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To March Or Not To March?


That Is The Question By William L. Berz


Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey wberz@rci.rutgers.edu


pose them. The band already has a huge number from which to choose. This combined with the trend espoused by many of our leading conduc- tors discouraging the performance of marches would seem to be the primary rationale why marches are no longer regularly composed.


Should Bands Play Marches?


Instead, the question being addressed is: Should bands play marches? In some ways, this follows a similar


U


thread of the article that appeared in the last issue of TEMPO, “Where Have All the Marches Gone? Here They Are!” by Carolyn Barber, Director of Bands at the University of Nebraska.1


One of her basic points is that


the form has fallen out of favor in part be- cause of a lack of knowledge about marches. Barber outlines a second issue: “…contem- porary composers tend to avoid the genre, or at least avoid success in the genre. My theory is that a good march requires at least three catchy tunes….”2 I am not so sure that I fully agree with


Barber’s second point. Especially since the 1970s, many of the band’s leading conduc- tors have discouraged the performance of marches. Part of their rationale is centered on why marches were written. 1. To provide music for some basic function, often related to the military.


2. To provide entertainment in many different settings including at the circus.


These purposes are different from art-


music of the Western tradition where most of the important compositions are intended for contemplation. In an effort to improve the band’s repertoire, many of our leaders have therefore encouraged performance of music from the Western canon, especially contemporary music originally conceived for the wind band. This is certainly an admi- rable goal. However, does this mean that we should cast aside the humble march?


TEMPO


nlike the title of the article might imply, this article is not about marching bands.


What is a March? The first step might be to try to define


what a march is. It is a musical form in the same way as is a symphony, concerto, suite, or the like. The form dates back to at least the 16th


century. Grove Music Online pro-


vides one definition of a march: Music with strong repetitive rhythms and an uncomplicated style usually used to accompany orderly military movements and processions. Since the 16th


century, func-


tional march music has existed alongside stylized representations of the march, which were often incorporated for programmatic purposes into art music. The distinction be- tween the functional and the stylized march is often blurred, however in the 18th


centu-


ry, functional marches were frequently im- ported virtually unchanged into wind-band music, often forming integral movements of serenades or divertimentos. During the 19th


from American and European heritages of the late-19th


and early 20th centuries. He


also includes introductory articles on various subjects relating to the march. He provides a


general historical view of the march: In the broadest sense, march histori-


cally refers to many kinds of music, from symphonic works to incidental music. The form has served utilitarian and dramatic functions. For example, courtly proces- sional marches dating from the Renaissance brought order to large, royal entries and ex- its, while setting a tone of elegance. On the other hand, early twentieth-century com- poser Karl King wrote many of his marches to move wild animals to, from, and around a circus ring while augmenting the exciting move of the big top.4


century, the functional military march declined, and the stylized march became popular in its own right, reaching its height in the works of the later Romantic compos- ers. After World War I, the idea of using an orchestral or choral march as a vehicle for paying homage to rulers and celebrating na- tions and ideals, which had prevailed since the time of Lully, fell into decline, and the march came to be seen principally as an art- music genre.3


Some marches were intended for mili-


tary function. Marches are also found in the European art-music tradition as well. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Mahler all wrote marches, many of which are included in their symphonic and operatic repertoire. Carl Chevallard, former conductor of


the United States Air Force Academy Band, has written a book on marches as part of the GIA Teaching Music Through Performance se- ries. Like the format of the other GIA books, he focuses on providing analyses and teach- ing suggestions for fifty marches, mostly


38


When defining the march, many people think of the pieces by Sousa, Fillmore, King, Goldman, Jewell, Bagley, and the many other American bandmasters of the past. These short works were popular in Ameri- can culture in the past. The formal structure of these marches is fairly consistent: intro- duction, first and second strains, trio, break- strain, and trio. Each section follows certain conventions in terms of style, dynamics, and phrase structure. Many later composers began to take


these conventions and develop them into variations of the original. One of the most obvious results was the concert march, a piece that was intended for concert band; hundreds if not thousands have been com- posed. Perhaps one of the most famous is Commando March by Samuel Barber. While these do not formally follow the structure of the classic American march, the general style and format is similar, and in many ways, re- flective of the original. It might be that the reason that marches


are not being composed is because contem- porary composers simply don’t want to com-


MAY 2012


As stated above, there are a number of band conductors who consider marches to be unwor- thy of study. Some who criticize the performance of marches by school ensembles do champion the music of “educational” composers—those people who write primarily or entirely for school bands. Yet as Stephen Budiansky has pointed out and about which I have written several times for TEMPO, this music is not part of any culture ex- cept for school bands.5


I disagree in part with his


point that the lack of a direct cultural link makes this literature lack validity and substance. How- ever he does raise an excellent issue with play- ing only “educational” music. He illustrates this


point with a story about his children’s education. But… [each of my children] emerged from


5 or 6 years of these school band programs liter- ally knowing almost nothing—and caring almost nothing—about music. They didn’t know any- thing about musical forms, music history; they had no knowledge at even the most rudimentary level of composers, or periods, or styles of classical music; they knew nothing about the great Ameri- can musical traditions of folk songs and jazz and rock and blues and musical theater. They literally knew nothing about music as an art form, had never even experienced music as the thing that has the capacity to inspire and move us and en- rich our lives as almost nothing on earth. Within about one nanosecond of their last band class in high school, they never touched those instruments again. And I am not exaggerat- ing when I say they didn’t touch them. Both were by that point quite advanced technically—but once band class ended there was simply no reason in their lives to play those instruments again. And clearly closely tied to this utter failure to


give them any real knowledge or lasting apprecia- tion of music, or any motivation to keep playing their instruments, was the overriding fact that for all of their 6 or so years in band, all they did was play garbage. It was dull, gimmicky, pretentious, bombastic, simplistic, made-for-school music clearly written by mediocrities. It all sounded alike, it was all formulaic, none of it was remotely art and some of it was scarcely music—and with the possible sole exception of the “Flintstone’s” theme it had no connection to any real music or any living musical tradition outside of the closed world of music education. None. Much the same thing had gone in in my daughter’s chorus class— I especially remember her district chorus concert which did not include a single piece on the pro-


MAY 2012


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