Program Notes

The World of Bugs

Sunday, March 9, 2014, 3:00 PM

McAfee Center, Saratoga

Dr. Edward C. Harris, conductor

Overture to The Wasps

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958), transcribed by Frank M. Hudson

Vaughan Williams spent most of his life in London. He studied the viola, piano and organ, and he wanted to compose, but his family discouraged him from an orchestral career. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, and studied composition at the Royal College of Music, as well as organ and piano with several teachers. Although he also studied abroad with Max Bruch and Ravel, his style remained individual and English. He was appointed organist at Lambeth, and his interest in English folk music dates from his stay there. He became good friends with Gustav Holst, and they often shared their works in progress with each other. His work on The English Hymnal greatly infl uenced his musical career. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in France during World War I. From the 1920s onward, he was in increasing demand as a composer and conductor. He composed simple pieces and grand orchestral works and is considered the outstanding composer of his generation in England. According to Hubert J. Foss in The Heritage of Music, “In Vaughan Williams we hear the historic speech of the English people. What he gives us in music is the language of the breakfast table. It is also the language that Shakespeare wrote.”

Overture to “The Wasps” was written for a production at Trinity College, Cambridge, of Aristophanes’ play, The Wasps, which satirizes the Athenian courts of law. The overture opens with the buzzing sounds of the judiciary and continues with a bouncy tune introduced by the woodwinds and joined by the entire band. A march theme and a pastoral tune are added later. All three themes are restated and altered throughout the piece, which eventually ends with the march tune. Except for the opening buzzing, the piece has surprisingly little to do with wasps or with ancient Greece.

Hypnotic Fireflies

Brian Balmages (b. 1975)

Mr. Balmages received his bachelor’s degree in music from James Madison University and his master’s degree from the University of Miami in Florida. His commissions and premieres have ranged from elementary schools to university ensembles and professional organizations, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Miami Symphony Orchestra, the University of Miami Wind Ensemble, Boston Brass, and the United States Marine Band. Notable guest conducting appearances have included the Midwest Clinic, Western International Band Clinic, College Band Directors Eastern Regional Conference, and the Mid-Atlantic Wind Conductors Conference. Mr. Balmages has also served as an adjunct professor of instrumental conducting and Acting Symphonic Band Director at Towson University in Maryland. Currently, he is Director of Instrumental Publications for the FJH Music Company, Inc., in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Hypnotic Fireflies depicts a view of an open field on a summer night, as thousands of fireflies light up the darkness. Eventually, the listener is hypnotized by these lights and wakes up in the middle of the field, completely engulfed in magnificent glowing lights. A wealth of interesting effects, including a metal slinky, contributes to the unique and creative sound of this work.


Roger Cichy (b. 1956)

Born in Ohio, Mr. Cichy is a prolific composer whose works often paint experiences and emotions on a canvas of sound. He holds a Bachelor of Music and Master of Arts degree in music education from Ohio State University. He has directed concert bands and marching bands at the elementary, high school, and college levels, serving as Director of Bands at the University of Rhode Island and Iowa State University. His compositions portray intangible ideas such as daybreak, the nature of pandemonium, and the movement of a sand dune. His works include depictions of the discovery of the Titanic, the majesty of Pike’s Peak in Colorado, and the culture of honor and pride at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Mr. Cichy’s work reflects his fondness for jazz rhythms and features use of strong countermelodies, thick harmonic texture, and substantial use of percussion. In many of his works, Cichy employs what he calls “compelling rhythms,” with repetition that drives his melodies forward.

The insect and spider collection at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, provided much inspiration for Bugs; it also made it difficult to narrow the list down. The particular bugs represented in this suite were chosen partly because of the contrasting styles of music that would represent each. “Prelude” suggests the variety of the creatures we consider as bugs. “Dragonfly” portrays both nature and folklore. A dragonfly is an aquatic insect that spends most of its life under water, taking to the air only in its adult stage. In folklore, the dragonfly is responsible for flying around at night and sewing shut the mouths of fibbing boys and girls. “Praying Mantis” is a slow, spiritual-sounding movement. The mantis is often pictured resting with its front legs folded as though in prayer. However, the rather bizarre mating tendencies of the praying mantis were purposefully left out of this movement. “Black Widow Spider” is set to a cool blues theme. The opening statement was written with an eighth-note pattern representing the eight legs of the spider. After a few repetitions of the pattern, five more notes are added to complete a dodecaphonic (twelvenote) scale. This dodecaphonic scale is played from C to a C an octave higher, working inward to the center pitch (F#), which represents the spider’s web. The texture changes from cool blues to hot jazz as the spider approaches its prey with its deadly venom. Cichy chose “Tiger Swallowtail” because it is commonly called the “flying flower,” and this movement lyrically depicts the grace and beauty of a butterfly. “Army Ants” provides the perfect subject for the final march. Cichy created a dissonant march portraying the army ants as savage predators, constantly on the move.

Fantasy on Madama Butterfly

Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924), arranged by Yo Goto

Puccini was an Italian composer whose operas La Bohème and Tosca are among the most frequently performed. Puccini was born into a musical family, studied piano with his uncle, and later attended the Milan Conservatory. He began his career at the age of 14, as an organist at local churches. A performance of Verdi’s Aida made such an impression on him that he decided to pursue operatic composition. Puccini wrote twelve operas but died before he could complete his last, Turandot. He became famous for his melodic writing, dramatic harmonies and theatrical skill. Some of his arias, such as “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicchi, “Che Gelida Manina” from La Bohème, and “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot, have become part of popular culture.

Puccini’s 1904 opera, Madama Butterfly, is based on a narrative by John Luther Long, combined with David Belasco’s play derived from that story. Long’s 18-page story first appeared in 1898 in Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine and was immediately popular because of the public’s fascination with exotic themes. In the opera, Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton of the United States Navy marries the young Cho-Cho-San, nicknamed “Madam Butterfly,” and she relinquishes all ties to her friends and family in Japan. The naive Butterfly believes that her marriage is real, and she allows herself to fall in love. Pinkerton departs with his ship, promising to return. During his absence, Butterfly gives birth to his child. She names the boy Trouble, a name she plans to change to Joy when she reunites with her husband. When Pinkerton’s ship finally does return, Butterfly learns that he has married an American woman who wishes to take Butterfly’s child back to the United States, and in despair she takes her own life. Puccini’s emotionally charged Madama Butterfly produces a haunting portrayal of the dangers of misguided love that is at once intimate and overwhelming.

Folk Festival from the motion picture The Gadfly

Dimitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975), transcribed by Donald Hunsberger

Dmitri Shostakovich studied at the Leningrad Conservatory. He earned early international fame when his powerful Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Opus 10, written at 19 years of age, was performed in Leningrad in 1926. Like many Soviet composers, Shostakovich found himself under pressure from restrictions imposed by the Soviet musical world because of its concern for the moral and social, rather than the purely aesthetic aspects of music. He suffered two official denunciations of his music, and periodic banning of his work, but he also received many accolades and state awards. His music was influenced at various times by Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Mahler and Hindemith. Shostakovich is considered the most popular classical composer of the mid-20th century. His fifteen symphonies and fifteen string quartets are considered to be his greatest works, and his other work includes operas and six concertos. Between 1929 and 1970 Shostakovich wrote more than thirty movie soundtracks. Because of this large body of film music, he has been considered the “Russian John Williams” of his day. Author David Fanning concludes that, “Amid the conflicting pressures of official requirements, the mass suffering of his fellow countrymen, and his personal ideals of humanitarian and public service, he succeeded in forging a musical language of colossal emotional power.”

The Gadfly (1955) was a highly successful film inside the Soviet Union, a sugary and entertaining drama based on a popular historical novel by the English writer Ethel Voynich. Published in 1897, it is set in 1840s Italy under the dominance of Austria, a time of tumult, revolt and uprisings. The story centers on the life of Arthur Burton. A tragic relationship between Arthur and his love, Gemma, simultaneously runs through the story. It is a story of faith, disillusionment, revolution, romance, and heroism. “Folk Festival,” from the orchestral suite, features Shostakovich’s notorious combination of lyrical, flowing melodies with technical flourishes in the winds.

Butterflies and Bees!

Thomas C. Duffy (b. 1955)

Thomas Duffy is an adjunct professor of music and Director of University Bands at Yale University. His interests and research include creativity and the brain, non-tonal analysis, jazz, and wind band history. Duffy produced a two-year lecture/performance series, Music and the Brain, in conjunction with the Yale School of Medicine, and he developed a musical intervention to train Yale nursing students to hear and identify body sounds with the stethoscope. He combined his interests in music and science to create a genre of music for the bilateral conductor, in which a “split-brained conductor” must conduct a different meter in each hand, sharing downbeats. His compositions have introduced a generation of school musicians to the integration of instrumental performance with spoken and sung words and body percussion, and the pairing of music with political, social, historical and scientific themes. He has received the Yale Tercentennial Medal for Composition and certificates of appreciation by the United States Attorney’s Office for his Yale 4/Peace: Rap for Justice concerts using the power of music to deliver a message of peace and justice to middle and high school students. He is a member of the American Bandmasters Association, has served as a member of the Fulbright National Selection Committee and the Grammy Foundation Music Educators Award Screening Committee, and has held leadership positions in many state, national and international professional and educational music organizations.

Butterflies and Bees! was commissioned in 1999 by the Bishop Ireton Symphonic Wind Ensemble of Alexandria, Virginia. It is a tone poem based on the unique characteristics of the two insects, contrasting the delicate, colorful, ethereal qualities of butterflies with the industrious, swarming attributes of bees. Only two sections of the piece are specifically identified as representing butterflies or bees, and the performers may decide which insects are represented elsewhere in the tone poem, as the music is intended to support either interpretation. The piece opens with the gentle sounds of a country sunrise. A butterfly appears and then is joined by many more. The cloud of butterflies passes, and all that is left is the shimmer of their wings. A straggler (or is it a bee?) passes, and then another cloud of insects appears, this time rising up from the ground. One insect after another takes wing until the cloud is fully formed. Butterflies and bees continue to appear and disappear individually and in swarms throughout the piece, sometimes nearby and sometimes at a distance. A royal fanfare announces the queen bee, drones and workers clash, and the hive gradually calms down, with only a few industrious insects emitting any sounds. The swarm has passed, and the gentle sound of beating wings fades into the distance. This piece represents the unique characteristics of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, as well as the mythological contrast of dreams and reason associated with the Greek god Apollo, against the ecstasy and intoxication of Dionysus, despite their apparent dichotomy.

The Flea (La Pulga)

Joe Rizzo, Phil Horton and Richard Blalock, scored for band by Wayne Robinson

The Flea is a delightful syncopated, spritely number featuring the flute section. The music buzzes around unrestrainedly until the flea is swatted at the finale.

The Symphonic Beatles

Words and music by John Lennon (1940 – 1980) and Paul McCartney (b. 1942), arranged by John Cacavas (1930 – 2014)

Arranger John Cacavas passed away just a few weeks ago, in January, 2014. He was a leading composer, arranger and conductor of orchestral music and served as a member of ASCAP’s Board of Directors from 1993 to 2001. He studied music and composition at Northwestern University. Upon graduation, he entered the United States Army and arranged for the United States Army Band in Washington, D.C. In his younger years he served as assistant to composer and conductor Morton Gould. Cacavas composed and arranged over 2,000 works for band, orchestra, choir and chamber music. Kojak, Hawaii Five-O, Matlock and Quincy are among his television scores, and his movie scores include Airport 1975 and Airport ‘77.

Lennon and McCartney wrote some of the most popular songs in the history of rock music, as one of the most influential songwriting partnerships of the twentieth century. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in February, 1964, launched them onto the American pop music scene and pushed their music to the top of the charts, with over 40 “number one” single recordings. The Symphonic Beatles includes “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964), “Yesterday” (1966), “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (1963), “Michelle” (1965), and “Hey Jude” (1970).

The Circus Bee March

Henry Fillmore (1881 – 1956), edited by Loras John Schissel

Fillmore was a flamboyant composer, arranger, bandmaster and publisher. He played the piano for several years before learning to play flute, violin, and guitar with ease. He was especially fascinated by the slide trombone, an instrument which his father considered too evil for any righteous person to play, since he was in the religious music publishing business. His mother, however, believed that practicing trombone might help keep Henry out of mischief, and she secretly saved enough money to buy him a second-hand instrument. Henry worked in his father’s publishing business but eventually left, after an argument concerning the “evils” of band music and the problems in Henry’s personal life (he had fallen in love with Mabel May Jones, an exotic show dancer.) After a proposal by mail, the two were married, and both worked with the Lemon Brothers Circus, launching Fillmore’s career as musician and bandmaster. He composed over 250 works and arranged over 750 others. To prevent saturating the market with his own name, Fillmore published under eight different names. When ill health forced him to retire in 1938, he moved to Miami and became an influential figure in the growth of school bands in Florida.

A “screamer” is an extremely fast circus march intended to stir up the audience during the show. Circus marches are faster than normal military marches, often 130 to 150 beats per minute instead of 120. Screamers are very demanding to perform, especially for the low brass, because of their extremely fast and complex rhythms. Circus Bee March was a celebration of Fillmore’s agreement with his father that Henry could publish his music “at home,” even though it did not meet his father’s standard of being “religious music.” The title came from an imaginary circus newspaper, and most agree that it reflects Fillmore’s lifelong interest in circuses and his experiences while touring with five different big top shows.

SJWS program notes are edited by Karen Berry from the composers’ notes, Band Notes by Norm Smith and:

Foothill College Symphonic Band
J. W. Pepper
The Wind Repertory Project
Silver Clef Music
The FJH Music Company
Sons of Orpheus
Thomas C. Duffy, composer
Classic FM (Vaughan-Williams)
New York City Opera Project
Medina Community Band
Classic FM (Shostakovich)