David Maslanka

About David Maslanka

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Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano – Some Thoughts on Performance

David Maslanka wrote this in February 2013

A lot of work has been done over many years to evolve a controlled and “beautiful” saxophone tone. There is a need for this kind of tone in my music, but there is also the push to the extreme. I am drawn to saxophones because of their wide-ranging vocal quality, which feels like a real extension of the human voice. Saxophone sound can break the heart with its softness and tenderness, and completely overwhelm with its power. “Beauty” cannot be confined to a narrow box labeled “beautiful.” Beauty is in the rightness of the musical moment, and that rightness can be a piercing cry at fff.

I think the strong appealing element of the Sonata is that it feels like an intimate journey and story for two people. There is a very close relationship between the saxophone and the piano. The piano does support the soloist in the traditional sense, but also leads and pushes. Intimacy is the key word, but that doesn’t mean just soft and sweet. It encompasses the full range of dialogue and emotions between two people. When this is established between the two players, the audience is immediately drawn in.

Fundamental issues in good music performance never change: careful attention to tempos, dynamics, articulations, and balances. If these things are carefully attended to, then 90% of the problem of what is called “interpretation” is solved.

First movement

m. 62: same tempo Q=90-96, no backing down; the ff is wild. […]

By |2024-04-02T22:25:13+00:002 April 2024|Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano|

Maslanka in China

David Maslanka shakes the hand of Li Fangfang after a powerful performance of Symphony No. 4 by the Beijing Wind Orchestra at the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Li invited David to participate in the 2016 Asia Pacific Band Directors Association Conference.

By |2016-12-09T23:08:45+00:006 August 2016|Featured, Travel|

Angel of Mercy – working with Dr. Tim Mahr and the St. Olaf Band

On Feb. 4 2016, I traveled from New York City to meet Tim Mahr and the St. Olaf Band at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, New Jersey. We were hosted by director of bands Chris Wilhjelm.

Rehearsing Angel of Mercy with the St. Olaf Band and Dr. Tim Mahr in Montvale, NJ Rehearsing Angel of Mercy with the St. Olaf Band and Dr. Tim Mahr in Montvale, NJ

The St. Olaf Band had been on tour and had done at least six performances of the piece before I heard the music for the first time at Chris Wilhjelm’s school. We had only an hour to rehearse. Rehearsing Angel of Mercy with the St. Olaf Band and Dr. Tim Mahr in Montvale, NJ Rehearsing Angel of Mercy with the St. Olaf Band and Dr. Tim Mahr in Montvale, NJ

This was only a beginning time of my hearing into the music, and helping the band fully to embrace it. They were playing well but they were still searching for the voice of the piece. The St. Olaf Band bassoons: (Left to Right) Joshua Kosberg, Colin Scheibner, Eliza Madden. The bassoons open Angel of Mercy with a gorgeous soli chorale. The St. Olaf Band bassoons: (Left to Right) Joshua Kosberg, Colin Scheibner, Eliza Madden. The bassoons open Angel of Mercy with a gorgeous soli chorale.

The music wasn’t complete in my […]

By |2016-12-09T23:08:45+00:008 March 2016|Angel of Mercy, Featured, Rehearsing|

Some Thoughts on Choosing Music for Younger Wind Ensembles

These are David’s thoughts on choosing music. You can find the annotated repertoire list here.

I have never been in charge of a school band program, but over the past 40-plus years I have seen hundreds of programs close-up as guest composer. While I do understand the need to teach specific aspects of music, I strongly advise against the use of so-called “educational” music. The core to the development of a band is the committed interest of its players, and that interest is captured by real music.

And what is real music? It is music that you personally love, that excites and interests you. That is the key issue: do you love it? If you do, your students will respond. If you do not love the music you are bringing to your students, there is no way that they will love it, and no way that they will perform with real enthusiasm or conviction. Let your students help you. They are thoroughly plugged into media sources and are totally up on wind band music that they love and want to play.

The biggest inhibiting factor in the selection of music is fear: my band can’t. I have seen it time and time again: the biggest inhibitor of the ability of a band to play is the conductor’s fear of failure – my band can’t. The grading system offers some guidelines, but these are not a rigid box. Look first to the music that you love, then begin to plot how you can […]

By |2016-12-09T23:08:45+00:0016 July 2015|Hell's Gate, In Memoriam, Reference|

How many players should perform a piece?

The division between “wind ensemble” and “band” is not clearly defined. A wind ensemble can be anywhere from one player on a part up to a total of 60 or even a few more in the ensemble, meaning multiples of flutes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, and others. For my wind ensemble scores I have consistently indicated that instrumentation should be one-on-part. This is in some ways an abstract ideal. For concertos I do ask that the one-on-a-part indication be respected, although even with these pieces conductors often use more players. For the symphonies and concert pieces widely varying numbers of instruments have been used. The ideal instrumentation for Symphony No. 4, for example, is about 50. It has been performed with as many as 150, and also with the addition (not mine) of a cello section. In more normal circumstances conductors typically use extra clarinets, flutes, trumpets, horns, and maybe a second tuba. I am of the mind that I cannot approve or disapprove any ensemble size without actually hearing whether or not it works. The aim of ensemble performance is for players to become more and more deeply aware of the tone they produce, and how it combines in a living way with all other tones. In general, the more players in an ensemble the greater the difficulty in producing clear tone and good intonation, although I have heard some very fine music making from larger groups. Overall I prefer smaller ensembles to larger, and in any case, expect conductors […]

By |2014-03-09T12:36:10+00:005 February 2014|Reference|

About difficulty

Most of my wind music has been written beyond the grade system. For the pieces that I have written for younger bands (now a fair number), I have composed them paying careful attention to the specific band for which I was writing, rather than the generalization of a grade number. The grading system can offer some guidelines for conductors who are sorting through music, but the numbers can also lead to the acceptance of a mental limitation: “My band can only play grade three, can’t play grade four.” I have written pieces for conductors of younger bands which the conductors, on their own, would never have selected. It was my intuition that the band was capable of the piece. Things have invariably turned out well, and even memorably. Along with legitimate concerns about technical ability conductors need to find and trust musical intuition, and be willing to risk the adventure for music that moves them strongly.

By |2014-03-09T12:36:18+00:005 February 2014|Reference|

What young composers need

This is an email message sent 13 April 2013 to Roger Briggs, composition chair, and Chris Bianco, director of bands, at Western Washington University. David had just returned from working with the wind ensemble and student composers.

Hi Roger,

I am very glad that we had some time together, and thanks again for sharing your beautiful piano work!

I mentioned my feeling that your student composers showed a quality of depression. Chris Bianco had also asked me about my time with the student composers and I shared some of those thoughts with him as well. The more I think about it the stronger it feels to me that that depression is a real thing. I will suggest that it has to do with overreliance on the computer as the main tool for making music. I have focused on the playback issue because it is so obvious. We certainly know intellectually that the computer is not a band or orchestra, but unconsciously we do NOT know this, and persistent use of the machine as the source of feedback about the nature of “real” sound results in a deep depression, and this is because the computer sound is denatured. It has no living vitality. Because of the availability of computer music programs young people think they can become composers without any significant contact with live music making. They don’t even have to play an instrument. This is entirely against the nature of what music is, and what its living function is.

Off the top of my […]

By |2016-12-09T23:08:46+00:0013 April 2013|Correspondence|

Remarks before the premiere of A Child’s Garden of Dreams, Book 2

Remarks made 7 December 2008 in Boone, NC before the premiere of A Child’s Garden of Dreams, Book 2, by the Appalachian Symphony Orchestra, James Allen Anderson, conductor.

I’m not going to say too much about the music here, but I do want to comment on how things go. The original Child’s Garden of Dreams piece was written in 1981. It became a piece well-known to the wind band world and has since that time had literally hundreds of performances here and around the world. This other piece, written for orchestra in 1989, is now having its premiere performance after nearly 20 years of trying to interest people.

Jim Anderson and I have been acquainted since the year 2000 when he was at the University of Montana. I wrote music for him then and then have subsequently written another piece, Symphony No. 6, which he performed and recorded here four years ago. So now he has taken on this new piece, something which spoke to him. When he first became aware of it, he had the deep feeling that this belonged to him, that he had to engage himself with it and to bring it into life.

And that’s how music goes. It deeply grabs and engages and I’m required, I’m compelled to do what I do. For better or worse, I’m compelled to do it.

I wanted to say just a bit about the nature of music in our world today. You have any […]

Remarks before the Trombone Concerto Premiere

Remarks given at the premiere performance of the Concerto for Trombone and Wind Ensemble, October 2007; Miami, Florida

In the words of the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, “We are life, we are inextinguishable.” The reasons for living or dying, especially dying, and especially when someone close to us passes, are all too often inscrutable. We look for words, for some idea to hang on to, which allow us to reconcile, or at least live with, loss and grief. But words and concepts fail.

Here in South Florida, everything, even new stuff, is continually being eroded by water and heat. Everything is being eaten, transformed, and taken back into the earth. Things are a bit slower in northern climates, but the process remains the same. It is a sharp reminder that there is no permanence: we come into these bodies undergo continuous transformation, and then for our own not-speakable reasons we release this body, we go on.

Music is deeply and powerfully a part of this process. Music is life: music is inextinguishable. Music loosens our separateness, and allows us to open deeply to one another. Music opens us to the energy of love, which makes out lives possible. Music is the breaker of chains, the smasher of the ordinary, and the breaker of hearts. Music breaks our hearts, and through the broken heart we know compassion.

Today is a celebration of the life of Christine Capote and that of her family, and all who are her […]

By |2016-12-09T23:08:46+00:0030 October 2007|Concerto for Trombone and Wind Ensemble|

Music in Life

Remarks given on 18 April 2002 at Indiana University School of Music before a performance of the Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Ensemble. Other works on the concert included Montana Music: Chorale Variations and Tears.

I want to give a few thoughts about how music acts in our lives. Music making is in the balance point between the conscious and unconscious minds. By way of brief illustration, the conscious part is the part we consider to be ourselves – the ego, the thinking part, the active does, the part that wakes up in the morning, and lives by the clock, and lives in a particular place, the part that has a name, and a personality, and a job.

By contrast, the unconscious part of ourselves, the part where dreams come from, does not live in time. That is, time means nothing to it. It lives in the whole universe but in no particular place. It has no personality but is life force itself. It does not have a name or a job identity, but comes forward to us as mythic forms and dreams.

Each of us has this mythic, timeless part. In mythology we are princes, kings, queens, warriors, wise men, and wise women. In a fundamental way these mythic identifications are who we really are. This part of ourselves is what allows us to identify so strongly with mythic characters, and why […]

Further notes on Music Performance

Two quotes from the scientist and philosopher Rene Dubos in his 1962 book The Torch of Life:

“A fully developed human being cannot be thought of as an isolated creature. His or her potential attributes become fully realized only when he or she functions within a social matrix, on which he or she depends, against which he or she reacts, and to which he or she contributes. From microbe to human society, life is an expression of the mutual interdependence of parts.”

“It may well turn out that the creativeness of life depends in large part, or perhaps entirely, for individual organisms to form with others, intimate associations which generate new structures and properties…. This concept applies also to man, whose spiritual development is the outcome of highly integrated social relationships.”

Music performance is not possible without the cooperation of performers, and performers with audience. Performance taps into a deep spiritual creative power. It is conscious dream time and renewal shared by all.

Music performance is one of the antidotes to the evils rampant in today’s world. It is the antithesis of modern man’s dissociation and isolation. It is the antithesis of the human capacity for killing and environmental destruction. You can’t make good music without love, which means that you accept the people with whom you are making music. This knitting together of the human community at this local point is remembered, and spreads over and beyond a lifetime. Music making is one of the true models for […]

By |2016-12-09T23:08:46+00:0010 April 1999|Chamber Music, Philosophy|

Music and Healing

Remarks given before a performance of Montana Music: Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano.

Music is specifically healing. I know that I am alive today, and essentially well, because of it. Healing through music is not always miraculous in the instantaneous sense, although a powerful musical experience can change a life in an instant. I have experienced this myself, and seen it happen to others. Music’s healing power is most often a life-long process, which is finally no less miraculous!

I have thought for many years about the nature of what we call inspiration – what it is, and how it enters the conscious mind. In my early years I would have the sensation of music “breaking through” my conscious mind, the sensation of the conscious mind with all its troubles and fixations parting, and letting in something from somewhere else, a powerful something which had nothing to do with my personal troubles. After receiving this force, the “normal” mind would close in again. But once one has had this experience, there is an eagerness to explore it and find it again. And through this experience comes the recognition that one has touched an amazing source, a fundamental source, of life and power. I know now that the function of the conscious mind is to attune itself to this deeper source, to be the channel for the power to come through. That need has driven this lifetime of mine, and has prompted me again and again toward health, […]

Some things that are true: Reflections on being an artist at the end of the 20th century

Society of Composers Incorporated Region VIII Conference, University of Montana at Missoula. Keynote address by David Maslanka – November 20, 1998

As soon as one speaks about “truth” there will be objections. Since we live in time and with change, it can be argued that all values and conditions are relative, and that “true” is what works best in any set of circumstances. So, in talking about truth I acknowledge the reality we live in, but I also must acknowledge the absolute values upon which our world of relative values rests.

We live in relativity, and yet music touches a timeless resonance in us, and we are drawn into perceptions that go absolutely beyond this life and this time. I think the central fascination with the feeling nature of sound and with the truth of feeling is what drew us all to music in the first place, and what continues to draw and fascinate us all our lives. I can’t defend the truth of artistic perception in any empirical way. After all the arguments about the relative or absolute nature of things, about the nature of feeling, the validity of personal feeling, the nature of human nature, there is that thing in each of us – quite beyond the quirks of personality – that perceives rightness. And when that “click of rightness” happens, we are satisfied at a soul level. I want to talk about that experience and how it has guided me in three areas: the evolution of a musical language, […]

By |2016-12-09T23:08:46+00:0020 November 1998|A Child's Garden of Dreams, Chamber Music, Philosophy|

Thoughts on Composing

Excerpts from letters to young composers

You ask about the soul nature of music, and are music and soul the same thing. Music is one of the expressions of soul. A person does not have to be consciously aware of soul connection for soul force to be expressed through that person. The conscious mind and the deep unconscious are two different things, but everyone has both of them. The unconscious can push its way into consciousness unbidden. Often this makes people do neurotic or crazy things – compulsive behavior of one kind or another. If a person is prepared artistically, then a sudden eruption of soul force might appear as a composition or a powerful performance. The person may have no idea where the force came from. This was my experience as a young composer. As I gained technical skill there would be sudden bursts of music that “appeared.” There was always the hard work of getting it composed properly, but fairly early on I learned to follow my instincts when something powerful began to happen. The impulse to write, having a “true voice”, and having the necessary technical equipment are all different issues. There are fine technicians who have no true voice, and people with true voice who have struggled with technique.

In my experience the feeling of a true voice may come spontaneously to a young composer, but the full and settled sense of it comes only with hard work, usually over a longish time. The composers who were fully […]

Dangerous Times

Remarks given on 29 March 1994 at Michigan State University before a performance of Symphony No. 4

It goes without saying that we live in dangerous times, and that the human family is threatened by forces within itself that it does not understand. Community is shattered, individuals are alienated, hunger, slaughter, and oppression continue and seem to be gathering momentum. Yet I want to speak of hope. I offer a quote from the book Symbols of Transformation by Carl Jung. This was written in the first decade of the twentieth century, but has come to apply dramatically to our time. The first idea in this quote seems like a slap in the face, yet it is clear and true:

“Everyone who has his eyes and wits about him can see that the world is dead, cold, and unending. Never yet has he beheld a god, or been compelled to require the existence of such a god from the evidence of his senses. On the contrary, it needs the strongest inner compulsion, which can only be explained by the irrational force of instinct, for man to invent religious beliefs. In the same way one can withhold the stories of primitive myths from a child but not take from him the need for mythology, and still less his ability to manufacture it for himself.” Here is the crux of the quote: “One could almost say that if the world’s traditions were cut off at a […]

By |2016-12-09T23:08:47+00:0029 March 1994|Philosophy, Symphony No. 4|

Composing and its relationship to the community

I want to talk a bit about the composing process and its relationship to community. I have recently been reading Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great nineteenth-century English poet. Hopkins speaks of the “particularity” of each object and experience. That is, each thing and each experience is unique. Even that one rose, that blade of grass, that person, that piece of music, is never the same from one experience of it to the next. We have a pale reflection of this idea in the popular saying “take time to smell the flowers” – in other words, get off your single-minded track and notice the world around you. Hopkins would have you not only smell the flowers, but stare at each one individually until it opens its secret world to you. Flowers, and indeed every other object, are doors to the world of spirit.

Consider that the only thing you truly have in life is the quality of your moment, the moment we call “now.” It is your connection to the eternal. The quality of a color stands apart from time. Consider “redness” – is “red” long or short? The quality of a musical tone stands apart from time. Any thing eventually changes, falls apart, becomes something else. What remains to you of it is its quality, its particularity, that is, the impression it makes on your soul.

Music makes a lasting impression on the soul. What is the nature of that impression? I will try to answer that in brief by saying that […]

By |2016-12-09T23:08:47+00:0016 March 1993|Composing|

The roots and purpose of music

Remarks given at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Nov.15.1992, before a performance of Symphony No.3.

I want to give a few thoughts on the roots of music and its purpose in human life.

Music comes supposedly from the human heart and mind. These are but two of the vibratory receiving centers of the human organism. The human organism comes from Planet Earth. We say “from dust to dust.” Each body is built from the elements of Earth and is continually recycling elements from the Earth. We eat food every day. To what end? So that we have “energy”. To what end? To have feelings and ideas, to make music, and to make many other things.

Bodies are fluid, recycling every seven years, so that each of us experiences a continual interaction with Mother Earth. The source of music then, would seem to be the Earth. We come from the Earth; if we are intelligent and spiritual, then the Earth is intelligent and spiritual, and by extension, the universe is intelligent and spiritual. If the Earth is the seed, then all that we see around us is the flowering and unfolding of that seed. And all of it is in continuous, fluid, interactive motion.

Music is one voice of the Earth, and by extension, one voice of the universe. That voice rises up through this wonderful human body – a body made of cells, cells made of molecules, molecules made of atoms, atoms made of neutrons, protons, electrons, electrons made of…pure energy. […]

By |2016-12-09T23:08:47+00:0015 November 1992|Chamber Music, Philosophy, Symphony No. 3|