Etudes for Wind Ensemble

Etude 1: The UIL
Etude 2: Sounds Easy
Etude 3: Pass Around
Etude 4: Poco Ritardando
Etude 5: Windows

"Etudes for Wind Ensemble" consists of 5 short etudes.

Etude 1, "The UIL", references the Texas University Interscholastic League. Critics of the UIL say that the heavy emphasis on competition leads bands to "teach to the test", to associate music with technique and performance rather than expression, and to choose flashy compositions that sound difficult but rely on extremes in surface level elements such as dynamics, tempos, and registers. "The UIL" is flashy, fast, loud, virtuosic, and is loaded with mixed meter, 4 against 3 rhythms, and a nod to one of the most skilled and successful composers at writing Texas band contest music. This etude will get your band straight 1s/sweepstakes.

Etude 2 "Sounds Easy", particularly when directly following "The UIL". However, it is loaded with orchestration nightmares: notes that tend to be sharp on one instrument are paired with notes that tend to be flat on another. Brass players have to start in their extreme high register and oboes have to start in their extreme low register. There are awkward fingering combinations, fast mute changes, quick timpani pedaling, uncomfortable syncopations, rhythms that are slightly different from each other, an "impossible" trombone glissando, and terrifying pitched percussion tutti entrances. It begins by quoting the unaccompanied horn solo at the beginning of Vincent Persichetti's "Pageant", which rarely sounds good despite being 3 "simple" notes. Basically, the entire etude is deceptively inconvenient.

Etude 3, "Pass Around", begins with a saxophone quartet playing an angular and syncopated melody. That melody passes through a series of variations and is gradually broken into smaller and smaller pieces as it gets passed around the band. By the end of the etude, each instrument only plays 1 note at a time, with the composite melody forming a strange pointillistic patchwork.

Etude 4, "Poco Ritardando", is set in a perpetual poco ritardando. The etude starts out at q=128, and as the pulse gradually slows down, the effect is offset by the composite rhythm, harmonic rhythm, and beat subdivisions, which gradually speed up. At the end of the etude, the original material returns, this time starting at q=64 and notated twice as fast. The original title was "Slacken Slightly", which I changed after reading that Percy Grainger's usage of cutesy English terminology was rooted in virulent racism: that he wanted to exclusively use "blue-eyed" language from "genetically superior" Anglo-Saxon countries.

Etude 5, "Windows", has a relentlessly driving pulse led by a snare drum ostinato. The majority of the band punctuates each measure with an aggressive 8th note stinger: in the windows between each of these downbeats, a different small group of instruments have to pop out of the texture and blend with each other on the fly. After a comparably sparse solo section, the windows return, filled with a rollicking melody that gets harmonized with what is colloquially known as "pirate modality". The etude ends big with a rapid unison rhythm, an ascending 16th note run that spans over 5 octaves, and a callback to the ending of the first etude.

Performance on 2/8/20 at Bates Recital Hall in Austin, TX
conducted by Michael Mikulka

Download PDF of C score     Download PDF of transposed score

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