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Jan. 05 2023

Winds of Change

By Abhinn Malhotra | Posted in Host Blogs | Comments Off on Winds of Change

“You play the what?” Yep. The euphonium. One of the most fun instruments in the world has found it’s place in the world of brass bands and, in my case growing up, in wind ensembles around the globe. 

The wind ensemble has been, throughout my life and even before, a changing landscape in the world of classical music. It started with composer’s like Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Gordon Jacob writing some fantastic works, many of which were based on folk tunes of the UK. We also cannot forget about Percy Grainger, who wrote masterpieces like Colonial Song, Children’s March, and Lincolnshire Posy. John Philip Sousa, the American March King, also put his mark on this medium with hundreds of Marches.

With all of this repertoire, I was still surprised to find that in many higher level institutions, there wasn’t a wind ensemble! I think that the reputation of the wind ensemble stemmed from the limited works by these masters and the overall notion that the ensemble was a lesser counterpart to the symphony orchestra. The orchestra could boast music by Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, etc. While Holst and his contemporaries wrote very legitimate music, wind ensembles were rarely held to the same regards, unless you include the upper level military bands. 

When I got to WBJC, one of the things I was happy to see was the inclusion of wind ensemble repertoire in both the library and daily programs! The inclusion of wind band composers of this new generation, and the one immediately preceding it, is where I aimed to make a mark with this new opportunity. If you’ve tuned in to my programs in the evenings and at times when I have filled in, I have always made it a goal to include at least 1 major wind ensemble work. Even more so, lately, I have been including works by contemporary composers such as Ron Nelson, John Mackey, Frank Ticheli, Steven Bryant, and Alfred Reed!

Ron Nelson is a huge figure for us wind band folks, and one of the faces that I would definitely include on my Wind Ensemble “Mt. Rushmore”. I remember taking a wind orchestration class at Peabody and my Professor, Dr. Joel Puckett, remarked at the fact that Ron Nelson’s “Rocky Point Holiday” could double as both a score, and an orchestration textbook! HE WAS RIGHT. 

Nelson redefined what the ensemble could do. He was commissioned to write the work and immediately asked of any restrictions within the ensemble, I.e. weak brass section, not enough clarinets, etc. Frank Bencriscutto, the commission leader, told him there were none. “I’m going to write a tremendously difficult piece,” Nelson warned him. “That’s fine,” replied Bencriscutto. Rocky Point Holiday was born, and the entire landscape of the Wind Ensemble was changed forever. Woodwinds could play loud and fast, brass could be virtuosic throughout all registers, and expanded percussion gave composers like Nelson a FIELD DAY in terms of  timbres and sonorities. 

Nelson continued to write major works for the wind ensemble, and influenced many other composers to do the same. It’s how we are fortunate to have works like Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed, Wine-Dark Sea, the symphony for Band by John Mackey, and Radiant Joy by Steven Bryant (all three of which I’ve played this past week at WBJC!!!) and so many more.

People now see the wind ensemble for what it is: Not just an educational ensemble for schools, but a serious equal to the symphony orchestra. Composers are writing more and more works for wind ensemble, conductors are doing commissions for new pieces left and right, and musicians and audiences alike are realizing how important the repertoire is for growing the world of classical music. 

I invite you to tune in and hear some of these great works listed above AND MORE here on WBJC, where I go from Holst, Grainger, and Vaughan Williams, to the next generation that includes Hindemith, Persichetti, and Giannini, all the way through to Ticheli, Mackey, De Meij, Nelson, Reed, and new composers we may have never heard of!  

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Abhinn Malhotra is WBJC's Evening and Sunday Afternoon host. You can contact him at amalhotra@bccc.edu.

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