Friday, April 5, 2013

Honoring wind music's greatest generation

In 1998, NBC journalist Tom Brokaw wrote of those who have lived through the era of the Second World War, those he called the greatest generation. "At the end of the twentieth century the contributions of this generation would be in bold print in any review of this turbulent and earth-altering time. It may be historically premature to judge the greatness of a whole generation, but indisputably, there are common traits that cannot be denied. It is a generation that, by and large, made no demands of homage from those who followed and prospered economically, politically, and culturally because of its sacrifices. It is a generation of towering achievement and modest demeanor, a legacy of their formative years when they were participants in and witness to sacrifices of the highest order. They know how many of the best of their generation didn't make it to their early twenties, how many brilliant scientists, teachers, spiritual and business leaders, politicians and artists were lost in the ravages of the greatest war the world has seen."

If I am allowed to editorialize, the wind band movement has its own greatest generation, those composer who actually are closely aligned with Brokaw's assessment. These are composers whose achievements, had they not chosen to focus on works for the wind band, might be better known. Still, we owe each of them a debt of gratitude for sharing their time, talents, and compositions with us.

The upcoming concert of the Quad City Wind Ensemble pays homage to these significant contributors to our medium.

Howard Hanson, longtime faculty member of the Eastman School, is the earliest member of this
Howard Hanson
lineage and he penned several works for band, the most well known of which is Chorale and Alleluia. Our program opens with Hanson's Centennial March, written for the 100th anniversary of his home state's (Nebraska) admittance into the union. We are pleased to resurrect this long out-of-print work.

Clifton Williams
It was Howard Hanson who led Clifton Williams to write for the wind band rather than the orchestra, counseling Williams that he would get larger audiences and a larger range of organizations to perform his music in doing so. We offer Williams final work, written literally on his deathbed, Caccia and Chorale.

Lawrence Weiner is the least known of Hanson's disciples, having written only a handful of works; in actuality, I know of only two, including his lovely Air for Band. As lyrical as Frank Erickson's composition of the same name, it is more interesting harmonically. I have recently discovered that this little gem has been released by TRN Music. I hope it finds a place in the band repertoire.

Next comes the part of the lineage that sprang forth as students of Williams. Francis McBeth studied with Williams at the University of Texas, earning his master's degree in 1957. He would also spend time with his compositional "grandfather" at the Eastman School. McBeth felt that his work Through Countless Halls of Air, composed for the US Air Force Band, firmly encapsulated his style and was, therefore his favorite piece. This is virtuosic music of the highest order with challenges for each player in the ensemble.

The death of John Barnes Chance--accidentally electrocuted before his 40th birthday--was among the
John Barnes Chance
most tragic losses to the band world. It seems as though everything he wrote for winds is landmark and possibly none more so than Incantation and Dance, amazingly enough his very first piece for the medium.

Arkansas native Steven Bryant studied with McBeth at Ouachita Baptist University before moving onto the Julliard School. He is part of a growing number of contemporary composers aligning with Hanson's vision that the wind band medium is probably more viable and the orchestra. First Light, a hauntingly beautiful depiction of the sunrise over an Italian village, is among his most evocative works.

The program also includes the winner of the Charles B. DCamp Scholarship, Caitlin Thom, a student at Pleasant Valley High School. She rose to the top over the largest number of entrants in recent memory and will be presenting the thrilling third movement of Eric Ewazen's Marimba Concerto.

But to close the performance, we come full circle to Francis McBeth's transcription of Howard Hanson's famous Symphony No. 2, "Romantic." This work has become known as the "Interlochen Theme" as it closes all summer concerts at the famed music school.

Full circle: McBeth salutes Hanson

For more information on this and other activities of the Quad City Wind Ensemble, visit us on Facebook or our web page: