I have to admit I am a bit of a grinch when it comes to Christmas decorations and music. I’m pretty sure this started with having to learn choir, concert band & orchestra Christmas repertoire starting in September/October as a student, and organizing, planning and then pulling together the Christmas recital. It got to the point where I would flatly refuse to teach any christmas rep before Dec 1st, and then I’d also conveniently plan to take all of December off from teaching.
But through out the years, and all of the seasonal events and rehearsals I’ve done, in all of its myriad of forms I have always loved Leroy Andersons Sleigh Ride. Composed in 1948, it was not originally written to be a Christmas song.
I have performed this piece multiple times on trumpet with Concert Band, Violin with orchestra, and vocally with a choir. It is a wonderfully challenging piece, and I never seem to tire of it, I always wish that it was longer, it’s always over in a flash. I must admit that when I finally progressed to playing lead trumpet in grade 12, I had to hand the horse whinny solo at the end to one of the more junior band members because my attempts sounded like the cross between a kazoo and an Elk Bugle.
I think playing 2nd Violin in the Ocean Side Youth Orchestra was my favourite iteration. Both for the part (Interesting, supportive, but not too challenging) and the camaraderie of the beautifully nerdy fellow teens & adults that were in that ensemble.
Blue Danube - Johann Strauss II of Austria
Another classic, timeless composition and one that will likely be familiar to most, as this is much used in film, advertising and on any ‘essential classical’ repertoire list.
The Blue Danube composed in 1866. the piece was considered only a mild success, however,
Strauss adapted it into a purely orchestral version for the 1867 Paris World's Fair, and it became a hit.
I can tell you first hand that Strauss was not a violist, and probably used violas as the “someone needs to do this repetitive accompaniment part” so we’ll give it to those people, view of the instrument. For almost the entire 10 minutes your arm gets a work out in small repetitive motion as you play the “pah pah” of the oom pah pah. There is one 16 bar section of melody, which, with aching arms and numbed mind becomes a looming tower of “oh shit, don’t mess this up”.
Alexander’s Entry into Pskov - Movie Score Composed in 1938 by Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev a Russian Soviet Composer, for Sergei Eisenseins film Alexander Nevsky. The film is based on a 13th century legend/historical crusade event, and is a suitably epic story to go with score. Watching the film now has a nostalgic and fairly ‘monty python’ feel to the costume and production budget. This track is the closing chapter
The Triumphant Hero returns to the Glory of the Motherland. Man, Prokofiev did not care if it was hard, the choir is stratospheric in range, the percussion parts are intense, don’t get me started on the viola part. We did this one at Uvic in 2008 when I was there, it was so epic and fun, but there were many a tear shed and panicked hours of practicing.
Prokofiev adapted his original score into a cantata for chorus and orchestra
the movie is available for free, and without central adds on youtube. with CC subtitles. I haven’t actually watched the full production, just snippets.
The Danube Waves,
Written in 1880 by Romanian Military Band leader Iosif Ivanovici. This is possibly one of the most famous Romanian tunes in the world. I find it to be a delightful mashup between the Viennese Style of variations and the Bombastic and epic Slavic compositions. This too may sound familiar, as in the united states it is referred to as “the Anniversary Song, or the Anniversary Waltz. It is also a staple in the “Palmer Hughs Accordion Method”. So often we only get to hear the first couple variations and not the entire composition.
What do we do?
Join us to be inspired by music from around the world, no preparation, prerequisites, or practicing required. I’ll read a short composer bio, highlight some historically relevant material or interesting context, we’ll listen to a piece of music, and then take the time to reflect on what we heard, ask questions, and explore.