Tombstone Galop (2020) – flex ensemble

Free downloads:
Full Score – Flex Ensemble (any 6 melodic instruments and percussion; 11″x17″)
Reduced C Score (for easier printing/reading; letter sized)
All Parts (letter sized)
Preview Audio

About the piece:

Tombstone Galop was composed in response to the Creatve Repertoire Initiative. The CRI was designed to encourage composers to write for flexible instrumentation, to allow directors unsure of their upcoming instrumentation to have repertoire to perform, especially with COVID-19 happening. This is for any six melodic instruments and up to 5 percussionists (3-4 is preferred). The parts are in the range of grade 3-4 in difficulty.

I have long been a fan of spaghetti western films. Recently, I moved to Benson, Arizona, which is a short drive away from perhaps the most famous town in the Wild West – Tombstone! The town has a legendary history, starting as a silver mine and growing into one of the big boomtowns of the West. At its peak, it had saloons, hotels, schools, churches, gambling and dance halls, an ice cream parlor, and a bowling alley! This served its nearly 14,000 residents, many of whom were made wealthy from the mine. It was not uncommon to see people in the latest European fashions. But it was not all fun and games. Dangerous gangs made a living smuggling across the Mexican border and extorting locals.

Tombstone entered the history books on October 26, 1881. That March, three members of the notorious gang called The Cowboys attempted to rob a stagecoach filled with nearly $26,000 worth of silver (that’s nearly $700,000 in today’s dollars). Two men in the stagecoach were shot and killed. The Earp family, in charge of the police in Tombstone, pursued the robbers. This would culminate in October at the legendary shootout at the O.K. Corral. This short gunfight led to three deaths. Later, two of the law enforcement officers involved would be assassinated. This event spawned several movies and TV episodes, and inspired the gunslinging view many had of the Wild West. The town of Tombstone exists to this day, and is a hotspot for tourists who are fans of the Wild West.

In this piece, I tried to imagine what music might have been heard in a dance hall in Tombstone, during its happier days. This is tinged with the dark opening and the sounds of horses and guns. It is in a traditional march form, with the faster circus march tempo. The introduction and first strain are in C minor. The second strain is in Ab major, and we hear horses for the first time. The trio is gentler and in Db major. The dogfight represents the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Can you hear the horses? The piece ends triumphantly with the victory of law over the outlaws of the notorious Cowboy gangsters.

The piece can be performed by any 6 melodic instruments. The parts are labelled 1-6 and with their transposition. For example Part 4 (F) could be played on a mellophone or horn; Part 1 (C) could be played on violin or flute. The flexibility is up to you! Numerous markings make the instrumentation more interesting, offering solo opportunities, or encouraging certain parts to play the second time only at a given repeat. Be creative, have fun!

Commissioning Rates

Commissioning rates are always negotiable, and can be split among consortium members. Rates include delivery of the score and parts with exclusive performing rights for the upcoming school year. Additional terms will be negotiated on an individual basis.
Grade 0.5 – $1000
Grade 1-1.5 – $2000
Grade 2-2.5 – $3000
Grade 3-3.5 – $4000
Grade 4+ – $5000+

Negotiable with instrumentation, length, and difficulty.

Contact me

Clinician Rates
Skype – $100/hr
In person – $200/day plus travel expenses

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?

Thoughts on Composing for Young Bands

Robot Penguin - for beginning band
Robot Penguin – for beginning band

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

11150702_552807181528548_151573596814780672_nHardly 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.

The Acoustic Whole-Tone Scale

I’ve been working on an exciting new project lately, and I think I’ve come up with a pretty neat idea for a scale to use. It’s a hybrid scale, consisting of a hybrid scale + a mode of limited transposition. Behold, the Acoustic Whole-Tone Scale! Perhaps I’m just coming up with a pretentious title for an octatonic scale with an extra note in it. Or an acoustic scale with an extra note. =P

It contains the notes of the Acoustic (AKA Lydian-Dominant) scale and the whole-tone scale, hence the name:
C D E F# G G# A Bb C (or perhaps C D E F# G Ab A Bb C)

acoustic whole tone scale

See below the notes of the two scales it is a hybrid of. Or is it a hybrid of a hybrid?