Bon-Bon “Wind Band Classics”
23 September 2018
Thank you for joining us, the AudioImage Wind Ensemble – resident band of the Siglap South Community Centre, in an afternoon of “Wind Band Classics”. You may be reading this either before, during or after the concert, but this is to let me take you through the music that we will be presenting to you this afternoon.
But why “Wind Band Classics”? AudioImage Wind Ensemble is essentially what we refer to as a “symphonic band”, a “concert band” or a “wind orchestra”, not unlike a “military band”, a musical ensemble with a standard configuration of instruments that include woodwinds (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, saxophones), brass (trumpet, French horn, trombone, euphonium, tuba), string bass and percussion.
Although the history of the “military band” dates to as far back as records from the 11th century shows, the current “symphonic band” setup commonly seen as pictured above didn’t really exist till about the 1950s, established by Frederick Fennell at the Eastman School of Music (they were known as the Eastman Wind Ensemble and are known for their many recordings of wind ensemble music). This setup was modelled after the symphony orchestra.
However way before this, in 1909, British composer Gustav HOLST had already created a First Suite in E-flat For Military Band. Holst himself was a trombonist, and to counter the fact that British military bands around the early 20th century were playing mostly popular music and transcriptions of orchestral literature, the Suite was considered to be a “serious” work conceived with the instruments of the military band at that time. Till now, the Suite continues to enjoy its status of a cornerstone work, both in the realm of performance and also of study by conductors and composers alike.
There are three movements to the Suite: I – Chaconne, II – Intermezzo and III – March, and they are very often played without a break in between. The entire Suite is really just constructed from one theme which you will hear right at the beginning played by the euphoniums and tubas:
Of particular interest is in I – Chaconne, Holst takes the theme and literally turns it upside down (the musical term we give this phenomenon is “inversion”) which is pictured below:
And much of the melodic material that Holst employs in II – Intermezzo and III – March starts with the first three notes in both musical excerpts presented above.
The chaconne and the gavotte share the fact that they both are types of musical compositions popular during the Baroque era (roughly 1600 – 1750), however the Gavotte is also a dance. “Gavotte” as composed by Kelly TANG (Dr) is the second movement from “Two Contrasts for Concert Band”, commissioned by the Ministry of Education as a test piece for the Singapore Youth Festival Central Judging of Concert Bands in the year of 2013. (Incidentally the first movement is a “Sarabande”, another popular Baroque dance form.) Dr Tang’s Gavotte, while modern in conception, adheres to the gavotte of the past where it is played in moderate tempo, with a time signature of 4/4. Its light-hearted introduction suggests that this music could actually be danced to, just like how they did used to do it back then.
I hope you’re starting to see where the title of our concert “Wind Band Classics” is leaning towards – for the HOLST has indeed survived the test of time and continues to be performed very often today, and of Dr Tang’s exploration of classic dance forms popular around 450 years ago.
But for many of us band members and instructors, the acronym “SYF” is itself classic, having been a mainstay of band life in secondary or junior college band. This is the biannual event where bands practice the beejeezus out of two pieces, one required and one choice, to be presented during the Festival in April / May. As there are about 180 schools in total, the chances of the same choice piece being performed can only but increase. The rest of the concert repertoire highlights some of these pieces, which has since, become classics in their own right.
James SWEARINGEN is a well-established and highly-respected figure in the world of the concert band. His catalogue of band works enjoy many performances especially from beginner to intermediate groups, for which he mostly writes for. Blue Ridge Saga never fails to be performed at almost every single SYF. This offering utilises a folk setting that reflects on the beauty and history of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and this work contains some of Swearingen’s best themes ever written. The effective and masterful orchestration for a middle-level group is also what has made Blue Ridge Saga a popular choice piece amongst secondary school bands in Singapore preparing for their SYF presentation.
If there’s a composer of concert band music who has an extensive discography of recorded works, it has to be Alfred REED, particularly with the legendary group the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, whom he has also conducted. El Camino Real, which means “The Royal Road” is a fantasy overture in fast-slow-fast format that has a basis in a series of chord progressions commonly found in Spanish flamenco music. This particular piece continues to be a firm favourite to be programmed by many bands all over the world ever since its completion in 1985.
The music that has been presented so far is what I would call, absolute – meaning that the music itself isn’t supposed to actually mean something – pure music, as one could say. One could look at a theme and marvel at how the composer transforms it into a piece of music of substantial value, by virtue of his skills in orchestration and imagination. To create pieces of music like these, and have them stand the test of time through many repeated performances, can only mean they indeed have become classics.
The next three pieces have a more definite agenda to them – they are purely programmatic i.e. they’re meant to be telling stories. It’s like writing an essay or a novel, but with a structure and chosen musical material that suggests the flow of a storyline from its genesis to its conclusion.
A piece with a potentially “blasphemous” title such as Fate of the Gods of course requires a second look, composer Steven REINEKE was thinking along the lines the gods in Nordic mythology to be precise. This music attempts to tell the tale of Ragnarok, also known as the Twilight of the Gods, and of an incredible war fought between the forces of good and evil, bringing about the end of the cosmos. The composer writes:
The first section of the piece represents the creation of the primordial world in which forces of both good and evil are established. The second section is the development of the dark, devious themes that symbolize the God Loki, the personification of all things evil. This theme gives way to the more soothing music that represents the God Balder, son of Odin. Balder personifies all that is good, pure and innocent. When evil ensues once again, Heimdall, the watchman of the Gods, sounds his horn, signalling the beginning of the end. From all the corners of the world, gods, giants, dwarves, demons and elves will ride towards the huge plain where the last battle will be fought. This tremendous battle brings about the massive chaos and eventually the destruction of the world. All is destroyed save one tree, the tree of life, known as Yggdrasil. The tree gradually brings existence back to the world. This time it is only forces of goodness which are created. Evil has destroyed itself and good has won over all.
Jericho by Bert Appermont is the musical translation of the well-known story from the book of Joshua, about the capture of the city of Jericho by the Israelites. The work has the following subsections: “Years of Exile”, “The Battle of Jericho”, “Victory” and “Celebration”, and includes some special musical effects to describe the falling down of the walls of Jericho, among others. Like in many of his other works (many of which are also inspired by other stories or characters such as Noah’s Ark, Egmont and Gilgamesh) we hear memorable melodies that has captured the hearts of many bandsmen, ensuring repeated performances of this music be it in a concert or even during competition (this piece was the compulsory test piece for the World Music Contest in 2005 in Kerkrade, the Netherlands, in the Division 3 Category).
Perhaps no other band composer in the recent 10 years has enjoyed immense popularity among Singaporean band members other than Japanese composer Satoshi YAGISAWA. Many of his compositions have self-explanatory titles and are kept in a dramatic musical language, often evoking a myriad of emotions from within the performer to the audience. He has been commissioned by the Ministry of Education to write the test pieces for the 2011 edition of the SYF for Concert Bands (Memories of Friendship and Singapore Flyer), but much of his other works and commissions are programmatic, like Machu Picchu. You may have seen pictures and videos of Machu Picchu, which are the remains of an ancient Incan citadel high up in the Andes Mountains in Peru, a truly beholding sight to believe, but the composer takes his work a step further to describe
three principal ideas dominating the piece:
1) the shimmering golden city of Cuzco set in the dramatic scenery of the Andes
2) the destructiveness of violent invasion (by the Spanish conquistadors)
3) the re-emergence of Incan glory as the City in the Sky again reached for the sun.
Of course, there are many other wind band classics that truly deserve to be included in such a programme, but unfortunately we don’t have all that time in the world! However technology helps us to perpetuate our enjoyment of many of these classics in the comfort of our own homes, and sometimes if we’re lucky enough, in the concert hall. Let us continue to support the music of these composers and also of newer and upcoming creators of music, particularly those of our own i.e. Singaporeans, so that we can together create new classics for future generations of musicians and audiences to enjoy!
We at AudioImage hope you have enjoyed listening to our programme as much as we have enjoyed the entire process of putting it altogether. We hope to see you at our next concert on 11th November at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where we’ll take on the forces of Thanos, ride a skateboard into the future, entertain our friends on the other side, and of course, join the battlefront in a war of inter-galactic proportions!
With warmest regards,
AudioImage Wind Ensemble