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Sharing Favorites

Dan Blaufuss | October 2013

    The beginning of autumn marks a new season in the community band in which I play. Because I am also in a chamber ensemble with the conductor, I got a sneak peek at what was scheduled for fall. Our upcoming concerts will include Holst’s Second Suite, Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, and a title I hadn’t seen in a long time, Florentiner March by Julius Fucík.
    After quartet rehearsal, I rushed home and listened to the march on YouTube. Although I could remember the beginning trumpet and piccolo solos easily, I had forgotten just how beautiful the trio was. Although I’m a sucker for a well-placed augmented chord, the haunting melody is difficult to let go of. This bit of nostalgia led to a night of revisiting some other favorite marches.
    I haven’t played March of the Belgian Paratroopers by Pierre Leemans since eighth grade, when I was first-chair tuba in the Illinois Music Educators Association District Eight band, but I can still sing both the melody and the fun bass line. Oddly enough, one feeling I associate with this piece is sheer terror. If memory serves, the tune modulates from F to F# for eight measures, during which the tuba part is marked “one player only.” I definitely remember the girl sitting next to me saying, “You know you have to play that hard part, right?” To my great relief, the conductor told us to cross out those eight measures before we started rehearsing. It seems silly to be afraid of sharp keys or accidentals now, but things look differently in junior high.
    Another favorite march is National Emblem by Edwin Eugene Bagley. Called “as perfect a march as a march can be” by Frederick Fennell and perhaps Sousa’s favorite march that he didn’t write, my first exposure to this piece had nothing to do with the march itself. The beginning of the Trio is borrowed for the TubaChristmas arrangement of “Jingle Bells.” I don’t remember where I first actually played National Emblem, but I am sure I must have thought, “So that’s where that came from!” I was probably also thinking, as some tuba players are wont to do, that it would be fun to take that first Ab in the Trio down an octave.
    Valdres by Johannes Hanssen popped to mind as I was exploring old favorites. I am fairly certain I last played this in the 1990s, and it was not one that I could sing from memory at first, but everything came rushing back as I heard it. Much like Florentiner, it has a wonderful Trio melody, although this one feels more soothing and folksy than haunting, even as it builds in volume and intensity. I have actually been considering making part of this section into a ringtone for my cell phone.
    I tend to seek comfort and practicality over adventure and style; I think this mentality is what also makes it so easy for me enjoy returning to favorite compositions. This is not to say that I avoid new music, even if it isn’t necessarily something I would be able to hum on the way home. I have met people who, whether the subject is food or an activity or music, refuse to deviate even slightly from what is familiar and comfortable, and I have met others who refuse to return to something once they have tried it and I do not understand either extreme. Clinging only to the familiar is the surest way to stagnate, and discarding everything old means never being able to share the joy of a favorite with others. In a witty webcomic called xkcd, the artist once hypothesized that for each thing that supposedly everybody knows, each day roughly 10,000 lucky people learn about it for the first time.
    This, I think, is one of the wonderful qualities about musicians. I have never met one who falls into either of the extremes mentioned above. We all have favorites, as well as an innate eagerness to hear something new, and each day the opportunity exists to either be one of the lucky ones to hear something for the first time or to do the same for someone else. Revisit an old (or new) favorite and play it for your students – or share it with us by posting it on our Facebook page. It might be something I’ve never heard, and I am eager to give it a listen.