Whitacre & Willson ~ Composer ABCs

Today we are featuring more of what I consider band composers. Eric Whitacre and Meredith Willson. Both of these men wrote for more than band but since band is where I came to know them through playing their music, well, that is how they stuck for me.

Eric Whitacre composed for band due to what is called a fluke on his website. I found it interesting that he stumbled on a rehearsal, sat enthralled listening to it, and decided he had to write a piece for that group. According to what he said, he had never written for musical instruments at that point, only voice. He studied every instrument by talking to players of that instrument and asking asking all the questions he could – What is your favorite piece to play? What range are you most comfortable in? and more. The piece that came out of that is Ghost Train and one that I must have played right after it was released. A strange piece for certain but one that brings interest to the band world.

Deep Field is a piece that I find quite interesting. It is based on imagery from the Hubble Telescope and a film was created through collaboration with Whitacre, his Virtual Choir 5 which included 8,000 voices ages 4-87 from 120 different countries, producers Music Productions, scientists and visualizers from the Space Telescope Science Institute and multi award-winning artists 59 Productions. It is imagining the deepest reaches of space. The film created for the music shows some of Hubble’s amazing images, as well as never-before-shown fly-bys of galaxies. The images in the film are stunning and go beautifully with the music. There is even an app to be downloaded and cued by the conductor when this is played live.

Whitacre was born in Nevada in 1970 and studied at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. After graduation there, which is where his first compositions came to life, he studied at Juilliard School of Music, graduating with a Master of Music in 1997. His works are actually quite varied, though I initially knew only of his band music. He has written a large body of work for orchestra, choirs, film (including Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice), and more. He is a visiting conductor and a speaker. He has given TED talks. He is considered to be the pioneer of virtual choirs. (Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently is below. It is a must listen.) And this is all for a composer who is still producing work. Keep your eye on this guy. His website has a list of all the compositions he has completed if you are looking for more to listen to and/or view.

Meredith Willson is going to be best known for writing The Music Man. Born in 1902 in Iowa, he has a long career as musician, composer, conductor, arranger, author, and radio personality. Shortly after high school, he was playing flute with John Philip Sousa’s band and later with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He toured and performed for a good while. His wife Rini also toured with him as a singer.

Willson wrote the script, lyrics, and music for the Broadway musical The Music Man. It was released in 1957 and played on Broadway for several years. It was then purchased for movie rights and found success on the big screen, also. The Music Man is a semi-autobiographical story of his Iowa boyhood. It includes many numbers that are well-known and the story is always a joy. (The song below is one that I often think of but I like all of the pieces. I had a hard time choosing which to post here. “Til There Was You” or “76 Trombones” or “Gary, Indiana” or others.)

Willson also wrote the book for The Unsinkable Molly Brown, another Broadway musical that was a solid success. Another of his musicals is Here’s Love but that one is not well-known.

Having spent a lot of time writing for radio, there are many, many popular songs that are credited to Willson. These include “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” “Till There Was You,” (a hit by the Beatles), and more. His body of work is interesting and includes campaign pieces (“Chicken Fat” was the theme song for President Kennedy’s youth fitness program) and school fight songs (University of Iowa and Iowa State Univeristy).

Willson died in 1984 in California.

Lori, At Home.

Composer ABCs in this series:
A – Leroy Anderson
B – Bernstein, Bizet, Bax
C – Copland
D – Debussy and de Meij
E – Elgar
F – Fauré
G – Grainger and Ginastera
H – Holst
I – Ives
J – Joplin and Janacek
K – Kern
L – Liszt
M – Mussorgsky
N – Nelson
O – Offenbach
P – Palestrina and Prokofiev
Q – Quilter
R – Respighi, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, Ravel
S – Saint-Saëns, Shostakovich, Still, Smetana, Sibelius
T – Tavener & Tchaikovsky
U – Ustvolskaya
V – Vaughan Williams and Villa-Lobos

Featured from last week the letter V…

This Week over at Our Homeschool Notebook the topic is W is for World
This week over at Every Bed of Roses the topic is Writing Cursive

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8 thoughts on “Whitacre & Willson ~ Composer ABCs

  1. Ellen September 25, 2021 at 3:30 pm Reply

    Oh…The Music Man movie brings back memories. I loved that one!

  2. […] Cursive from Chareen at Every Bed of RosesWinter Nature Study from Chareen at Every Bed of RosesWhitacre & Wilson: Composer ABC’s from Lori at At Home: Where Life HappensW is for Wingspan: A Board Game about Birds from Desiree at […]

  3. Xenakis ~ Composer ABCs | At Home September 28, 2021 at 12:38 pm Reply

    […] Composer ABCs in this series:A – Leroy AndersonB – Bernstein, Bizet, BaxC – CoplandD – Debussy and de MeijE – ElgarF – FauréG – Grainger and GinasteraH – HolstI – IvesJ – Joplin and JanacekK – KernL – LisztM – MussorgskyN – NelsonO – OffenbachP – Palestrina and ProkofievQ – QuilterR – Respighi, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, RavelS – Saint-Saëns, Shostakovich, Still, Smetana, SibeliusT – Tavener & TchaikovskyU – UstvolskayaV – Vaughan Williams and Villa-LobosW – Whitacre & Willson […]

  4. Yoshimatsu ~ Composer ABCs | At Home October 5, 2021 at 5:51 pm Reply

    […] – Tavener & TchaikovskyU – UstvolskayaV – Vaughan Williams and Villa-LobosW – Whitacre & WillsonX – […]

  5. Annette Vellenga (@athomepets) October 13, 2021 at 1:45 pm Reply

    I was listening to ghost train and the images I got in my brain where of hump back whales fighting and sounding off…. such a juxtaposition! 🙂

  6. Zimmer ~ Composer ABCs | At Home October 15, 2021 at 11:59 am Reply

    […] – Tavener & TchaikovskyU – UstvolskayaV – Vaughan Williams and Villa-LobosW – Whitacre & WillsonX – XenakisY – […]

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