I previously wrote an article ‘Score Analysis of Sunny Island’ a few months before 2017 Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentation (Secondary School Level), and I heard that it was welcomed by some band directors.
This year, I’d like to share my ideas about the set piece for 2019 SYF (Secondary School Level) ‘Festival on Earth’, written by Singaporean composer Lee Jinjun, from both the band conductor’s and composer’s viewpoint.
The uniqueness of this piece is that bands have the ability to decide on the choice of instruments, structures of music, and articulations. To put it simply, there are as many as 192 options which will allow audiences, especially adjudicators who will listen to the piece more than 100 times, enjoy differences of each band’s decision.
The style of the music
The composer’s notes in the score imply that this piece itself describes Singapore. Although no local tunes are used in this piece, non-ethnical techniques such as poly-chord, frequent modulation, modal or chromatic scales are found in the piece. Thus, it brings the impression of music far from the traditional Western music or folk songs, which may seem to express the ethnic diversity or Singapore youth, in my opinion.
This piece has elements of the style of neoclassicism music, namely, the use of pared-down performance intentions, an emphasis of contrast or restraint of emotional expressions, as well as, expanded tonal harmony as mentioned above. The form of this music is ABACA (+Coda), which implies a rondo form. Hence, students should understand the style of the music.
By listening to important repertoire from neoclassicism, students would better understand the style of ‘Festival on Earth’. As students in secondary school are usually not familiar with this kind of music, it will be a good example to listen to Prokofiev’s First Symphony the 3rd movement as they will find many similarities to the set piece. This 1.5-minute masterpiece will be able to guide the understanding of how the music of this style is supposed to be. Proper guidance from instructors is needed to help students better appreciate their own performance.
Brief review of each section
Section A – Beginning to [B]
- The first quaver is almost like a polychord which is more two or more chords sounds at the same time. In the 1st bar, each section has quite a simple chord; saxophone is Bb7, trumpet is C triad, horn is F7 and trombone is G triad. Hence, it would bring an interesting sound if each part produces clear harmony.
- The first three notes of the 2nd bar is of concert A unison. The difference between bar 1 and 2 is quite contrastive, which symbolizes one of the main concepts of the piece.
- The exposition of the main theme starts from bar 6. The key signature of the piece is consistently Bb major, but the tonality of this part is in F major and the key changes between bar 8 to 9. This type of small modulation appears quite frequently in this piece.
- The dynamics and feeling of music suddenly change at bar 13. The use of a metronome is recommended at this part to check the tempo as it is a section prone to slow down. The chords of bar 12 are FM7 – F6/C – FM7, which will produce a minor 2nd – students should perform them with confidence.
- After bar 14, the colour of music changes every few bars, which should be expressed vividly. Having a sound image of the first count of bar 27 is important to play the chromatic decrescendo neatly.
Section B – [B] to [C] “Puppet Show”
- Bass instruments should lead the pulse of music. The consideration of bowing strings might drop a hint on how to play the melody by alto saxophone and trumpet after [B].
- The counter melody by 2nd clarinet/1st horn and flute section should be legato, which gives contrast. A gripping sound effect will be heard if the time lag of crescendo is peaked precisely.
Section A – [C] to [E]
- Musical energy increases in little fragments towards bar 49 from bar 43 even when crescendo isn’t specified.
- The rhythm of dotted quaver and semiquaver should be sharp. It must not be like a 6/8 rhythm. Trumpeters are advised to use the 3rd valve for G-A trill on the bar 48.
- Accompaniment should give way to the lower range melody after [D], where the main theme is played in the key of Bb major. Timpani and snare drum sound should be brought out at bar 58.
Section C – [E] to [F] “Romantic Play”
- The phrase in the key of Ab starts from the second bar of [E]. The first three bars are calm and simple but the first inversion chords bring a warm sound.
- The chromatic counter-melody by horn at bar 65 is a trigger of the expressive mood which makes a striking contrast to previous bars.
- The concert C on the first beat of bar 66 played by 1st clarinet, tenor saxophone, 1st & 2nd trombones and euphonium is an appoggiatura, which can also be analysed as the 9th note of the chord (Bbm9/Db) resolved on the second beat. I feel here is the most beautiful part of this music. The appoggiatura should be accented, which enriches emotion of the music. The music naturally modulates into a relative minor key, namely, F minor, to lead the following section.
Section A and Coda – [F] to the End
- The timpanist should use harder mallets even though he/she should use softer one at bar 65-66 if the conductor chooses the timpanist to play that part.
- This section starts from concert F unison, and major second note, which means that concert G is first added, followed by concert Eb, to develop the music.
- It suddenly becomes light after bar 76, but the lower instruments passage at bar 81-82 makes obvious contrast.
- [G] is the last full appearance of the main theme. Triplets at bar 87-88 should be brought out to make crescendi.
- The gimmicks in bars 89-97 are quite interesting. Music will be natural in any order.
- Chords of the crotchets at bar 98 are like fifth built, notes stacked at perfect fifth interval.
- [I] is the climax of the music. Each treble and lower range instruments group has chords, namely, polychords as well as beginning of the music. Proper balance of percussion makes the music more dramatic.
- If you choose the first ending, slight decrescendo and ritardando could be made to end the music naturally. Producing the softest sound in tune is rather difficult, but becoming completely quiet after the last triangle note will be very impressive.
- If you choose the second ending, percussion including timpani should gain musical energy after bar 112. The pure dominant seventh chord in Bb major, F7, rings at bar 113 and is followed by a triad of Bb major with motif of main theme by alto saxophones and horns. The chords of the last bar are BbM7 – Bb6 – BbM7, which are also the same kinds of chords at bar 12 and 20, which imply the overall outlook of the piece.
This piece can be considered a Grade 3 work. The composer had considered very carefully to make this piece suitable for secondary school students. The range of each instrument is quite comfortable even for secondary school students except young beginners. Bands do not need a very long time to rehearse this piece if the students have certain fundamental skills.
The major difficulties of this piece would be the following three things:
Shorter notes (quavers with staccato)
You will find a lot of staccatos in the score. I guess the composer had kindly added more articulation marks to allow young students have a clearer sound image. In fast tempo music, quavers or semiquavers should be played shorter even if they don’t have staccato or marcato. In other words, notes with staccatos should not be too much short.
Sometimes, young students will try to produce shorter notes almost only by tonguing power. Faster air speed and high air pressure with abdominal muscle support are necessary to produce staccato sound properly. All of ADSR (attack, decay, sustain, and release) is needed for every single note.
Some sections of this piece have lesser instruments playing, resulting in a feel of a chamber music sound. Thinner orchestration is one of the characteristics of neoclassicism, which produces clearer contrast and more vivid coloring. In other words, band music colour would be dull if many instruments ring all the time.
Younger students who take up the 2nd or 3rd part of each section may be nervous if they are unable to find the same voice inside their own section. Luckily, this piece does not have any complete solo except 1st clarinet/tenor saxophone at bar 27-34.
Their stress will be better relieved if the conductor provides some information of the other instruments sharing their same role in the band, which will allow the players to have a sense of ensemble playing.
p (piano or soft) dynamics
A lot of p signs are found in this score. It’s quite understandable, in terms of ‘score writing’, to show the contrast more clearly, which classifies this piece as a neoclassicism work.
However, students must understand that it means more for the dynamics of entire ensemble or the feeling of music itself. Most of the p dynamic parts have less instruments, so players may have to keep enough sonority to deliver the sound to the audiences.
On the other hand, conductors must be careful to maintain proper balance between the melody and the accompaniment especially in large size bands.
Suggestions for Conductors
As elaborated above, it’s not easy for secondary school students to understand this style of music. This score however, shows great potential for striking contrasts and vivid colours to be created in the music. Conductors have to study the score carefully, build up a positive image of music, and try to convey it to your students.
Conducting gestures would help to transmit your musical image, but the first priority should always be showing a steady tempo to students. Conductors are advised to keep in mind that tempo can be lost very easily when music suddenly become soft. You have to find the best balance between music expression and tempo control for your own band.
From the score, the composer has written this piece with full of consideration. His high composition skills can be derived from the refined harmony work, even though the difficulty of this piece is quite moderate.
I hope that students can appreciate the music and showcase the musicality of your bands and ‘Festival on Earth’ at the upcoming Singapore Youth Festival!