Wind Ensemble Commission Possibilities

So recently I got commissioned to write a wind ensemble piece for the Xavier University Symphonic Winds. While i’ve been going a little batsnuts with marching band season rapidly approaching, i’ve been mulling in my head what the piece is going to be about.

The first idea i had was to steal one of my favorite sections of an old orchestra piece i did for an orchestra composition class in my grad school days because it’s a pretty great section and find a way to expand on it. That’s still the backup plan. But the second and now primary idea that i’m going with is a piece that i’ve been thinking about for the past four or five years now, which is a “anthems of the world” kind of piece, as in i want to incorporate all of the known current national anthems of the world into a huge fused hybrid that’s meant to arrive at some sense of global unity.

The potential backfiring of doing a piece like that is that it’s a pretty big undertaking. If this website is comprehensive as it seems, there are 212 national anthems that exist, and to find a way to journey across all 212 in an eight to ten minute piece that’s due by January 1st when i haven’t written a large ensemble piece in almost a decade seems like i could be biting off more than i can chew. i don’t want to suddenly have to cancel my Christmas vacation plans because, say, i still don’t know how to incorporate the Senegal national anthem into the piece and i don’t want to exclude them because then they could take me hostage or something.

It all boils down to timing. After my two long weeks of band camp are over, i basically have four months to write the piece. Is that enough time? Probably. Is it enough time on top of my full time job, the WSOP satellite event in early December and potentially writing a winter show for Hermiston that would be due around the same time? Maybe.

The one compositional stumbling block that i’ve already been trying to address in my head is how to end the piece. Is there an anthem that can serve as the Big Ending, one anthem that can serve as a climax over any other? As a citizen of the United States i could use that as an obvious answer, but this piece is meant to transcend any personal sense of patriotism i may have; the idea is that no nation is more important than any other, we are all one globe and one world. In that sense, creating an ending climax that resembles *any* of the 212 anthems is problematic, so chances are the music will have to be original and maybe derivative.

The other compositional challenge is how to fuse the anthems together in a way that can ensure that all of the anthems have some time in the spotlight. It’s easy enough to use some of the anthems as background material and i’d probably rely heavily upon that to give the piece depth, but to have an anthem *only* exist in the background is also counter to the philosophy of the piece.

Probably what the plan will be is to stick all of the anthems into a playlist and listen to them ad nauseum for the two weeks following band camp. Next would be to spend a day in a very quiet room or at a park or go on a walk or something and let the ideas buzz of their own accord around in my head, and then spend the next day with staff paper, a pencil with a very big eraser, and a computer, and see what manages to come out. If what comes out seems promising, i move forward with the piece. If what comes out seems strained and difficult and stupid, i start over.

Mendel Lee

I'm a composer, musician, and music educator residing in New Orleans, LA.

3 thoughts to “Wind Ensemble Commission Possibilities”

  1. is there any particular piece of music which you find to be evocative of the sort of feeling that you seek to bring out in others?

    1. sorry, i totally forgot to reply to this.

      Hard to pinpoint to one piece of music. A few come to mind from the classical realm.

      The Passing Measures by David Lang
      Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich
      Music for Strings, Winds, and Keyboards by Steve Reich
      Light is Calling by Michael Gordon
      Movement 3 of Weather by Michael Gordon
      Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams
      Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber
      All of Bartok’s String Quartets

      From the electronic realm, the album Drukqs by Aphex Twin and Totem’s Flare by Clark come immediately to mind, as well as individual tracks from Plaid.

      That’ll have to do for now. :)

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