I was fortunate in high school and college to be part of several community bands with conductors who were unafraid to put anything in front of us, and we played a bit of everything. In college I had excellent band directors, all of whom were dedicated to finding good, underplayed music. Overall, I had a wide range of experiences for someone so young. When I returned to college to pursue a different field, I continued to play in the wind ensemble. When the director passed out Pines of Rome and asked who had ever played it, I was one of only three who had. The director laughed and said that I had been around so long I didn’t count.
Earlier this fall when we asked some notable composers to cite underplayed works, one by another composer, and one they had written. I was somewhat surprised to see that many of the titles were unfamiliar to me. Peter Menin’s Canzona was often mentioned. I found a performance on YouTube and realized that the work was unfamiliar. The same held true for many of the other chestnuts that were recommended. I never assume that I know everything, or even all that much, but this is one of those times in which I was amazed by how much I didn’t know.
It is mind-boggling to think about the volume of great band music that has been written. I would choose a concert of music by Grainger over that of Persichetti, but I know some individuals who would choose the opposite. This doesn’t change the seemingly universal consensus that both produced great works.
The larger question is how to find the buried treasures of band music. Such recommendations usually travel by word of mouth, and certain pieces become regional favorites but remain largely unknown in other areas. Some have not been widely played recently and remain unknown to most directors. I am one of those people who is terrible at remembering names, from people I meet to titles of books, movies, and music. I remember enjoying a piece I played in the Illinois All-State band in the early 1990s. It was catchy and interesting, but I simply cannot remember the title or composer, only that it was primarily in 118.
If you have a lost favorite work, something that you, students, and audiences enjoy, please pass it on to us. We would love to bring more attention to the neglected gems of band music.
– Dan Blaufuss