Book Reviews

Becoming An Orchestral Musician

A Guide for Aspiring Professionals by Richard Davis, published Giles de la Mare Publishers Ltd 2004

This is a book which includes everything that a teacher or student needs to assess the pros and cons of studying music as a vocation. Richard Davis has been Principal Flute in the BBC Philharmonic for two decades, a Senior Lecturer in Flute and orchestral coach at the Royal Northern College of Music, and has played with most of the major orchestras in the country. He is a thinker and questioner about every facet of his job, and his book distils his own experience and that of another twenty colleagues, members of the Philharmonic, freelancers and management. He also includes dozens of quotations from Plato to Pepys, from Schumann to Stokowski. More to the point are the dozens of comments from young professionals.

Advice is given on choosing an instrument, practice and warm-ups, College or University, performing philosophies, ensemble playing, nerves, how to cope with a myriad of professional situations including conductors, the science of intonation, survival and finally alternative careers.

It's a book to read through and to dip into, it will have balanced suggestions for any query you might have about the music business. In a book of so much common sense, I have one reservation; there is an alternate to conservatoire or university which I still believe is a fine training ground. Richard does not mention the military, despite the fact that he was taught at the Royal Northern College of Music by a former Royal Marine, the great Trevor Wye. Also a former principal 'cello of the BBC Philharmonic went into the Marines as a saxophonist, and took up the 'cello aged seventeen. This is a mere quibble. The book should be in every school library and on the bookshelf of every music teacher and professional player. It will have an answer, usually, the answer, to all of your queries.

An Annotated Guide To Wind Chamber Music

For Six to Eighteen Players

Rodney Winther, published by Donald Hunsberger Wind Library, Warner Bros

A great sadness about quitting fulltime teaching at the Royal Northern College of Music is missing out on the regular rehearsals and concerts with small conducted chamber winds and brass. Any success that we may have had with the RNCM Wind Ensemble was largely due to this detailed work and the professional understanding that the players had with each other within the ensemble. Any wind and brass programme should explore this repertoire, and now a world map is available from Rodney Winther of the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati.

Hundreds of works are included, from the little J C Bach Symphonies of 1778 for wind sextet, right through to Xenakis, Fricker and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Rodney gives us his top 101 favorite pieces; there are several in there that I hear as little more than academic exercises, and I would certainly add the Alwyn Flute Concerto, the Willard Elliott Five Impressions, both which I adore.

For each work, we are given date of composition, duration, performance difficulty, discography and a general biography and programme note, often leading on towards other discoveries. My slightest caveats are concerned with the system of cataloguing. The Author's list of Top 101 compositions is arranged alphabetically. There is then an excellent listing by composer, with title and instrumentation, but without a page reference. This list is repeated at the end of the book but without the instrumentation. It does have the usual shorthand for the instrumentation; 1222:2000 stands for flute and pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns, a system I would find far clearer in the main section of the book. This is however arranged by ensemble, with, in huge type, the instrumentation first, i.e. TWO FLUTES, TWO OBOES and TWO BASSOONS. Perhaps I am the only person in the world to find these listings in caps intrusive. I am confused; I am sure that it could be set out more clearly but I am equally sure that I will cope and use the book almost every day. This is a major resource.

Best Music For Chorus And Winds

Keith Kinder, published by Manhattan Beach Music 2005, edited Bob Margolis

Keith Kinder puts all of us in his debt with the latest edition in the Best Music Series, published by Bob Margolis. This is a listing, with critical\commentary, orchestration and duration of over one hundred works for chorus and winds. As Frank Ticheli says in his foreword

this guide is extraordinary not only for the repertoire it uncovers, but also for the concise and crystal-clear picture the author gives of each work... information on the historical context, musical style and language, text an d difficulty level.

Nearly all of what I consider the major masterpieces for the genre are there, the Bruckner Mass, Honneger's King David, Michael Ball's companion piece to the Stravinsky Mass, his virtuosoPageant, Edward Gregson's Missa Brevis Pacem and Henze's Muses of Sicily.

I had hoped to find out more about Honneger's Nicholas der Flu, which I remember from a memorable performance at WASBE 2001 in Lucerne, but which had no programme to accompany it. It was couched in a similar language to King David, and as I recall had brass band as well as wind orchestra, with soloists and choirs, very moving. I cannot believe that Keith does not know of it, and can only assume that it did not make the cut.

If there were to be an addendum, and I do hope that Keith will update it regularly as new works of excellence emerge. I would suggest three British works for consideration, A Passion for our Time by Philip Wilby, Joseph Phibb's Rainland and Anthony Hedges A Manchester Mass.

I very much enjoyed a work on John Boyd's Elf recording ELFCD1005, John Boyd Conducts American. Floyd Werle's Symphony no 2 for Winds is a title, which disguises the fact that it includes parts for a rock combo, and a vocal quartet on hand-held mikes, with a narrator. Werle disarmingly states that

I do not intend that all this should be taken too deadly seriously, but more as a much needed recreation and "fun" piece after too much time in the rarefied atmosphere of the heavy heavies.

My final American addition to the listing would be Cosmosis, a fascinating work for soprano solo, women's voices and wind orchestra by Susan Botti, premiered at the CBDNA 2005 Conference by University of Michigan with the composer as soloist.

This is a major addition for your library, and should stand proudly next to Norman Smith's Band Notes as an essential addendum; buy a copy for your choral director, it should be in his/her library as well.

The American Wind Band

Richard K Hansen, published by GIA publications, 2005.

This is a fascinating book, which at the same time includes a scholarly assessment of contemporary music for wind band alongside a wonderful narrative of the emergence of modern America and its turbulent social and political history. It is on any level a terrific read but also it has an underlying intellectual argument, which adds much to the growth of literature about the wind band movement.

At nearly 500 pages, I suspect that it is a bedside book for dipping into, as well as a standard classic for any music literature class. I have been browsing through it, prior to a really good read on my next holiday and found that the juxtaposition of major events and the works they spawned is fascinating. I am sad that Rick's discussion of works influenced by war did not unearth Heisinger's Statements, a wonderful piece of music drama, introducing players to aleatoric techniques as well as confronting their own personal and political beliefs.

I do not know of another book about wind music which pins the emergence of repertoire so closely to political and artistic developments. A section of over one hundred pages tracesHistory, Events and Ideas alongside The related Arts in America and Western Civilisation, Music in the United States and American Band Music. I found the background information on the civil war fascinating.

The book is in three sections. Part one deals with what he calls The Story; Affirmations and revisions of the Past, tracing the movement through the golden age of the military and civil bands of the 19th century, the developments post first world war, the emergence of the wind ensemble concept up to the plethora of organisations, aims and visions of today.

In part two, the story is given a more continuous historical context. while part three is entitledResearch; the Hopeful Pursuit of Discovery. Hansen draws on numerous sources, American and international for his book. The text is liberally sprinkled with contemporary criticism and typical concert programmes, and he dips into the listing of research documents; the bibliography will lead the reader on to further reading and is itself worth the price.

In 1985, the late Frederick Fennell gave a visionary keynote speech to the WASBE Conference in Kortrijk entitled Band Music and the Composer; Old-Fashioned pursuits in High Tech Society. Dr. Fennell's influence on Rick Hansen's thinking is evident throughout the book, as is the author's love for the great man. The speech is given in full in an appendix, as is his keynote speech at WASBE in 1999 in California, Millennium Considerations. Thinking outside the box, he said in California:

Maybe it could just be that our presence in every guise on that fantastic creation of the century we shall be leaving - the Internet, maybe it can open some of those doors long closed to us. With it and our unbounded imagination we might awaken the sleeping past. With our powerful resource of sound and our as yet untried frontal attack on the receptivity of those who probably have not heard us at all, we possess those many powers needed to attract our audience.

To sum up, I can do no better than to quote and echo Fennell's comment on Rick Hansen's book:

A major contribution to the profile of Wind Band. All about what the band has never been to so many - an education for us all. The depth and breadth of ideas fairly jump off the page. Thank you, thank you, thank you.