Death or Glory but glory

recorded by wild Up at the Los Angeles Philharmonic National Composer Intensive

This piece draws from my relationship with British and American brass band music at the turn of the 20th century - the short, fast, chipper marches of the era when industralization was thrusting economies into dangerous economic territory and European and American nationalism was pushing to levels that would contribute to the devastating World War era.

When I began to re-vist this type of music a few months ago - after my early acquaintance with it as an enthusiastic participant in school concert bands - it was merely an ironical and amusing thing to listen to. I was charmed by it's indominable optimism and general softness and by the irresistably nostalgic picture it creates for the beginning of a promising new century. But after some weeks of repeated listening to marches including Robert Browne Hall's 1895 Death or Glory, upon which part of my piece is based, I began to understand that the music is not as innocent as it presents itself to be. The fact that this seemingly benign and lovely music was almost always played by military bands and often used to revel young men to join the armies of their recklessly nationalistic and proud countries put a sickness into something I had come to love quite sincerely. I now understand this music to also be the propoganda of war mongers who caused the deaths of countless millions in the first World War.

So my piece is an attempt to reconcile the joy of a historical fantasy with the dirt of its actual subcontext. In this piece I work to distort the tropes of a genre in order to encourage its re-evaluation. I place its common rhythmic motives into a cloud of delicate non-standard string techniques. I force its powerful and disciplined percussion into impotence by eliminating sticks and forcing the performers to improvise technique with their bare hands. And at times fetishize its brass protagonists into sultry long tones and at at times dissect them into extremes of pressure and vibrato. I want with this piece to make the statement that nationalism and its artefacts can be beautiful and tempting but can also be dangerous. Even if we do indulge in them from time to time, it is important to understand their danger in the contemporary political context - especially now, considering the current political arena.