About this Recording
8.573405 - Wind Band Music - THURSTON, R. / PUCKETT, J. / WILBY, P. / WILLIAMS, J. / EWAZEN, E. (Air Force Blue) (United States Air Force Band, L.H. Lang)

Air Force Blue: Music for Wind Band


Senior Master Sgt. Robert Thurston: Time Travels

Time Travels features the exquisite compositional talent of the Band’s chief arranger Senior Master Sgt. Robert Thurston. In describing this work he has written,

“I composed Time Travels to highlight the virtuosity of my brilliant musical colleagues in The United States Air Force Band. There is no underlying programmatic idea or structure; it is a free—form caprice, moving almost improvisationally from one idea to the next, wherever my ears happened to lead me that day. As I was completing Time Travels in early September 2012, I was saddened to learn of the death of Dr. James Croft, one of my teachers and mentors at Florida State University, and a tremendous musical and personal influence. It was at Dr. Croft’s urging that I auditioned as an arranger for The U.S. Air Force Band in 1993—a life—altering decision that still reminds me of Jim Croft as someone who cared about his students long after they graduated, who instinctively understood their gifts, and who never stopped trying to help them find their place in the world. Time Travels is gratefully dedicated to his memory.”

Time Travels was premièred by The U.S. Air Force Concert Band under the baton of Col. Larry H. Lang at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago on December 19, 2012.

Joel Puckett: Asimov’s Aviary

Asimov’s Aviary was commissioned by The U.S. Air Force Band and was premièred on December 19, 2012, at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago. The title references Isaac Asimov (who created the Three Laws of Robotics and helped to define the concept of serious science fiction) and the Micro-Aviary at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, Ohio. The Micro-Aviary is part of the Air Force Research Lab, whose mission is to design the next generation of undetectable robotic drones, which will take the form of tiny insects and birds.

Currently on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music of Johns Hopkins University, composer Joel Puckett remarked, “I frequently imagined Asimov dreaming of an aviary far in the future where robotic insects and birds were given life and flew around in constant electronic swarms. I also found myself thinking bout the excitement that the researchers at the Micro-viary would feel if they were able to show their creations to Asimov, and how amazed he would have been to see how quickly his ideas have become a reality.”

Puckett dedicated Asimov’s Aviary to the men and women at the Air Force Research Lab at Wright- Patterson Air Force Base.

Philip Wilby: Dawn Flight

Dawn Flight evokes British composer Philip Wilby’s vision of the experience preparing for and achieving flight with airplanes from a bygone era. The opening measures depict the solemn calm of the morning and then the music further builds as the planes begin their trip.

“It is New Year’s Day in Lealholme, situated in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, England. It is early on a bright sunny morning, but there is a bite in the air and frost on the ground.

“In a field stand two 1918 Bi-planes. Into the stillness of the morning walk a small group of people. Suddenly, s the propellers are spun round and the machines roar into life, the aeroplanes climb into the matchless blue sky of the early morning.

“They soar and dive in exultant mock combat.”

Wilby has written for many different instruments and ensembles, including piano, organ, voice and wind ensemble. However, he is best known for his contributions to the brass band repertoire. Wilby, a trained violinist, performed as a member of The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as well as the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

As a composer, he garnered acclaim with his first brass band composition, The New Jerusalem (1990), written for the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. Wilby is adept at transcribing music of the brass band idiom to wind orchestra and brings an advanced harmonic language to his compositions.

John Williams: Call of the Champions
arranged by Technical Sgt. Kenneth F. Soper

Call of the Champions was composed by John Williams for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The piece begins with the chorus declaring, “Citius! Altius! Fortius!” (Faster! Higher! Stronger!) which is the motto of the modern Olympic games. This arrangement was created by Technical Sgt. Kenneth Soper, a French horn player with the United States Air Force Academy Band in Colorado Springs, Colo. Born February 8, 1932, John Towner Williams Jr. is considered to be one of the greatest film composers of all time. In 1952, Williams was drafted into the United States Air Force. As part of his assignment, Williams conducted and arranged music for the Air Force Band in California.

Following his service, Williams studied at The Juilliard School in New York and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. Finally, he returned to the west coast to begin work as an orchestrator at film studios. In his long career, Williams has composed some of the most recognizable film scores in cinematic history, including the music for the Star Wars saga, Superman, Jaws, the Indiana Jones series, ET the Extra-Terrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, three Harry Potter films and Lincoln. Williams has five Academy Awards, four Golden Globe awards and 21 GRAMMY® awards to his credit. The United States Air Force is certainly proud to call him one of our own.

Eric Ewazen: Flight

I. A View from the Heavens

Eric Ewazen is a renowned American composer who was born in 1954 and came to prominence in the 1990s. Possessing a unique compositional style, he sometimes evokes hints of other iconic American composers such as Aaron Copland and Paul Creston. A considerably versatile composer, Ewazen has written for orchestra, wind ensemble, chamber ensembles, voice and piano. In addition to composing, Ewazen also serves as a professor of Composition at The Juilliard School, a position he has held since 1980. His desire to teach was fueled in part by the excellent instruction he received from such influential teachers as Samuel Adler, Milton Babbitt, Gunther Schuller and Joseph Schwanter.

In 2001, under the command of then Maj. Larry H. Lang, the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band in Hampton, Va., commissioned Eric Ewazen to compose a work celebrating the 100th anniversary of powered flight. The result was a three-movement work simply titled, Flight. It is a programmatic journey through the ever-changing skies and landscapes encountered while flying. The first movement, A View from the Heavens, depicts the beauty and splendour of the earth unfolding below with its vast array of magical colours and gentle clouds floating over the land. The composer sets the stage for the subsequent storm that is to come, with a return to calm and peacefulness by the end of the work. Ewazen once stated that music is “a window of our times,” and that it is a “... reflection of any given period of time.Flight celebrates not only the long, arduous journey towards powered flight, but also reflects the colourful and proud heritage of the United States Air Force.

Bruce Yurko: Red Tail Skirmish

Commissioned by The United States Air Force Band, Red Tail Skirmish was premièred by the Band’s Ceremonial Brass in January 2012. It is dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen who were the first African-American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces, serving in World War II in the Army Air Corps. Despite tremendous racial discrimination, these men, also known as “Red Tails” because of the unique crimson colour displayed on the tail section of their aircraft, trained and flew with distinction and received the Congressional Gold Medal for valour and performance. Their bravery amongst such adversity has inspired generations of young Airmen. Composed by New Jersey music educator and composer Bruce Yurko, Red Tail Skirmish honours the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen through a musical tour-de-force that depicts the tension, thrill and excitement of an aerial dogfight. It is a highly challenging and fast- paced work for brass and percussion ensemble. The Band’s Airmen-musicians proudly honour the Tuskegee Airmen with this commission and recording.

Senior Master Sgt. Robert Thurston: High Flight

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of: Wheeled and soared and
swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind, I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Shortly before the United States entered World War II, a 19-year-old American named John Gillespie Magee Jr. joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was sent to serve in England. He was killed when his Spitfire collided with another British plane during a training flight on December 11, 1941.

While serving in Europe, the then Lieutenant Magee was so inspired one day that he wrote a sonnet on the back of a letter to his parents. His poem, “High Flight,” celebrates not only the joy of flying, but the wondrous thrill of seeing creation from a whole new point of view. Magee’s beautiful poem has become as much a part of the Air Force’s heritage as “Off we go into the wild blue yonder...” It has also inspired many different musical settings.

Senior Master Sgt. Robert Thurston, the Air Force Band’s chief arranger, captures the spirit of this poem in his original rendering of High Flight. He has written, “In creating this one, I have tried to describe, in sonic terms, that same grand, humbling, dizzying sense of joy and wonder Lieutenant Magee expressed so eloquently in verse. As I wrote, I was always mindful of the hallowed place these lines hold in Air Force culture.”

Gustav Holst: The Planets

I. Mars, the Bringer of War
arranged by Alfred Reed and Clark McAlister
III. Mercury, the Winged Messenger
arranged by Master Sgt. John Romano
IV. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
arranged by Alfred Reed and Clark McAlister

The Planets remains one of the most impressive and widely enjoyed orchestral works ever written. Composed between 1914 and 1916, English composer Gustav Holst created his masterpiece after taking an interest in astrology several years prior. His intent was that each of the seven movements, distinct in character and thematic material, would express a mood suggested by the astrological sign associated with its particular planet. It débuted in London on September 29, 1918, to much acclaim and was immediately embraced by audiences and critics alike.

The resounding success of The Planets also skyrocketed the reclusive Holst to a fame with which he was never comfortable. Though his later works proved less successful, The Planets remains a mainstay in orchestral literature. Thankfully, numerous transcriptions have made it accessible and popular among wind bands as well, and we’re pleased to present these fine transcriptions by Alfred Reed and Clark McAlister, and our own Master Sgt. John Romano.

Mars, the Bringer of War opens with an ominous, motor-like rhythmic figure. Its relentless pounding paints a cold portrait of war’s destruction, a reality Holst reportedly hated. His good friend and conductor Sir Adrian Boult commented, “I well remember the composer’s insistence on the stupidity of war as well as all its other horrors ... I feel the movement can easily be played so fast that it becomes too restless and energetic and loses some of its relentless, brutal, and stupid power.” Though audiences often assumed Holst had intended Mars to portray the brutality of the first World War, sketches of the work were already complete prior to the war breaking out.

Mercury, the Winged Messenger is a quick-footed scherzo with the melody darting from instrument to instrument. Most notably, it features the celeste. Holst associated the character of the piece with the process of human thought, thus the construct of the movement as the melody flits from one part of the ensemble to the next.

Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity conveys the astrological significance of Jupiter as benevolent and generous. Though most of the movement is jovial and lively, the English tune introduced toward the middle is in large part responsible for its popularity. Reminiscent of a solemn carol, the melody was later arranged as the hymn tune Thaxted, named after the village where Holst lived for many years. Adapted to fit Sir Cecil Spring-Rice’s poem, “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” the music was also used to help the British express their strong sense of patriotism in response to the human cost of World War I. In addition, the tune was incorporated in the hymn O God beyond all praising. More recently, it has been used as the theme of the Rugby Union World Cup since 1991.

Writers: Master Sgt. Ryan Dolan,
Master Sgt. Janice Carl,
Master Sgt. Marc Dinitz,
Master Sgt. Brooke Emery,
Technical Sgt. Ani Berberian

Editors: Chief Master Sgt. Jennifer Pagnard,
Chief Master Sgt. Jennifer Pagnard,
Senior Master Sgt. Michael Piersol,
Senior Master Sgt. Philip Krzywicki

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