Rob Wagner's World of Sight and Sound

PERFORMANCE GUIDES FOR CONCERT BAND


AN IRISH RHAPSODY (Clare Grundman) by Rob Wagner

On my first trip to the US and the Mid West Conference in 1988, I had the pleasure of meeting composer and arranger, the late Clare Grundman (1913-1996). This shy gentle giant of a man, contributed during his lifetime some of the most outstanding wind band music in our repertoire. One of my favourite Grundman works is An Irish Rhapsody, composed in 1971. It is beautifully constructed and arranged for grade three level bands, ideal for teaching musicianship. Capturing wonderful popular Irish folk songs with a warmth and vibrancy that we don’t hear enough of these days, Grundman weaves broad melodic magic over rich harmonic contexts.
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The Composer

Clare Grundman graduated from Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Masters of Arts, and taught instrumental music in Ohio and Kentucky. He returned to Ohio State to teach orchestration and bands for a few years before leaving to begin a career as a freelance composer and arranger. Around 1941 he studied composition with Paul Hindemith and then began a stint with the U.S. Coast Guard Band during World War Two.

After the war, Grundman worked for the NBC, CBS and ABC radio networks as well as music for film, theatre and ballet. Between 1948 and 1965, he orchestrated a number of Broadway musicals of the day, including
Drat! The Cat!, Show Girl, Two’s Company and Lend an Ear. Despite his busy professional writing commitments, Grundman considered composing for school bands to be an important part of his musical output, resulting in over 70 published works that are generally considered some of the best repertoire for high school students and community bands. He was the recipient of many awards in is lifetime, including the prestigious National Band Association’s AWAPA Award, presented to him at the Mid West Clinic on December 15, 1982 with the citation: “a great orchestrator in N.Y., he became one of the most influential composers of band music. Grundman's band works in the '50's and 60's changed the way composers wrote for bands.”

Wind band works of particular note include his four-part
American Folk Rhapsody, the Hebrides Suite, Fantasy on American Sailing Songs, Burlesque for Band, Concord, and the Scottish and Welsh Rhapsodies. In the later part of his life, Grundman made important contributions to band repertoire by arranging the music of Copland (Copland Portrait, Copland Tribute) and Bernstein (Bernstein Tribute, Candide Overture, Divertimento). Many of these works are certainly accessible to good high school, community and university bands. His concert band and orchestra works are curated by the publisher Boosey & Hawkes.
The Folk Songs

Five well-known Irish folk songs underpin this work. The Minstrel Boy (The Moreen) will be familiar to most audiences. It speaks of death, bravery in battle and freedom:

The Minstrel Boy to the war is gone
In the ranks of death you will find him
His father's sword he hath girded on
And his wild harp slung behind him
"Land of Song!" said the warrior-bard
"Though all the world betrays thee
One sword, at least, they rights shall guard
One faithful harp shall praise thee!

The Minstrel fell! - But the foeman's chain
Could not bring that proud soul under
The harp he lov'd ne'er spoke again
For he tore its chords asunder
And said "No chains shall sully thee
Thou soul of love and brav'ry!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free,
They shall never sound in slavery!"



I Know Where I’m Going appears to be one of those strange folk songs claimed by both the Irish and the Scots alike! It’s about a woman longing for the return of her lover “Johnny”. The original words are:

I know where I'm goin' and I know who's goin' with me
I know who I love and my dear knows who I'll marry.
I have stockings of silk and shoes of bright green leather
Combs to buckle my hair and a ring for every finger

O' feather beds are soft and painted rooms are bonnie
But I would give them all for my handsome winsome Johnny
Some say that he's poor [black], but I say that he's bonnie
Fairest of them all is my handsome winsome Johnny.



The
Shepherd’s Lamb Reel is a wonderful dance, full of energy as any Irish reel should be!

Another well-loved song is
Cockles and Mussels, which is believed to be a lament for Molly the fishmonger who died from one of the cholera outbreaks that regularly swept the city of Dublin during the 1700’s. Some locals regard the song as Dublin’s anthem and a statue of a rather scantily dressed Molly pushing a handcart can be found near Trinity College, Dublin. The statue is affectionately known by the locals as “The tart with the cart”!!

In Dublin's fair city,
Where girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she pushed her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh"!
Chorus:
Alive, alive oh! alive, alive oh!
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh"!

Now she was a fishmonger,
And sure twas no wonder,
For so were her mother and father before,
And they each wheeled their barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh"!
Chorus:
She died of a fever,
And no one could save her,
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone.
Now her ghost wheels her barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh"!
Chorus:


The
Rakes of Mallow refers to the activities of “fashionable or wealthy men of dissolute or promiscuous habits”. Indeed, some of you may have seen the recent ABC TV show “Rake” - if so, you will have an idea of the modern-day version of this type of gentleman. But, in old Ireland “the boys” got up to significantly baser fare:

Beauing, belleing, dancing, drinking,
Breaking windows, cursing, sinking
Every raking, never thinking,
Live the Rakes of Mallow;
Spending faster than it comes,
Beating waiter's bailiffs, duns,
Bacchus' true begotten sons,
Live the Rakes of Mallow.

One time naught but claret drinking,
Then like politicians, thinking
To raise the "sinking funds" when sinking.
Live the Rakes of Mallow.
When at home, with da-da dying,
Still for mellow water crying;
But, where there's good claret plying
Live the Rakes of Mallow.
Racking tenants stewards teasing,
Swiftly spending, slowly, raising,
Wishing to spend all their days in
Raking as at Mallow.
Then to end this raking life,
They get sober, take a wife,
Ever after live in strife,
And wish again for Mallow.



Kathleen O’More is a ballad of a man lamenting the death of his sweetheart. It is believed to have been written around 1879 by George Reynolds.

My love, still I think that I see her once more,
But alas! she has left me her loss to deplore;
My own little Kathleen, my poor little Kathleen,
My Kathleen O'Moore!

Her hair glossy black, her eyes were dark blue,
Her colour still changing, her smiles ever new,
So pretty was Kathleen, my sweet little Kathleen,
My Kathleen O'Moore!

She milk'd the dun cow, that ne'er offer'd to stir;
Though wicked to all, it was gentle to her.
So kind was my Kathleen, my poor little Kathleen,
My Kathleen O'Moore!

She sat at the door, one cold afternoon,
To hear the wind blow, and to gaze on the moon,
So pensive was Kathleen, my poor little Kathleen,
My Kathleen O'Moore!

Oh, cold was the night wind that sigh'd round her bow'r,
It chill'd my poor Kathleen, she droop'd from that hour;
And I lost my poor Kathleen, my own little Kathleen,
My Kathleen O'Moore!

The bird of all birds that I love the best,
Is the robin, that in the churchyard builds its nest,
For he seems to watch Kathleen, hops lightly o'er Kathleen,
My Kathleen O'Moore!



A background knowledge of each folk song’s text assists in arriving at context and interpretation of the music in this rhapsody, although one need not be held to any particular tempo or character. After all, each Irish balladeer and fiddle player would tend to make some personal choices when performing these songs, and so can we! This is exactly in keeping with what a rhapsody is all about - musical freedom.
Bars 1-8:

An 8-bar introduction in Bb major begins the work in fine style with a fortissimo flourish that draws on the second half of the Rakes of Mallow melody, presented in an augmented form. Everyone in the ensemble needs to work hard to ensure that the opening is energetic and bold. As the melodic line is split between the upper woodwinds and the brass/saxes, you will need to watch that the written notes values are adhered to so that the line becomes seamless between the sections. The low ww/brass notes in bars 1-5 must be strong with lots of bounce on their accents - helping to generate the excitement of the opening, and assisted by crisp snare/timp figures. Young players are often slow to react to an mf dynamic in bar 6 but this is essential if we are to hear the flowing flute/clarinet melodic line leading into the F major key change for
The Minstrel Boy.
Bars 9-28: The Minstrel Boy

The presentation of the first folk song is a study in contrasts and is one of the reasons why this is such a good teaching piece for young musicians. It begins in a march style, in keeping with the war and bravery theme expressed in the words of the song. The flute/trumpet melody should be full of character befitting the proud young soldier going off to war. Slightly detached quavers would be appropriate in helping to provide the martial quality to the line. The snare drum (9-12) assists greatly in providing the march-like character, and the rolls should be even and tight. In bars 12-14, the low brass/woodwinds must play the melody in the same style as their trumpet colleagues. It is also vital in 13-14 that the trumpets/cornets/alto saxes drop back their repeated quaver figures to no more than
mf for fear of submerging the lower voices.

When the upper woodwinds/saxes take over the melody (bars15-20), the dynamics drop to
mf and the lines are slurred and lyrical in nature. Encourage your musicians to play with a warm sound here and enjoy the beautiful interweaving lines. When cornet 1 joins the line at bar 18, the notes must fit like a glove into the woodwind line. In 21-24, the brass return and must resume the march mood, but in brief canon-like writing minus the woodwinds and percussion (fig. 1).
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The clarinets/saxes conclude this section with several bars of lyrical contrast and a held note that allows a solo muted cornet to set up the key change into Eb major using the opening fragment of The Minstrel Boy melody. Watch the tuning between the flutes/clarinets 1 & 2/muted cornet/basses.
Bars 29-56: I Know Where I’m Going

After the brisk opening song, the tempo is pulled back to
Andante moderato for I Know Where I’m Going. I prefer to set the tempo around a quarter note = 84 although there can be some leeway here. The tune does work at a slower tempo as long as there is an ongoing feeling of forward motion. Its lovely melody is announced in the horns before being handed to the solo cornet (open). Watch out for the trombone/euphonium F-Bb notes in 33-34 - soft but accented enough so that the front of the notes are clearly heard - almost bell-like in quality. Grundman instructs the musicians to play cantable and sing we must! The score at this point is quite sparse but gradually builds with the addition of all woodwinds (bar 41) and some supporting brass from 49. At 41, I have pencilled in espressivo to remind me of the mood/feelings that I must convey to the musicians through my gestures. A lovely counter line occurs in this tune, first in the horns (44) and then again with horns/trumpet/sax1/clarinet 3 (fig. 2), so it is important that it be well heard on both occasions.
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The crescendo at bar 50 often tends to happen naturally. At 51-55, I like to push the tempo up ever so slightly to increase the insistence that the woodwinds make with their rising melodic figures, then pulling back rapidly in 56 to prepare the musicians for the Allegro.
Bars 57-94: Shepherd’s Lamb Reel

The descending figure of a major third at bar 57 in the horns/alto sax and immediately repeated in the flutes/oboes at 58 is part of a little four-bar introduction that sets the musicians and audience on a merry dance in true Irish tradition. I encourage the musicians to perform this accented figure with as much bounce as they can muster, reminding them that the front part of the note is the secret to energising the music. At bar 61 (fig. 3), the reel begins in flutes/piccolos (they love playing this reel), and then joined by the clarinets at 69.
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This melody must be executed with a light staccato and a sense of forward motion. Heavy tongue action just doesn’t cut it here! Indeed, when I was visiting Ireland in 2009, I spent some time in the local pubs listening to traditional bands….and testing the Guinness! I noticed just how lightly the tonguing was on whistles and flutes, yet each note was clearly separated. Again this song begins with a sparse score and gradually builds to bar 85 when everyone (including the tubas) are powering along with rollicking quaver runs.

There are some other challenging technical and ensemble demands with this song that conductor and musicians must address. I have found that the cornet is often late in playing their 3-note figure at 61, 65 and from 69. Coupled with this is the tendency for the snare drum to play the 3-note figure slightly ahead of the beat in the same bars. Instructing the musicians to listen carefully, feel the dance beat and sing in their heads the woodwind melody seems to help. In rehearsal, you could also get them to “sizzle” the rhythm while the woodwinds play their line.

Another big hurdle to jump across is the tendency to slow down, getting too heavy or stodgy, especially from bar 85 (although it often happens a few bars earlier as more and more instruments are added to the mix). The crescendo to
forte tends to exacerbate matters even more. Again, some “sizzling” of rhythms in rehearsals can heighten musicians attention to the problem. Watch that your conducting gestures don’t become larger as the band gets slower - this only makes things worse. Small, clear and tight gestures indicate that you demand precision from the band. And even at forte, tongue action should still be as light as possible.

Some final tips for this song: (i) Make sure your players respond instantly to the
fp at bars 89 and 91. If they don’t, the alto saxes/horns won’t be heard with the continuation of the melody. (ii) Ensure the clarinets/alto sax play the ‘C’ at the end of bar 76 with an accent (often missed). (iii) If you are going to have your trombones 1 & 2 play the cued bassoon notes, then remind them to match tone and intensity of the woodwinds. Personally, I’d prefer to leave them out unless there was no bassoon/bass clarinet/baritone sax. (iv) The long snare roll from bar 81 must be very soft and tight, only increasing in dynamic at 84 and then heard at a moderate volume throughout the tutti section. It has been my experience that drummers sometimes play this repeated quaver passage at 85 way too loud. (v) As soon as you hit bar 93, begin the rit. and encourage altos/horns/euphoniums to play “bell accents”.
Bars 95-134: Cockles and Mussels

Grundman takes motifs from the beautiful ballad
Cockles and Mussels and works them into a seven-bar introduction featuring the upper woodwinds supported by light sustained chords. The melody proper takes off in Bb major at bar 102 in tenor sax/horns/euphonium (fig.4).
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I imagine that Grundman has added the saxophone tonal quality to warm the sound a touch, although the pervading colour to strive for is a round, darker brass quality. This is another one of those opportunities to “sing” through the line smoothly and with warm projection. I like to think of each note clinging to the next in Graingersque fashion. Your conducting could demonstrate this by dragging across each beat in a horizontal plane, but try to avoid making the gestures too large. With supporting harmonies soft and blended, the soli tenor voices should have no trouble in rising to sing this lovely melody. At 110, the clarinets continue with the tune while the flutes have a short rising motif, answered by a descending motif in the horns/bassoon. Four bars later, Grundman adds piccolo/oboe to change the colour again.

At 117, we suddenly find ourselves moving through a Gb tonality with an altered melody line that rises and rises. Added to this is a powerful crescendo from the whole band, increasing with marvellous intensity to bar 125 arriving at
forte. This is an emotional moment. It is essential that your musicians do not relax the intensity once they have reached 125. They must carry the climax right through to 128 before a rapid diminuendo and then softer into 129. The altered melody in horns/alto sax return with light woodwind accompaniment before the final and wistful “cockles and mussels” scored for piccolo and clarinet 1. The musical ideas, arranging and orchestration in this song are just superb and an absolute joy for musicians and audience alike.

A word about the tempo in
Cockles. Hopefully you are conducting a band that is malleable, i.e. they can bend and yield with sensitivity to your conducting gestures. If not, then here is a tune that will help you teach for this ability. I don’t like to take this song too slowly - quarter note = 94 suits me quite well I find. Otherwise it just seems to drag too much. But, within that tempo are opportunities to push forward and pull back a little on some phrases without making it sound too corny. I encourage you to experiment to see what works for you. Involve your musicians in the discussion too, to see what they prefer. Also, after leaving 117, I tend to very gradually increase the tempo in order to reinforce the intensity of the climax into 125. A slight rallentando into 128 helps to relax that tension we have so effectively created (we hope!). And from 129, I bring it back to a quarter note = 94, and another slight rall at bar 134 before launching into the Allegro moderato.
Bars 135-165: The Rakes of Mallow

We are now back in F major and a tempo around 128-132 works really well here for
The Rakes. The bass clarinet/bassoon accompaniment must be clean, light and precise. So also must be the descending saxophone/clarinet semiquaver runs and the answering figures in the brass from bar 147. The music should have a dance-like quality. A little spatial problem occurs occasionally with the melody at 155 doubled in the piccolo/xylophone - the percussionist often has trouble hearing the piccolo, so they both must rely on the conductor’s clear beat to keep it all together. Finally, we return to the opening eight bars of the work at 166 in Bb major, which leads us nicely into our final folk song.
Bars 174-189: Kathleen O’More

If you have chosen your tempo well from the previous folk song, then
Kathleen O’More flows along nicely without a problem - the con moto instruction seems to take care of itself. However, I personally prefer to pull the tempo back quite a bit in the rubato at 182 and use a definite rall at 189 before launching into the Allegro at 190. Listen out for a melody that is broad and warm, and again played in a singing style. One thing you need to watch at 182 is the fragmented distribution of the melody between the cornet/trumpet, the clarinet 1/oboe, and then the horn/alto sax sections (fig. 5). The musicians must ensure that they hold on to the ends of each phrase so that there are no breaks in the melodic line.
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Bars 190- 232: The Finale!

Here, Grundman revisits the folk songs one final time. At bar 190 the
Shepherd’s Lamb Reel is announced briefly in saxes/horns. At 197 the upper woodwinds/xylophone take on an altered second half of The Rakes (with a hint of Shepherd’s Reel) which rattles along in manic Irish fiddle style - the musicians usually have great fun with this! This continues through bar 202 while underneath is an ingeniously placed augmented version of Kathleen O’More played by the brass (fig. 6).
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Achieving the right balance can be a problem here. We need to hear the broad, warmly projected sound of the brass through the sparkling, bubbly quality of the upper woodwinds. How this is achieved will vary greatly between bands, depending largely on your available instrumentation. Clearly, everyone just can’t play forte as is marked on the score - balance is not achieved that way. So here is an opportunity to experiment with balance and blend. And, once again, involve your musicians by encouraging them to listen carefully and adjust accordingly.

By the way, check that our snare drummer has noted the
mezzo piano at 198. There will be a natural desire to bring the volume up along with the rest of the band. Explain that the role of the snare in this context is to lightly reinforce the woodwind line and that anything stronger than an mp will clutter the texture and get in the way of the brass.

At 218 there is a sudden pull back in tempo as we hear a little more of
Kathleen before making way for Molly’s Cockles in the cornets/trumpets/horns a tempo, and finally slowing to the Allargando at 226, where the last seven bars must be impressive at fortissimo without sounding overblown. Rehearse the last two bars till you are really happy with the forte-piano-crescendo into the final F major 9th chord.
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Without a doubt, this is a wonderful work for young people to learn about musicianship. It is crafted so well that your players will gain much from its study and performance. The parts are not difficult but the skills required to deliver an effective performance are immense. It is also a work suitable for community bands, where your audiences will be very familiar with the folk songs.

I do hope you find this Performance Guide useful and will consider An Irish Rhapsody for inclusion at a future concert. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments: rob@robwagner.com.au

An Irish Rhapsody is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

This Performance Guide was first published in the March/April edition (Vol 16, No. 1) of the
Interlude journal.

This guide is not to be reproduced without the expressed written permission of the author.