12 March 2015
I come from the band down under
Michael Burch-Pesses has just published his survey of Australian music for concert band, The Band Down Under. He explains how his love of Australian music came about. The Band Down Under can be purchased via Amazon (ebook and hard copy).
I first fell in love with band music from outside the U.S. when I adjudicated a music festival in Canada where the bands had been encouraged to perform a work by a Canadian composer. Until that time I thought I was well versed in band literature, but was embarrassed to find that I didn't know any of the fine music being played. Resolving to correct this deficiency, I spent a sabbatical in Canada and had a marvellous time studying scores and talking with composers.
Although I enjoyed my time in Canada, Australia is the country that has always held a great fascination for me. My grade school fascination with the 'three Ks' (koalas, kangaroos, and kookaburras) matured over time into an interest in Australian history, an enjoyment of the friendliness of Australian people, an appreciation for a well-played didjeridu, and, yes, an enduring fascination for the three Ks and other Australian plant and animal life.
When I became eligible for another sabbatical leave, my wife Jane (the source of many good ideas) said, 'Why don't you go to Australia to research Australian band music?' My sabbatical was approved with only the occasional facetious comment about lying on beaches instead of doing research.
Although I did actually do research, the fine work the Australian Music Centre (AMC) in Sydney is doing to collect and make available the works of Australian composers made my research almost as easy as lying on the beach. I contacted them before I travelled to Australia and they couldn't possibly have been more helpful.
When I showed up at the AMC, Judith Foster and John Davis were very welcoming and accommodating. They allowed me to peruse every band score in their holdings, and every time I encountered a work that I wanted to conduct myself, it was like stumbling across buried treasure. Several interviews and hundreds of emails later, I discovered I had enough material for a book, and (again, at Jane's suggestion and encouragement) self-published The Band Down Under - Australian Composers and Their Works for Band on Amazon. It's available both in electronic form and in hard copy.
The book features current biographies of almost 40 Australian composers, and showcases 106 of their band compositions. Each compositional entry includes a program note, the duration and difficulty level of the piece (from grade 1 to grade 6), the year it was composed, and information on how to obtain the music. An appendix listing works by grade level makes it easy to match band skill level to music, and another appendix lists works with themes related to history, art, and geography. Of course, the book doesn't include every band composition (and includes none by Percy Grainger), but the works inside are extraordinarily well written and represent some of the best of Australian band music.
It is my great hope that the book will spur increased interest in this wonderful music, both in Australia and abroad, and that Australian composers will continue to add to the repertoire!
© Australian Music Centre (2015) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Michael Burch-Pesses is Director of Bands at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, where he conducts the Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band, and teaches courses in conducting and music education. He holds Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in conducting from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He also is the conductor and musical director of the Oregon Symphonic Band. A former Navy bandmaster, he served as Leader of the Naval Academy Band, Assistant Leader of the U.S. Navy Band, and Director of the Commodores, the Navy's official jazz ensemble. Dr. Burch-Pesses is a member of the American Bandmasters Association, President-Elect of the Oregon Band Directors Association, and a founding member of the Oregon chapter of Phi Beta Mu.
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