It’s Hindemith’s Birthday

Today, November 16th, is the birthdate of celebrated composer Paul Hindemith.  Hindemith, who passed away in 1963, contributed multiple canon works in both the orchestral and wind repertoires.  Born near Frankfurt am Maim, Germany, in 1895, Hindemith created a unique and memorable harmonic language that stemmed from his own system that ranked intervals from most to least dissonant.  His innovative harmonic language was coupled with an incredible mastery of counterpoint.

Celebrate his birthday with listenings of his Symphony in Bb for concert band, the wind transcription of his Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber (transcribed by Keith Wilson in cooperation with Hindemith himself), and the marvelous early work Konzertmusik für Blasorchester, Op. 41.

A recording of Konzertmusik für Blasorchester

5-Minute Read: What to Play?

As the competitive marching season begins to wind down, many of us are turning our thoughts to the literature we’ll tackle with our concert ensembles.  Every year, we weigh a multitude of factors in programming our Fall, Winter, and Spring concerts.  What is our instrumentation?  What performer strengths and weaknesses are inherent to our ensemble?  What is our audience?  To what important works do we want to expose our students?  With so many questions, there’s one question that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

Is This Music Worth It?

Dr. Myron Welch, my conducting teacher at the University of Iowa, was often careful to remind his students that we have a limited number of career musical choices as conductors.  Even if you are lucky to have a heavier concert schedule than most, how many different pieces of music will you get to rehearse and conduct in your career? 200? 250? With repeated works from canon repertoire and approved festival lists, 250 is a very generous estimate.

What I’m getting at is that, with such a limited number of musical opportunities, you want them all to count!  The worst feelings I’ve ever had as a conductor is that feeling of regret, years later, when I say to myself “why did I program that piece of music?” That’s rehearsal time that I want back.

Now, I’m not here to tell you which pieces are worth it, and which aren’t.  My choices wouldn’t be your own, and there are many sources of literature selection these days, such as the Teaching Music Through Performance series of textbooks.  No, I want you to take a moment to craft your own statement of musical aesthetic.

Explain Yourself… to Yourself

I recommend that you take a moment to articulate to yourself, in writing, a guiding statement on what makes for quality concert literature. This is a personal statement.  I’ve developed the following guiding statement for selecting concert works:

  1. The work displays careful craftsmanship (i.e. extensive motivic development, economy of style and thematic content, impressive formal and harmonic construction)
  2. The work’s structure bears careful examination and analysis, holding up no matter how closely it is scrutinized.
  3. The work still manages to generate a genuine emotional response in the listener, and in the conductor, no matter how much time he/she has spent studying and rehearsing it.

The great thing about this process is that everyone’s personal statement can be different. What I think is a great piece, someone else will not, and vice-versa. But by creating this statement, at least I can ask myself honestly: “is this music going to be something I’m glad I spent three months with 25 years from now? Or will I want that time back?”

I urge you to take some time to craft this statement to yourself.  You’ll find that it not only focuses you on the right future literature for yourself and your ensembles, but that it also reveals something about yourself.  It will shine a light on why you highly value certain works of musical art, and that is a fascinating glimpse into our own minds.  And that’s insight that will serve you well, whether selecting music for a holiday concert, a chamber recital, a festival performance, or a spring finale.

Gustav Holst’s “Christmas Day”

Looking for some great holiday literature for your band’s upcoming concert? It can get difficult, since we’re limited to many of the same old standbys each year. May I suggest a beautiful setting of old carols by a giant in the world of wind band composition?

Gustav Holst originally wrote Christmas Day: Choral Fantasy on Old Carols in 1910 for his students at Morley College. The work was for organ, orchestra, and chorus, and includes beautifully written and juxtaposed settings of “Good Christian Men Rejoice,” “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen,” “Come Ye Lofty, Come Ye Lowly,” and “The First Nowell.” Featuring Holst’s inventive compositional techniques and instantly-recognizable ensemble colors, Christmas Day is a wonderful and moving holiday contribution from a serious and celebrated composer.

There are multiple versions for concert band that are faithful to the original work’s form and color.  I suggest checking out Larry Daehn’s excellent transcription.  Give it a try with your band today!