Washington, DC -- style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;">The Marine Band will release its annual educational recording in December 2017. Recently, Assistant Communication Strategy Chief Gunnery Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali sat down with Col. Jason K. Fettig to learn more about this year’s CD: Arioso.
Ghadiali: How was Arioso conceived?
Fettig: This CD project started with James Stephenson’s Symphony No. 2, Voices, which we commissioned and premièred at The Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in 2016. I knew that this piece really should be recorded because it is such a tremendous addition to the repertoire. So I wanted to find a collection of music that would complement the symphony. Symphony No. 2 is subtitled Voices, and it was inspired by the nature of voices and singing and how voices relate to music. So it sparked this idea for me that the voice was the oldest instrument in human history. Before any other external instruments were created, we had the human voice. So everything on the CD is connected to Symphony No. 2 and this concept of voices.
Ghadiali: How did you determine which pieces to record for Arioso?
Fettig: Whenever I select a collection of music for a CD, I want to always include a little bit of something from different categories. I want to make sure we have some new music; I also want to make sure we have some substantial music from the core concert band repertoire—music that students and professionals are playing on a regular basis and works that are central to our collection of music in the band world.
For our recording, it was also important for me that there be some sort of thread that runs through all the repertoire. Something that ties it together, that is thought provoking, and perhaps makes you hear music maybe a little differently if you know there are connections between the pieces. But at the same time, there should be variety in a recording as well. The thread doesn’t mean that everything sounds the same, but quite the opposite. It should showcase the diversity of the repertoire we have for symphonic band.
It’s also an important initiative in the Marine Band to include music that comes from all different places in the spectrum of band music, from original pieces that were written specifically for winds, brass, and percussion, to transcriptions of great orchestral pieces. That heritage of transcribing music from other instruments to the concert band is a valuable part of our history as a concert band and something we’ve done in the Marine Band for centuries.
Ghadiali: Tell us about the collection of music on Arioso.
Fettig: As I looked for pieces that could be connected to Symphony No. 2, Voices, I realized that there’s a lot of band music that is inspired by and based on original songs. Probably one of the most famous of these is Gustav Holst’s Second Suite in F for Military Band. The Second Suite is entirely based on British folk tunes, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to pair that cornerstone of band repertoire with Jim’s brand new symphony.
The collection of pieces on Arioso represents a wide variety of music, some of which was written for professionals and some of which is often played by high school and college bands. The Holst Suite in particular is an important addition to this collection. It helped establish the military band and the concert band as an important ensemble in classical music in the early part of the 20th century. I thought this was a great time to record this staple in our repertoire and have it stand as an example for students to hear how the Marine Band plays this particular work.
In Symphony No. 2, Jim actually has a mezzo-soprano singing with the band, but there’s no text. It’s simply the quality of the human voice mixed in with the instruments. So I started to think about what other pieces in the standard repertoire also had this kind of singing. Perhaps the most famous of these is Joseph Schwantner’s and the mountains rising nowhere. This was a landmark piece written in 1977 which essentially changed the rules of what a wind ensemble could sound like. He was taking the normal instruments of wind ensemble and augmenting them with all kinds of special techniques, unusual instruments, aleatoric or improvised passages, strictly notated passages, and adding things in like the band members singing, whistling, and playing crystal glasses. He created this sound that was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before and it really broke open new ground for other composers to use the wind ensemble’s conventional sounds and mix that with unusual sounds to create something completely new. So the pieces by Holst and Schwantner are kind of on opposite ends of the concert band spectrum of the 20th century, but both are connected by the concept of voices and singing.
We also recently had the privilege to première the band version of American composer Jonathan Leshnoff’s Clarinet Concerto which was written specifically for Ricardo Morales, principal clarinet of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Ricardo came to perform the concerto with us in concert, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to make a recording of this concerto and have Ricardo be our guest soloist. Ricardo is an incredible musician. He is not only able to play anything that’s ever been written for the clarinet, but he also plays with such a gorgeous singing sound and with such tremendous expression. Jonathan wrote this concerto with those qualities in mind, and the concerto highlights all of Ricardo’s skills, from tremendously fast and virtuosic passages to the outer passages which are soulful and beautiful and sound as though they are being sung by the human voice. That quality permeates the entire piece and made a wonderful fit for this theme of voices across this recording.
Beginning the disc is Johann Sebastian Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue set for orchestra by the great British composer Edward Elgar and transcribed for band by our own Assistant Director Captain Ryan Nowlin. I wanted to open the recording with Bach—even though this piece was not written for voices, all of Bach’s music has a vocal quality. He wrote so much sacred music during his lifetime for choruses and voices that even his instrumental works have a vocal quality. So I thought it was a terrific way to open the recording and set the tone for all of the music that would follow.
Ghadiali: What was it like having composers participate in the recording process?
Fettig: We are very fortunate this year to have played and recorded music by several living composers so we were able to collaborate directly with them. For performing musicians there really is no more enlightening experience than being able to work directly with those who create the music that we play. Often when we are playing music by those who have passed, we are guessing to some degree what their intent was based on the printed music. But when you are working with a living composer, you know exactly what he or she intends and you are able to realize that in a very direct and very accurate way.
While we were recording Arioso, we had both Jonathan Leshnoff and James Stephenson in session with us. So we were able to collaborate with them, get their feedback, make adjustments, and be sure that what we were recording was as close to what they intended as possible. We were also able to collaborate with Joseph Schwantner from afar. I was able to communicate with him and send him recordings throughout the process so that I could get his feedback and make adjustments on his seminal work and the mountains rising nowhere.
Ghadiali: What do you hope listeners will take away from Arioso?
Fettig: I hope this CD represents a collection of music that is connected in an important and interesting way but also represents music that spans a good part of the history of our repertoire. It was a great joy to record and I am so very excited to be able to share this collection of music with music lovers and music students all over the world.
Listen to Arioso Now
Arioso was recorded May 8-12, 2017, at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall at Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria campus, after performing the program live on May 7. Marine Band compact discs are distributed free of charge to schools, libraries, and radio stations. To be added to the distribution list, sign up here. Not an educator? You can still access Marine Band recordings on the band’s YouTube Channel.