After a long hiatus due to the pandemic, I finally get to present my score analysis of this year’s set piece for the Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentation (Secondary School Level) – Tanah di Bawah Angin – quick march for concert band, from both the viewpoints of a band conductor, and the composer himself.
This is not the first time that local composer Kahchun Wong has written for the SYF arts presentation, having previously been commissioned to write March «Sunny Island» in 2017, which I believe had been performed by many students.
To understand this year’s set piece, there is some literacy of classical music required which the composer is usually engaged in, especially on the interpretation of wedges. Therefore, I hope that my views in this article will help both band students and conductors better interpret and express this enjoyable march on the SYF stage.
It is sometimes difficult to understand the music only from your parts. Your musical expression and stamina control would be easier once you understand the total structure of the work.
This piece is made up of two sections with a da capo of the main section.
Introduction / Bb Major
- Bar 1 – 4 (4 bars)
First section / Bb major
- A section (1st strain) – Letter [A] (16 bars) + [B] (16 bars)
- B section (2nd strain) – Letter [C] (16 bars)
- A section recapitulation – Letter [D] (16 bars)
Second (trio) section / Eb major – F major
Di Tanjong Katong, the melody of the trio section, itself has a ternary form as well:
- C section – Letter [E] (16 bars) + [F] (16 bars) / Eb Major
- D section – Letter [G] (32 bars)
- C section – Letter [H] (16 bars) + [I] (16 bars) / F major
Da Capo section / Bb major
The 1st section is entirely repeated.
Ending (coda) section / Bb major
- Figure [J] (6 bars)
In conclusion, this piece has a typical compound ternary form as shown in the table below.
|Introduction||1st section||2nd (Trio) section||1st section|
This form is an authentic march, which is found mostly in European works. For example, Radetzky Marsch by Johann Strauss has a similar structure to Tanah di bawah angin. As the composer mentions on the programme note, something different from the first time is advised. You can get some ideas from the performances of classical or traditional march repertoire.
A Brief Review of Each Section
- The music starts with a unison tutti. Each player needs to have a clear sound image as well as the tempo your band has set.
- The passage ascends chromatically. It may seem simple, but the fingering is difficult for some instruments. For example, repetition between written A# and B for clarinets where the fingering goes across the “break”; and A# and G for trumpet where using the third valve can be considered.
- As the programme note says, wedges should be played “bouncy, but note heavy”, so minims on the second beat have to be enhanced in bars 1, 2 and 4, which brings the driving force of the music.
- The chord of the minim just before [A] is F7 which is the dominant seventh in Bb-major. Even though it is marked sfz, you have to see it resolves on the first beat of the next bar.
- Considering the style of a march, all the notes except those which are slurred should be played in a marcato manner. The light feeling doesn’t come out if the tone shapes are too flat.
- Each player must have a sense of an “on-beat weight” to exhibit the feeling of a march.
- The main theme ([A], [B], and [D]) quite often has suspended chords like bars 7, 11, 27, 33, etc. While counter melodies support the intent of the theme, a richer texture can be delivered if these internal chords are clearly heard.
- Bar 15 is the so-called “bell tone”. Faster air speed, proper air support and clear tonguing will help to play this passage clearly and effectively.
- The harmony after the letter [B] is engaging. The chord of bars 25 – 26 is Bb7 which works as the dominant seventh in the key of Eb. It progresses to Eb after a suspended chord at bar 28. Then, the Eb-minor chord, the parallel key of the Eb major, rings at bar 29, which changes the atmosphere.
- The dynamics mark of [C] is mf. It’s much softer than previous dynamics, ff. You will have a large room for the crescendo and sfz at bars 47 and 48 if the loudness of [C] is controlled well.
- From the pick-up of letter [D], the dynamics suddenly change to p and are followed by crescendo and ff. This section is the most dramatic part of this piece. Reducing the number of players could be a good idea for the beginning four bars of the letter [D]. Also, percussion can help a lot to make the crescendo more noticeable in bars 57 – 58. On the other hand, the same harmony as [B] has to be presented here as well.
- An authentic perfect cadence is found at bars 66 – 67, that is, from F7 to Bb, which brings a strong feeling of closure. However, auxiliary chords can be heard in bars 67 – 68, that is, Bb – Eb/Bb – Bb. The Bb7 chord on the second beat in bar 68 is a trigger for the key modulation to Eb major.
Second (Trio) section
- The triangle and castanets work as tempo keepers after letter [E]. As the softer section is prone to slowing down, these percussion instruments and the conductor need to cooperate to show a consistent tempo to the band.
- The melody has many long notes. Players have to consider a good way of breathing which doesn’t break phrases.
- The middle-range accompaniments see short decrescendo shapes many times on every two bars. It of course, doesn’t mean that the tone gradually falls lower. The volume is supposed to be regained every two bars.
- A sudden f and decrescendo appear two bars before [F]. The tone here should be rich but must not be too rough. You have to carefully control the tone and intonation.
- A counter melody enters at two bars after [F]. It has mp, a crescendo and then a decrescendo, even though the melody has p. The counter melody should have a certain presence to show the difference from [E]. Careful balance control against the melody should also be considered.
- The minor-second intervals in the second, tenth and twelves bars of [G] are the “beauties” of this folk song. A muted trumpet tends to get sharp. The triggers or adjusting of the tuning pipe help to secure better intonation.
- After [G], making a contrast between the first 8 bars which start from mf with crescendo/decrescendo, and the subsequent 8 bars preserving the p, makes this phrase section more engaging.
- The key modulation happens two bars before [H] where a C7 chord, which works as the dominant in the key of F major, rings. The concert E in the melody determines the tonality. The treble-range instruments are expected to give different colours here.
- The 1st clarinet has a trill on written C in bars 151 and 152. It would be good to provide the clarinet players with trill-fingering charts to guide their playing.
- The music energy is then developed by three tutti minims just before [I]. The following bars form the grandest section in this piece, before the music reaches the climax when a dominant motion occurs four bars before the da capo.
Da Capo section / Bb major
- The music itself is completely the same as the first section. It is important to follow the composer’s programme notes, which is to do something different from the first time. You may get some ideas from the composer’s conducting videos after studying the scores well. Many of his recordings are available on YouTube and Apple Music etc.
- I’d like to suggest an example: the tune of Chan Mali Chan is played as the counter melody of [C] (second strain). The impression varies if you can find a different balance from the first time.
Ending (coda) section
- Although the passage is descending in scale, you must keep the intensity on the second count of bar 170.
- Both the syncopated rhythm and intonation are important to play the concert-Bb unison after the second beat of bar 171.
Ensemble build-up and tempo control
The most relatable instrument that keeps a consistent tempo in a march is the bass drum. Tempo-control wise, it’s much more dominant in the band. Hence, a reliable percussionist should play the bass drum even though the sheet music seems pretty simple, and all players must listen to it.
The percussion and bass sections also need to cooperate and set stable on-beats, and have the rest of the band playing melodies and countermelodies on top of that; which is the fundamental of ensemble building. If the percussion and bass sections rely largely on the sections playing the melodies; or those who play melodies are not listening to those playing accompaniment, the ensemble gets disrupted fairly easily. Conductors should be encouraging these sections to listen to each other in rehearsals.
Dynamics control is the first step of music expression. The tempo is, of course, consistent in a march. Hence, the concept of creating contrast by dynamics is more important than making the performance colourful. Conductors need to comprehend this idea in context, and determine the difference between soft and loud dynamic levels. For example, if the current dynamics is mf, and the succeeding one is ff, then the current dynamic level should be quite soft.
Producing soft sounds is not easy, especially for young students. As the tempo is prone to slowing down when the dynamics get soft, a metronome will be of great help in helping the students gain a sense of tempo keeping. Additionally, proper air speed contributes to maintaining the sonority of the band sound. While air speed tends to be in proportion to dynamics, they should be thought about separately. The tone colour, rather than the volume, should work more to deliver the “soft” feeling of the music. The way of tonguing, as well as the air speed, affects the tone colour vastly.
Suggestions to Conductors
It is of top priority for the conductor to show an accurate and consistent tempo to the players. The most important player whom you should communicate with is the bass drum player, who is the pivot of the ensemble. If the pulse of conducting gestures and the bass drum beats are synchronised, it gives performers a sense of security playing in the band.
Furthermore, the acoustics in the concert hall is quite different from your band room, which may confuse students as the sound that they usually catch cannot be heard on the stage. While it is good to add in some music expressions, you as a conductor should not focus too much on melodies and your conducting shouldn’t be too fancy. A stable tempo brings about the best effects when you play the march.
It has been four years since I last wrote a score analysis of the SYF set piece. This also means that our social activities are gradually returning to normal. In addition, it will also be the first time for most students to perform a set piece at the secondary school level.
By reading through the article, I hope that the more you understand the piece, the more you can enjoy the music. I believe that it will enrich the preparation journey for all students and conductors, so that you will enjoy rehearsing and performing the piece as much as possible on the SYF stage.
Keiichi Kurokawa was born in Saitama, Japan in 1980. He graduated from Saitama University majoring in East Asian Cultures. He participated in wind band club while in school, playing trumpet in junior high and high school, and bass and alto clarinet at university. He began arranging during high school and since then has made many arrangements and compositions for wind band and chamber ensembles.
His arrangement, American Riverside Medley (Wind Band / Brass Band) was selected as one of test pieces of Singapore Youth Festival 2014. Almost his works are published from Brain / Bravo Music.
Kurokawa is now a music engraver and editor and a band director. He is a member of Japan Band Directors Association (JBA) and teaches computer music (notation software) at Yamaha Music Avenue Shibuya in Tokyo.