Reflecting on my wind band music

Wind band is a genre I grew up playing but didn’t aspire to compose for a long, long time. But my focus as a composer has been not to focus, so inevitably I found myself writing for band. Not sure opera is ever going to happen though.

It may be a little cynical, but I came to this genre because it’s one of the few genres with regular opportunities for composers. In other words, band directors want you to write new pieces.

In this post I’ll share some background on my three wind band pieces. I hope you enjoy reading about them. Click the titles to go to the product pages, where I have score previews.

cogs in the machine

First started writing this piece during the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Our apartment in Greenville, NC was spared and there wasn’t much wind damage in our town. But the Tar River, which runs through Greenville, started to flood during the following week. The main highway in/out of town was flooded. School was canceled. We were basically stuck in town, but the grocery stores were open and the weather was ironically beautiful.

This piece went through several stages to get to the final form. I started with a Bach chorale (a very cliché way to start a band piece!). But instead of using the motives, I stretched out the harmony, so that each chord was several bars long. I made a few variations on my own motive, then started putting these variations into an SATB score, using the notes from the chord progressions. I used a random number generator to determine which voice and which motive would come at what time.

Once I had the SATB score in place, I started making notes about which instruments I wanted to play which parts. Then I had a decent idea of how the piece would work.

That was all essentially in that week (and probably a couple weeks after). But I worked off and on over a year to refine the score into its current shape. You can hear part of a reading our wind ensemble did:

Baffin Bay

I recycled this title–and a few other elements–from a piece for laptop quartet I wrote as my master’s thesis. In the original Baffin Bay, each player has a Max patch that has two types of sounds. They can manipulate some aspects – the texture, density, and volume–but the harmony is fixed, and most importantly, their instruments can only be heard in certain sections.

Listen to the original Baffin Bay, for laptop ensemble:

For the new Baffin Bay, I reused the basic structure and did a rough “translation” of the electronic music into more accessible music for band. Some instruments were easy to translate — there were some bells that became a glockenspiel solo, some bird-like chirps that were natural for flutes and oboes. 

Other parts took some rethinking. There are some filtered “wind” tones that became flutes and rolled cymbals. The singing. . . became singing (along with the alto saxes). I introduced some rhythmic pulsations to give a little more energy and interest to the players.

You can hear the new Baffin Bay here:

coastal winds

coastal winds cover

This piece began as a wind quintet, but it is so much better as a band piece. One of my main worries with the quintet version was fatigue. coastal winds is nearly 10 minutes, and although I gave players breaks, it’s still very active. With band, everyone gets more breaks plus there are more timbral and textural possibilities.

Even before this was a wind quintet, it was a piece for piano. It was the final piece of my Late Frost collection of minimalist pieces. The main idea of this piece was a 2+2+2+3 rhythm with a bassline just going up a major scale. In the middle I had a kind of failed 4-part chorale (failed because there were still parallel fifths). I always liked that bit and was a little meh on the rest, so I reused it for this piece.

Coastal Winds is very sectional. The main ideas are a chugging unison riff on that 2+2+2+3 rhythm, the chorale, and different deviations from each. I think of it like the chorale is trying to come through, but these other ideas keep interrupting and taking their own direction.

This one has not been performed yet, but if you’re curious, here is a computer mockup:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *