Happy marching season, everyone. Here’s a freebie for you to look at, share, and use. You work hard, enjoy it!
Fanfare in a Blue Pilu (2020) – for trumpet septet
Fanfare in a Blue Pilu was inspired by my love of the music of Jimi Hendrix (specifically, the Hendrix Chord) and the postminimal fanfares of John Adams. The title refers to the scale used, the raga Pilu, although I derived the scale from the opening harmonic idea: the Fdim/F7 polychord which sounds quite bluesy.
The work was commissioned and performed by Brandon Dicks of the Rhode Island Recording Ensemble. Dicks, a doctoral student at Arizona State University, commissioned a series of trumpet ensemble fanfares to support composers through the pandemic; he performed and mixed all parts for the premiere recording.
Preview score (concert pitch, unedited).
How to Compose for Young Band
Composing for young band is a challenge many composers balk at. But should they?
I rather think of composing for beginners an interesting challenge as a composer. What can you write for musicians who maybe only know five notes on their instrument, and only whole, half, and quarter notes? How can you integrate modern composing techniques, such as electronics, aleatoric elements, and improvisation with new musicians? How can you make the music interesting and valuable for new musicians? How can you make this music appeal to middle school students?
Know what beginning and first or second year music students can perform! They may only understand a few music elements, such as five notes or only whole, half, and quarter notes, but can you make an aesthetically pleasing work for young musicians with such limited means? It’s challenging work, but worth the means. It teaches music can be written by living composers, rather than just by dead white European men, and that maybe they can do the same! It can teach new elements of music, such as dotted rhythms or a new note or scale.
Are you willing to take on the challenge? Do you think this kind of work is limiting or a worthy challenge?
Fifteen Minutes of Fame Winner!
Jason Taurins is one of fifteen winners chosen to write a one-minute piece for flautist Angela Collier-Reynolds and trombonist Patrick Reynolds. The piece, titled Sibling Rivalry, will be performed by the duo on May 14 in Pittsburgh, PA. Learn more about his piece and the other winners here.
Click here to view the score of his winning composition.
“Supercell” (2016) – World Premiere Recording
Thoughts on Composing for Young Bands
Many composers are wary of composing for beginning and young musicians. Ensembles for these musicians can be small, limited in instrumentation, and of course, being beginners, there is often a lack of sophisticated technique simply because these musicians are young and learning. Young musicians are learning the fundamentals of sound production and reading music. With experience, they learn more notes and rhythms, and develop tone, range, and a variety of other musical skills as they mature physically and as musicians.
Some music written for this level is of questionable quality, and many composers question how or why they would limit themselves to the means necessary to write for beginners. These are valid concerns. However, I relish the challenge of using limited means to create an exciting musical product playable by beginners. There are thousands of beginning bands in schools around the US, and it is a great market. Bands love playing new music. They also love commissioning new music and publishers love it because they make money selling the music to school bands. Additionally, there are many young bands around the world who perform with astonishing quality and musicianship. You cannot paint young bands with a broad brush!
Many musicians start to learn an instrument in the fourth, fifth, or sixth grade. During this time, it is critical that they learn to love making music, so they continue to stay in our ensembles. If we are to continue to have professional musicians, we have to keep students learning music. What better justification is there for writing good, quality music for young musicians than this? Think of yourself as composing for the next generation of performers, composers, and directors.
Interested in composing for young bands? Check out these resources:
Alfred Grading Guidelines
FJH Grading Guidelines
ABC Grading Chart
Ralph Ford’s Thoughts on Composing for Young Musicians
Classical Music Isn’t Dead/Dying, Thanks to Wind Bands
Hardly a week goes by where I do not see an article proclaiming the impending death of classical music, or offering ways to revive the art. I must admit that I am quite young and perhaps not the best expert on the state of classical music in today’s world. I am, however, a music educator who dabbles in the art of composing for a type of ensemble that is thriving. Many of those who claim art music is dying simply ignore the fact that wind band music is an exciting and growing medium, and composers are taking notice.
Perhaps the idea of classical music conjures up the great orchestras of the world. While many of these ensembles are facing financial trouble, which is tragic and should be reversed, if possible, the wind ensemble is thriving. Thousands of elementary, middle, and high school students participate in wind bands both in and out of school. Many adults participate in community wind bands. Colleges often have one or more wind bands as well. Respected composers have started to notice the artistic possibilities of these great young musicians. Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Corigliano had this to say:
“Attending a band concert, in contrast, I find exhilarating. For starters, the repertoire of band music is largely contemporary. As a result the audiences expect and look forward to new works. Listening in an environment largely ignored by the press, they learn to trust their own ears and respond directly to what they hear. Most important of all, concert bands devote large amounts of rehearsal time over a period of weeks – not days – to learning thoroughly the most challenging of scores. With its combination of new notations and spatial challenges demanding an intricate coordination of a large work, Circus Maximus could only have been attempted under such special circumstances.”
His symphony “Circus Maximus” is just one of many works being commissioned by great wind ensembles. John Mackey recently wrote a band symphony. University wind bands have commissioned numerous works, including a concerto for saxophone and band by Steven Bryant, a trumpet concerto by John Mackey, and a song cycle for winds and voice by John Mackey. Joe Alessi, principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic, recently commissioned a trombone concerto from John Mackey and another from Stephen Bryant. Wind bands are commissioning new and exciting music from great composers and great performers are also enjoying these fruits.
School bands are also commissioning a great number of works. Whether to celebrate some event, have a new piece of music for an honor ensemble, or to mourn a tragedy, bands around the country and around the world are interested in playing new music. Some bands commission works from composers simply because they like their music. Even Philip Glass, early in his career, wrote for school bands.
Is classical music dying? Well, I guess it depends on your definition of classical music. But from where I stand, art music is alive and well.
Shepherd’s Pi (2016) – for Ensemble
Every once in awhile, I get the idea to write something a bit unusual. Given the season, I decided to write a piece reflecting my love of pumpkins, pumpkin pie, math, and dad jokes. Inspired by Rzewski’s composition Les Moutons de Panurge, I composed Shepherd’s π for any size ensemble and using a similar process. Incidentally, I once carved a “Pumpkin Pi.”
Full score here.
Middle School (Grade 1-2) Band Composition Commission Consortium
I am trying something new and starting a commission consortium for a new band piece. The buy in is as little as $10, so check out the link for more information!
Three West African Folk Songs (2016) – for Grade 1.5 Band
Check out my latest publication! I arranged three folk songs from West African countries.
Score Preview. Buy here!
1. L’abe igi orombo (Nigeria)
2. Iro ye (Benin)
3. Fanga Alafia (Ghana)