Maslanka Weekly: Best of the Web – No. 109, Lawrence University Conservatory of Music

Maslanka Weekly highlights excellent performances of David Maslanka’s music from around the web.

From Lawrence University Conservatory of Music’s Website:

The Lawrence University Conservatory serves around 350 highly engaged, enthusiastic, and passionate students. With three degrees, four majors, two areas of emphasis, two minors, twenty-six studios, and nine large ensembles there are a multitude of ways to sculpt a musical life at Lawrence. 

Our mission and vision drive everything that we do here, and it is because of this expansive foundation that the Lawrence Conservatory is consistently ranked one of the top in the nation, with growing applications and graduates who go on to change the face of the musical world, again. 


Lawrence University Conservatory of Music: Inspiring performance, engaging intellect, energizing passion.


Preparing musicians to create a more thoughtful, meaningful, and beautiful world:

  • Within a motivated community that cultivates artistry and excellence through rigorous training.
  • Within a diverse community that fosters intellectual growth through critical inquiry and scholarship.
  • Within a creative community that connects passion for music to social engagement and innovative thinking.

This week, we feature three ensembles from Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in performances of David’s music: Symphony No. 4, Crown of Thorns, and Tears.

Symphony No. 4

From David’s Program Note:

The sources that give rise to a piece of music are many and deep. It is possible to describe the technical aspects of a work – its construction principles, its orchestration – but nearly impossible to write of its soul nature except through hints and suggestions.

The roots of Symphony No. 4 are many. The central driving force is the spontaneous rise of the impulse to shout for the joy of life. I feel it is the powerful voice of the earth that comes to me from my adopted western Montana, and the high plains and mountains of central Idaho. My personal experience of the voice is one of being helpless and torn open by the power of the thing that wants to be expressed – the welling-up shout that cannot be denied. I am set aquiver and am forced to shout and sing. The response in the voice of the earth is the answering shout of thanksgiving, and the shout of praise.

Out of this, the hymn tune Old Hundred, several other hymn tunes (the Bach chorales Only Trust in God to Guide You and Christ Who Makes Us Holy), and original melodies which are hymn-like in nature, form the backbone of Symphony No. 4.

To explain the presence of these hymns, at least in part, and to hint at the life of the Symphony, I must say something about my long-time fascination with Abraham Lincoln. From Carl Sandburg’s monumental Abraham Lincoln, I offer two quotes. The first is a description of Lincoln in death by his close friend David R. Locke:

“I saw him, or what was mortal of him, in his coffin. The face had an expression of absolute content, or relief, at throwing off a burden such as few men have been called on to bear – a burden which few men could have borne. I have seen the same expression on his living face only a few times, when after a great calamity he had come to great victory. It was the look of a worn man suddenly relieved. Wilkes Booth did Abraham Lincoln the greatest service man could possible do for him – he gave him peace.

The second, referring to the passage through the country from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois of the coffin bearing Lincoln’s body:

To the rotunda of Ohio’s capitol, on a mound of green moss dotted with white flowers, rested the coffin on April 28, while 8,000 persons passed by each hour from 9:30 in the morning till four in the afternoon. In the changing red-gold of a rolling prairie sunset, to the slow exultation of brasses rendering Old Hundred, and the muffled boom of minute guns, the coffin was carried out of the rotunda and taken to the funeral train.

For me, Lincoln’s life and death are as critical today as they were more than a century ago. He remains a model for this age. Lincoln maintained in his person the tremendous struggle of opposites raging in the country in his time. He was inwardly open to the boiling chaos, out of which he forged the framework of a new unifying idea. It wore him down and killed him, as it wore and killed the hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the civil war, as it has continued to wear and kill by the millions up to the present day. Confirmed in the world by Lincoln was the unshakable idea of the unity of the human race, and by extension the unity of all life, and by further extension, the unity of all life with all matter, with all energy, and with the silent and seemingly empty and unfathomable mystery of our origins.

Out of chaos and the fierce joining of opposite comes new life and hope. From this impulse I used Old Hundred, known as the Doxology – a hymn of praise to God; Praise God from Whom all Blessings FlowGloria in excelsis Deo – the mid-sixteenth century setting of Psalm 100. Psalm 100 reads in part:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

I have used Christian symbols because they are my cultural heritage, but I have tried to move through them to a depth of universal humanness, to an awareness that is not defined by religious label. My impulse through this music is to speak to the fundamental human issues of transformation and re-birth in this chaotic time.

Watch below and proceed to 52:00 as Andrew Mast leads the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble in an exciting performance of Symphony No. 4.

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Crown of Thorns

From David’s Program Note:

The title Crown of Thorns is an obvious reference to Christ’s crown of thorns, but the name first came to me as a possible title for a piece from seeing a plant called “Crown of Thorns” at the New York Botanical Gardens. Crown of Thorns is a rambling, thorny desert plant from the Middle East, with small green leaves, and small, pretty red flowers. The rambling, interweaving, vine-like stems suggested music to me.

As I meditated on the words “Crown of Thorns”, and on the plant, and on the idea of a work for keyboard percussion ensemble, the following image arose:

a darkening sky
seven stars are visible:
the seven-starred halo
the golden light
the hands of blessing

The seven-starred halo is a transcended image of the crown of thorns. It is the crown of highest spiritual power arrived at through the greatest depth of suffering. The imagery is Christian, but the experience transcends religion, and is universal. The music is at times sober and reflective, but more often filled with a liberated energy and joy.

Watch below and proceed to 2:15 as Dane Richeson leads the Lawrence University Percussion Ensemble (LUPÉ) in a fantastic performance of this music.

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From David’s Program Note:

The title “Tears” came from reading the novel Monnew by the African writer Ahmadou Kourouma. His story tells of the destruction of a traditional African culture by European colonization. The native peoples were made to endure the “monnew,” the insults, outrages, trials, contempts, and humiliations of colonialism. My reading of the book was the external motivation for composing the piece, but I don’t know anyone in Africa directly. I have come to understand that fascination with something in the external world means that a thing deep inside me has been touched. So the piece is about something in me. Over the years my music has acted as a predictor for me. It gives me advance non-verbal messages about things inside me that I don’t understand yet: movements of my unconscious that are working their way towards the light.

Tears finally is about inner-transformation, and about groping toward the voice of praise. St. Francis and St. Ignatius have said that the proper function of the human race is to sing praise. Tears is about inner breaking, and coming to terms with the pain that hinders the voice of praise. Tears is about the movement toward the heart of love.

Watch below and proceed to 19:30 as Matthew R. Arau leads the Lawrence University Symphonic Band in a superb performance of Tears.

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We would love to hear from you! If you know of any outstanding performances of David Maslanka’s music on the web, please email us at