Rousing contrast in “East Meets West”
A preview by Ruth L. Carver
Boulder Concert Band’s upcoming “East Meets West” concert promises to delight audiences with a lively mix of American band favorites and rousing Asian flair. The band’s director and conductor William Kinne says this program of cultural mash-up “is about exploring, preserving, and blending cultures.”
For many, a concert band is the most quintessential of American musical ensembles. And on this program that classic American sound will be explored through music of John Philip Sousa, Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, and more. Held up side-by-side with pieces from contemporary China, Japan, and Taiwan, listeners will get to feast on the variety of effects the band can make, hear the distinctive percussive sounds and rhythms of the different Asian traditions, and see the common features of both Eastern and Western styles of music.
Many of the works on this concert reference folk or hymn tunes as re-imagined by the composers – Charles Ives takes “My country tis of thee” and quilts it into a plethora of complex backdrops in his 1891 piece Variations on “America.” Inspired by a folk song he heard while serving in South Korea, John Barnes Chance composed his most popular work, Variations on a Korean Folk Song in 1965, and it has remained a staple of band repertoire. Japanese composer Satoshi Yagisawa was inspired by the hunting songs of the Truku (Taroko) people of Taiwan for his Hunting Scenes (2013). Each of these reveal a special gem of folk culture, but also how much classical music continues to be inspired and enlivened by native musical styles.
The hallmark difference between eastern and western music is the pattern of pitches in the basic scales used to build music; the pentatonic scales used in eastern Asia immediately connote Asian culture and have been used by composers like Puccini, as well as film score and cartoon music composers wishing to suggest anything remotely Asian. Yet in Copland’s The Red Pony film suite, arranged in 1966 (after his 1948 film score), we hear his signature open intervals which he used to suggest the wide open spaces of America. We think of Copland’s sound as distinctly American, yet here the intervals of open fifths have much in common with the pentatonic scales used in the Asian selections. The metallic clang of cymbals and gongs used in Chen Yi’s Spring Festival are uniquely Chinese, but seem as familiar to the ear as the bombastic celebration that is John Philip Sousa’s Hands Across the Sea. When asked about what inspired this 1899 march, Sousa reportedly said “A sudden thought strikes me; let us swear eternal friendship.” What an appropriate thought for this concert that explores the remarkable contrasts in the sounds of East and West, and reveals much they have in common.
Boulder Concert Band’s “East Meets West” program is at 7:00 pm on February 21, 2015, at Nevin Platt Middle School , 6096 Baseline Road, Boulder. Tickets: $10 Individual, $20 Family, $5 Students/Seniors