Maslanka Weekly: Best of the Web – No. 44, Songs Without Words

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

One of David’s most beloved compositional devices was the “song.” Because most of David music’s was not written for the human voice, his songs are often without words. David remarked, “I am very drawn to folk songs, and in the same way to the Bach Chorales. Like folk songs, these melodies are the products of many generations of voices, singing, singing, singing until the melodies have reached there own feeling of deep rightness. Folk songs and the Chorales are invariably simple melodies, yet they embody the full depth and richness of human experience.”

This week, we feature three beautiful examples of David’s “Songs Without Words,” of which there are literally dozens to choose from: “Awakening” from Songs for the Coming Day, Evening Song, and “Lost” from Song Book for Alto Saxophone and Marimba.

“Awakening” from Songs for the Coming Day

According to David, “Songs for the Coming Day is in nine movements, and runs about 48 minutes. It was commissioned by the Masato Kumoi Sax Quartet and consortium. The movements are relatively brief ‘songs without words’ with titles such as Breathing, Awakening, Letting Go of the Past, and The Soul is Here for its Own Joy. Eight of the nine movements are varying degrees of slow, emphasizing longer durations and quieter dynamics. There is a high demand for precise ensemble awareness and blended tone qualities. The title Songs for the Coming Day reflects my belief that under the chaotic surface of our world there is a rising creative energy through which is growing a new idea of living in harmony with ourselves and the Earth.” Watch below as the Synthèse Quartet gives an exquisite rendering of “Awakening.”

More info 

Evening Song

David said that “Evening Song is an arrangement of the first movement (‘At This Time’) of my saxophone quartet, Songs for the Coming Day. The music appears to be utterly simple, yet requires a very mature and patient control of tempo, dynamics and breathing. There is a deep relaxation and sweetness in this music, and it will repay many times the effort spent to master it.” Watch below as Layan Atieh (Horn) and Jennifer Creek Hughes (Piano) give an alluring performance of this work.

More info 

“Lost” from Song Book for Alto Saxophone and Marimba

From David’s Program Note:

Song Book was commissioned by Steven Jordheim and Dane Richeson of the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music, and was composed in the summer of 1998.

The Bach four-part chorales have become a central part of my music study. Playing and singing a few of them each day has become my way of making the transition into composing time. I sing the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass successively while playing all the parts at the keyboard. At this writing I am on my ninth pass through the collection. Which each pass I am drawn deeper into the relationship of line to line – how one borrowed melody (the chorale tune) generates three other beautiful melodies in the same space, and how all parts together generate a pattern of harmonic movement. I am fascinated by the process of the pieces and they have become a strong influence on my composing. 

Three chorale melodies appear in Song Book. I have taken them quite out of their liturgical context. Their titles inspire an emotional response in me, and out of this comes a music that expands on the original tune. My feeling for quotation is twofold. First, when a pre-existing melody comes to mind or hand while I am writing a new piece, it is a suggestion that the tune has something more to say, and that it will unfold differently in the new context. Secondly it allows for the process of “going underneath” the old tune to find something quite different and new. I let this happen because it seems that deeper connections are trying to work themselves out over many years and across many pieces. Folk and jazz artists do this as standard procedure.

Watch below as Steven Banks (Alto Saxophone) and Josh Ryan (Marimba) give a hauntingly beautiful performance of “Lost.”

More info 

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