Banding Together: BCM International
FJO: OK, what are some of the “dos and don’ts” in band music? Can you do chance music?
Jonathan: You can do aleatoric stuff.
Eric: And rhythmic stuff is usually great. They can handle all kinds of different rhythms. It’s all over the place. Bands live in 7/8. That seems to be the de facto time signature. Within rhythms I would say you always have come at this from a conductor’s perspective. How difficult is this for an ensemble to pull off together? So it’s fine if everybody’s doing 7/8 but if it’s complicated, dense rhythmic material left and right, it’ll take a lot of rehearsal.
Jonathan: This is my particular problem. I enjoy writing rhythmic counterpoint of a certain type, different patterns overlayed on top of each other. That in particular is very challenging to ensembles.
FJO: You mentioned the word chromatic. So can you write 12-tone wind band music?
Steve: You could. It’s not that it’s never been done. For easy groups? For young junior high? Yeah, you could, but it’s gotta be within their ranges and I don’t think you want them blowing through a 12-tone scale. It’s more of the fingering sequences. It’s not the pitches themselves…
Jim: The randomness might also be difficult. It all depends on the amount of experience that this ensemble has musically. This might be their first encounter with 12-tone music. And the idea of making that into something expressive or effective, that may really be beyond them at this point.
FJO: So atonality of any kind?
Eric: What you have to do is convince the conductor that it’s a piece they want to play. And generally the conductors’ vocabularies are very rooted in the world of band music, which is a very specific style and sound, and generally has nothing to do with aleatory. I know the only times that I’ve successfully gotten away with any kind of atonal music or aleatory is when it’s deeply rooted in some sort of narrative. Then it seems to be fine. And most of my pieces are programmatic and cinematic and therefore you can get away with murder somehow. When I’m writing I’m constantly thinking of the conductor being able to successfully teach this.
Jonathan: Sure. You can do anything. But you’re still talking about an educational level. If you’re writing only for a Reynolds, then you do whatever you want. They can play anything that’s put in front of them.
FJO: Repetition. Minimalism…
Eric: They love it. And here’s the beautiful thing about minimalism—it’s totally unchartered territory in the world of band music. It’s as if bands missed 1965 to 1985 so it’s astonishing and new and interesting and you can push the envelop left and right with that kind of music.
FJO: Ethnic influences…
Eric: Especially the percussion because you have an unlimited percussion battery.
Jonathan: Generally around five.
Eric: I’ve written for seven. Timpani is its own instrument and then you can have auxiliary percussion and five people just doing whatever.
Jonathan: I’ve never found it to be a problem to ask for another part. If you say I’d like to have six percussionists they’ll say, “Yeah, no problem!” Whereas I wrote an orchestra piece recently and, after doing a few wind pieces, it was really hard to go back to three parts.
Eric: If you’re doing it for the educational market, there’s a general set standard of instruments. But if you’re doing it for college or above, you can ask and they’ll find it.
Steve: Even for the educational world, I don’t have a broad enough sample to draw from, but I think they’re pretty open to running out and getting this crazy bucket or brake drum, whatever. I think that’s where you have the most freedom and leeway for any level group.
FJO: Now Steve, you like electronics. What about doing something for wind band and electronics?
Steve: I’ve written one piece where I’ve used a synth as a kind of supplement to fill out the bass section and add more body to it, but not as a distinct sound in itself. You don’t really know it’s there; it just feels fuller. I don’t think it’s a problem except for the problems you run into with an orchestra anywhere else. It’s the infrastructure and the knowledge. What kind of speakers do they have in the hall? What gear do they have? Do they know how to use it? Have they ever done anything like this? No. And you’ve got to take on all those roles. You’ve got to be the engineer.
Eric: I’m always pushing Steve to go the other way. Because he has a home studio and he spends a lot of time in there and does brilliant work. As opposed to a piece that could be performed live with electronics, I’m more interested in him taking band music into the computer and finding this other thing. We’ve talked for years about doing remixes of the standardized works.
Steve: Which comes back very much to what fits my style because some of the band pieces I’ve written are parodies and in ways remixes of band classics. I would really like to take a piece like Chester Leaps In, which kinda was my first “big hit”, and splice it up. And I’ve actually done a little bit of that, I just haven’t shown it to anybody yet.