The Resident Symphony Orchestra of the City of Anaheim

PROGRAM NOTES

Blue Notes


Blue Lake Overture by John Barnes Chance

John Barnes Chance (1932-1972) was born in Texas, where he played percussion in high school.  His early interest in music led him to the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying composition with Clifton Williams.  The early part of his career saw him playing timpani with the Austin Symphony, and later playing percussion with the Fourth and Eighth U.S. Army Bands during the Korean War.  Upon his discharge, he received a grant from the Ford Foundation’s Young Composers Project, leading to his placement as resident composer in the Greensboro, North Carolina public schools.  Here he produced seven works for school ensembles, including his classic Incantation and Dance.  He went on to become a professor at the University of Kentucky after winning the American Bandmasters Association’s Ostwald award for his Variations on a Korean Folk Song.  Chance was accidentally electrocuted in his backyard in Lexington, Kentucky at age 39, bringing his promising career to an early, tragic end.

Chance wrote Blue Lake Overture in 1971 for the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan.  The outer sections of the piece feature rhythmic intensity brought about by Chance’s free use of both 3- and 2-eighth note groups in 4/4. While this often produces a 3+3+2 pattern which matches the length of the 4/4 bar, more often the note groupings defy that meter altogether, spilling over bar lines and creating moments that sound like 5/8, 9/8, and even unknown hybrid meters.  The middle section settles into a circus waltz with wandering tonality.  Every section of the band gets a soli in this rhythmic thrill ride.

 

Metroplex by Robert Sheldon

Robert Sheldon (b. February 3, 1954) has taught instrumental music in the Florida and Illinois public schools. He received the Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the University of Miami and the Master of Fine Arts in Instrumental Conducting from the University of Florida. He served on the faculty of Florida State University and directed the Marching Chiefs band comprised of over 300 students. Sheldon has composed over 150 works for winds and has been honored by the American School Band Directors Association and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. His first compositions were for his high school jazz band when he was in 10th grade. Sheldon maintains an active schedule of conducting and composing in his role as Concert Band Editor for the Alfred Publishing Company. He is an internationally recognized clinician. He recognizes Clifton Williams and Alfred Reed among his most influential composition teachers. Of his compositions, Sheldon says “I would like to think that the music is a travel adventure of a sort, and that anyone who hears the music will in some way be transported or changed by it.”

 

Metroplex: Three Postcards from Manhattan

Metroplex was the second commission for Robert Sheldon by the Normal Community West High School Band of Normal Illinois for performance at the school’s Spring 2005 performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The composer described the three “postcards” of the work:

“A musical portrait of Manhattan’s cityscape, Metroplex opens with a vision of the New York City skyline, evoking looming buildings and concrete canyons. From there, the melody travels to the heart of an urban jazz scene, characteristic of the city’s famous nightclubs. Finally, the piece takes us on a wild taxi ride through the heavy traffic of a bustling metropolis. The skyline is seen once more as we leave Manhattan, hopefully to return again soon.”

 

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin

At 25. George Gershwin was already well known in the world of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley for his impressive, rhythmically complex, sublimely melodic songs and jazz-influenced musicals.  When Paul Whiteman approached Gershwin late in 1923 to suggest that he write a piece for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Gershwin sketched a few themes, but then turned back to his more pressing Broadway commitments.  To his horror, on January 4, 1924, he read in the New York Tribune that he was at work on a "jazz concerto" to be premiered by the Whiteman Orchestra at Aeolian Hall in New York on February 12, in a concert billed as "An Experiment in Modern Music". Gershwin protested, but the announcement stood; and ultimately he rose to the challenge, producing one of the most iconic masterpieces ever written by an American composer.  

 

Five weeks later, at the Aeolian Hall in New York City in front of an eager audience that included such musical luminaries as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Jascha Heifetz, and Efrem Zimbalist, Sr., Rhapsody in Blue was premiered, with Gershwin himself performing the piano solo. The work daringly incorporated all of Gershwin's musical influences Scott Joplin's tuneful ragtime piano, rhythmic improvisational jazz from Harlem's best clubs, the folk music of Yiddish theater, and the lush experimental harmonies of post-Romantic classical composers such as Ravel, Schoenberg and Stravinsky. It was an instant success, completely eclipsing the rest of the evening's program, and went on to win an enduring worldwide reputation.

 

The distinctive low, throaty trill and following rising glissando wail on the clarinet that begin this work have been jokingly called Gershwin's cry of alarm at the prospect of writing his jazz concerto in one month.  Others suggest that Gershwin is using the clarinet sound to imitate the trombone's "slide" that often begins a Dixieland-style jazz work.  One fanciful early critic imagined this beginning to be the birth-cry of a completely new style of jazz-influenced orchestral music.  Gershwin himself said that the rhythms that follow this clarinet wail were inspired by the repetitive clack of the train that he regularly took to Boston from New York.

 

Although Rhapsody in Blue was an immense popular success, Gershwin's bold and innovative style confounded the New York critics, and initially it was coldly reviewed.  Worse came when critics learned that Paul Whiteman's chief arranger at the time, Ferde Grofe (who later composed the Grand Canyon Suite), had orchestrated the entire work. Gershwin had never before written for orchestra, and was working under enormous time pressure; it is no wonder that he accepted help in distributing the instrumental parts from a man who specialized in that craft. Grofe also had the advantage of knowing the special talents of the Whiteman musicians and was able to customize the score to maximize its impact.  Thus the famous opening glissando was tailored for Russ Gorman, Whiteman's first-chair clarinetist.

 

Gershwin is often remembered primarily as a songwriter. He was one of the great instinctive melodists of all time, and composed hundreds of songs for Tin Pan Alley, the Broadway stage, and Hollywood films. But he was not content to compose only in the medium of popular music. Gershwin's serious works, synthesizing jazz with classical music genres, were daring for their time; today they are standards of the piano, orchestra and opera literature. 

Rhapsody in Blue itself stands alone, with no direct descendants.  Its impact, however, was enormous, directly inspiring many serious classical composers, including Ravel, Stravinsky, and Milhaud, to explore jazz, and stirring countless pop composers to experiment with classical forms.

 

Hymn to a Blue Hour by John Mackey

The blue hour is an oft-poeticized moment of the day - a lingering twilight that halos the sky after sundown but before complete darkness sets in. It is a time of day known for its romantic, spiritual, and ethereal connotations, and this magical moment has frequently inspired artists to attempt to capture its remarkable essence. This is the same essence that inhabits the sonic world of John Mackey's Hymn to a Blue Hour.

Programmatic content aside, the title itself contains two strongly suggestive implications - first, the notion of hymnody, which implies a transcendent and perhaps even sacred tone; and second, the color blue, which has an inexorable tie to American music. Certainly Hymn to a Blue Hour is not directly influenced by the blues, per se, but there is frequently throughout the piece a sense of nostalgic remorse and longing - an overwhelming sadness that is the same as the typically morose jazz form. Blue also has a strong affiliation with nobility, authority, and calmness.

Though not composed as a companion work to his earlier Aurora Awakes, Hymn to a Blue Hour strikes at many of the same chords, only in a sort of programmatic inversion. While Aurora Awakes deals with the emergence of light from darkness, Hymn to a Blue Hour is thematically linked to the moments just after sundown - perhaps even representing the same moment a half a world away. The opening slow section of Aurora Awakes does share some similar harmonic content, and the yearning within the melodic

brushstrokes seem to be cast in the same light.

 

The piece is composed largely from three recurring motives - first, a cascade of falling thirds; second, a stepwise descent that provides a musical sigh; and third, the descent's reverse: an ascent that imbues hopeful optimism. From the basic framework of these motives stated at the outset of the work, a beautiful duet emerges between horn and euphonium - creating a texture spun together into a pillowy blanket of sound, reminiscent of similar constructions elicited by great American melodists of the 20th century, such as Samuel Barber. This melody superimposes a sensation of joy over the otherwise "blue" emotive context - a melodic line that over a long period of time spins the work to a point of catharsis. In this climactic moment, the colors are at their brightest, enveloping their surroundings with an angelic glow. Alas, as is the case with the magical blue hour, the moment cannot last for long, and just as steadily as they arrived, the colors dissipate into the encroaching darkness, eventually succumbing at the work's conclusion with a sense of peaceful repose.

(Program Note by Jake Wallace)

 

Blue Shades by Frank Ticheli

The title alludes to the Blues and a jazz feeling is prevalent, but this is not literally a Blues piece (no 12-bar Blues progressions and hardly any swung eighth-notes). It is heavily influenced by the Blues however, with "Blue notes" (flatted 3rds, 5ths, and 7ths); Blues harmonies, rhythms and melodic idioms; and many "shades of blue" depicted: from bright to dark, to dirty, to hot. At times, the piece burlesques some of the cliches from the Big Band era, not as mockery, but as tribute. A slow and quiet middle section recalls the atmosphere of a dark, smoky Blues haunt with fascinating solos by bass clarinet and oboe. An extended, gutsy, clarinet solo recalls Benny Goodman's hot style and ushers in a series of wailing brass chords recalling train whistle effects commonly used during that era. High energy and jazzy sounds build to a critical mass, a pressure cooker of excitement. The final stroke on the splash cymbal reminds the listener that this piece is a friendly tribute to an earlier style.

 

Frank Ticheli (b.1958) was born in Monroe, LA. He earned a doctorate at the University of Michigan. He lives in Los Angeles where he is a Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California.

Who’s Who In Navy Blue by John Philip Sousa

John Philip Sousa personified turn-of-the-century America, the comparative innocence and brash energy of a still new nation. His ever-touring band represented America across the globe and brought music to hundreds of American towns. John Philip Sousa, born 6 November 1854, reached this exalted position with startling quickness. In 1880, at the age of 26, he became conductor of the U.S. Marine Band. In twelve years the vastly improved ensemble won high renown and Sousa’s compositions earned him the title of “The March King”. Sousa went one better with the formation of his own band in 1892, bringing world acclaim.

 

In its first seven years the band and gave 3500 concerts; in an era of train and ship travel it logged over a million miles in nearly four decades. There were European tours in 1900, 1901, 1903, and 1905, and a world tour in 1910–11, the zenith of the band era.

The unprecedented popularity of the Sousa Band came at a time when few American orchestras existed. From the Civil War to about 1920, band concerts were the most important aspect of U.S. musical life. No finer band than Sousa’s was ever heard. Sousa modified the brass band by decreasing the brass and percussion instruments, increasing its woodwinds, and adding a harp. His conducting genius attracted the finest musicians, enabling him to build an ensemble capable of executing programs almost as varied as those of a symphony orchestra. The Sousa Band became the standard by which American bands were measured, causing a dramatic upgrading in quality nationally.

Sousa’s compositions also spread his fame. Such marches as The Stars and Stripes Forever, El Capitan, Washington Post, and Semper Fidelis are universally acknowledged as the best of the genre. Sousa said a march “should make a man with a wooden leg step out”, and his surely did. Although he standardized the march form, as it is known today, he was no mere maker of marches, but an exceptionally inventive composer of over 200 works, including symphonic poems, suites, operas and operettas. His principles of instrumentation and tonal color influenced many classical composers. His robust, patriotic operettas of the 1890s helped introduce a truly native musical attitude in American theater.

 

Who’s Who in Navy Blue was composed at the request of the US Naval Academy’s graduating class of 1920. Sousa, who was then a retired Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy, was subsequently made an honorary member of the Annapolis Academy’s graduating class in 1921 in honor of his contributions to the US Navy in WW I.

 

Guest Artist: Wan-Chin Chang

Wan-Chin Chang, a native of Taiwan, started studying piano at the age of five, and the violin at eight.  After her family immigrated to the United States, she attended Los Angeles County High School for the Arts as a double major in piano and violin.  As the assistant concertmaster of the LACHSA Orchestra, she had the rare opportunity to perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic through their Young Musicians Program.  She also shared the stage with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist/conductor Jeffrey Kahane for the Inner City Music Program. 

 

Wan-Chin attended the University of Southern California and Aspen Music Festival with full scholarships, and she was the winner of the Leni Fe Foundation Scholarship, Pi Kappa Lambda Award, Chamber Music Award, and Outstanding Graduate Award. She also served as an assistant lecturer while completing her DMA in piano performance with a minor in violin performance from USC under the guidance of Antoinette Perry on the piano, and Eudice Shapiro on the violin.

Dr. Chang pursues an active performing career, appearing regularly as a soloist with orchestras such as the MiraCosta Symphony, Inland Valley Symphony, Orange County Symphony, and Orange County Wind Symphony. Besides concerto and solo performances, she also frequently collaborates with other musicians in chamber recitals.  She had been invited to perform for the White Lake Chamber Music Festival (MI), Blodgett Faculty Recital Series at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp (MI), Gladys Frisch Harris Piano Festival (NE), Aliso Viejo Holiday Celebration (CA), Orange Women's Club (CA), Music Teacher's Association of California, and Ohio Music Educator's Association.

 

As an educator, Dr. Chang has been the adjudicator for MTNA and MTAC student evaluations and competitions.  She has also been the appointed accompanist for several competitions and festivals such as the Stars of Tomorrow, Santa Monica Concerto Competition, and Opera Night Celebrations. She is currently on faculty at MiraCosta College in Oceanside and Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo.  During the summer, she is the piano department chair at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan.  As a violinist, she holds the positions of principal second violin of Orange County Symphony and assistant concertmaster of Dana Point Symphony.