I can see that I don\'t even have to summon the time to be here to have a presence, judging by the delightful Holst-posts in another thread.
First of all, to whoever said the \"trumpet solo gave me chills,\" thanks. That, of course, was me and not any sample library. I\'d rather hit myself in the head with a pipe than try to get a solo out of samples, no matter what their quality--if I can actually play the instrument in question. That\'s the highest joy of all, to play.
Which brings me to my point, if I have one.
Samplers and sample libraries are amazing tools. They are, however, labor intensive. I spent hours on end for a couple of days programming that piece for Dan, for no other reason than I liked his library, have always liked the piece, and thought it would be a fun challenge. The trumpet solo took all of thirty seconds--I got it on the first take, except for one funky attack (that Dan liked) but I edited a little because it was just a little TOO human for the overall piece.
Don\'t blame Dan\'s library for my interpretation.
I have been lucky to conduct that piece with real live human beings. I am something of a Holst-o-phile, and I never turn down the opportunity to do that piece because it\'s fun.
Let me address some issues:
1) It sounds MIDI
Sure it does, in a few spots. Not as many as you think. It mostly sounds like a good tight wind ensemble.
Did I quantize it? Yep, about 70%. Does that sound \"MIDI?\" Well, whatever. I\'m not in this to prove anything. I insist upon tight playing when I use live players, too. Why is it that people want to condemn tightening up rhythmically?
I studied wind conducting from a variety of folks. Mainly Jim Keene (for years), but also from Elizabeth Green, Arnald Gabriel, and even good old bastardo-loco William D. Revelli. I say that, because I\'m proud of what I\'ve learned and who I\'ve learned it from. I am darn lucky to have that background, and people who understand the biz know that it\'s a fairly world-class educational pedigree. Sure, it\'s just education, and we have all heard how meaningful and meaningless that all is. But I didn\'t just fart that piece out. I have a background in interpreting works of that type, and my choices were intentional. The British military band tradition is a tight-playing tradition. I made the choice to keep the timing very tight and metronomic because that is the way this piece is intended to be played. I WANTED it to be super-tight, even superhuman tight. By removing the choice of rhythmic variability, one gains ground in the clarity of line and in the dovetailing of the various parts.
To whoever said \"it sounded more like a big MIDI pipe organ,\" on one level I\'d thank you very much. Exactly the intention, and that is a very legitimate school of wind ensemble performance. Keene calls it the pyramid blend, but essentially it puts chord tones in the same dynamic relationship to their root as they\'re represented in the overtone series. When done properly (and with an acoustic ensemble, which isn\'t stuck in equal temperament, you even go so far as to tune the beats out of the intervals) this results in one big mass of sound. There are other ways. I chose the one that I believe reflects the acknowledged mainstream interpretation of Holst military works.
2) Percussion too up front.
I\'ll disagree here. Perhaps putting the second movement of a larger work out there all by itself is partly to blame for this. For that, I take responsibility...I didn\'t have time to do the whole thing, so I did the shortest movement. However, I think there\'s a real misconception of interpretation that thinks all instruments should necessarily be \"in balance.\" Fact is, in this movement of this piece, the tambourine, triangle, and timpani play very specific programmatic roles that tie the second dance-like movement to the initial Chaconne and the ultra-militaristic third movement. One cannot be too up front with those parts, if the entire piece is to come off successfully. They are like \"visiting motives\" from elsewhere in the work, and as such, they are musical equals with the ENTIRETY of what\'s going on in the second movement. The percussion motives don\'t share a peer-to-peer relationship with the other individual parts in this movement.
Perhaps this was what Donnie referred to when he said that he could tell \"I knew how the piece went.\" In fact, I do. If you are listening to the piece without internally hearing the Chaconne fade away, and the big March issuing forth afterwards, then you are probably unaware of the movement\'s role in the larger context of the piece.
3) \"The woodwinds are least expressive where they should be most expressive.\"
Again, don\'t take Dan\'s library to task for my interpretation.
I have a very strong idea about how this piece should be played, and one of the things that I have always stressed is that it is extremely easy to run this movement right into the ground by over-romanticizing legato sections. This is an extremely neo-classical work. Don\'t let the modal folkiness and shape of the lines fool you. It\'s a little part of a big picture. Dwelling on it expressively, and heating up the woodwind lines, are the mark of an immature interpretation...making a mountain out of a musical molehill. There aren\'t many good commercial recordings of this piece. Probably the late seventies Cleveland Winds/Fennell version is the most widely known, but this movement probably is the worst thing on that album, because the orchestra players were really stretching out too much. You can almost hear poor Fennell dragging them along as they chew the scenery on every friggin\' note. His Eastman recording is more characteristic, but not commonly available as it\'s decades old.
There aren\'t two functional parts to the intermezzo, one quick and one expressive. It\'s one quick little flurry...intended to come and go like a wisp of air. The written note lengths speak for themselves, without any additional expressive mojo. To interpret Holst military pieces in any other fashion is to misinterpret them. It\'s a common mistake, though, and I don\'t blame young musicians for wanting more warmth in the lines. As in the Cleveland Winds example above, even experienced players like to get caught up in that little trap. I choose to strip out that level of expression in favor of presenting the motives as \"dead bare\" as I can. There should be, in fact, a single, metronomic drive from beginning to end with no trace of rubato. The real point of interest here is the tossing of the melodic \"ball\" from section to section seamlessly, and the orchestration choices Holst made here that were unique in the wind music of the day.
Wind Ensemble works rarely record with as much vivacity of tone as a live performance. Ask anyone who records them often, and they will tell you that the best wind ensembles in the world tend to sound very \"grey\" when recorded, compared to recordings of equally talented orchestras which benefit from a much wider timbral range in the ensemble itself. Wind music, especially that of the period we\'re discussing, has a certain monochromatic quality...timbral shifts tend to be more about variations in one big grey thing, not radical contrasts. Exactly the weakest vulnerability of recording technology, and especially MP3 compression on top of that. I\'m certainly not making excuses or apologizing for this--it\'s something we all fight.
One thing I was EXTREMELY curious to see is if this phenomenon is shared when constructing a piece from samples.
The answer is yes, perhaps even more so than in an acoustic setting. From an engineering perspective the phenomenon is quite easy to explain. You\'re dealing with a 50-60 piece ensemble whose instruments ALL share a common middle tessitura. There\'s only so much tonal room in any recording.
IN SHORT: I stand by my little Holst demo, it\'s interpretation, and the fine sample materials from Dan Dean, Nick Phoenix, and Donnie Christian which brought it to life. It was several hours of good challenging fun for me...I don\'t use that many notes in any TEN pieces of music I write!!
It seems very easy for people to criticize work that individuals put forth freely--whether it is a demo or a library. Certainly, my experience with demos has caused me to stop making them. I don\'t have the time to deal with the hassle. You think this is bad? You should see some of the e-mails I\'ve gotten. People seem to have entirely too much time on their hands, that\'s all I can figure. I\'ve actually been cursed. Go figure. What on earth could be so upsetting about such a little musical trifle?
I\'ll say this...again. If you want to criticize someone\'s work, then you\'ll have a lot more credibility if you throw down a better example. That score is available at a very reasonable price. The sample libraries in question are available at fair and reasonable prices, and many other fine choices exist as well. I will entertain future criticisms about my interpretation choices and sample choices on that piece the very moment someone takes the time and trouble to knock it out themselves and put it up on Al Gore\'s fine internet.
Get ready to work, though. Maybe you\'ll respect the effort a little more when YOU start playing in those ten thousand notes and realize that cleaning it up is about as hard as rehearsing a band of chimpanzees. And then trying to mix those fifty or so parts that are all competing for the same tonal tessitura. Otherwise, it\'s just words, words, words--with absolutely nothing backing them. I\'ll have a nice plate of crow sandwiches prepared when you\'re ready to eat them!!
Funny, I did this little demo completely as a lark, and when it was done it made me smile. What a simple pleasure...I thought it was a wondrous thing that using a computer, I was able to bring a historic piece of music to life--a little spirit of a fellow musician come and gone. I have played it for some of my friends who enjoy successful careers in wind conducting, and it made them smile as well, because it\'s just a funny little wonderful thing. Don\'t let your expectations and your internal rules for what something should and shouldn\'t sound like, or be, ruin music for you. I speak from experience here--we were all young once, and focused more on the peripheral issues. As you grow older, and hopefully wiser, you begin to realize that ultimately, if music can grace your face with a brief smile then it has done its job. Our role as musicians is to touch lives.
Let me just say this: Next time you want to criticize a piece of music or a sample library--STOP--and instead, redirect that effort into bringing some more music (or a library of your own) into being. You will be honoring the brotherhood of musicians a lot more.