Saturday, January 20, 2018

Forward March: The Interpretation and Understanding of a March

Dr. Steven Grimo
Lt. Col. USAF (Ret.)
Dr. Steven Grimo began his career in music as a percussionist, attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts where he earned a BME in Music Education and a BA in Percussion Performance. After a successful teaching career in New England, Steve spent 22 years conducting US Air Force Bands. While in the Air Force, he earned his DMA from Catholic University. Steve has since retired from the Air Force and two University teaching positions. He has been the guest conductor of the Concord Band on multiple occasions.

Marches have been composed throughout every period of Western Music. Masters such as Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Bruckner, and Wagner have all composed original works in this form. The march qualifies as an important part of wind literature and band heritage. Conductors sometimes mistakenly look upon marches as secondary musical offerings, rather than recognizing the joy and energy produced by such programming “gems.” This highly stylized form, like a waltz or minuet, served much like a dance for bodily motion. The march was a functional musical form designed to keep a regular beat with an encouraging sound to keep troops in step.

In the seventeenth century, small bands of musicians marched, participated in processions, and provided rallying sounds for large gatherings. These early collections of instrumentalists usually consisted of winds and drums; “louder was better” for the open-air performances. By the eighteenth century, military musicians performed short and simple marches. During the mid-eighteenth century, the military band consisted of winds in pairs with an added side drum and bass drum; the trumpet and sackbut were occasionally added. It was not until the French Revolution that large wind bands resembled the ones we know today. As composers began to write for larger ensembles, the musical sophistication of a march began to improve. The history of the wind band closely paralleled the development of performance practices for the march.

As the nineteenth century approached, percussionists and wind musicians were assigned to military units, establishing the lasting concept of a “military” band. As military bands expanded their functions, performances began to include concerts for events such as the arrival of dignitaries. This movement directly led to a variety of musical styles performed by military musicians, all of which included various dance types and the occasional added vocal or instrumental soloist. During the early nineteenth century, Wilhelm Wieprecht of Germany (inventor of the tuba) worked extensively to establish what we have come to know as the “concert” band.

Instrumentation was established and compositions and transcriptions of orchestral music were performed. This change in performance practice moved away from the “military” band concept toward the concert band of today. Patrick S. Gilmore, who was active in the United States from 1849 until his death in 1892, is considered the “Father of the American Band.” The Marine Band, founded in 1798, consisted of 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 horns, 1 bassoon, and a drum. It was not until 1861 that the band was authorized 30 musicians. The military tradition of musicians in uniform continued through Sousa’s time and continues worldwide today.

The popularity of the quickstep, a dance popular in the nineteenth century,  became the musical foundation of dancing as well as marching. The quickstep is sectional, with repeats and no key changes. The quickstep resembles the galop (a quick dance in 2/4 time). Also during this time were grand marches, which were slower and longer than the quickstep and were in 4/4 meter. These grand marches were like the classical minuet with two strains (each repeated), a trio in a closely-related key, and a da capo (a return to the first strain). This form became the standard for marches after the middle of the century.

Like the poise and passion of a Strauss waltz, great marches are cheerful and driven to make your body move and your feet dance. Creativity, inspiration, and formal structure qualify such a composition as an important part of band repertoire. Marches are truly expressions of “music in motion,” full of humor, inventiveness and a descriptive style. The age of the march coincided with the development of the professional wind band. The transition from the Gilmore band of 1859 and Sousa’s designation as the leader of the Marine Band in 1880 encouraged prosperity and progress in concert band development. March masters such as Sousa, Fillmore, Alford, K. L. King, Goldman, J. J. Richards, R. B. Hall, and Russell Alexander developed a musical form like Johann Strauss and his treatment of the waltz.

March Styles—One of the main factors in performance is selecting the appropriate tempo. Moving a metronome marking up or down can determine the need for single or double tonguing for the brass section. These tempos are characteristic of various periods and historical function. Early American military marches were 120 beats per minute, and circus marches were double time, creating excitement and intensity for the Big Top performers. Slower than American marches, European marches are between 104 and 112 beats per minute with a more deliberate pulse. German and British marches have similar characteristics and tempo qualities as well. The Paso Doble, known as a Spanish or Latin American march, is relaxed with a rubato and operatic flavor. Some of these marches may be quicksteps with excitement and a festive quality, much like circus marches.

Tempo and Pulse—Rhythmic accuracy is the single most important factor when performing a march. Problems arise when an ensemble or section plays “in tempo” but not “in rhythm.” Incorrect subdivision and note placement cause unsteady motion within the music. The march should feel effortless and comfortable for both the players and the audience.

Articulations and Dynamics—Marches are performed with a variety of articulations. Notes that are not slurred should be played shorter than written. Accents are approached by adding length and weight or by creating space between each note. Avoiding the hard-tongue attack and using more air support will produce a better accent. Dynamic contrast and creativity will be essential to the performance. Variations between each strain of a march and contrast between sections, will make for an exciting and effective performance. Consider changes and variations in instrumentation from strain to strain. Avoid the constant tutti band sound. Mix and match various colors and contrast.

Essential Elements
  1. Tone quality: intonation, control
  2. Accuracy: articulations, unity
  3. Tempo: precision, ensemble
  4. Interpretation: style, phrasing, accents, dynamics, balance, expression
Objective Checklist
  1. Rhythmic energy
  2. March style, detached style
  3. Attack and breath
  4. Release, tone and tongue
  5. Accents
  6. Dynamics, phrasing, expression
  7. Inner voices: balance, definition
  8. Countermelody
  9. Bass line and horn balance to melodic line
  10. Basic march elements: melody, harmony and rhythm
  11. Tone quality
  12. Vitality, motion and character, clarity of rhythm
  13. Percussion: rhythm, movement, tempo and precision
  14. Clarity of upper voices, ornamentation, accuracy and unity
  15. Balance, blend, and projection

Monday, January 1, 2018

What Music Would You Listen To on a 100 Mile Run?

Adena running at Fort McDowell State Park, outside Phoenix, at about mile 30, well before the blue hour.
(Photo by Howie Stern, race photographer)
—by Adena Schutzberg

I’ve observed a connection between my running and the music we play in the Concord Band. You could even say that my running is what brought me to The Concord Band. When I started running seriously, I found myself in a quandary. My running club, The Somerville Roadrunners, held track practice on the Tuesday nights. That was the same night the Woburn City Band held its rehearsals! It was on a rare Tuesday night that I didn’t have track practice, that I visited with my bandmates and learned that the Concord Band needed a clarinet or two for an upcoming concert. I was invited to rehearse, on Monday nights, and perform in the concert.

I was honored to be invited to join the band officially after the Holiday Pops concerts in 2005. Our Winter Concert featured The Gum-Suckers March by Percy Aldridge Grainger. It was the first time I’d played it and it was quite challenging. I’d rehearse one passage of about ten measures over and over. In February 2006, I traveled to Martha’s Vineyard to run a 20 mile race. The race was very cold and long. And what was the soundtrack in my head? Those ten measures of The Gum-Suckers March! I recall mentioning the experience to then Music Director Bill McManus who was not sure what to make of it, but was pleased I was practicing!

More recently I’ve begun to consciously select Concord Band music to listen to while running. For each new concert members receive a “Practice CD,” with performances of each piece. It’s been valuable for me to get more familiar with the music, to follow along on my own part, and sometimes to “play along.” I like to move the music to my iPod and listen to it a few times during training runs.

I listen to audio while doing training runs, but I rarely listen to anything when racing. Some races do not allow earbuds for safety reasons bit I just prefer to focus on a new location and my fellow runners. That said, I changed my practice, just a little, after this year’s Winter Concert titled Shades of Blue. While I loved all the pieces, I could not get John Mackey’s 2010 Hymn to a Blue Hour out of my head.

The blue hour refers to the time of day after twilight but before total darkness. I read about the piece online and was excited to learn that Mr. Mackey accepted our invitation to attend our concert. After chatting with the composer at the reception after the concert, I came up with an idea. I was training for a 100 mile race a few weeks after our concert. I decided to put a recording of the piece on my iPod and carry it with me. I’d wait until just the right moment and try to experience The Hymn to a Blue Hour at the blue hour.

A few weeks later I was running in Raleigh, North Carolina in a lovely forested park on smooth, wide dirt roads. I looked forward to the blue hour from the 6 am start and finally pushed play at about 5:30 pm. I remember listening and looking up at the sky through the trees. At one point, after I’d put away the iPod, I caught up with a runner who’d passed me during that time. She said, “I’m not sure what you were listening to when I went by but you had a huge grin on your face.” After that experience, I decided, if at all possible, I’d play Hymn to a Blue Hour during every 100 mile run.

As we played through our music for our Fall Concert (Songs and Dances), I noted a piece called Cantus: Song of the Night. When we played it, we all got the Hymn to a Blue Hour vibe, even though this piece was written two years earlier (2008) by Austrian composer, Thomas Doss. Cantus is performed with an accompaniment of ocean and seabird sounds. I grew to really like that night piece, too, and was ecstatic about how well we performed it at the concert, the week before my next 100 mile race, scheduled for Phoenix. I added it to my playlist.

This race was in a desert park on trails with loose rocks, some soft sand and cactus that sometimes got uncomfortably close. Again, I looked forward to the right moment to press play, this time listening to Cantus before Hymn to a Blue Hour. Again, I had a very enjoyable transition into night.

Now that I’ve added this little bit of music to my 100 mile runs, I’m beginning to understand why I enjoy it so much. First off, it’s simply something special to look forward to during a run that will typically take me more than 24 hours. Second, it’s always fun to listen to music you like. Third, the music, this music, helps calmly introduce the night. Running at night can be especially stressful. Runners don headlamps to light the way and often slow down to prevent getting lost or falling. Somehow, I feel more ready to take on the night with night music in my head. I plan to continue this tradition of playing appropriate “night music” during the blue hour.

Adena Schutzberg has been a member of the Concord Band clarinet section for 12 years. This year she completed the Umstead 100 Endurance Run in April and the Javelina Jundred (Hundred) in October of 2017.