About the music
A distinct blend of woodland and prairie, the northeast region of Kansas is among the most beautiful in the state, and the Delaware River is one of many meandering through its lush and rolling landscape. The Banks of the Delaware was commissioned by area junior high and middle school band directors to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Delaware Valley League. The piece is reminiscent of American folk music, and it was my goal to create something that would work with young ensembles of virtually any size. Since middle-level bands are often faced with less-than-ideal instrumentation, there is a great deal of doubling throughout:
- The horn doubles the alto saxophone part throughout. These players should strive to blend, although the horns should be slightly stronger with the altos matching their tone.
- The trombone, baritone, and bassoon all share the same part, a large portion of which doubles the bass line at the octave; the tenor saxophone also plays this part, although it occasionally doubles the alto saxophone/horn part. For the divisi passages, the director should assign parts so that both the upper and lower notes are covered, with slightly more weight on the lower part.
- The bass clarinet and baritone saxophone double the tuba part throughout the entire piece, although they occasionally play an octave higher when necessary.
The glockenspiel part is intentionally notated as a wind part; this is to help the player better understand the idea of melodic phrasing. The suspended cymbal and bass drum add color and heighten the drama of the piece. By themselves, the parts make little sense; make sure your players listen to how the parts fit with and support the melodic material to help with timing and balance. The cymbal should be relatively dark, and the bass drum should use little to no dampening.
While the piece is seemingly simple, constant attention must be paid throughout to tone, phrasing, balance, intonation, legato tonguing, and general musicality. Dynamic contrasts provide interest, but there should be no real surprises. Make sure the loud passages do not become too loud and that tone does not suffer.
Try introducing the F major scale to the ensemble several rehearsals prior to introducing the piece, and make sure the students become comfortable with the octave that best corresponds to the music. Then have the ensemble members figure out simple songs (Hot Cross Buns, Yankee Doodle) by rote. Emphasis on scale degrees 3 and 7 will help out down the road. Rhythms from the piece could be introduced to the ensemble prior to introducing the piece as well. Students should initially stay on the same pitch, with emphasis on sustained breathing and a smooth “doo” tongue. Once a good legato texture is achieved, move up and down the scale…ask the players to simply “move the fingers, don’t change the air stream.”
The following is a series of intonation problems inherent in various instruments:
- Flutes tend to play sharp in the upper register, flat in parts of the lower register. Encourage your players to make pitch adjustments by rolling the flute while playing.
- The clarinet throat tones (G, A-flat, A, B-flat right below the break) tend to be sharp and breathy. Have your students hold down the right-hand fingers (and maybe even some left-hand fingers as well) as this should help bring the pitch down into tune and darken the tone.
- The trumpet’s upper octave D and E tend to be flat; while not ideal, using the lower octave fingerings on these notes may alleviate the inherent flatness present in this partial.The alto saxophone’s 4th-line D tends to be sharp; the players will need to adjust the embouchure to drop the pitch. Since the altos play in unison with the horns throughout this piece, this note (concert F) should receive careful attention.
I would like to extend my thanks to my colleagues in the Delaware Valley League for giving me this opportunity to share my music with their students.
- Composer: Stuart P. O'Neil