At SmartMusic we love to hear from composers and arrangers about the things that inspire their work. Recently, composer Vince Gassi shared with us the story behind his 2012 concert band piece “Climb the Mountains Tall.”
Audio provided by Alfred Music Publishing Co., Inc.
Composition notes by Vince Gassi
Poems and paintings are often great inspiration for writing music. “Climb the Mountains Tall” was inspired by “The Dream,” a poem by James Clayton. James’ poem resonated with my desire to travel to new places, meet new people, and learn new things. New experiences enrich our lives and allow us to grow in unexpected and ever interesting ways. In this work, I really tried to capture the spirit of risk involved whenever we step into the unknown and so, the words brave, heroic, and adventurous might spring to mind when you listen to it.
“Climb the Mountains Tall” was commissioned by the Unionville Public School Band in Unionville Canada. I met with their conductor, Will Stokes, to chat about the band, the piece, and the performance. Will’s passion for music and for sharing it with young musicians is impressive. Music educators are some of the most dedicated and hard-working people I know. The truth is, it’s not an easy job, plain and simple (so thank your teacher regularly for all they do).
After deciding on a title, I usually try to create a theme or motif that the piece will be based on. You can hear this theme in the flutes and bells at measure 11. Next up, an accompaniment part; at measure 11, it’s the snare drum providing support for the flutes. Incidentally, did you notice the baritone helping out there as well with a simple counter-line? Now take a look at measure 21. Do you hear the more pronounced accompaniment part (horn, baritone, tuba) where the trumpets join in the melody? This accompaniment part starts two bars earlier (bar 19) so that it connects the previous section to the next.
At measure 29 a secondary theme is heard in the horn, trombone, baritone, tuba, and other low woodwinds. By the way, you can hear a variation of this in the introduction to the piece. For the slower middle section, the melodic shape is reversed. Instead of the melody moving from a low note to a higher note (see bar 38 in the flutes), it goes the other way as at bar 11 in the flutes. At bar 40, you can hear it in the baritone, tuba, and bells, then back to the flutes and bells in measure 42 and, well… you get the idea, it keeps moving around the band. Even the accompaniment part, (low brass and saxes at measure 38) is a “slowing-down” of the accompaniment figure at measure 29.
But watch out! At measure 51 the tempo increases and we hear the main theme again at measure 62, only this time it is played softly by the low brass, bass clarinet, and baritone saxophone (flute, oboe, and clarinets play a countermelody). Finally, at measure 70, the key moves up a step and we are carried to the end.
After I had finished this piece, I had the wonderful opportunity to rehearse with the band and conduct the premiere performance. The Unionville students had a lot of energy and, being well trained young musicians, made it a very enjoyable experience for me. Thanks James, thanks Will, thanks Unionville Band, and thank you too. Here is James’ poem. Enjoy!
The Dream, by Darren James Clayton
I walk, I run, I fly,
Through street, through field and sky;
I open every door,
To those who’ve flown before;
We fly to countries too,
And speak in language new;
I sing the natives’ songs,
Not caring if they’re wrong;
I swim in oceans deep,
As clouds begin to weep;
I bathe in Heaven’s spring,
And hear the angels sing;
I climb the mountains tall,
I jump, I fly, I fall;
A darkness fills my head,
I land at home,
Vince Gassi (b. Oct. 3, 1959) received his Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. After completing studies at Western, he attended the Dick Grove School of Music specializing in composition and arranging. While in Los Angeles, he studied trumpet with Claude Gordon. Mr. Gassi has written for a variety of ensembles, including concert band, jazz ensemble, orchestra, woodwind and brass ensembles, and choral groups. Current publications include scores from Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., Eighth Note Publications and H.M.S. Publications, as well as music for television commercials. In addition to his career as a composer/arranger, Mr. Gassi has taught instrumental music at the elementary and secondary school levels, and has conducted scholastic honor bands, community bands and musical theatre productions. He also teaches privately, and is active as a clinician for workshops in brass performance and composition. Currently, Mr. Gassi teaches instrumental music, MIDI technology, composition and musical theatre at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School in Toronto, Canada.
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