A Glass of Chianti

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

From "The Musical Ambassadors of the Army"

I had mentioned earlier that I got a CD with the Army Field Band playing Aaron Copland. I have a huge soft spot in my musician heart for anything Copland because, not only is his work great to listen to, his pieces are incredibly fun to play. One of the other reasons I really like Copland is that he has a great talent for transcribing for wind band. It's not as easy as just giving the clarinets the violin parts. For one, 12 clarinetists don't sound like 30 violinists. They may be as loud (louder, even!) but just transposing the line up a second isn't going to give you a pleasant result most of the time. Band orchestration is a post for another day... or maybe never.

I bought this CD at a used book store for a whole dollar. The service bands generally put out these CDs for educational purposes and they include detailed books with the liner notes. Sadly, my CD did not come with them, but as it was a dollar, I'm not complaining. I particularly enjoyed hearing a "Down a Country Lane" which, though not a composer transcription, is remarkably well-done. This is a short, simple piece that takes an understated melody and just moves it through different textures in the band. It's kind of an exercise in earnest, restrained beauty.*

The "Circus Music" of The Red Pony Suite makes the Eb clarinet player's heart beat faster in anticipation and dread. ;)

What I really appreciated, though, was the inclusion of two pieces for band with narration. In both Preamble for a Solemn Occasion and Lincoln Portrait we're treated with Charles Osgood. I doubt that any person in the U.S. who has played in a band who has not played the Walter Beeler transcription of Lincoln Portrait at least once. It's great. The narration (in four sections) is selected quotations from Lincoln. The rhetoric is soaring, perhaps a bit self-consciously so, and beautiful.
Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.... The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion.

And, of course,
that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The music in the background is appropriately sorrowful, but ultimately hopeful. It swells and the piece ends on an optimistic note. I love this piece. The great thing is that the music augments the narration, but that it doesn't need the narration to be soaring or accomplish its goal.

Contrast that to Preamble for a Solemn Occasion. The narrated text is from (I love Google) the United Nation's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
We the peoples of the United Nations,
determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,
which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind,
and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,
in the dignity and worth of the human person,
in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,
and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.

Lincoln it is not.
Even more disturbingly, though, the music that accompanies the words is rather bland and generic. I felt neither the presence nor the effects of war at the beginning, and when the narration began, it seemed to come out of nowhere and lecture to me completely independent of the background. I was a little unimpressed, but glad that it was included as the contrast with Lincoln Portrait was interesting.

Anyway, I'll be skipping the UN lecture, but I'll make up for it by repeating "Happy Ending" from The Red Pony Suite twice. My three minutes are really better spent that way. ;)

*I do feel bad for the trombones, though, it seems as though they have nothing to do. They'd probably throw spitballs at the conductor in rehearsal.