David Maslanka: Works for Younger Wind Ensembles

This is the annotated repertoire list. Read David’s thoughts on selecting music for younger wind ensembles.

Here are more than twenty works for wind ensemble, arranged in approximate ascending order of difficulty, with commentary by David Maslanka

Prelude on a Gregorian Tune (1980) 4’ Grade 2

Prelude is a modest and brief piece for young band. It is based on an ancient melody and it gives me great pleasure to have this very old human voice come to life again through living young people.

Available from Neil A. Kjos Music Company.

Variants on a Hymn Tune (1995) 5’ Grade 2½

Variants on a Hymn Tune for euphonium and young wind ensemble was written for my son, Matthew, when he was in the eighth grade, and a member of an all-city middle school wind group. Variants is open, straightforward, and engaging. The solo part is appropriate for a good very young player, and the ensemble parts are easy. The piece has a clear and clean quality which I enjoy very much.

Available from Maslanka Press

Heart Songs (1997) 12’ Grade 3

Heart Songs was written for the Harwood Junior High School Band of Bedford, Texas. This was an outstanding young band, and I would say the music is a solid grade three. The piece is in three movements, “Quiet Song,” “Song with Variations,” and “Heart Song,” running in total about 12 minutes. The instrumentation is modest – basic band with no piccolo, one oboe, one bassoon, two horn, trumpet and trombone parts, four percussion plus timpani. It is my hope with this music to provide a substantial and deeply felt piece for young players.

The major challenges of Heart Songs are in the exposure of many instrumental colors at a variety of dynamics, and singing melodies in flexible tempos. The second movement, “Song with Variations,” is the most technical, and requires strict observation of tempos. I have worked with this piece any number of times and conductors routinely have to be pushed to find the 120 tempo at m.33. When they do it’s just really interesting! The fourth variation is a lengthy quiet solo for flute/vibe, then oboe/clarinet/vibe. The third movement is chorale-like and requires careful management of tempos and dynamics.

I would say that Heart Songs works best in the middle of concerts – not an opener or closer. It is finally not so difficult technically, and seems like it ought to be for younger bands, but it is musically very demanding, and can be profitably played by even advanced ensembles.

Available from Carl Fischer Music

Mother Earth – A Fanfare (2003) 3½’ Grade 3

Mother Earth was written for the South Dearborn High School Band of Aurora, Indiana. It is a brief, vigorous “wake-up” piece. It is one of the most popular of my pieces for younger bands, and offers a technical and musical stepping stone to some of my more extended and demanding works.

At the head of the score is a simple quote from St. Francis: “Praise be You, my Lord, for our Sister Mother Earth, who nourishes us and teaches us, bringing forth all kinds of fruits and colored flowers and herbs.” This suggests maybe an idyllic and sunny music, but Mother Earth is anything but. The tempo is marked at “h. = 86 – no slower,” and the music very quickly turns fierce. Some conductors have taken it faster, but I think it loses power and can become jumbled. I think of the timpani as leading the band, and not as an accompaniment. Timpani passages such as at mm. 40, 98, and 214 to the end should be bluntly powerful. Dynamics must be intently looked after. A true p is needed at m.110, f at 159, rising to a determined ff at 172 and on. And with all the dynamic ferocity there needs to be a crisp, clean staccato.

Mother Earth is a statement from our Mother that she is in pain, and that we need to pay attention to her healing.

Avaliable from Carl Fischer Music

Procession of the Academics (2008) 5’ Grade 3

Procession of the Academics for band or wind ensemble was written for the 150th anniversary celebration of Illinois State University. After all those years of the Elgar, the interest was simply to have a new academic processional march for use at commencements. My interest in writing it was to create a parody of an academic march that was for all practical purposes indistinguishable from the real thing. And I succeeded! The test was the first public airing of the piece at ISU. The academics in their caps and gowns all processed, and not a single person paid attention to the music.

Procession of the Academics is a neat little piece. It makes my wife smile every time she hears it. It opens with a vigorous fanfare and an appropriately march-like pair of themes. A middle section presents a really lovely contrasting theme, which, over the course of several repetitions, turns quite seriously urgent. This prepares the way for a literal recapitulation of the opening section. Repetitions can be taken in a number of ways to allow the piece to fit a given processional time. As a straight run it is about five minute long.

The music is stately, powerful, lovely, and a bit quirky by turns. It is not particularly difficult and can be played by any decent band.

Available from Carl Fischer Music

Illumination (2012) 5’ Grade 3½

Illumination was written for grades 8-12 middle and high school musicians in Franklin, MA. The commission came about because my grand nephew was a clarinetist in the band. Illumination is a solid grade three, and runs about five minutes. It can be performed with different sizes of ensembles from one-on-a-part to large symphonic band. It will be necessary to practice passages at slower tempos, but continually come back to q = 160. It is an engaging and exciting experience at this tempo. I am especially interested in composing music for young players that allows them a vibrant experience of their own creative energy. A powerful experience of this sort stays in the heart and mind as a channel for creative energy, no matter what the life path. Illumination is an open and cheerful piece in a very direct a b a form.

Available from Maslanka Press

Alex and the Phantom Band (2002) 16’ Grade 4

Alex and the Phantom Band: A Young Listener’s Introduction to Wind, Brass, and Percussion Instruments is for Symphonic Band or Wind Ensemble and Narrator and has a duration of about 16 minutes. The text is adapted from the story The Thirteenth Hour, by Kathryn Maslanka. Alex was commissioned by the Lansing, Michigan Community Band and has been used by the band annually for its children’s concert. It is a bright and engaging exposition of all the instruments of the wind band, built around the story of a young boy who is absorbed in the fantasy of conducting “His Majesty’s Royal Band.”

The music is very open, sparkling and straightforward; I would judge a grade level of about four. Confident solo players are needed to show off the various colors. An experienced narrator, male or female, is needed. The chief difficulty is the integration of the spoken narrative with the musical element to make a unified dramatic presentation. Alex is a “special event” kind of piece, suitable for a children’s concert, or a holiday occasion. A newspaper review from Hong Kong praised Alex and the Phantom Band as more engaging than Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

Available from Maslanka Press

First Light (2016) 8′ Grade 4

First Light has two characters. They are marked in the musical score as “unforgettable wounds – darkness,” and “perseverance – first light.” It has been my long personal experience that no real change, no transformation, occurs without crisis. We don’t move if we don’t have to. This is as true on the societal and environmental levels as it is on the personal. We are facing huge crises in our society and in our world, with every aspect of human darkness rising to the surface. It is my faith that we, with imagination, work, and perseverance, are at the edge of a profound transformation – a movement into light.

Available from Maslanka Press

Hell’s Gate (1996) 17’ Grade 4

Hell’s Gate, for three solo saxophones (alto, tenor, and baritone) was commissioned by the Hellgate High School Symphonic Band of Missoula. Montana. “Hellgate” is a place name in Missoula, hence my title. The music is something of a soul journey, the soul being represented by the solo alto saxophone. The solo parts require very good players, especially the alto, which is the true lead throughout. Great if you have these players, but they can also be invited guests. At m. 350 there is a four-part chorale for alto sax, trumpet, tenor sax and bass trombone. The two saxophones are already forward. The trumpet and trombone should move quietly to the front so that the quartet can play as a group. This chorale should be rehearsed separately until it is clear, balanced, in tune, and in time.

The wind ensemble parts are energetic and occasionally somewhat demanding, but are, overall, rhythmically unified, and fall into place without a lot of trouble. I would place Hell’s Gate at about a grade four, largely because of the solo parts.

Available from Carl Fischer Music

Husa (2017) 4′ Grade 4

Husa was commissioned by James Spinazzola for the Cornell University Chamber Winds in memory of composer Karel Husa (1921­­­–2016).

This brief piece in honor of Karel Husa embodies two statements of a chorale melody (“Christ lag in Todesbanden”) and a short responsive instrumental song. The chorale statements are made by a small group of solo players, and the song is presented by the full ensemble.

Available from Maslanka Press

Laudamus Te (1994) 13’ Grade 4

Laudamus Te was written for the Mount St. Charles Academy (high school) Symphonic Band of Woonsocket, RI. It can be played by wind ensemble or full symphonic band, and runs about 13 minutes. There are important solos for alto saxophone and euphonium.

“Laudamus te” is Latin for “we praise you.” In this case the voice of praise rises with considerable struggle out of a bleak darkness. The movement toward light is very determined and dramatic through several failed attempts, until the section beginning at m. 116 finds the path toward release. A grand climactic statement is reached in mm. 148-169. Quiet, then assertive hope is expressed for a while, mingled with the opening darkness, until the piece settles to a wistful repose.

Laudamus Te is an intensely dramatic piece that requires commitment to finding a broad range of dynamic and color values. There is substantial independence of parts. The effect of a good performance of this piece is to touch and open the placed of utter aloneness that each of us carries. It can be very powerful. I place it at a grade four – not so many technical difficulties, but the requirement for the committed searching out of musical values.

Available from Carl Fischer Music

On This Bright Morning (2013) 9½’ Grade 4

On This Bright Morning was commissioned by a consortium of some thirty Montana high school bands. The premiere was given by the second band at Misoula, Montana’s Hellgate High School.

The following quotation is from the poet, Jane Kenyon, who suffered from bipolar disorder, and who died of leukemia at age 48:

Yes, there are things in this life that we must endure that are all but unendurable, and yet I feel that there is a great goodness. Why, when there could have been nothing, is there something? How, when there could have been nothing, does it happen that there is love, kindness, beauty?

This thought never fails to break my heart, and the music of On This Bright Morning reflects the brave goodness and warm spirit of these lines.

The music is not technically difficult, but it demands a willingness to give a full-hearted performance. The dynamic of ff is very important and must be deliberately experimented with. Bands typically play between mf and f regardless of what is written. Work for an explosive and sustained fortissimo quality and do not settle for less. When it happens it is simply surprising.

The piano part is not particularly difficult but it is exposed and needs a confident player. There are nice solo spots for trumpet, alto sax, euphonium, flute, and clarinet. Duration is about 9-1/2 minutes.

Available from Maslanka Press

Requiem (2013) 11’ Grade 4

Requiem was composed for the Brooklyn (ny) Wind Symphony. It is a purely instrumental piece, no voices. The title implies a memory of the dead, and the fundamental quality of this music is an utter serenity. This is achieved by a very patient resting in tones and tonalities. Melodic evolution and harmonic rhythm are very slow. The opening and closing thirds of the piece are characterized by a triplet pulse reminiscent of the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata. The central third rises to a powerful climax of emotion which is released by a descending passage of triplets traded between trumpets and saxophones. In terms of color matching and intonation this seemingly simple passage is probably the hardest in the whole piece. Requiem is not finger-difficult, but demands a focused concentration. It would be a wonderful piece for the development of centered ensemble sound. Duration is about eleven minutes.

The Brooklyn Wind Symphony loved Requiem. It came to be the calming heart center of their outstanding 2013 Midwest Clinic program.

Available from Maslanka Press

UFO Dreams: Concerto for Euphonium and Wind Ensemble (1999) 17’ Grade 4

UFO Dreams is a full-size three-movement concerto that I wrote for my son, Matthew, when he was a senior at Hellgate High School in Missoula, Montana. The Hellgate Wind Ensemble premiered the piece with Matthew as soloist in the spring of 1999.
The first movement is a set of variations on the English folk song The Water is Wide. This is a song that my wife sang to the children when they were very young, and the rhythms of her singing are in this rendition. The second movement takes as its theme the mystery of origins: Where do you come from? Who are you really? It is brief but powerful, one of my favorite things. The third is another set of variations, this one on the Chorale melody, From the Bottom of My Heart. This is the longest and most technically demanding of the movements.

UFO Dreams makes me smile. It is an open, earnest, and friendly piece. A very good soloist is required. Sensitive ensemble play is needed, but I would say the ensemble writing is a grade four at its hardest, less for good portions of the piece.

Avaliable from Carl Fischer Music

Hymn for World Peace (2014) 12’ Grade 4½

Hymn for World Peace was composed for the Clarence, NY High School Symphonic Band (the second band at Clarence.) The title came from the simple thought that if we want world peace we can begin as individuals to ask for it. For musicians, that asking can be exemplified by making live music and performing for communities. Peace begins with each one of us, and music is a most powerful medium.

Hymn for World Peace is for full symphonic band, including double bass and piano. Clarence had 58 players, but there can be more. The piece is in a single movement, running about 12 minutes. The “hymn” quality is apparent in several long-breathed singing melodies, tonal, singable, very open-hearted. There is a fair technical demand, especially in mm. 84-119. A grade level might be in the 4½ range. The piece ends quietly with piano-saxophone and piano-clarinet duos, leaving us with the melody that I would identify as the actual hymn.

Consciously working to find the full range of dynamics is extremely important for this music. Dynamics in band play often occupy the very narrow range of mf to f, regardless of what is written. True pp and true ff are required in this music. The piano is a true solo part and requires a good and confident player. Mallet percussion parts are demanding but not continuously.

Hymn for World Peace would fit well as a first-half closer, and even, under special circumstances, as the end piece of a concert.

Available from Maslanka Press

California (2015) 10′ Grade 5

Music is wonderful. It lets us tell ourselves things we can’t speak out in words. It opens the dream space and lets us dream together. It lets us imagine the world as it really is, a place of vitality, power, and possibility.

We live in fear of destruction, from climate change, nuclear bombs, increasing population, vanishing resources, continuous war. When the troubles are listed like this it is hard to know what we think we are doing with our seemingly simple and innocent music making.

California has always been a place of big dreams. The music of California celebrates the California dream space. There is tremendous beauty here – the forests, deserts, mountains and valleys, the ocean – and also the strength within the people and in the earth to meet the times that are upon us. Music lets us dream, and in that dream is the possibility of a new world, one in which humans live in harmony, within themselves, with all other people, with all other species, with the planet. Is this dream impossible? Are circumstances too complex? Will human nature never change? My answer to these questions is no. The dream starts somewhere. Let our music making be one such place.

Available from Maslanka Press

Montana Music: Chorale Variations (1993) 16’ Grade 5

Montana Music was written for the Bishop Ireton High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble of Alexandria, VA. In the early 90s I wrote several “Montana Music” pieces. They arose out of a sense of the energy of the Montana land. There is a great feeling of vibrant life force here which has continually pushed me to musical expression. This piece is based on the chorale O Sacred Head Now Wounded, one of my all-time favorites, and one which has appeared in some form in a number of my pieces.

Montana Music: Chorale Variations was written just prior to Symphony No.4, and in many ways seems to be a study for that piece, Like the Symphony it is a single extended movement, comprising a number of song-like sections, arriving at a powerful and sweeping final statement. I would give Montana Music a grade-five rating. It is a technically demanding exploration of a wide variety of textures and colors. Having said that, I have worked with this piece with a not very well developed college band, and after an intense week of rehearsal, produced a very credible and powerful performance. The ability of a band to play appears to be directly related to the intensity and insistence of your imagination.

Available from Carl Fischer Music

Give Us This Day: Short Symphony for Wind Ensemble (2006) 10′ Grade 5

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.

Available from Carl Fischer Music

Morning Star (1997) 8½’ Grade 5

Morning Star was written for the Grand Ledge (MI) High School Wind Symphony. The piece was conceived for wind ensemble but can be performed by larger groups. The premiere at Grand Ledge was by an ensemble of about fifty-five.

Morning Star is one of my favorite pieces. It has a bright, clear, vigorous energy that never falters. I have often felt a kindred spirit with Percy Grainger. Over the years my music has often been programmed with his, and the two different voices always seem to complement each other nicely. Morning Star is very much in the spirit of Grainger. A very brief and perky English-type folk theme is treated to a large number of variations. Three sets of these variations comprise the A-A’-A’’ sections of a large rondo form. The music is especially demanding for upper winds, less so for brass and percussion, but with certainly enough for everybody to do. The basic tempo of ♩= 180 always seems daunting to conductors, but once an ensemble tastes the music at that speed they will not settle for less. Slow practice will be needed, but always regularly return to 180. Just go for it and see what happens. It took the Grand Ledge band about two minutes to adjust.

Available from Carl Fischer Music

The Seeker (2016) 10′ Grade 5

In Buddhist tradition, the bodhisattvas are the seekers after enlightenment. It can be said that we are all seekers on this path, the path of self-understanding, of the heart of compassion, of caring for the world.

The bodhisattvas are put forward as models for our own seeking:
Avalokiteshvara: the way of listening in order to relieve the suffering in the world.
Manjushri: the way of being still and looking deeply into the heart of things and people.
Samantabhadra: the way of acting with the eyes and heart of compassion.
Ksitigarbha: the way of being present where there is darkness, suffering, oppression, and despair.
Sadāparibhūta: the way of never disparaging or underestimating any living being.

The Seeker is subtitled “a symphonic movement.” It opens with a slow melody that feels like an Appalachian folk song. It transitions suddenly and sharply into the main body of the work, an energetic and exuberant romp at a very speedy tempo. The opening melody returns in the context of a chorale, my recomposition of Christe, der du bist der Tag und Licht (Christ, you who are day and light) from the 371 four-part chorales of Bach. The movement concludes with a partial recap of the fast music, and a very brief coda.

Available from Maslanka Press

Testament (2001) 12’ Grade 5

Testament was composed for a consortium led by L.D. Bell High School of Hurst, Texas. I had been commissioned to write a piece for the L.D. Bell consortium, and was contemplating what to do, when the nation was shocked by the 9/11 attack. I was moved to write a “testament” which I quote here in part:

When I consider the darkness that we carry … the death we bring through rage, ignorance, and indifference, I say “Please, God, help us to melt the rage into love…. When I consider music … the great harmonizer, the open channel of the soul … bringing hearts all over the world to peaceful union … I say “How beautiful it is!”

The opening half of Testament is a vigorous and powerful assertion of living force which rises to an explosive shriek. Some see it as a graphic portrayal of the 9/11 attack; to me it seems like the gathering and release of the huge emotional turmoil generated by that attack. Release and transformation…the second half is the world transformed.

Testament is more or less a grade five. It can be done by a good high school ensemble. There is solo work for flute, oboe, clarinet, soprano saxophone, and piano. The piano needs to be forward, not buried in the back with the percussion.

Available from Carl Fischer Music

Unending Stream of Life (Variations on All Creatures of Our God and King) (2007) 25’ Grade 5

Unending Stream of Life is for symphonic wind ensemble or band. It was written for the Sacred Winds Ensemble, a summer gathering of musicians that meets every year in Hazzard, ky. I was asked to use a hymn tune as the basis for the new piece, and chose the vibrant and powerful All Creatures of Our God and King. The resulting music is a set of seven “songs,” each embodying the original tune, or relating to it in some way. There are qualities of both light and dark. The overture and the finale are both straight and full-throated renderings of the hymn tune. Variations two through five explore the darker side: two is entitled “seeking;” three is “brooding march;” four is “as you proceed to your certain end, what is the point of being alive?” The fifth variation, “a hard thought that turns out alright,” is the major technical challenge of the piece. Variation six is a simple and beautiful song.

There is significant solo play for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and piano. Given the wide variety of textures, the occasional high technical demand, and the overall attention requirement of a large piece, I would place Unending Stream at a grade five. It is a very present piece, one that is immediately engaging for both players and audiences.

Available from Maslanka Press

Angel of Mercy (2016) 17′ Grade 6

I have been playing and singing the Bach 371 Four-Part Chorales for more than 25 years. Although they have a Christian/Lutheran context, they are primarily, and for me most importantly, just music, glorious and powerful in themselves.

After all these years I have come to feel that singing the Chorales is an act of prayer, and to date I have sung through the entire book ,all four voices, of each Chorale some 23 times. These ancient melodies are the voice of peace, and over the years, they have formed a peaceful center in me.

Angel of Mercy is a prayer for peace in our troubled time. Three Chorale melodies are the foundation for this music: “O Fear, Disquiet, and Apprehension,” “Oh, How Blest Are Ye,” and “I Leave All Things to God’s Direction.” This piece was commissioned by Timothy Mahr and the St. Olaf Band in honor of the band’s 125th anniversary. It is dedicated to them with profound gratitude and respect.

Available from Maslanka Press

Hosannas (2015) 26′ Grade 6

The seven movements of Hosannas are relatively brief; each offers a different facet of the idea of “shouting praise.” The piece is written for full one-on-a-part wind ensemble although open textures of individual colors and small groupings are the norm. The tutti ensemble as it appears in the fourth and sixth movements provides a sharp and fierce contrast. The seventh movement, “A Litany for Courage and the Seasons,” is for solo tenor voice, clarinet, and vibraphone, with a very reduced accompaniment. The musical demand of Hosannas is to find the unbroken energy line through the seven movements.

Available from Maslanka Press

Liberation (2010) 14’ Grade 6

Liberation was commissioned by the Japan wind Ensemble Conductors Conference, and was first performed by the Hikarigaoka Girls’ High School Wind Orchestra. It is for standard wind ensemble including double bass, piano, timpani plus six other percussion parts, and chorus. The vocal writing is all unison Gregorian Chant. A separate chorus of any type (children’s, men’s, women’s, mixed) can be used, or the vocal parts can be sung by members of the wind ensemble. Each of these options has been done successfully in performance.

The Latin text is the Libera Me from the Requiem Mass, the first line of which is: Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in dia illa tremende… (Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal on that fearful day…)

After writing this piece I came to realize that this text and this music were directly related to the nuclear bombing of Japan in World War II, and to the resulting wound to the human spirit that has still not healed. Music making is literally the making of peace, and to have Liberation played and sung by Japanese young people was for me a powerful step toward resolution.
The music is immediate and gripping. There are serious requirements, including careful preparation of the vocal parts, and the five-minute final section of the piece which involves only seven players. Liberation has a highly unified feel but the writing is demanding enough to make it a grade six. Duration is about 14 minutes.

Available from Maslanka Press

Saint Francis: Two Studies for Wind Ensemble (2015) 18′ Grade 6

The two movements are marked “Quite slow (♩= 44 ),” and “Flowing (♩= 60 ).” The music grows out of a mystical perception of St. Francis as a fierce defender of the Earth and of all life on it. Both movements have a deeply interior quality which explodes into episodes of great power and ferocity. The second movement opens and closes with a beautiful melody of consolation. While the focus is on the clarity of specific instrumental sounds, there are some truly demanding fingering passages for all players, as well as the need for full consciousness of dynamic extremes.

Available from Maslanka Press

Traveler (2003) 14’ Grade 6

Traveler is for symphonic wind ensemble and runs about 14 minutes. It was written for my long-time conductor friend, Ray Lichtenwalter, for his retirement from the University of Texas at Arlington. We tend to think of retirement as “the end,” and the last stage of life as an unhappy decline of body, mind, and potentials. By contrast, in meditation, I saw my friend as a traveler, not only through this life, but from life to life. The end of this life is not “the end,” but the gathering of the soul for the next step of an infinite journey.

Traveler has a wonderfully appealing energy. I have worked with it any number of times and never get tired of it. Technically it is a grade six. It requires capable and committed players and precise ensemble work. There are significant solos for clarinet and oboe, and a unison duet for soprano and flute which for me is the highlight of the piece.

The second half (m.210 and on) is for small ensembles, and requires special attention. The tempo between mm. 210 and 239 is ♩= 120, not slower. Dynamics from 210 to the end must be scrupulously observed. It will be useful to experiment consciously with each dynamic level.

Traveler was not written for young players, but more and more I am hearing extraordinary performances by outstanding high school ensembles.

Available from Carl Fischer Music

By |2018-06-22T21:08:39+00:0016 July 2015|Essential, Reference|