Wind Ensemble. (2006) 10′
The St. Olaf Band, Dr. Timothy Mahr, cond. On Inner Visions (St. Olaf Records, 2009)
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Give Us This Day is in two movements, moderately slow and very fast. The duration is about 14 minutes. The music feels symphonic, hence the subtitle. “Short Symphony.” The first movement is deeply searching in character, while the second is highly energized. The words, “give us this day,” from the Lord’s Prayer, touch the idea of being immediately and vividly alive in the moment, the reason why music making can be so vital and compelling. This piece has had hundreds of performances in the United States and around the world, and never fails to energize both bands and audiences. Parts are graded to a degree – firsts are more difficult than seconds; thirds are easiest – making Give Us This Day approachable by bands of varying abilities.
Give Us This Day has been performed successfully by bands at many different levels of development. The music comes across successfully even without complete instrumentation. This is a fine piece for ensemble advancement. Students quickly grab hold and claim this music as their own.
The words “Give us this day” are, of course, from the Lord’s Prayer, but the inspiration for this music is Buddhist. I have recently read a book by the Vietnamese Bhuddist monk Thich Nhat Hahn (pronounced “Tick Nat Hahn”) entitled For a Future to be Possible. His premise is that a future for the planet is only possible if individuals become deeply mindful of themselves, deeply connected to who they really are. While this is not a new idea, and something that is an ongoing struggle for everyone, in my estimation it is the issue for world peace. For me, writing music, and working with people to perform music, are two of those points of deep mindfulness.
Music makes the connection to reality, and by reality I mean a true awakeness and awareness. Give Us This Day gives us this very moment of awakeness and awareness so that we can build a future in the face of a most dangerous and difficult time.
I chose the subtitle, “Short Symphony for Wind Ensemble,” because the music is not programmatic in nature. It has a full-blown symphonic character, even though there are only two movements. The music of the slower first movement is deeply searching, while that of the highly energized second movement is at times both joyful and sternly sober. The piece ends with a modal setting of the choral melody “Vater Unser in Himmelreich” (Our Father in Heaven) – No. 110 from the 371 four-part chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Opening: Care must be taken to observe marked tempo and soft dynamics.
20: ♩= 72, no slower.
26: Powerful crescendo to a full f at 31, and then no let-down of dynamics.
37 and on: Sustain each tone for the full value without diminuendo.
55: ♩= 76, no slower.
61 and on: Full-bodied dynamics, f-ff, are required. Experiment with f and ff to go beyond what you normally accept for these dynamic values.
97: Make the fermata intentionally longer than you would normally.
98: In time, ♩= 72, not slower; play it straight.
The tempo of ♩= 184 is crucial. At a slower tempo the music is labored, and is actually harder to play. It may be necessary to work out certain passages at slower tempos, but in every rehearsal always come back to reading some portion of the music at ♩= 184. It is surprising how quickly every band grabs onto this tempo and runs with it.
From the beginning, constantly experiment with the ff dynamic to find its full value. Many conductors fear making a bad sound, but until players actually experience the piercing nature of a true fortissimo they will not understand the energy of this music, or have the ability to produce a beautiful and balanced tone at a high dynamic level. No fear!
66: Trumpets can play “normal” rather than “flutter” for better rhythmic clarity
72: A true p dynamic.
122: A true p dynamic in winds; pp in piano and percussion.
173-185: Cue sax and then clarinet, but don’t conduct the piano. Let the player play out the part on his/her own.
259-260: Work these measures very carefully for “slowing … drastically”.
261: Tempo must be at ?? = 84, not slower. Long tones must be sustained full value at ff – no dying away.
276-278: As much drama as you can find; long sustain and powerful crescendo in 278; a sharp damping of all percussion, especially tam-tam, with the cut-off.
Give Us This Day works best as the closing piece on a concert. Very little, if anything, can follow it successfully. It is especially anticlimactic to try to follow it with a march.
This is a guest post from Sam Ormson, director of bands at Mountain View High School, Vancouver, Washington. We asked him to talk about […]
A Conductor’s Insight Into Performance and Interpretive Issues in Give Us This Day by David Maslanka (2010)
Dr. Lauren Ann Denney Wright’s doctoral dissertation on Give Us This Day focuses on the technical, expressive, and interpretive issues a conductor might face when programming […]