by Ken Tilger, Band Education Specialist –
It’s already October, and I can’t think of a better way to start the month than by shining the Stanton’s Spotlight on The Witching Hour by Randall Standridge for concert band. It’s my favorite, and probably the best, new piece this year!
From the description, “This macabre work entices the listener into that bewitching time of night when dark forces gather to celebrate and do their mischief. Four interconnected themes are announced by haunting chime statements…” The interconnected themes in different settings and styles combined with the ominous grandfather clock chimes tie the four sections of this work into one cohesive whole with each section representing a quarter hour.
The piece opens with an ominous drone in the low winds and the first tolling of the chimes of both warning and mystery – for whom the bell tolls – to great effect.
The first quarter hour features well written and effective auxiliary percussion, chromatic lines and intervals, tremolo effects in some of the woodwinds, and the typical Eastern European sound/dance style a la Transylvania. The synthesized harpsichord adds a ghastly and slightly grating sound that puts this section over the top!
Spells and Incantations
Haunting mallet percussion sets the eerie feeling of the second quarter hour featuring dynamic swells, haunting long tones and disturbing rhythmic interjections in the trumpets (8th notes – 1 beat triplet – 16th notes). This even-odd-even pattern adds to the off-balance feeling of the section.
The Witches’ Dance
Now that the witches have gathered and cast ceremonial spells and incantations, it’s time to cut loose! Heralded by the familiar chime and an ominous timpani roll, this section is an odd meter (5/4 written as 3/4 + 2/4) dance. In the style of an off-beat waltz, we begin with a steady tempo full of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean sonic flavor highlighted by modal 16th note woodwind runs before a gradual accelerando pushes it to the brink of out-of-control ecstasy.
The Witches’ Flight
One last set of chimes leads into a fourth quarter hour of explosive full ensemble playing. This dance-like section is underpinned by driving 8th notes as the witches take to their brooms and our dark celebration drives to the ending!
As always with these heavily programmatic works, there is plenty to teach ranging from mixed meter, to tempo and style changes and transitions, to accidentals that create the proper harmonic effect, to auxiliary percussion instruments and fun, musical effects. These musically exaggerated settings create opportunities that can really enhance both individual and ensemble musicianship in a context that is a blast to play! It is great seasonal programming for this time of year, a fun musical goal for the spring, or a wonderful (and fresh) adjudication alternative. Ohio directors who want a break from the usual band overture, piece with contemporary “edge”, or wind band standards will be glad to know that The Witching Hour is on the Ohio Class B list for 2015!
The Witching Hour is an original compositional masterpiece. It is a study in perfect form and balance. There are sufficient themes to hold on to, yet it is full of great tonalities, effects, and rhythms that fit its theme and bring the piece to life. Every element serves the greater musical narrative. As a result, it has ongoing forward motion and never gets bogged down. It is challenging but not impossible to play, and most importantly, it is a FUN piece of music! All of these elements combine to allow it to hold the performers’ and audience’s attention. In short, it perfectly meets all the criteria mentioned in my recent What I Listen For post, and is why I’m excited to feature it in my first Stanton’s Spotlight post for this school year!
About the Author:
Ken is a former band director, and has been with Stanton’s since 2004. He always feels the urge to read Edgar Allan Poe, the original novels featuring traditional Hollywood monsters, and other macabre tales this time of year, yet never does.