New piece – preview

If you’re hopelessly bored — and if you’re checking this blog with any regularity, you probably are — check out the PDF of the first two full-score pages of the new piece. Thanks to Newman for his notation advice.


Daniel Montoya, Jr. says

Looks really cool, can't wait to hear it. But I have a feeling due to the instrumentation, you're looking at an automatic Grade 4.

John Mackey says

Yeah, that's what Newman said, too. In addition to the instrumentation, it gets progressively more difficult. Lots of exposed solos, etc., and intonation problems like crazy. Oh well. Writing easy music is too damn hard.

Travis Taylor says

You certainly do like those Fortisisisismos don't you?


John Mackey says

Yeah! Fortisisisimos RULE! AEJ joked that I should just call the piece "FFFF."
I really just just wrote "F poss." to indicate loud-as-possible. Even with "FFFF," I still have to say to players, "no, louder."
But this piece has PPPP, too!

Daniel Montoya, Jr. says could just write "p as soft as possible."

Newman says

I'm afraid it's not a 4, either. But that's hardly the point. It's MUSIC. And it's glorious stuff. Everyone will want to play this, no matter the "grade". Which will change depending on who you're talking to, and in what state they reside.

Kevin Howlett says

You could call it "F YOU!!!"

Thanks, I'll be here all week...

Daniel Montoya, Jr. says

True statement, Newm. Music is Music. I guess I've been the Texas PML mindset lately. Oh well...

Michael Markowski says

I see you were serious about the waterphone.... good luck with that! :D

Travis Taylor says

Might as well make a new record and make this number ten comment!


Cathy says

The conversation through most of these comments brings up a question I've had lately, now that I've been conversing with composers. When writing a band piece, do you ever have a "goal" of what grade or difficulty you want to write for? I would think that it really didn't matter; which is what this discussion pretty much says....

Mark Steighner says

This will be really apologies.

First, in regards to the new piece: by most commercial publishers' standards and guidnelines, the piece is probably a grade 4.5 or 5 or 5.5(judging from the first two pages of score and your descriptions). Why? Use of extreme dynamics, changing meters, unconventional notation, and orchestration that calls for things like contrabassoon...not to mention the technical demands of the pitches and rhythms and tuning. Now, if all of those instruments were cross-cued to account for missing or incomplete instrumentation, you could perhaps bring down the grade a little.

The grading system was developed by publishers to help their customers identify suitable music. Unfortunately, it has become something akin to a creative template that by and large results in uninspired, cookie-cutter music. I have a colleague who writes band music for Hal Leonard. Each year he is told to write "5 or 6 grade 2's or 3's" and he has a few months to complete the task. This year, he let the deadline slip and wrote all of the pieces in the space of 2 or 3 weeks. He could do this because he plugged into the formula: a grade 2 piece has x rhythms, x key signatures/modulations, x length, etc. Most commercial publishers literally have a specific set of instructions for changing the grade of a piece..."ok, let's make it a grade 3...make the B section in D major concert and add some eighth/sixteenth rhythms."

My point here, John, is that you are in an incredibly unique and lucky position of writing music for ensembles that can play virtually anything. How cool is it that you can follow your muse wherever it takes you?! Don't EVEN worry about the grade thing. (Now, if your consortium asked for a grade 3, you kinda missed the mark!)

Last thing: a few postings ago you described grade 3 music as that which is played by a "bad high school band." This sorta stuck in my metaphorical craw. Don't confuse quality of performance with difficulty of music. For one thing, despite what I noted above, a lot of great band music (for instance, the Holst and Vaughan Williams suites) is generally graded at 3.5 or 4. Does that make bands who play these works, "bad?" (if so, there are a lot of bad university bands) Due to many factors beyond our control, my bands here in Oregon must play mostly grade 3-4 pieces. Sure, we could play grade 5-6 music, but doing so wouldn't make us better, it would just be poorly played grade 5 music. I'd rather have my band play easier music so we *can* be a good band.

Final comment: if you want to check out some somewhat innovative "easy" band music (by composers with some real world cred, like Michael Colgrass), check out music in the BandQuest series ( If nothing else, for those in the collegiate/academic music world, it's interesting to note what the big commerical publishers think of as having integrity and innovation.

John Mackey says

Wow, I'd no idea any blog entry here would ever generate so many comments!

Briefly, to Mark -- that's not at all what I meant by "grade 3." Often, for this blog, because so many readers have no idea what a euphonium is, I have to simplify some of the music stuff to the most basic level. I can't say "Grade 3 maintains X range, with no leaps larger than Y, and instrumentation limited to Z." For people who don't know band, I went with the lazy description. A piece like "October" is supposedly a Grade 3, and although the technical demands aren't incredibly high, it requires great musicality. So if a band has those skills, they're not a "bad high school band." My mistake was using "bad" when I should have said "less-experienced" or "a high school band with a little less technique."
I also appreciate that players can't play a Grade 5 until they've played a Grade 4, 3, 2, and 1.

Plus, these grade things are silly, and depend on where the band is based. A middle school band in Japan is playing Redline Tango, but it's definitely not a grade 2/3! Japan is just freaky! (And speaking of my note above, they may have the technique, but will those 12-year olds in that middle school band have the musicality to make any music out of Redline Tango?)

Add comment

Your comment will be revised by the site if needed.