Almost as a continuation of my last top 10 (Loved/Hated Composers), I’ve had the privilege to play in five different ensembles throughout my college career, some even at a college other than SUNY New Paltz. It’s been an honor to play in the SUNY New Paltz Symphonic Band, College Symphony and Collegium Musicum, as well as the SUNY Ulster Wind Ensemble and Community Band. As a homage and one last hurrah, this is a list of my favorite pieces I’ve performed during the past four years.
10. “La Fiesta Mexicana” by Owen Reed
This three-movement piece is actually considered Reed’s masterpiece and was one of the coolest pieces I got to play with the SUNY Ulster Wind Ensemble. Reed received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Mexico for six months and learned so much about the music that makes up the culture and the country’s heritage. He combined Aztec, Roman Catholic and mariachi music to create this incredible piece.
9. “Children’s March (Over the Hills and Far Away)” by Percy Grainger
I complained about Percy Grainger in my last top 10, but this piece is so much fun if you’re a flutist (like myself) or a bassoonist. Throughout the piece, you can hear the band climb up and down the hill and some renditions will have a choir that makes this piece so much cooler.
8. “In Memoriam” by Mark Camphouse
This piece gives me chills every time I listen to it. Camphouse wrote this based on the hymn “Salvation is Created” by the Russian composer Peter Chesnokov, as an homage to the people we have lost. It’s a beautiful piece with gorgeous chords, small flute solos and a powerful meaning.
7. “Sun Dance” by Frank Ticheli
I got to perform this piece twice in one year, once with the SUNY Ulster Wind Ensemble and again with the SUNY New Paltz Symphonic Band. It’s such an uplifting piece. In the program notes, Ticheli states he “was consciously attempting to evoke a feeling: bright joy” and does just that.
6. “O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Laurisden
No one really knows this, but I actually love listening to old church music. The original piece was written for choir and the wind arrangement is written a half step higher. The “O Magnum Mysterium” text depicts the birth of the new-born King amongst the animals and shepherds. An ensemble can only do this piece justice if they have passion, power and understand the dynamics markings (getting louder, softer, etc.).
5. “Illyrian Dances” by Guy Woolfenden
This piece is about Shakespeare’s “Neverland.” Shakespeare never exactly tells us the precise location of Illyria, but what excited him was the name itself and “the romance of all far away, make believe places,” according to the Bacchus Wind Orchestra. The music for this piece was actually adapted from music originally written for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
4. “Fantasy on a Gaelic Hymnsong” by David Holsinger
Rhythmically difficult, this piece is based on the Gaelic melody known as “Morning Has Broken.” It starts off slow and pretty, but Holsinger kicks the piece up double time and transports the audience to Scotland.
3. “Four Scottish Dances” by Malcolm Arnold, arranged for wind band by John P. Paynter
The name gives it away, but this piece is four movements based off of different Scottish dances. The first movement is a strathspey, or a slow a Scottish dance in a 4/4 meter, and can also be referred to as a “Scotch snap.” Movement two starts out lively, slows down and then returns back to the original tempo with a bassoon solo at the end. Movement three is the most gorgeous composition I think I’ve ever played. Although it’s mostly an oboe solo, Arnold wrote it in the style of a Hebridean Song, attempting to transport the listener to the summer sea and mountains of Hebrides. The final movement is fast and is the only piece I’ve played with a piccolo duet that doesn’t sound out of tune.
2. “Russian Christmas Music” by Alfred Reed
I referenced this piece in my last top 10, but I had the opportunity to play it at New Paltz and it was a magical experience. Reed was commissioned to write a piece of Russian music and wrote this piece 16 days before a concert that took place in Denver, Colorado that was to help improve Soviet-American relations. This 15-minute, incredibly powerful and dark sounding piece incorporates Russian Christmas carols, such as “Carol of the Little Russian Children,” “The Antiphonal Chant,” “The Village Song” and “The Cathedral Chorus.”
1. “English Folk Song Suite” by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Vaughan Williams was a British folk song collector and is well known for his “English” sounding compositions. This piece is split into three movements: “March: Seventeen Come Sunday,” “Intermezzo: My Bonny Boy” and “March: Folk Songs From Somerset,” and Vaughan Williams integrates other folk songs throughout each section. This is such a fun piece to play and listen to.