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
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
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