The Great Thing About Suspended Animation

Now on the other side of 5 credits at Kent State University, I actually have some free moments to think and there has been a couple of things I have been wanting to share. Actually there is more than a couple, I just have not had the time. Most of them deal with new music that I have come across this year that I have really been taken with. A 1991 article by Bennett Reimer in which he poses four criteria for judging quality in music has made me think about my recent choices for our spring concert on Tuesday evening, May 6th (which was huge – stay tuned to for furture details!). When you consider matters of craftsmanship, authenticity, imagination, and sensitivity, I feel like the program really hit on all accounts. This whole idea prompts todays blog, and bringing some great composers and their pieces some well deserved attention.

Suspended Animation by Patrick J. Burns – Any middle school director who wants a challenge for their ensemble that the students will really embrace and enjoy must check out this piece. Suspension after suspension unfolds across the ensemble, and creates some great teachable theory moments. With my own ensemble, we discussed the suspension in terms of “tension” and “relaxation”. Excellent craftsmanship through the piece – great lines, bursting with energy. I could not help but think of the spirit that John Adams captures in “Short ride in a fast machine”, and while different from that orchestral work, Burns definitely caught my ear’s attention with this invigorating work for band. I sincerely hope this piece begins to get more attention and starts appearing on state lists and festival programs everywhere.

March of the Sun-Dried Tomatoes by Julie Giroux – An imaginative and musically sensitive piece that drew a number of loud laughs from our audience. Making music should be an enjoyable experience – no matter the overall affective setting of a given piece – but this piece is a riot! From the bird whistles to the written “mistakes”, it is a whimsical little march of a different sorts that can bring some levity to a program but also bring a quality music experience to the ensemble in communicating the composer’s intent.

Out of Darkness by Quincy Hilliard – As dramatic a piece as you will find at the grade 3.5 level. Hilliard makes great use of color combinations across the ensemble as the brings the themes of the piece from darkness to light (great picardy third at the end). He replaces snare and bass drum with metal and rubber 32 gallon trash cans for a different texture in the percussion. Mutes, glisses, and flutter tongue are prevelant through the brass parts providing neat effects for the ensemble. Written in a minor key, it has a quasi-arch form, and moves from slow to fast and then back to slow. Those who know Quincy understand his passion for writing for school bands and providing a great educational experience learning the piece. The performance of this piece is an awesome experience.

Summer Dances by Brian Balmages is great piece at the grade 4 level. The entire piece is in 6/8 (except for one measure of 9/8) and from a rhythmic perspective is very engaging. The middle section is very powerful and expressive and has some wonderful solo lines to showcase some individual musicianship. The ending section is very exciting to perform and to conduct – great lines abound in all the parts (especially in Clarinet 2!) – and like the other pieces here I highly recommend it.

I remember reading somewhere or hearing it from someone that music is supposed to be fun. With that in mind, check out Willie OwensCruisin’. At a grade 2 level my middle school group ate this one up. It was a really nice opportunity in and out of rehearsals to give some students some exposure on drum set (an optional drum set percussion part is included). Everybody gets their opportunity for melody lines, and tubas everywhere are going to enjoy laying down the bass line.

If you are not familiar with Scott Watson, make it a point to check him out. We include The Siege of Badon Hill in our program, and it was very popular with the ensembles. The piece basically refers to a legendary battle in which a single knight in defense of his castle single-handedly disposes of over 900 Saxons. While he is identified by several names the most common one agreed upon is Arthur. The images of early morning battle preparations through use of voice and sounds gives way to the relentless rush of battle. At a grade 3 level, it is an exciting and dynamic musical experience for an ensemble.

Symphony No. 4 by Andrew Boysen, Jr. I worked on a piece by Dr. Boysen last year entitled Unraveling – very engaging, quasi-sinister, and a student favorite. Upon hearing Symphony No. 4, I had to do it. Boysen builds all the material from an octatonic scale (click here for details if your freshmen music theory fails you). It utilizes the classical symphony form (movement two is a Chaconne), but modern harmonic language. The opening theme is somewhat haunting, but stays in your ear long after the music closes. Boysen includes a number of different solo opportunities, and students really get the opportunity to play some serious music in a form that they may not often get to experience (while I enjoy parts of the Hindemith, it isn’t the most accessible symphony for any high school group).

The music is submitted for your perusal, and for my money is a worthy investment of time and learning for directors and their ensembles.

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  1. I like your comment on music being fun. I agree, although many composers and authors of the past and present differ in this opinion.

    Composing is often a torturous and emotionally exhausting journey for many of my colleagues. Having said that, these same people HAVE to compose. It’s in their blood. What a blessing if one finds this difficult journey fun as well.

    Thanks for your article.

  2. Travis,

    I’m FINALLY getting to the May 6th concert stuff!!! This makes me now about 2 and 1/2 months behind in about everything!

    Stay tuned!

    J. Pisano


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