Maslanka Weekly: Best of the Web – No. 63, Malcolm W. Rowell, Jr.

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

Malcolm W. Rowell, Jr. is a conductor and music educator. He is a Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and served as the principal conductor of the University Wind Ensemble and Symphony Band from 1980-2003. Under his baton the wind ensemble released four recordings: The Wind Music of David Maslanka (1991), Symphonic & Wind Music of Charles Bestor (1994), Tears (1996), and Wind Currents (2001).

One of the earliest champions of David’s music for wind ensemble, Rowell’s early recordings with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Wind Ensemble of pieces like Symphony No. 2, Symphony No. 4, A Child’s Garden of Dreams, and Tears helped give life to David’s music and was the source of inspiration for many band directors who would later program and record David’s music.

According to The American Record Guide, “Malcolm W. Rowell, Jr. and his charges at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst seem to have a special affinity for the works of David Maslanka. Their recording of his Tears follows an all-Maslanka disc (A Child’s Garden of Dreams and Symphony No. 2) that they released in 1996…In sum, Rowell and his musicians have assembled a well-performed program.”

This week, we feature three of David’s compositions that Malcolm W. Rowell, Jr. and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Wind Ensemble championed: A Child’s Garden of Dreams, Symphony No. 4, and Tears.

A Child’s Garden of Dreams

From David’s Program Note:

A Child’s Garden of Dreams was commissioned by John and Marietta Paynter for the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble. It was composed in the summer of 1981 and premiered by Northwestern in 1982.

The following material is from Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung:

A very important case came to me from a man who was himself a psychiatrist. One day he brought me a handwritten booklet he had received as a Christmas present from his ten-year-old daughter. It contained a whole series of dreams she had had when she was eight. They made up the weirdest series of dreams I had ever seen, and I could well understand why her father was more than just puzzled by them. Though childlike, they were uncanny, and contained images whose origin was wholly incomprehensible to the father….

In the unabridged German original, each dream begins with the words of the old fairy tale: “Once upon a time….” By these words the little dreamer suggests that she felt each dream were a sort of fairy tale, which she wants to tell her father as a Christmas present. The father tried to explain the dreams in terms of their context. But he could not do so because there appeared to be no personal associations with them….

[The little girl] died of an infectious disease about a year after that Christmas….”[The dreams were a preparation for death, expressed through short stories, like the tales told at primitive initiations.]

The little girl was approaching puberty and at the same time, the end of her life. Little or nothing in the symbolism of her dreams points to the beginning of a normal adult life…. When I first read her dreams, I had the uncanny feeling that they suggested impending disaster….

These dreams open up a new and rather terrifying aspect of life and death. One would expect to find such images in an aging person who looks back upon life, rather than to be given them by a child…. Their atmosphere recalls the old Roman saying, “Life is a short dream,” rather than the joy and exuberance of its springtime…. Experience shows that the unknown approach of death casts an adumbratio (an anticipatory shadow) over the life and dreams of the victim. Even the altar in Christian churches represents, on the one hand, a tomb, and on the other, a place of resurrection – the transformation of death into eternal life.”

I have selected five of the twelve dreams as motifs for the movements of this composition:

  1. There is a desert on the moon where the dreamer sinks so deeply into the ground that she reaches hell.
  2. A drunken woman falls into the water and comes out renewed and sober.
  3. A horde of small animals frightens the dreamer. The animals increase to a tremendous size, and one of them devours the little girl.
  4. A drop of water is seen as it appears when looked at through a microscope. The girl sees that the drop is full of tree branches. This portrays the origin of the world.
  5. An ascent into heaven where pagan dances are being celebrated; and a descent into hell where angels are doing good deeds.

Watch below as Malcolm W. Rowell, Jr. leads the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Wind Ensemble in a thrilling performance of Movement V.

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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 as Malcolm W. Rowell, Jr. leads the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Wind Ensemble in an exceptional performance of the entire symphony.

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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 as Malcolm W. Rowell, Jr. leads the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Wind Ensemble in a superb performance of Tears.

More info 

  • Tears @

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By |2019-09-03T03:50:18+00:003 September 2019|A Child's Garden of Dreams, Featured, Maslanka Weekly, Symphony No. 4, Tears|