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Fall 2004: Simple Music Played Well
Some of the most beautiful and majestic moments I’ve had both in composing and in directing have involved what most would consider to be easy passages of music or easy pieces in their entirety.
Let me give you a case in point - actually several. I direct an auditioned community group called the Pikes Peak Ringers (Pikes Peak is an over-14,000 foot mountain in the foothills of which my hometown of Colorado Springs was built.) This group is a tremendous blessing to work with. Since they are auditioned and selected, we enjoy the luxury of being able to program virtually any style or difficulty of music - admittedly, a group which doesn’t live in the real world! This is a group which has presented Level 5 and 6 music with great success - pieces like Tempest (Kevin McChesney) and The Stars And Stripes Forever (Sousa, transcribed by William Griffin). They have performed the Nutcracker Suite, including the “Waltz of the Flowers” - arguably one of the top two or three most difficult handbell pieces in existence. And they are currently scheduled to perform my Concerto for Handbells and Orchestra - virtuoso music from start to finish - in 6 concerts with 4 different orchestras in the 04-05 season.
And guess which pieces on our programs invariably receive the most heartfelt and appreciative comments from listeners? The simpler, more direct pieces! To balance the harder material, we always include simpler fare, like Stille Nacht (arr. Betty Garee), a direct and very approachable setting which is surely one of the finest and most beautiful handbell pieces for Christmas in the literature, and Make Me An Instrument Of Thy Peace (McChesney). Sure, we always receive raves for the “barnburners,” but we have been pleasantly surprised to find that the very simplest pieces on our programs have meant a great deal to our listeners as well.
Are there dull assignments in these simpler pieces? You bet! In fact, in some pieces literally ALL the parts are “boring!” A piece of music has value when it speaks to the listeners, not when it occupies the ringers. Simpler music can be the music which reaches the most people in your congregations and audiences, and the ringers can create breathtaking, emotional moments, despite the lack of technical acrobatics in the assigned parts.
There is nothing wrong with doing simple, approachable music and doing it well!