The Hellroaring Plateau is a landmass on the northeast extremity of the Absaroka mountain range straddling the Montana-Wyoming border. Its relatively flat topography and high elevation lead to intense winds and unpredictable storms bestowing the plateau’s colorful moniker. Contrary to the title, the music reflects a compilation of impressions from multiple visits over a decade’s time, gathered with my son’s first-hand reports of overnight stays, rather than a single day’s experience. My original objective for the music was to portray the stark and stony landscape alternatively caressed and buffeted in a stew of breezes and gales, sunshine and storms. However, as I was writing the piece it became apparent the true theme of the music is rather a daily high-altitude drama between light and darkness, a drama staged on the plateau’s rocks, meadows, streams, and lakes depicting a perpetually shifting kaleidoscope of distinctive lighting unlike any I have experienced elsewhere. The transparent, thin air reveals indigo blue skies and scalding-white clouds overarching stunning vistas stretching a hundred miles or more. The landscape glitters under the radiance of high-latitude sunlight. The only word I can think of to describe the golden glow of sunbeams slicing through a summer snow squall is ethereal. The utter absence of artificial light makes for the darkest night skies and brightest stars one can experience on earth.
Of course, it is impossible, or at least beyond my meager skills, to capture all of this in a few minutes of music. Still, the lasting impression this singular example of creation has made on my heart compels me to make the attempt. I hope the result lets you experience at least a touch of the sensation of being there.
concert band realization by Evensong Productions, Inc.
For Concert Band
Prepare for a dramatic musical journey along one of America’s most beautiful backroads, the Beartooth Highway. Eastern Ascent takes a white-knuckled climb from the lush forest floor of Rock Creek Canyon up steep switchbacks past sheer 2,000 foot drops to the highway’s summit amid the alpine tundra at 10, 947 feet of elevation. The music’s tension matches the roadway’s rising elevation in incremental shifts from calm sonorities to raucously intense dissonances. Brief roadside respites appear as islands of quiet lyricism. The band unites in jubilant exultation as it depicts the extraordinary other worldliness and wildness viewed at the highway’s peak. Listen for hints of the motive from the classic hymn tune HAMBURG in the respites and in the climax. Eastern Ascent is set for large scale concert band or wind ensemble and is suitable for advanced high school and higher players. Purchase price includes full score and set of parts.
OK, to answer your first question, call it “suh-JEE-nuh.” Rhymes with Regina. This arrangement is a colorful and moving setting of the Charles Wesley hymn, “And Can It Be,” for traditional orchestra. The beauty of the music, the prominence of the familiar tune, and the text painting of Wesley’s poignant lyrics will find immediate acceptance in the hearts of its hearers. Aside from frequently shifting asymmetrical meters the difficulty level is very basic yet your musicians should still find it interesting and fulfilling to play.
In 1825, Thomas Campbell published a collection of twenty-three tunes under the title of The Bouquet. Campbell gave each of these tunes the name of a botanical species. One, titled SAGINA, was named for the family of flowering plants that includes baby’s breath and carnations.
Almost a century ealier, in 1738, Charles Wesley wrote six stanzas for his hymn titled “And Can it Be” as a reflection on his conversion to Christianity. By the mid-twentieth century, Campbell’s tune had become irrevocably wedded to Wesley’s verse in Christian hymnody. Two of Wesley’s stanzas along with the refrain, shown below, were chosen as inspiration for the music in this arrangement of the classic hymn tune.
Three accommodations make the music more accessible to church and community orchestras. First, important passages are liberally cued to keep the music workable even without full instrumentation. Second, several optional parts for band instruments are provided to allow current and former band musicians take part beside your orchestra players. And third, the piano/synthesizer part doubles key passages from most of the less common instruments such as harp, vibraphone and chimes.
Ponder: to think about carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.
Anew: In a new or different and typically more positive way.
These two words come from the third stanza of Joachim Neander’s perennially popular hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” And just as this stanza invites us to “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,” this orchestral hymn invites us to consider afresh the attributes and works of Almighty God. Ponder Anew is purely an instrumental work but the text and tune are so familiar that the words will spontaneously spring to mind as the theme unwinds. Thereby, the new harmonies, rhythms, and phrasings in Ponder Anew will likely elicit from the listener a new and different way of thinking about the text. So, as this new setting of the tune melds together peace, majesty, mystery, power, beauty, and grace it stirs the listener to “think carefully, in a new and more positive way, about what the Almighty can do.”
The music in not particularly difficult and should be readily playable by high school or higher level musicians. Yet, both musicians and audience will find the power and intimacy of the work interesting and enjoyable with music that reflects the majesty and mystery of its subject.
It Is Not Death to Die, is a setting of French poet Henri Abraham César Malan’s Non, ce n’est pas mourir as translated by George Washington Bethune. This text first came to my attention through Dan Wells’ choral arrangement of Bob Kauflin’s popular setting. Although Kauflin’s treatment of the text is lovely and effective I sensed that there were still depths of Malan’s poetry to be probed, especially the tension between the Christian’s certain transition into eternal bliss and the inevitability of tasting death. This moved me to attempt a fresh musical setting that captures the mixture of dread and hope borne out in the acclamation that “death is swallowed up in victory!”
If you have an adventurous church choir or advanced academic singers you’ll want to consider using this setting of It Is Not Death to Die, with deep pathos in its musical progression that matches the text’s narrative, in your upcoming programming. Available with orchestra (this version) or piano accompaniment, It Is Not Death to Die makes a fitting close to the Easter season, or is suitable for Ascension Sunday, funeral, memorial service, or any time in the church year to remind Christians of the central hope of our faith, eternal life in Christ. Its artistic treatment of humanity’s universal appointment with death works as a moving component of a concert program as well.