Composition for Ensemble Teaching

Composition for ensemble teaching. Some Canadian composers have been loth - or insufficiently experienced - to work within the constraints imposed by writing for student performers.
Composition for ensemble teaching. Some Canadian composers have been loth - or insufficiently experienced - to work within the constraints imposed by writing for student performers.
Some Canadian composers have been loth - or insufficiently experienced - to work within the constraints imposed by writing for student performers. Others, whose experience is in no doubt and whose ingenuity might be stimulated by such constraints, bristle at the prospect of their work being labelled 'educational music,' with the attendant connotations of academism. Nevertheless, the need for a Canadian repertoire of technically pertinent and aesthetically engrossing works composed out of firsthand experience with teachers and students has been recognized. Through a pioneer commissioning program the CMEA and Canadian Music Centre'sJohn Adaskin Project has placed composers in classrooms with the benefits of a reciprocal experience in mind: a chance for the composer to explore students' concerns and needs in exchange for an opportunity for students to find out something about the human creative process. Other organizations have commissioned works: the CBC, the Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects (Contemporary Showcase), the NYO, the Canadian Festival of Youth Orchestras, the YMC, national and provincial music educators' associations, public school boards and music conservatories, music festivals, various orchestral associations, and others. Financial aid for commissioning programs has been supplied by the Canada Council, the CMCentre, OAC, the Suzuki Talent Education Institute, private industry (Alcan, Bell Canada), provincial and municipal departments of culture, and other arts-support agencies.

Orchestral Music

The NYO has commissioned orchestral works for a variety of different educational purposes. Harry Freedman's 12-tone work Tangents (1967) is a set of symphonic variations that contains an aleatoric section for percussion. Offrande II by Serge Garant (1970) is an atonal work whose pointillistic textures and colours demand refined ensemble skills. Robert Aitken's Shadows - Part 1: Nekuia (1971) is based upon Japanese musical idioms and employs many contemporary techniques, including graphic notation, tone rows, aleatoric effects, and instrument exploration. R. Murray Schafer's North/White (1973) and Norman Symonds' Big Lonely (1979) correlate music with social feelings and ideas. North/White, for orchestra, snowmobile, and other accessory equipment, comments on the destruction of the Canadian north by business and industry. Big Lonely takes its title from a phrase used by Canadian hobos to describe the country and the great distances between communities. John Wyre's Bells, rescored for the NYO in 1972, provides an opportunity to break down the psychological barriers involved in creating music (as opposed to recreating it) by having instrumentalists double on various types of bells. Malcolm Forsyth's festive overture Springtide (1984) contrasts vibrant rhythmic motives and long melodic lines, and like David Roe's Canadian Sketches (1986) and Concerto for Orchestra (1988), showcases different sections of the orchestra. Lothar Klein's Festival Partita (1990) is written in a neo-classical style.

Other composers have written for advanced student orchestras other than the NYO. Barbara Pentland's Symphony No. 2 (1950) a features contrapuntal textures. Violet Archer's Three Sketches for Orchestra (1961) and Ann Lauber's Ouverture Canadien (1989) showcase Canada's musical heritage. Talivaldis Kenins' symphonic cantata, Sawan-Oong (1973), and his Naačnaača(1975) were inspired by Indian folklore. His Folk Dance, Variations, and Fugue (1964) is based on a Latvian folk tune, while his Simfonietta [sic] (1976) features chromatic harmonic clusters. Sydney Hodkinson's Interplay (1967) and Drawings, Set No. 7 and No. 8 (1974) are marked by angular, atonal lines and percussive rhythms. Tsankawi (1978) and Kusawa (1982) by Peter Ware are impressionistic in character. Gary Kulesha's The Drift of the Stars (1988) is accompanied by a series of exercises which introduce different harmonic, rhythmic, and phrasing problems associated with the performance of contemporary music. Bravura violin concertos by Clermon Pépin (Monade III 1972) and Alexina Louie (Thundergate 1991) explore the challenges involved in playing orchestral accompaniments.

At the high school level, Murray Adaskin's Rondino (1964) is a rhythmic one-movement work for developing ensemble awareness and tone. Milton Barnes' Children's Suite (1966) and Schafer's Threnody (1967, recorded on Melbourne SMLP-4017) are based on texts written by children. The Children's Suite (1966) is tuneful like Barnes' other works for student orchestras (Concert Overture 1973, Maid of the Mist 1977). Schafer's Threnody is an anti-war work for orchestra, speakers, chorus, and prepared tape that portrays the horrors of Nagasaki after it was destroyed by an atomic bomb. Schafer's other works for school orchestras, Statement in Blue (1964, a 'controlled "compose-it-yourself" piece'; recorded on Melbourne SMLP-4017) and Train (1976, a programmatic description of a six-day train ride from central Canada to Vancouver) require massive percussion resources and are useful introductions to graphic notation. Works by Jean Anderson (A Country Road 1981) and Brian Tate (Brixham Overture 1977) feature modal melodies reminiscent of Aaron Copland. Works by Alfred Kunz for school orchestra (Behold the Beauty of the Sky 1961, Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra 1973, Classical Arcade 1983, Spring into Summer 1984) showcase different wind, brass, and percussion colours. Wolfgang Bottenberg, Keith Bissell, Lloyd Burritt, Clifford Crawley, Jean Coulthard, Robert Fleming, John Fodi, Gerhard Ginader, Stewart Grant, Allan Rae, and Leon Zuckert have also written for school orchestras.

String Music

Compositions for strings have been written often to develop specific technical skills. Walter Buczynski wrote a series of musical etudes to introduce basic left hand position - The Open String, Index and Two, Introduction of Finger Three, and Last and Not Least, Finger Four (1964-5). Although technically easy, the stark contemporary idiom requires the same independence and musical understanding as two later works for advanced ensembles, Legends for String Orchestra (1976) and Rhapsody for Two Horns and String Orchestra (1976). Harry Somers' Variations (1979) was the result of the exploration of various string sonorities and effects (glissando, etc) by a grade nine class. Brian Strachan wrote a series of short works for beginning and intermediate level ensembles to develop basic bowing techniques and rhythmic skills in a variety of traditional folk and classical styles - Classic Dance, Folk Contrasts, A Little Beguine, Spaced Out, Upper Bow Square Reel, and Patterns (1978-83). Quenten Doolittle's Variation Suite (1979) consists of four etudes designed to develop facility in grand détaché and staccato bowings, pizzicato, and string crossings. Donald Coakley's Fifteen String Pieces (1979) provide opportunities to develop a variety of bowing techniques. Several of the pieces exploit contemporary harmonic devices and special effects. Three works by Morris Surdin (Five for Four, A Group of Six, Who's on Bass? 1977) focus on basic rhythmic and ensemble co-ordination skills.

Other works have been based on Canada's cultural and musical heritage. Harry Somers' Little Suite for String Orchestra on Canadian Folk Songs (1955), Ann Eggleston's On Citadel Hill (1963), Murray Adaskin's Three Tunes for Strings (1976), Frederick Shipizky's Children's Suite (1982), and Marshall Kaye's Theme and Variations on a Canadian Folksong (1986) were written specifically for young performers. Derek Healey's The Ravens (1971), a four-movement suite based on Kwakiutl Indian themes from the West Coast, features a solo violinist. Thomas Schudel's challenging Prairie Wildflower (1979) portrays the colours and images of life on the Prairies.

Still other works provide opportunities to explore different musical styles, forms, and compositional devices. Works by Robert Fleming, Clermont Pépin (Three Miniatures, 1963), Alfred Kunz (Divertimento for Easy Strings, 1983, Six String Things, 1983), Malcolm Forsyth (Little Suite for Strings, 1988), and John Fodi (Suite for Junior String Orchestra, 1989) exploit binary, ternary, and miniature dance forms in a variety of styles ranging from neo-classic to mildly contemporary. Stewart Grant's Chaconne (1979) combines blues-like harmonies with classical contrapuntal techniques, while Allan Bell's Dynamus (1980) is built around an aggressive rhythmic motive. Three works for more advanced strings, Kenins' Nocturne (from Nocturne and Dance, 1963) and Aria per corde (1976), and Adaskin's Essay for Strings (1972) feature expressive melodic lines in mildly dissonant harmonic idioms. Works by Michael Pepa (Arché, 1977, Five Pentatonic Pieces, 1981, Simple Suite 1979), David Keane (Nocturne, 1976, The Oreads, 1976, Sur le pont, 1976, Tondo, 1976), and Michael Matthews (Three Echoes for Strings, 1990) explore more exotic contemporary compositional devices, including pentatonicism, dodecaphonic techniques, pointillism, polytonality, non-metric, polyrhythmic, and free rhythmic devices, spatial effects, percussive and atmospheric timbres, graphic notation, and improvisation. Works for more advanced strings have been written by: Louis Applebaum, Maggie Burston, Claude Champagne, André Prévost, Jacques Hétu, Alan Heard, Milan Kymlicka, Helmut Lipsky, Ann Southam, and others. Milton Barnes, Robert Benedict, Philip Corke, David Julien, and John Weinzweig have written for guitars.

Wind Music

Many of the earliest works written for wind performers were for small chamber ensembles - Eldon Rathburn's Waltz for Winds (1949), Keith Bissell's A Folksong Suite for Woodwinds (1960) and Trio Suite for Brass (1973), and John Weinzweig's Clarinet Quartet (1963). More recently, James Code, Michael Horwood, and Hubert Tersteeg have written for student brass ensembles. Harry Freedman, Lorraine Johnson, Elma Miller, and Helen Hardy have written for chamber winds. Several Canadians have written for recorders - among them Dela, Duschenes, Fiala, Peter Hannan, Antoine Padilla, Papineau-Couture, Suzanne Sieber, and Jana Skarecky.

Compositions for band and larger wind ensembles have been written for a variety of different technical and musical purposes. At the beginning level, Peter Riddle, John Myslicki, Harry Freedman, and Arnold MacLaughlan have written works utilising a limited number of pitches in the middle playing range. Myslicki's Slahal Rock (1975) for band, electric bass, and optional chorus is based on a Northwest Coast Indian gambling song. Harry Freedman's collection of contemporary etudes, Little Acorns (1972), emphasizes long tones to stablize the embouchure and encourages the percussion to explore different mallets and instruments (bongos, xylophone). MacLaughlan's Tadoussac (1987), Wascana (1987), Agawa (1987), Vatulele (1990), and Paringa (1990) are linked with the introductory units of the St George Band Method, a carefully sequenced method which introduces new notes chromatically and uses varied articulations from the outset for musical interest.

Marches for intermediate level bands and wind ensembles have been written by John Anderson, David Roe, Hubert Tersteeg, Christopher Weait and others. Suites based on Canadian folksongs have been written by Morley Calvert, Stephen Chatman, and Jack Sirulnikoff. Two works by Donald Coakley, Quartal Sinfonia (published 1986) and Twentieth-Century Band (1983) introduce intermediate level performers to a variety of 20th-century compositional devices, including quartal and modal harmonies, polytonality, polymetre, and twelve-tone techniques. Gary Kulesha's Two Pieces for Band (1982) exploit graphic notation, dissonant tone clusters, and unusual sound effects for descriptive purposes. Robert Evans' Mrs. MacTwilvey's Tuning Her Knickers is a novelty piece in which technical demands have been minimized to enable performers to relate their own improvised parts to those of the ensemble as a whole. A Contemporary Primer for Band (1973) by Sydney Hodkinson is a collection of etudes that prepare students for the performance challenges posed by contemporary music. Suggestions are provided for supplementary listening and for original compositional projects, including work with electronic tape.

Works featuring traditional band colours and textures written for senior high school performers include, among others, Thomas Schudel's Concert Suite (1990) and Vernon Murgatroyd's Entrance Festive (1981). Murray Adaskin's Divertimento No. 8 (1987) and Ruth Watson Henderson's Theme, Variation, and Fugue (1988) exploit neo-classical forms with modern harmonic and melodic sonorities. Victor Davies' URCAPO: Uranium Capital Overture (1983) is written in an upbeat, rock idiom, while Thomas Legrady's Spring Festival (1979), Concertino Grosso for Saxophone Quartet and Concert Band (1980), and Tarantella (1986) feature Latin-American rhythms. Clifford Crawley's Tyendinaga (1978) is a rhapsodic elaboration of an Iroquois Indian Lullaby, and his Proclamation (1983), a rhythmically simpler but equally dramatic work, provides an opportunity to display an imaginative percussion section. Dissonant tone clusters, changing metres, and unusual sound effects are explored in Allan Bell's programmatic From Chaos to the Birth of a Dancing Star (1983). Works for more advanced ensembles have been written by: Louis Applebaum, John Beckwith, Howard Cable, Dennis Chreptyk, Arsenio Girón, William McCauley, Glen Morley, Godfrey Ridout, Nancy Telfer, and others.


Other educational music projects have included Norman Symonds' two stage works developed for public school classes, Laura and the Lieutenant (1974) and Sam (1976), and his music drama, Episode at Big Quill (1979) for narrator, elementary school children, other children at play, choral sections taped by a teenage choir, percussion, and synthesizer. The latter is based upon the story of a group of pioneer families in Saskatchewan. Michael Miller's children's operetta, Song of the World (1979), is based on New Brunswick history. Ruth Watson Henderson's Clear Sky and Thunder (1984) is based on Inuit history. Other dramatic educational projects include: Raymond Pannell's The Downsview Anniversary Song Spectacle Celebration Pageant (1979), Clifford Crawley's The Miracle Child (1979), and Schafer's The Star Princess and the Waterlilies (1984). Howard Cable (Sing-Sea to Sea, 1984), Jack Behrens (In the Almost Evening, 1990) and Timothy Sullivan (The Nameless Way, 1985) have also written for large choral and instrumental resources.

See also Brass; Violin and viola; Woodwinds.

Further Reading

  • Musique symphonique de 1880 à 1950, vol 1 of series Répertoires internationaux de musique contemporaine à l'usage des amateurs et des jeunes (New York 1957)

    Somers, Harry. 'Composer in the school. A composer's view,' Mcan, May 1969

    Canadian Music Suitable for Community Orchestras, compiled by Jan Matejcek (Toronto 1971)

    Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects. Syllabus of Contemporary Showcase, 1972-91

    Shand, Patricia Martin. Canadian Music:A Selective Guidelist for Teachers (Toronto 1978)

    Special issue: children and music, Mcan, 39, Jun 1979

    Orr, Colleen. 'Commission a work!' Recorder, vol. 22, Fall 1979

    Massey, Michael. Canadian Repertoire Manual for Youth Orchestra (Toronto 1986)

    Shand, Patricia Martin. Guidelist of Unpublished Canadian String Orchestra Music Suitable for Student Performers, (Toronto 1986)

    Archer, Violet. The need for educational music'. Prairie Sound, vol 4, no. 2, 1987

    Shand, Patricia Martin. Guidelist of Unpublished Canadian Band Music Suitable for Student Performers (Toronto 1987)

    Stubley, Eleanor. A Guide to Unpublished Canadian Brass Chamber Music (Toronto 1989)

    Stubley, Eleanor. 'Brass corner,' QME Journal, vol 11, Mar 1989

    Shand, Patricia Martin, 'Strategies for teaching contemporary music, using Canadian music for student instrumental ensembles,' CME, vol 32, Aug 1991