LET ME FALL: 2015 Westwood Band Show

October 6, 2015 Lynne Rhea No comments exist

By Ren MacNary

Westwood’s show this year is based on the idea that one has to take a leap of faith to learn to fly. “Let me fall so that I can fly.” The visual elements of the show evoke soaring wings of hang-gliders. And, as typical in a Westwood show and indeed many DCI and Marching Band shows, the visual elements also are based on a pun….The “Fall” of the leap of faith becomes the season “Fall”, so the colors are all the colors of Fall. Many of the movements of the show go back to images of falling and flight, with the Color Guard supporting a falling team member, or choreography with the members of the band holding out their wings and banking to the side.

This pun is continued into the music that was selected. The show begins and ends with an excerpt from an Eric Whitacre piece called “October.” Two of the other musical selections are from pieces about birds; the second movement of the show is from Hummingbrrd by Steven Bryant and the fourth movement is based on Kingfishers Catching Fire by John Mackey. The 3rd movement is a lovely ballad, “Let Me Fall” by Benoit Jutras, from Quidam, a Cirque du Solei production.

This show marks a bit of a change from our previous four shows. We’ve been integrating modern pieces in with classical pieces in a very interesting way. Probably the most extreme version of this was Finding Balance 4 years ago which combined Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade with Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. This year the show is composed by 4 living composers with no classical pieces.

The contrast between the four is very interesting. The first movement’s music, October, written for Band in 2000, is in the style of a Romantic piece, with nods to the English Romantic composers such as Holst and Vaughn Williams. From Eric’s description of the piece:

“Something about the crisp autumn air and the subtle changes in light always make me a little sentimental, and as I started to sketch I felt the same quiet beauty in the writing. The simple, pastoral melodies and the subsequent harmonies are inspired by the great English Romantics, as I felt this style was also perfectly suited to capture the natural and pastoral soul of the season. I’m happy with the end result, especially because I feel there just isn’t enough lush, beautiful music written for winds.”

The piece starts with a very exposed Oboe solo, and as the Band joins in the piece builds on a simple three note phrase until the main melody enters. It’s the same three notes as in the beginning of the Westwood Alma Mater, itself based on a theme from Jupiter in Holst’s the Planets. No, I don’t know if it was on purpose! A wonderful recording of this can be found on Youtube by the North Texas Wind Symphony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EoUAbODO34.

Hummingbrrd is jazzy, fast, well like a Hummingbird! The composer Steven Bryant actually wrote this in 2003 over a weekend as a fun project just using his voice and new software program. From his website:

“Hummingbrrd is a happy, lively little piece I wrote over one weekend, primarily as a test drive of a new piece of software, Melodyne. Every sound in the entire piece is from my own voice (I didn’t use any synthesizers, drum machines, samplers, etc.). Not being a gifted singer, I’d never attempted anything quite like this before, and found it incredibly fun to do. As a compositional exercise, it reminded me of the value of simply playing, with musical materials.”

You can listen to the original version here: http://www.stevenbryant.com/music/catalog/hummingbrrd-electronic

The third movement of the show is based on Let Me Fall. Let Me Fall was written for a Cirque du Solei production, Quidam, by Benoit Jutras. If you are familiar with Cirque productions, it was the music for an Arial contortion in silk number during the show. This slow ballad features a Trombone solo in our show. The lyrics are the source for the title of the show:

Let me fall

Let me climb

There’s a moment when fear

And dreams must collide

 

Someone I am

Is waiting for courage

The one I want

The one I will become

Will catch me

 

So let me fall

If I must fall

I won’t heed your warnings

I won’t hear them

 

Let me fall

If I fall

Though the phoenix may

Or may not rise

 

I will dance so freely

Holding on to no one

You can hold me only

If you too will fall

Away from all these

Useless fears and chains

 

Someone I am

Is waiting for my courage

The one I want

The one I will become

Will catch me

 

So let me fall

If I must fall

I won’t heed your warnings

I won’t hear

 

Let me fall

If I fall

There’s no reason

To miss this one chance

This perfect moment

Just let me fall

This song has also been recorded by Josh Groban. The original can be heard here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2R-1r2OcH7M

 

The fourth movement is based on a piece by John Mackey, Kingfishers Catch Fire. It’s an incredibly intricate piece with lots of quick Woodwind and Brass flourishes. The show is taking music from the second movement of the piece. In the end there’s a nice reference to Stravinsky’s Firebird. Here’s what John says about this piece:

 

A “kingfisher” is a bird with beautiful, brilliantly colored feathers that look in sunlight as if they are on fire. Kingfishers are extremely shy birds and are rarely seen, but when they are seen, they are undeniably beautiful.

The first movement, “Following falls and falls of rain,” is suspended in tone, but with hope, depicting the kingfisher slowly emerging from its nest in the early morning stillness, just after a heavy rain storm. The second movement, “Kingfishers catch fire,” imagines the bird flying out into the sunlight.”

 

You can hear the 2nd movement here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLhmHJ0LM0Y

 

The interesting thing about John Mackey is that he doesn’t play an instrument. He started at 11, working on music on computers, starting on the Apple IIe. He’s written a blog post about it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLhmHJ0LM0Y John and his wife also lived for a while here in Austin, and was a composer in residence at UT.

 

The show ends with the massive chords at the end of Kingfisher, then an epilogue using Whitacre’s October to end quietly.

 

The show is musical, intricate, with flashes of big hits. It requires fine musicianship, which leverages the incredible level of talent in the Westwood Band. It’s a challenge, fun, and requires hard work. I can’t WAIT to see the entire show!

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