitment” with that subject.
When I arrived at Lee University in 1999, I assumed that I was there primarily to teach young composers. I was wrong.
I was there to teach the future of our profession. Winona and I were there to insure that all our young conductors and teachers walked into their first jobs musically armed and dangerous! That each young charge left our classes with more than a beat pattern and a couple of fancy moves. That each conductor left us with a MUSICAL BELIEF SYSTEM. That each young teacher left with concepts about line, and texture and contour and all the attributes of expression firmly ingrained in them. Almost religiously! So that when they stepped in front of their first ensemble there was not that cloud of anxiety shouting “What the heck do I fix!?!” but rather they stand confident saying “These are the ways of music. Let me take you for the ride of your lives”!
I think the primary role of my life now is all about the teacher/conductor.
ESSAY – “WHAT OF THE FUTURE . . . “
“As a composer, what do you see as the future of band music?”
“As a conductor, what do you see as the future of band music?”
I’ve been asked to address this question on several occasions, and although I’m sure I articulated golden hyperbole about the “American Ensemble” – because I’m a certified band nerd – I’m convinced that ONE primary path, among the hundreds of tributaries, in this “future of band” issue boils down to composers and conductors and HOW EACH RELATES TO THE OTHER. But, to examine the FUTURE also compels an examination of the PAST.
I had a composition teacher who said, “Composer’s ears are 20 years ahead of listener’s ears and ten years ahead of most conductors.” He was certainly on the mark if we are to consider a past century of new works and their history of ACTUAL acceptance. After all, look at the progression of schools of composition in the 20th century! We hardly had time to breathe between them, much less absorb them as they, retrospectivally speaking, streaked by . . .
Objectivity, Primitivism, Nationalism, Futurism, Gebrauchsmusik, Satirical Music, Machine Music, Jazz, Neoclassicism, Atonality, Serialism and on and on . . . Wasn’t the premiere of Rite of Spring Booed? . . and 10 years later, it’s “old hat” because now we’re dealing with Schoenberg’s pandiatonic works . . and no sooner did Webern and Berg exhaust that run then we’re confronted with Messiaen’s Modes of Limited Transposition . . . and then Aleatoric music . . . the avant-garde . . . the reactionary 70’s in general! . . microtonal music . . electronic music . . sound mass and sonic clouds . . . and I suppose, at the close of the century, minimalism, where one does as much as possible with as little as possible for as long as possible in order to irritate the audience as prolonged as possible . . . and ten years later, that’s already “old hat” . . .
How can we possibly keep up? It’s a mismatched generational thing. Composers look ahead, and conductors, by the nature of their education, have been more comfortable looking to the past.
I think that in the BAND WORLD however, that “Wide Divide” is closing at a rapid rate.
In his foreword to Tim Salzman’s A COMPOSER’S INSIGHT, VOL. 3, Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Corigliano writes, in a rather biting indictment that, due to the inability of the typical PROFESSIONAL orchestral conductor to understand and teach new music and the PROFESSIONAL orchestral player’s less than stellar understanding of anything other than standard notation, it is (quote) “the orchestral profession that has made itself increasingly inconsequential to the [new] music of our time; and in brilliant and inspiring contrast, there now stands the modern concert band”(un-quote). For band-nerds who need a ego-boost, this one page essay is worth the entire price of the book!
Not demeaning “Universal Judgement”, the American march heritage (I play a Sousa march on EVERY concert – don’t get me started on Pop Tunes for Band!), and the band music of Gustav Holst and Vaughan Williams, I usually refer to the 1950‘s as the opening decade of the “modern” band era. And it really has nothing to do with the formation of the “Wind Ensemble”, per se, it’s simply a mark in the middle of the century when I believe the great divide between the new modern band composer and the band conductor first became evident. It has everything to do with the fact that for the first time in history we had composers who ACTUALLY WANTED TO WRITE NEW MUSIC FOR BAND and conductors on the school podiums who were ill-equipped to deal with that onslaught.
True, when young Frederick Fennell sent out that infamous letter about his new ensemble to 400 composers, he really only received responses from a hand-full. But Look who answered. Grainger. Persichetti. Mennin. Hanson. Not a bad start.
I had as my high school band director in the late 1950s, a man who was trained by a college conductor who was raised in the tradition of the “transcriptions” of the 30’s and 40’s. My college band director in the early 60s was raised in the traditions of the late 40’s and the early 1950’s . . Those who were conductors in the 70’s actually had their roots in the music of the late 50’s and early 60’s . . and on and on.
The problem arises in that the composer in the 1970s, for instance, was writing music OF THE 1970s and not music from the 50’s. He needed a conductor WITH A 1970s MUSICAL MENTALITY as a partner. Unfortunately that very seldom happened in those years. Because of a 10 to 15 year “creativity gap”, the first aggressively modern music written for band many times went begging for advocates on the podium.
In fall of 1979, Robert E. Foster at the University of Kansas asked me to write a piece for his band that would be premiered at the national MENC convention the following spring. I wrote THE ARMIES OF THE OMNIPRESENT OTSERF. It contained diagrammatic notation, time signature-free sections, sonic clusters, aleatoric sections, vocal permutations, box-music, and exotic percussion. The score was, to say the least, unconventional looking. When I first presented the work to Mr. Foster – to say that he was somewhat hesitant to except it is probably a huge understatement. I’m sure that Bob Foster would tell you, if you asked him today, that he had never considered a BAND score quite like it before. But I convinced him of its worth and the piece went on to become one of Bob Fosters conducting milestones. But for him to accept the piece, he had to resist our composer/conductor generational mismatch. He had the authority to veto this piece, but he choose to be a “then and now” conductor!
OTSERF went on to win the Ostwald and I feel that in part, it’s acceptance by the American Bandmasters Association also opened the door to other BAND composers, writing with the same contemporary notational devices, to be gradually accepted by a few BAND MUSIC publishers.
I relate the story because, at the same time I was defending that score across Bob Foster’s desk, in the corner of his office was a two foot high pile of scores that had been sent to him that contained many of the same future-looking notational devices we were discussing. But those scores were not a part of Mr. Fosters “conducting environment” at that time. It wasn’t Bob Foster’s fault nor the composer’s fault . . it was simply a generational mismatching between two EQUALLY important aspects of music performance – the conductor and the composer. (Admittedly, let’s also realize that in that two foot high pile of scores, none of those pieces had a composer advocate standing across the desk from the conductor fervently declaring the worth of these new compositional techniques. Techniques, that unfortunately at the time, were only “new” to the band world, having been explored in chamber and orchestral works, literally, for decades!)
I’ve been blessed with “then and now” conductors all my life. In 1965, my college band director at the time, Ken Seward, invited a virtually unknown composer named Vaclav Nehlybel to our campus where our band played his TWO published works, CHORALE and TRITTICO, and my life was changed. In 1966, my new band director, Joseph Labuta decided to program a new piece, PRELUDE AND RONDO, written by the little guy in the baritone section and my life changed. At Central Missouri State University, my band director, Russell Coleman readily programmed “modern” compositions, became a lifelong supporter of my music and my life changed. And Bob Foster, stepped out from a comfort zone in 1979, and introduced an Ostwald winning composition to the public, and my life changed.
In the band world, this great divide between the conductor and the composer is disappearing at warp speed! There is a new generation of conductor and teacher, both college and secondary school level, who are conscious of “what’s on the front burner”.
I am reminded of a story Frances McBeth once told me. As a young composer he was writing work after work for orchestra and getting no takers. His friend, composer Clifton Williams chided him one day. “Frances. Write for Band. That world is crying for new music and you’ll ALWAYS get it played!” That advice is still good.
“Information supply.” That’s a term I’ve been hearing for decades concerning how new music is defined. In this information age of IMMEDIACY, I think the generational gap between the conductor and the composer is being readily narrowed. Corigliano points out in his essay that, unlike the present orchestral culture which tends to continually rehash the greatest hits of the two-and-a half centuries prior to 1900, the culture of the band encourages new repertory, new notations, and new techniques. He also is quick to point out that (quote) “the conductors of today’s bands are always teachers first!” (un-quote)
But playing my own conducting devil’s advocate, I would venture one note of caution.
Years ago, on a CBDNA Panel discussion, Larry Sutherland, retired director from Fresno State issued a warning that we, as conductors, need to be the “filter for the next generation” when it comes to our choices in literature. In this age of immediacy, that musical comfort gap of 20 creative years has all but disappeared. Our choices, as conductors of new music, are becoming ever more critical to the future of our ensemble. The fallacy of that statement is that all of us don’t have the same taste in music. On the other hand, the good news is – all of us don’t have the same taste in music! Unlike the orchestra, the band does not rehash a 200 year old repertoire over and over. If we are guilty of anything, it may possibly be “new music overload”!
The wind band area is the most volatile area for the creation of new music in the world today. This is wonderful news for composers and conductors alike. However, it does breed in us, a certain laissez-faire attitude toward the music of the past. We tend to forget our foundations. We tend to forget the masterworks that put us on this popular plateau in the first place. We tend to leave behind the landmark works of the past decades, in order to always be conductors on the “cutting edge”.
As the “filter for the next generation”, let us be sure to balance our musical palettes. It’s a compositional rule – there is always a need for the proper balance of dissonance and consonance in every piece. That applies to our program choices as well. Let us as conductors be sure that our ensembles feast on a healthy balance of old and new. For the sake of our student musicians, and our listeners, let’s insure that we will not forget the Persichetti’s, the Hindemith’s, the Schoenberg’s, the Schmitt’s, the Hartley’s, the Holst’s, the Gould’s, the Grainger’s of our recent heritage or the Ferdinand Paer’s, the Franz Krommer’s, and the Rimsky-Korsakov’s of our distant past.
What do I see as the future of band music? Hopefully, I see us being . . very careful to keep our balance. Too much dissonance, and we may self-destruct. Too much consonance, and we become some kind of musical “warm gravy” ensemble. We have a gift for the listener the orchestra does not have, but it is essential that we project all of our diversity to the audience AND to our student musicians, who will become the NEXT GENERATION of conductors and “filters” of music.
There’s my answer. But I still hate this question.
ESSAY: “SPEAKING OF SOUSA…”
IN ANSWER TO AN EMAIL QUESTION TO THIS “EXPERT” CONCERNING A YOUNG BAND DIRECTOR’S INQUIRY ASKING IF THE STINGERS WERE OPTIONAL ON A JOHN PHILIP SOUSA MARCH. REALLY!?!? WHERE DID THIS GUY GO TO SCHOOL!?!?
I’m not sure about the “expert” part, but I do enjoy playing Sousa marches. I once had a teacher who told me, “If you can play a [Sousa] march musically, you can play anything musically” – That was his exhortation to me not to “dismiss” the importance of the American march.
One of the keys to playing a Sousa march correctly, at least to me, is being very concerned with the bass drum. (When Sousa guest conducted, he was always accompanied by his OWN bass drummer.) I think this concern is due to his fascination with the “two-step” dance of the turn of the century. It was a dance with a heavy beat one and a light beat two.
So here is my first rule of Sousa:
It doesn’t matter whether you are playing one of his “horse parade marches” (6/8) or a Regimental march (usually contains trumpets on separate bugle-like parts) or one of the “dance” marches (Manhattan Beach, Stars and Stripes, etc.), UNLESS OTHERWISE MARKED, THE BASS DRUM SHOULD ALWAYS BE PLAYED STRONG FIRST BEAT OF THE MEASURE, LIGHT SECOND BEAT. (This will change the feel of the march remarkably!)
The question of the “stinger” is not whether you play it or not, but rather HOW LONG IS THE NOTE. If it has a stinger, it HAS to be played. I’m not sure why you raised the question, to be perfectly honest. If Sousa wrote a stinger, I can’t imagine that he considered it “optional”.
The issue is this – a “putt” is not a note. A note should be long enough to establish tonality. You have to be careful with that “house-top” accent (^). In today’s notation practice, that mark usually means a very short punched note. However, at the turn of the century it was simply a louder accent than the marcato accent (>). Not shorter.
So basically, I make it a practice to play the “stinger” full value. (If it’s a quarter note in Cut-time, that’s a HALF OF A BEAT. – not a sixteenth “putt”.) Anyway, the issue is that it has to be long enough to establish a strong final tonality point to the piece. This is just MY OPINION. I’m sure there are as many different ideas about the length of a “stinger” as there are stingers to be played.
If there is a heritage to the American Band, it is the “American” march form. I encourage you to make it a major part of your band’s education. Lady GaGa tunes will disappear in a few decades, but Sousa, Fillmore, Karl King and friends, will be with us always.
OPINION ON NEW BAND MUSIC (NOVEMBER 2020)
This is just my personal opinion. I’m bored with a lot of young composers who write six to ten minutes of “mood music” that has no counterpoint, no forward direction and in most cases, simply wanders around in harmonic blandness demonstrating no imagination for even the simplest of any self-defined formal structure. I don’t expect Sonata Allegro form to have a rebirth, but please take me somewhere with some kind of musical reasoning apparent in construction. Give me a chance to teach my musicians about how to deal with moving lines, the weight of note values, the contours and plateaus of melodic and harmonic evolution.
Give me an experience that arrives somewhere. Anywhere. Please.