Rob Wagner's World of Sight and Sound

PERFORMANCE GUIDES FOR CONCERT BAND



SHENANDOAH (FrankTicheli) by Rob Wagner

Frank Ticheli’s Shenandoah is one of his most creatively conceived works so far for Grade 3 level repertoire. It seems that almost every note has been placed in the score with such thought and care that one cannot but help make great music from this work. Commissioned by the Hill Country Middle School Symphonic Band, it is dedicated to one of the band’s horn players who passed away in 1997. In keeping with its vocal origins, the singing style demanded of this work presents a fantastic opportunity for musicians to develop a lyrical quality throughout with most lines calling for full phrases and well-supported breaths. It is vital that the band fully understand the concept of legato and what it means in the context of this work. Dynamically, Shenandoah explores a broad range of volume shadings. It is another one of those wonderful teaching pieces bursting with a multitude of opportunities for young people to sonically explore all the rich colours of the modern day concert band.
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The Composer
Frank Ticheli is well known here in Australia, having written many works that are regularly performed by our school, university and community concert bands. Although he also composes major orchestral and choral works, we are indeed lucky that he has chosen to contribute so much fine wind band repertoire. Other wonderful works include the jazz influenced
Blue Shades, the early Cajun Folk Songs I and II, the programmatic Vesuvius, the fun and colourful Abracadabra, the crazy and highly challenging Wild Nights (particularly at the tempos that Frank likes to conduct!!), and his inspiring Symphony No. 2. And then there are the many brilliant works at the Grade 2 and 3 level for our younger bands and their audiences to enjoy.

There is plenty of biographical information on Ticheli for you to read on the Internet, so I don’t intend to go into great detail here. However, you may also like to check out the following links:

An Interview with Frank Ticheli:
http://www.banddirector.com/article/rl-interviews/an-interview-with-frank-ticheli

John Darling’s excellent
A Study of the Wind-Band Music of Frank Ticheli with an analysis of Fortress, Postcard, and Vesuvius: http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi/Darling%20John%20A.pdf?acc_num=osu1224192963

An enlightening video interview with Ticheli on the process of composing:
http://www.artistshousemusic.org/videos/frank+ticheli+full+interview
Origin of the Folk Song:
Ticheli offers several paragraphs in the score’s program notes on the origins of the song
Oh Shenandoah (also simply called Shenandoah, but can also be found under the title of Across the Wide Missouri). He discusses the confusion surrounding the name, possibly linked with either the Iroquois Native Indian Chief Skenandoah or a word from the Senedo Indian tradition meaning “Daughter of the Moon”. He also points out that references to the folk song date back to the 19th century from a variety of attributions. Equally there are variants of the melody and lyrics passed down through the years with the most popular story being about the love for a Native American woman by an early settler.

My own research has found references to the song in other forms including stories relating to a settler’s daughter, an American Civil War song reflecting on a life back home, and there is even a reference to escaped slaves (although I’m not sure about this one!). As with many folk songs, it is likely that text variations occurred down through the ages as many people added their own version to the mix. Here’s a common text:

Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you,
Away you rolling river
Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you,
Away, I'm bound away 'cross the wide Missouri.

Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter
Away, you rolling river.
For her I'd cross, Your roaming waters.
Away, I'm bound away, 'Cross the wide Missouri.

'Tis seven years since last I've seen you,
And hear your rolling river,
'Tis seven years since last I've seen you,
Away, we're bound away Across the wide Missouri.

Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you,
And hear your rolling river,
Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you,
Away, we're bound away Across the wide Missouri.

Another version is less reflective and more of a story-telling sea shanty. Two verses of the song were published in an article by W. J. Alden in Harper’s Magazine (1882). It was also documented in a collection published by Master Mariner W. B. Whall called
Sea Songs and Shanties (1910). Shanties were used by 19th century sailors to make their manual labour more bearable. For example, a Capstan shanty was sung while raising the anchor. The Capstan is a mushroom-shaped mechanism with holes at the top. Sailors inserted bars into the holes and marched around the capstan to raise the anchor. Capstan shanties had steady rhythms and usually told stories because of the length of time it took to raise the anchor (which could be hours). Some people believe that Shenandoah originated from early American rivermen or Canadian voyagers. Others believe it was a land song before it went to sea. Most agree, however, that incorporates both Irish and African-American elements:

Miss-ou-ri, she's a mighty riv-er.
A - way you rolling riv-er.
The red-skins' camp, lies on its bor-ders.
Ah-ha, I'm bound a-way, 'Cross the wide, Miss-ou-ri.

'The white man loved the Indian maiden,
A - way you rolling riv-er.
With notions his canoe was laden.
Ah-ha, I'm bound a-way, 'Cross the wide, Miss-ou-ri.

"O, Shenandoah, I love your daughter,
A - way you rolling riv-er.
I'll take her 'cross yon rolling water."
Ah-ha, I'm bound a-way, 'Cross the wide, Miss-ou-ri.

The chief disdained the trader's dollars:
A - way you rolling riv-er.
"My daughter never you shall follow."
Ah-ha, I'm bound a-way, 'Cross the wide, Miss-ou-ri.

At last there came a Yankee skipper.
A - way you rolling riv-er.
He winked his eye, and he tipped his flipper.
Ah-ha, I'm bound a-way, 'Cross the wide, Miss-ou-ri.

He sold the chief that fire-water,
A - way you rolling riv-er.
And 'cross the river he stole his daughter.
Ah-ha, I'm bound a-way, 'Cross the wide, Miss-ou-ri.

"O, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,
A - way you rolling riv-er.
Across that wide and rolling river."
Ah-ha, I'm bound a-way, 'Cross the wide, Miss-ou-ri.

Interestingly, throughout the 20th century just about everybody has had a go at recording their version of the song including such diverse musicians as Bing Crosby, Bob Dylan, Keith Jarrett, Thin Lizzy, Judy Garland, Bruce Springsteen, Glen Campbell, Paul Robeson, and Harry Belafonte……to name but a few!
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Ticheli’s Interpretation:
The composer of this wind band version certainly doesn’t take up the sea shanty origins of the folk song. Nor is it a musical depiction of some “boy loves girl” romance. Rather it is about the moods of the mighty river. His published program note says:

“In my setting of Shenandoah I was inspired by the freedom and beauty of the folk melody and by the natural images evoked by the words, especially the image of a river. I was less concerned with the sound of a rolling river than with its life-affirming energy - its timelessness. Sometimes the accompaniment flows quietly under the melody; other times it breathes alongside it. The work’s mood ranges from quiet reflection, through growing optimism, to profound exaltation.”

So when interpreting Ticheli’s composition we are endeavouring to connect with that source of nature that is closest to the human spirit - living, breathing matter that can be transformed from a state of peace and reverence to joy and acclamation. Understanding and tapping into this spirit will help unlock the wonderful harmonies and musicals colours present in this fine work.
Bars 1-6:
The melody is announced right from the start of bar 1 in the horns and euphonium and is designed to sound dark and full without being too heavy (hence the
mp marking). As Ticheli quite rightly points out, the low F in the horns can be a challenge for younger musicians, and I have often had players “misfire” on it in rehearsal and performance. This will obviously take some practice outside of the rehearsal room, perhaps with the help of exercises that extend the horn range down to F and beyond. While we are talking about the first note, it is marked tenuto and can be held a little longer before proceeding into the first complete bar. With its upward facing bell and penetrating tone quality, the euphonium can tend to predominate when coupled with the horn for this initial melodic statement. Requesting your euphonium player to try and sit “inside” the sound of the horn seems to help here.

The woodwind and bass accompaniment of the melody should be almost caressing but the lead-in to the suspensions at the first beats of bars 4 and 6 are most important, so observe the dynamics carefully. Throughout this work, the concept of
legato is vital to the silky flow of the musical ideas, and the opening bars set the style for the remainder of the work. As noted in this article’s introduction, the care displayed with the placement of every note is something that is a feature of this composer’s work. A simple example of this occurs in bar 2: Trombone 1 has a lone B flat on beat 3, tenuto with an accent but marked at mp. Encourage the trombonist to give the start of this note slightly more richness and prominence, but immediately tapering off as marked.

Bars 7-11:
This haunting 10 bar melody continues and features the third and most insistent suspension in the woodwinds appearing at the beginning of bar 8. Again marked
tenuto, we can give another little stretch here to that first beat, momentarily and almost imperceptibly holding back the flow of the melody to build quiet tension at the suspension, where the critical notes are in clarinets 2 & 3, and alto saxophone 2 - those musicians should be gently encouraged to come to the fore before resolving on the third beat. I love the little rising line from clarinets in bar 10 and gently echoed in the bass clarinet and euphonium in bar 11. Tempo-wise, one can do some subtle things such as a slight push forward in bar 7 and a gentle holding back of the tempo in the last two beats of bar 9, before resuming tempo again in bar 10. This is of course all personal taste, but what is so great about this work is that opportunities present themselves for controlling the ebb and flow of the line, and if you have an ensemble that is really sensitive to direction, some lovely effects can be created.


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Bars 12-22:
At bar 12, Ticheli asks for a modest increase in tempo for the second presentation of the melody in the alto saxes and trumpets, so there is a need to have the line gently moving forward without feeling hurried. The melody is written here an octave higher than when first announced and the trumpets help to brighten the line considerably. But ensure that your trumpets are playing with warmth throughout and not too loud. Some nice imitation occurs in flutes and oboes another octave higher at bars 12-14 - a soft singing style is required from these musicians and, depending on the number of upper woodwinds you have in your band, some control may need to be placed on the dynamics so that the sound is not too strident. I also like the way the euphonium reinforces the melody from bar 13 up to the suspension. At bar 14, draw the ensemble’s attention to the suspension in horn 1 and trumpet 2, which is then echoed at bar 15 in horn 2 and trumpet 3.

Look for opportunities to pull back once the suspension is reached at 19 and relax the back end of the melody, especially at bar 20 on that held G in trumpet 1/ alto sax 1 with those shifting harmonies underneath. Our euphonium can help to create the drama at the beginning of bar 19 through another suspension by implementing a controlled
crescendo at 18 from his B flat and C and leaning into the D at 19 with a quick diminuendo to the resolving C. Also at 19, horns and euphonium need to join up those fourth beat quavers so they are in time with the quavers of the trumpets and alto sax 1. I sometimes find that they are a little sloppy with the entry, perhaps because they like to take a breath beforehand. Encourage focused listening here.

For the percussion, I prefer the vibraphone to use medium soft yarn mallets so as not to stand out too much, but rather to add a soft ring into the sound mix of the upper winds line. For the suspended cymbal roll at bar 18, the composer specifies yarn mallets, and again I prefer a softer yarn for this
crescendo……but of course that can also depend on the quality of the cymbal, too!

Bars 23-34:
From the score, Ticheli’s rehearsal notes identify bars 23 to 30 as being a second theme,
“derived from the main melody, but is different enough in character to be recognised as an independent theme.” It is a melody of reflective, almost nostalgic mood shared between the alto saxophone and flute doubled at the octave, to be played as lyrically as possible. The saxophonist and flautist will need to listen carefully to each other, ensuring that the interpretation is perfectly matched in style, articulation and emphasis. Some light warming vibrato on the longer notes would be most appropriate, as well. Fortunately for both musicians, the score here is quite sparse, which provides an intimate setting for the two instruments. Between their longer held notes is the sound of a trumpet in straight mute, mimicking inverted fragments of the melody in an echo effect. Underneath this is a soft seamless pad of rising and falling clarinets in thirds (fig. 1). The composer tells us that if the clarinets must breathe in this section (which they usually seem to need!), they must do so as inconspicuously as possible. For less experienced clarinetists this is no easy task without creating bumps or unevenness in the required continuous flow of sound at a piano dynamic. In addition, evenness of tone quality will also be difficult for younger players because the line moves in and out of the ‘break’ region, where tone colours can change markedly.
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With the tempo pulled right back leading into bar 31, a modulation transitions over four bars. So far, the work has centred around the key of E flat. But for the development section, the composer moves into the dominant key of B flat Major via several bars of G flat. He is also very specific about where the retardandos should occur on the last two beats of both bars 32 and 34. This transition should not feel hurried - take your time and enjoy scenery! Some rising fourths and fifths in trumpet 2, horn 1, flutes and oboes, then alto sax 1, recall the muted trumpet echo from a few bars earlier and obviously derived from the opening motive of the original melody. At bar 33 on the fourth beat, ensure the alto sax is giving the note G a prominent tone - it sounds the alert for a change of mood!

Bars 35-40:
Ticheli describes the next pulsating chord section as representing life, breath and a heartbeat, scored across a wide register in an attempt to simulate the effect of a church organ. He also suggests that the first crotchet of each slurred pair be stressed for a more vibrant and lifelike pulsation. But the problem here is making sure that the stately, exalted instruction for horn 1 is reproduced by soaring over the woodwinds, particularly if you have a large woodwind section. Although the winds and basses are marked
piano the horn will still require considerable projection to achieve the instruction, but without sounding forced. So, the composer has doubled this second theme in alto saxophone 1. But interestingly, the stately, exalted instruction is not marked on the score or the part for saxophone. What does this mean? Is this simply an omission in the score? Perhaps he is implying the saxophone tone should be as horn-like as possible, to get inside the horn sound and be a support to the line rather than an equal or dominant voice. But, if more support for the horn line is required, then why didn’t he score it for the additional horns? Indeed, some bands with only two horns and many woodwinds may need to have both horns play the line for additional penetration. Hmmm……..

The percussion scoring at this point calls for triangle and chimes. Don’t have any chimes in your artillery? Try the poor man’s version! Chimes part played on glockenspiel an octave lower than written, but still doubled in octaves as scored. It’s not the same as a real set of chimes, but it’s better than nothing!

Bars 41-51:
Now we arrive at one of the sweetest parts of the work - the ethereal, floating three-part canon featuring three of your best flautists. Ticheli says it best in his rehearsal notes:

The music now lingers at its slowest tempo, as though floating timelessly. The three flute 1 soloists play the main melody in canonic imitation. They should play with only slight vibrato in order to preserve the intended ethereal mood. (All three flute 1 solos appear in flute 2 as cues, but should be played only if necessary). In addition to the three-part canon, several other ideas appear in this section. The first clarinets whisper the main melody in augmentation. A quiet echo of the “pulsating” quarter-note chords returns at measure 47. At measure 48, trumpet 1 and trombone 1 enter with a variant of Theme B, sharing the foreground with the flutes (now reinforced by the oboes and clarinets.) The meditative mood slowly dissipates and yields to a rising level of energy.

So, what of the practicalities of all this? Firstly, I’ve found that our three flutes love this section, and for obvious reasons. Rarely do they get such entrancing writing in band repertoire. Encourage them to rehearse together till they have achieved clear and equal voices - matching tones, breathing thoughtfully worked out, matching intensity, only slight vibrato (as requested by the composer), accurate articulation, etc. (fig. 2).
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The accompanying chords in the clarinets and bass clarinets must be pianissimo. They usually have to work hard at controlling the sound at such a low dynamic, especially if you are faced with a large clarinet section. Indeed, on one occasion I used just one player on each of 1st, 2nd and 3rd clarinet and bass clarinet parts to support the three flute soloists, and this worked exceedingly well in performance - a septet of winds providing an aural curiosity not often heard in the usual blast and bluster of the concert band stage. However, the success of this idea will possibly depend on the sympathetic nature of your performance venue.

The pulsating crotchets beginning at bar 47 have the potential to overwhelm the three solo flutes unless the ensemble is alerted to the need for sensitivity in their entrances. Hence the instruction for the three flutes to
crescendo to forte before their diminuendo from 49. By that time the trumpet 1 and trombone 1 are into their variation of Theme B. Note: if you have multiple strong players on both those brass parts, I would suggest you try encouraging just one player per part for this entrance, provided each musician can produce some breadth to their tone at the mp dynamic. You then have the choice of bringing in the entire section for mezzo forte at 52 or waiting until bar 56 (or perhaps even bar 55). This can take out the heaviness in the sound and provides much more impact when we reach the Exalted section at 56. There’s no right or wrong here - you can be the judge on this by making intelligent decisions based on the instrumentation you have and the capabilities of your ensemble.

Bars 52-55:
This four-bar modulation transition leads us from B Flat via G Flat back to E Flat with the energy increasing in a mood that Ticheli regards as
optimistic. The melodic content is made up of fragments of the main theme, stated emphatically in the brass. All members of the flute section return at bar 52, with the added instruction of one musician moving to piccolo for the entrance at 56. Ensure that flute/oboe/trumpets/trombone 1 all observe the marked accents at 52. The simple addition of these helps to energise the transition and create an expectation that something is about to happen! The pulsating effect in the lower woodwinds is becoming more prominent, but once again must be carefully balanced both within itself and in relation to the fragments of the main melody in the brass.

Bars 55-68:
After the softer, more reflective, ethereal sounds created in the previous sections, we now reach the
Exalted mood, in what Ticheli describes as the “glorious return of the main melody”, with “an exuberant countermelody” (in clarinets, alto sax 2 and horns) and the pulsating chords “still growing, still representing the life force”. Again, we witness the brilliance of the composer through his highly effective and emotionally charged variation in dynamics, beautifully shaped across these ten bars. Quite simply, a poor execution of this section can result in a wholly unsatisfying experience for both musicians and audiences alike. So, here’s what to look for:

  • A proper balance between the pulsating parts and the rest of the score
    • That wonderful cascading effect between the flutes/oboes/trumpets/trombone 1 at bar 57 on the fourth beat and the continuation of the quaver movement at 58 from the first beat in the clarinets/ alto sax 2/horns. Musicians need to understand their role in this and respond appropriately (fig 3).
    • The connection in bar 59 between the suspension on beat one resolving into beat two from the tenor sax/euphonium and the B Flat to E Flat leading into beat three from clarinet 1/alto sax 2/horns. I love this bit, and pointing it out the musicians is often a revelation to them!
    • The instruction of
    no breath in upper woodwinds and brass, important because it propels the energy across the bar line and into the fortissimo of the next bar.
    • Ensure that the
    fortissimo accents are not tonally distorted. They must be pure, dark and very broad.
    • The rapid
    diminuendo at bar 61 can often sneak up on less experienced players who are busy enjoying “the loud bits!” The greater the dynamic contrast between fortissimo and the mezzo piano at bar 62, along with the subsequent final build to forte at 63 before another diminuendo, the more gratifying the performance for all concerned.
    • Although not marked, I like to pull the tempo back through bars 64 and 65, representing the words
    “the wide Missouri”. Relaxing the tempo from bars 64 through to 68 can be really effective here in calming the waters of this mighty river.
    • Although clarinet 2/alto sax 2 are coming down off the back of a slight
    decrescendo at bar 66 into the piano at bar 67, ensure that they are still heard with their little rising figure into 68.
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Bars 69-78:
The conclusion of the work features a brass chorale in what Ticheli describes as
“a kind of prayer - a final moment of deep reflection”. Great dynamic control is required from your musicians here. At bar 71, for example, trumpet 1 is marked forte and decrescendo to piano but the other musicians are only decrescendo to mezzo piano. There’s a really good reason for this! Having the highest notes in the chords, the trumpet can stick too much on the third beat, providing a rather unsatisfactory resolution.

But as well as an acute awareness of dynamics, sensitivity to tempo is important. For example, the trombone/baritone sax/euphonium crotchet lead-in to bar 69 could be stretched a little longer, as can the dark, rich woodwind response at bar 72. This whole section is about taking your time, lingering on those final sounds. They are there to enjoy! The final
niente - fading away to nothing - first in the low brass/bassoons and then in the clarinets is easy enough to conduct and can be done a few different ways. Experiment and see what works for you and your musicians.
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Although listed as a Grade 3 level work, Shenandoah is a mature work that would sit equally well in the concert programs of more advanced ensembles, and could be especially effective placed between more intense works. It is a beautiful piece of writing and is sure to be appreciated by your audiences.

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

(Photos used in this article were taken on May 25, 2007 in Brisbane, QLD on Frank Ticheli's first visit (albeit a brief one!) with the author and the Queensland Youth Wind Symphony)

Shenandoah is published by Manhattan Beach Music.

This Performance Guide was first published in the July edition (Vol 16, No. 2) of the
Interlude journal.

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