Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The school of hard knocks

Last night at the weekly rehearsal of the Corvallis Community Band I learned something, the hard way!

This band plays for Oregon State University graduation every June, much to my initial consternation when I found out about it when we moved to Corvallis in 2000. I had discovered this excellent band when we bumped into one of its weekly summer concerts while casing the city a year or two before moving here. Playing in it was clearly a "must." But after enduring 36 years of graduations as a faculty member at Adrian College, I was sick and tired of the whole business and looking forward to having nothing more to do with it. (Our kids had both already graduated from college.)

So now I get to attend a graduation every year, lucky me! While listening to the boring rhetoric, often from the same script as the year before .... and the year before ... and ..... however, sometimes I get ideas. One such idea came to me several years ago: how about writing some music incorporating the "Pomp and Circumstance" theme for pipe organ to be used at funerals and memorial services, implying a sort of ultimate "graduation." (I tended to find Adrian College graduations a bit traumatic, since students I had finally gotten to know pretty well were leaving and I would miss them. So I would come away from graduation with some of the same feelings with which one leaves a funeral.)

A couple of years ago I finally started trying to write this music, and this month I finally finished it. For the moment I am calling it "Mixed Emotions" though my working title (in French, for some inexplicable reason) was "Marche Funebre Academique." It incorporates three separate musical themes: Taps, Pomp and Circumstance, and Blesst Be The Tie That Binds.

For inclusion in printed programs for a memorial service I will recommend the following verses selected from the various verses from Taps and Blesst Be .... (The words written to go with Pomp and Circumstance, "Land of Hope and Glory," are political and are not appropriate for a memorial service):


Thanks and praise, for our days
'neith the sun, 'neith the stars, 'neith the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

Blesst Be The Tie That Binds:

When we assunder part,
it gives us inward pain;
but we shall still be joined in heart,
and hope to meet again.

Now how did last night's rehearsal prove so educational? Well, shortly before leaving for it I got the idea it would be fun to hear how this piece sounds played by a brass ensemble rather than by a pipe organ (possibly with trumpet soloist). So I dashed in to my computer and printed out versions of the score for instruments in F (like French horns) and instruments in Bb, like trumpets. I already had a score for instruments in C (or concert key) which would take care of trombones and baritones. My software can transpose a piece in about 1 second, so this was no problem. But I was in a hurry and neglected to collate the two-page scores and connect each of them with scotch tape.

When enough people had arrived before the rehearsal I knocked together a group of two trumpets, a baritone, a trombone, and a French horn, gave everybody their music (with the two pages for each person not connected together). We started up, with me conducting, and at first it sounded quite good. But about half way through all hell broke out and I stopped the group assuming someone had gotten lost. We started up again right in the middle of the piece, and again it sounded perfectly dreadful! I had gotten a general idea of how it sounded so I stopped the rehearsal, thanked the players and went to gather up the music.

Then we found out what had happened. I had gotten the pages mixed up and given the trumpet players the correct first page but the second page intended for the French horn. Conversely, the horn player got the second page intended for the trumpets! I felt terrible for having suggested that someone had gotten lost, since they are all fine musicians and were just playing the wrong parts very accurately!

The moral of the story is: don't do something like this at the last minute, and be sure to tape all pages for each instrumentalist together before handing the music out!

Next week maybe we can try this piece out again with better results on the second page.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are e-mailed to me. I will post excerpts from those I think will most interest readers.