Literature for a Pandemic
Prelude on "Resignation" arr. by Gordon Ring
Key signature: Concert Eb Major Length: 4 minutes 30 seconds
Time signature: 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 6/4 Style: Hymn
Tempo: Quarter note = 72, 84, 112 Dynamic range: pp - ff
Grade level: 3 Scoring: 4 part Full Flex (Adaptive Band)
Parts 1-4: Flute, Oboe, Bb Clarinet, Bb Trumpet, Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Horn, Bassoon, Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba
Percussion: Timpani, Glockenspiel, Marimba, Triangle, Suspended Cymbal, Crash Cymbal
Prelude on "Resignation" is based on a melody from the Southern Harmony hymn book. Gordon Ring previously used it in a choral setting of My Shepherd Shall Supply My Need. In addition to this 4 part Full Flex (adaptive) arrangement, he has arranged a 5 part Flex version as well. There are several opportunities for solos written into all parts, so there are chances to feature strong players. The parts can be played as soli sections as well.
Have musicians listen to the choral setting of the piece. Read the text of the hymn to the ensemble members (or have them read it themselves). Allow musicians to reflect on what emotions are communicated through the lyrics. Players may or may not have a personal connection with the text and its spiritual message, but they can always connect the emotions with their own lives and experiences. For example, the final phrase of the verse refers to not being like a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home. Musicians should think about what it means to them to be like a child at home. To better share these
emotions with the audience, read Completing the Circle by Bud Beyer.
Prelude on "Resignation" is in the key of concert Eb major and consists of traditional harmonies, so once musicians know how to play in tune, they should not have any challenges.
Edward Lisk provides a thorough explanation of the hows and whys of the tuning process in many of his books, including The Creative Director: Conductor, Teacher, Leader.
It is best to set a pitch from either a drone or a tuba (or lowest instrument in the band). A drone is advantageous, if possible, because it provides a consistent pitch. Using the Yamaha Harmony Director HD 200 keyboard is also helpful for hearing chords (including cluster chords) in just intonation and tuning them accordingly.
Concert F is the best pitch for tuning almost all wind instruments because of the overtone series and where it lies on the instruments. The exception is Eb alto and baritone saxophones, but the benefits of F in all the other instruments outweigh this. After the winds have tuned to F, the drone or tuba should change to Bb and everyone should join the Eb saxophones in tuning that note. Start by tuning principal players. After the principal
euphonium is in tune with the tuba, they should continue to play and then the principal trombone player should join them. The process repeats through score order (ascending). Next, everyone else tunes by listening to their section leader. Only one person in each section (who has not yet tuned) should tune with the section leader at a time, so each musician can clearly hear themselves and identify if there are beats in the sound. Musicians
only need to listen for beats in the sound and do not need to worry about knowing if they are flat or sharp right away. If they are pinching the embouchure to slow down beats, they are flat and if they are relaxing the embouchure to slow down beats, they are sharp. Then they can adjust their instrument by moving the slide/mouthpiece/barrel in or out or adjusting the reed. After an adjustment has been made, they need to hear if the beats got slower or faster. Faster beats means to go the opposite direction on the instrument and slower beats means to continue in the same direction until the beats have been eliminated. When musicians are perfectly in tune, their sound is indistinguishable from the sound of their section leader. They should keep playing as the rest of the section tunes. In addition to blending within the section, each section needs to balance within the ensemble. In general, this means musicians should listen down to the tuba or lowest instrument in the ensemble or the instrument playing the lowest part.
After musicians have completed the tuning process, they can play unison pitches around the Circle of 4ths from Edward Lisk's Alternative Rehearsal Techniques - Creative Director Series. This allows them to hear and play in tune in all keys. Later, add perfect fifths, major chords, and minor chords.
Most of the rhythms in Prelude on "Resignation" should not be a challenge to the ensemble members. Instead, they will need to focus on keeping a steady pulse and counting carefully during the frequent time signature changes. The majority of the piece is in 3/4 with a measure or two of 4/4 added to the mix. There is one 2/4 measure and the second to last measure of the piece is in 6/4.
To develop ensemble pulse with my students, I introduce it as a game, based on Edward Lisk's internal pulse exercise (described in The Creative Director: Conductor, Teacher, Leader). To lead the game, hold your hands out with the palms up and count
aloud 1-8 (at a tempo of approximately 60 beats per minute). Next, the musicians should count with you. Everyone should be counting with a crisp tone of voice and be focused on listening to the space between the beats. It is necessary for players to keep their bodies from moving during this time. The emphasis is on internal pulse, not on external elements like foot tapping, head bobbing, etc. After the pulse has been established, turn your hands, so your palms are facing down. When your palms are down, you and the ensemble members should switch to silently counting. During silent counting, everyone should keep their lips sealed, so no one is mouthing the numbers to themselves. Remind musicians of the internalization process or "thinking in your brain". Initially, only indicate one or two beats of silence at a time. As the musicians improve their internal pulse, keep your palms down for more beats. It becomes a fun challenge for musicians to see how long they can count silently and still come in on the correct number and with their voices exactly
After the musicians have performed the pulse exercise correctly, they should transfer it to playing around the Circle of 4ths. Start by having them play in unison on concert F on the Circle of 4ths for pulse 5. Ensemble members should be counting to five (internally) while they are playing for four beats, releasing on beat five, and then breathing and entering with the new pitch on the next beat. After they have played concert F, they should play concert Bb, then concert Eb, etc. At first, you can conduct a "one" pattern and indicate the entrances and releases. When the ensemble is secure in the internal pulse, stop conducting and let the musicians continue to play pulse 5 around the Circle. It is important to stop the ensemble when precision in entrances and releases is lost. Remind musicians to breathe together and play together. Whenever the entrances or releases lose precision, name a new pulse (for example, pulse 6 or pulse 3) and begin on a different note in the Circle (concert Bb, for example). Eventually, the internal pulse of the ensemble and precision of entrances and releases will improve. As this occurs, indicate pulses between 3 and 7 (or longer). Also, add rests. For example, pulse 5 rest 3 would be "play, two, three, four, release, two, three, breathe" and would be notated as a whole note followed by a whole rest.
As musicians are learning Prelude on "Resignation", there are two rhythms to be mindful of in the last four measures.
First, starting in measure 95 (four from the end), people on part one should think subdivided eighth notes. This will prepare them to play the two dotted quarter notes in measure 96. They will not know when the "and" of beat two is if they are not already subdividing.
Second, in the 6/4 measure, musicians should either be thinking "1 + 2 + 3 +" or "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6". Ensemble members should be able to count, clap, and play the rhythms in each of the four parts (in unison around the Circle of 4ths). Because this is a full flex
arrangement, musicians can experiment with playing different parts. After they have used the Circle of 4ths to play all four rhythms in isolation and as part of the whole, then they can play all of them within the context of the music before returning to their assigned part. Gordon Ring did let me know that when he conducts the piece, he always conducts every beat in the last two measures (six beats in 6/4) to make it easier on the players.
Because the dynamics range from pianissimo to fortissimo, it is important to set volume levels. I use one hand to indicate a dynamic level pianissimo through fortissimo, where zero is pp and five is ff. Have musicians play around the Circle of 4ths and cue each note at a different dynamic level. Encourage everyone to only play as loudly or softly as they can play with good balance, blend, intonation, and tone quality.
Prelude on "Resignation" has several decrescendos and only one crescendo. To perform smooth changes in volume, Edward Lisk explains in his Creative Director Series books that musicians should count aloud the number of beats the crescendo or decrescendo lasts. If it is a four beat crescendo from piano to forte, have them start counting aloud softly at "one" and increase volume quickly, so their voice is forte at "four". If the crescendo is longer or shorter than four beats, have them count to the exact length of the crescendo (for example one through seven for a seven beat crescendo or one through three for a three beat crescendo). The process is the same for decrescendos, except counting backwards (3, 2, 1, for a three beat decrescendo) starting with the voice louder and quickly getting softer. Decrescendos are usually more challenging to do evenly at first, so continue to draw attention to making sure the voice is correct and then apply it on the instrument. With time, players will be able to play crescendos and decrescendos of various lengths. Remind players they should never be whispering or shouting because that does not represent good tone quality on the instrument. After they are able to do this with their voices, they should play their instrument, while thinking the same volume with the voice in their head. Be patient with musicians as they practice how to pace changes in volume.
Prelude on "Resignation" has a legato style and is almost entirely slurred. Slurs require constant air support and adjusting the air speed, air direction, and voicing to produce a smooth line. Encourage musicians to imagine they are singing the piece and this should also help them achieve the desired effect.
Throughout the piece, groups of two notes are slurred together, as seen in parts 1 and 2 in measures 68-76.
Whenever two notes are slurred, it is incredibly important that the second note does not get clipped, but rather receives a full, resonant sound. Musicians should think of lifting the sound in the same way an artist lifts a paintbrush from the canvas.
There are some tenuto notes leading into the final measure of the piece. Tenuto notes are full value and have slightly more emphasis than legato notes. This should be accomplished with air and not with a harder tongue placement at the beginning of the note. Even though the dynamic level is pianissimo, the moving notes will be heard because of the tenuto markings.
The final note of the piece definitely needs a tapered release.
The sound should gradually decay into silence, rather than ending abruptly. Edward Lisk explains this concept in The Creative Director: Conductor, Teacher, Leader. Musicians should practice these releases by counting for the length of the note with an implied last beat. For example, on a whole note, count "1, 2, Threeeee". Allow beat four to be implied and decrease the volume of your voice to indicate the precise amount of desired decay. "Three" would be no decay and "Threeeeeeee" would be a great deal of decay.
In terms of phrasing, Edward Lisk's three natural laws of musical expression from The Creative Director: Conductor, Teacher, Leader, help musicians understand how to make phrasing decisions. If musicians know that short notes look for long notes, low notes search for high notes, and high notes search for low notes, then they can figure out where each phrase of music should have tension and repose.
Being aware of what is happening in the percussion parts can also provide insight into musical phrasing. For example in measure 82, the timpani and suspended cymbal are rolling and on beat one of measure 83, the bass drum and crash cymbals are featured.
Allow musicians to experiment with pushing forward and pulling back the tempo around the points of tension and repose in each phrase and they will learn how to use rubato to add a multiplicity of nuances to their performance.
In addition to rubato, which can be applied throughout Prelude on "Resignation", there are a couple of marked changes in tempo. For example, in measures 82-83, there is an accelerando and in measures 89-90, there is a ritardando.
Have the musicians count the rhythms aloud and change the speed they are counting based on how quickly or slowly they want to go. After they have practiced it a few ways with their voices, they should play it on their instruments. If they are listening to each other and have established a unified ensemble pulse, they will be able to do this after having practiced it a few times. If the piece is being performed without a conductor, make sure the students know who they should listen to and what they should listen for in each phrase.
They can also watch for physical cues, such as breathing together to start a phrase, and movement in the upper body to see when to release the final note.