Military Music Blog

Music for your 4th of July Fireworks! July 03 2014, 0 Comments

Independence Day, among its compatriot American holidays, is very distinct. The Fourth of July marks the day that our great nation was born, and declared free from the British monarchy. The day when our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, thus braving threat of treason against the crown in order to fight for their freedom. And...


Fireworks have been part of Independence Day celebrations since 1777, one year after the signing. Since then, aside from the star-spangled banner itself, there is hardly anything more representative of this patriotic holiday. And, while the loud, echoey booms of rapid-fire explosions provide their own special soundtrack to the spectacle, Altissimo! has a wide range of music perfect for your own viewing.

In theory, any collection of patriotic tunes could work as an accompaniment to your fireworks display, but this year, our newest release Spirit of '76 - 76 Essential Patriotic Songs stands as the ultimate source of American military music anywhere. Looking for marches? It has it. Maybe some traditional military tunes and hymns? It has it. Want to sing along to American favorites like America the Beautiful or God Bless America? It has it. Seventy-six tracks of only the greatest and most essential patriotic music, currently available on iTunes.

Along with Spirit of '76, we also recently released Off We Go! - The Best of The United States Air Force Bands. While not tailored to patriotic celebrations or holidays, this album features only the greatest of hits from the various bands of The United States Air Force. This release is the perfect mixture of patriotic classics, amazing marches, and concert band standards, including Henry Fillmore's Rolling Thunder, The United States Air Force Hymn, Lord, Guard and Guide, and the modern masterpiece, Blue Shades, by Frank Ticheli. Assembled like a military band concert, Off We Go transports the listener to the perfect live performance, and when added to fireworks, it's as if the bands were performing for the occasion. Also available on iTunes.


Spotify also has a great number of patriotic playlists being featured this weekend in preparation for Independence Day. One particularly strong assemblage of songs was created by our friends at Naxos called American Fireworks! - Patriotic Music for Any Occasion. Featuring many tracks from Altissimo! albums, this collection provides a soundtrack of classic American tunes, as well as several arrangements of favorites like Yankee Doodle and Amazing Grace. More importantly, it ends with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, which I consider to be the ultimate accompaniment to a fireworks display. And even more importantly, the recording chosen by Naxos has cannons, which is 100% necessary for this celebration.

 Of course, not everyone will get the chance to see live fireworks this week. For that we have this excellent video, which is part of our Independence Day Celebration playlist on YouTube. Nearly a half hour of spectacular explosions in the sky, accompanied by some of the greatest patriotic music available.

Happy Fourth of July everyone, and be safe around those fireworks.

- Brian Denu

Jazz Appreciation Month! April 07 2014, 0 Comments

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and here at Altissimo! Recordings, we are celebrating America’s classical music by promoting the amazing work of America’s military bands, and their respective jazz ensembles.

Each branch of The United States military has at least one jazz band or ensemble. These groups feature some of the most virtuosic musicians in the land, performing a wide range of jazz styles and subgenres better than anyone else. Below are the military jazz ensembles featured in the Altissimo! catalog.

The US Air Force Band Airmen of Note The US Navy Band Commodores The US Army Blues The US Coast Guard Dixieland Jazz Band The US Army Field Band Jazz Ambassadors The US Air Force Band of the Rockies Falconaires The US Air Force Reserve Jazz Ensemble The US Army Blues Swamp Romp

We Can Do It! is a compilation of jazz charts from several of the ensembles above, and one of our best-selling albums from 2013. This compilation features the greatest hits from the swing era of jazz, which took place during the 1930’s and 40’s. This specific style of jazz was designed with dancing in mind, and was often performed in enormous dance halls. Famous jazz songs like Sing, Sing, Sing, Take the “A” Train, and In The Mood, were all written during this time, and all remain as standards of jazz repertoire. We Can Do It! is a great way to hear some of the most famous jazz standards of the time, performed by some of the best jazz artists in the country.

The US Air Force Airmen of Note is the oldest of America’s military jazz bands. They formed in 1950 as a dance band, following the tradition of Major Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band. Since then, The Airmen of Note continue to carry the tradition of big band jazz, and have branched into different styles as well. 60 Years of The Airmen of Note is a collection of classic recordings of the group, going back to 1953. With this album, you can listen to the progression of the band over time with classics like Shiny Stockings, Loch Lomond, and God Bless the Child.

While listening to jazz records and albums is an excellent way to experience the genre, nothing beats a live performance. Altissimo! carries several live albums, including Commodores Live! On a live album, all the improvisation and grooves feel so natural, as if the band were performing in front of you. It’s the best listening experience you can achieve aside from seeing a live concert. Commodores Live! features charts like Caravan, Blue and Sentimental, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, and many other classics.

Jazz is genre truly unique to American culture. I’m happy to say that Altissimo! Recordings is celebrating this music by offering special deals on all jazz albums at You can also check out all of the albums above on iTunes.

Finally, here is playlist via Spotify highlighting some of the amazing recordings you can find in our jazz collection.

George Rosenkrans March 31 2014, 0 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein


George Rosenkrans was a noted American composer of concert band music. He was born in Penfield, Pennsylvania on January 17, 1881. His father was the music director of the local Methodist church, where George sang with the choir and learned to play the organ. His first compositions included organ music and hymns. He also played the baritone horn in the town band, and eventually became the conductor. He composed his first march at age seventeen, and was soon turning out as many as eight new marches each year. As interest in his music declined, he would sell new arrangements for as little as fifty cents, or give compositions away outright. In later life, he composed many works for the Grampian Band in nearby Grampian, Pennsylvania, his favorite group, including the Grampian March. He missed a 1948 tribute by the Navy Band because he didn't believe he had any suitable clothes. He died in poverty in Penfield on August 18, 1955. Nevertheless, his music was well-thought-of. His march Triumphant Battalions was played at the liberation of Paris and his dirge Immortal Heroes was played at the funerals of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

In the early 1940s, kids in the small town of Penfield, PA, would sneak into the rundown house of old George Rosenkrans, a squalid and unclean residence piled high with music. Each week the old man would rotate his way around a table set with six plates before doing the dishes. The kids knew Rosenkrans from the local high school, for each year he composed a new band piece for the graduating class, which he wrote out on the back of a calendar, then played in his only suit, with mismatched pants and coat. What they might not have known, however, was that Rosenkrans' marches were played around the world. Indeed, at the parade for the inauguration of Pennsylvania Governor Arthur H. James in 1939, the lead band played one of Rosenkrans' marches. In 1942, soldiers in the Panama Canal Zone asked Rosenkrans to make a band arrangement for his Army V. Song. Three years later, an American army band played his Triumphant Battalions in Paris after its liberation from the Nazis. In the years that followed, bands would play his marches at the state funerals of German President Konrad Adenauer, English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and three U.S. presidents. One of five children, Rosenkrans grew up in a small rented house next to the railroad tracks. In 1898 George became the first member of the family to graduate from high school. His father, a school teacher and then a mail carrier, was also choir director of the Penfield Methodist Church, and it was there that George sang in the choir and learned to play the organ. Soon Rosenkrans began to compose organ music, anthems, popular songs, solos for voice, funeral dirges, and hymns, which he had printed by a church music publisher in DuBois.


The early 1900s were the glory days of American marching and concert bands. Brass bands were by and large a male activity. Multi-generational families of musicians included veterans of the Civil War, Spanish American War, and after 1918, the First World War. Penfield, like towns all across the Commonwealth and the nation, had a town band, for which George played the baritone horn, and then became player-conductor. It was while playing with this band that he fell in love with marches, the first of which he composed when he was seventeen. After his siblings left home, Rosenkrans supported his parents, with whom he continued to live, by turning out a constant stream of marches, overtures, and songs. By his early twenties, Rosenkrans was composing six to eight fully orchestrated band numbers and patriotic marches each year, with names like Sons of the Flag, Liberty Triumphant, With Bands and Banners, and his favorite, Our Glorious Flag.

After his parents' deaths - his father died in 1920 and mother in 1928 - Rosenkrans continued to live in the family home. When his music sales dried up in the 1920s, George picked up some money playing piano in a local band, writing marches for local bands, and teaching band. When he couldn't sell his songs he gave them away. Once he received a request for an arrangement from Siam (known today as Thailand), and completed the new part for just fifty cents. Living alone, he also became increasing eccentric. Stooped and portly, with a bushy head of unkempt hair, Rosenkrans would travel the eighteen miles from Penfield south to DuBois, where he would hand out the music for his latest number to the Grampian Band, the best marching band in the area, and then listen quietly as it played.


Unwilling to take a job, Rosenkrans lost ownership of his house in 1942, but continued to live in it, sleeping under newspapers and a single blanket in the one corner of the living room where the roof did not leak. Neighbors finally convinced him to move to a boarding house, where he worked as a janitor and dreamed that the end of the Second World War and return of the young men who had gone off to fight would bring a renewed interest in band music. It was not to happen. One by one the bands disappeared
In 1949 Rosenkrans returned to Penfield and his little bungalow, now unlivable. Friends convinced him to take a room with a woman in Butler. Lonely, and often depressed, George Rosenkrans died a pauper at the age of seventy-four. At his funeral a mixed quartet sang a number of his songs. Eighteen years later, those who remembered his music gave Rosenkrans' grave a headstone, on which they had inscribed the following epitaph:




Jan 17, 1881 - Aug. 18, 1955


His compositions have been played at historical events, including the inauguration of Pennsylvania Governor Arthur H. James in 1939, and his music would be a part of the funerals of German President Konrad Adenauer, English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and United States Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy. Like many other really fine composers, his music was mostly pirated and republished with copyrights, for which he rarely if ever received payment.

- Jack Kopstein

The Long Beach Municipal Band March 24 2014, 0 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein


The Long Beach Municipal Band

The Musical Soul of Long Beach California

The Long Beach Municipal band is one of the finest community bands in the United States. Being such a musical staple in its community, it was more than fitting that Long Beach's own 100 -year-old band performed at the port's Centennial celebration, just as it did when the port dedicated Municipal Pier 1, now Pier D, Berth 49, 100 years ago. Both institutions are symbolic of the spirit and sense of community upon which Long Beach was built.

In many ways, the port and the band are civic siblings that matured into world-class institutions. The ensemble is made up of 40 professionals, primarily brass, woodwind and percussion players, who are top studio, symphony, and orchestra musicians. Band members join by invitation only, and some have been with the group more than 30 years.

Many of the musicians have ties to the Long Beach community, including those who studied music at California State University, Long Beach and Long Beach Community College. Band Director Larry Curtis took the job after 25 years as Director of Bands at Cal State Long Beach.  He expanded upon the tradition of showcasing a variety of classical and popular selections by creating weekly themes whose programs spotlight jazz, film, Latin, Broadway tunes and other musical styles.

The band's immense popularity is due to its high calibre of music, which Curtis describes as world-class and worthy of any stage or venue. The summer series draws an estimated 10,000 people a week. Fans include locals, former residents who return for concerts, and tourists from all over the globe who plan vacations around the concert season. The band's international following includes professionals, and it has welcomed guest conductors from overseas.

Long Beach Municipal Band concerts also enjoy tremendous popularity because the performances are, "a family affair." The concerts unite the young and old across sometimes three or four generations, some making reunions at Municipal Band concerts a family tradition. Schedules are rearranged in order to attend performances, which are celebrations of neighbors coming together, enjoying a special meal, or just a night out for the family dog, all on an iconic Southern California summer's eve. The family tradition extends to the members of the band; concerts in the park are an opportunity for spouses and children to see their loved ones perform.

The band was born out of an era in which communities desired their own "Marine band" based on the John Philip Sousa model. It was founded in 1909 as a department of the city and the original members were city employees who worked everyday jobs just like their neighbours.

In general, municipal bands, which predate more sophisticated orchestras in many emerging American cities, signaled a thriving community. At the same time, municipal bands were considered an added attraction that promoted tourism and boosted property values. The band's history includes performing for ocean travelers disembarking from luxury liners calling at the port.

In its early years, the Long Beach Municipal Band traveled throughout the country and performed at major events such as the San Francisco World's Fair in 1915. It also played for live radio shows, broadcasting to faraway places such as Australia and New Zealand. The band quickly developed an international reputation as a premier musical attraction and a cultural ambassador for Long Beach. The popularity of "the people's band" encouraged city leaders to develop performance venues, most notably the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium, the former home of the Municipal Band. The site is now the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center.


During World War I, the band regularly performed fundraising concerts to support the military. Likewise during World War II, the band performed at USO functions, bond rallies and bases throughout Southern California. The band also played for every naval ship that left and returned to the Long Beach Naval Station – the hub of port operations.

During those years, Herbert L. Clarke, a virtuoso cornet soloist and assistant conductor for the John Philip Sousa band, retired and accepted an invitation to become the band director – a position he held for two decades. At his first concert, he debuted a new march he composed, Long Beach Is Calling, which the Municipal Band will perform at the Centennial celebration. Under his leadership, the band's reputation continued to grow and added to the prominence of music in Long Beach.

Just as the community has supported the Municipal Band, the band has responded to the needs of its community. When the band was laid off during the Great Depression, it voluntarily performed Sunday afternoon concerts. In the wake of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake that killed 120 people and destroyed homes, buildings, and schools, the band offered its services by playing countless concerts for displaced families camped out in parks. It later performed at the dedication of many new buildings that arose from the devastation.

The Municipal Band is an integral part of Long Beach's rich musical tradition that today includes the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, the Long Beach Opera, the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at Cal State Long Beach, jazz and blues radio station KKJZ 88.1 FM and nationally recognized public school music programs.

During the 1950's, band director Charles Payne teamed with former Supervisor of Music for Long Beach schools, Fred Ohlendorf, to schedule 123 concerts for more than 49,000 students in a single academic year. The number grew to more than 300 performances. It was during those years that Payne launched what is known today as the band's summer Concerts in the Park series. Under his successor, Everett E. Siegrist, the band's schedule swelled to 750 park and school concerts annually.

In recent years, the summer season has been shortened due to city budget constraints. The Port of Long Beach is among those who have donated funds to keep the band playing.

The Long Beach Municipal Band's longstanding reputation as a premier music organization, and one of only a handful of municipal bands still performing, remains strong. More recently, honors include its performance at the 1999 World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles Conference held in San Luis Obispo. The biennial event takes place at different locations around the world and features symphonic bands of international acclaim.

- Jack Kopstein

Superintendant Bramwell Smith March 18 2014, 0 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

Bramwell Smith, left Ottawa as a young man to join the world renowned United States Marine Band. Over the years, he had many, many achievements to his credit. He had an impressive solo trumpet career and he went on to form the Marine Herald Trumpets. He was one of the few trumpet soloists in the world who had mastered the continuous breathing technique in his playing. He had several recording successes to his credit. His proudest achievement was to write, arrange and perform the music for the Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. 'Bram' as he was known, engaged in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a Constable in September 1967. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant a month later and then he received his Commission to Inspector about five months later. He was again promoted to Superintendent. After Bram's arrival in Ottawa, it didn't take long for members of the RCMP Band to see what a wonderful and exciting talent he was, both as a performer and leader of a musical group. However, not everyone in the band readily accepted him. They found the change in musical direction somewhat abrupt and somewhat beyond what they were prepared to support. As a result some members left the Band. Other musicians stayed with the Band because the more it changed into a "dynamic" sounding concert unit, combining old band repertoires with new upbeat renditions, the more popular and appealing the Band became. Under Bram's direction, the RCMP Band evolved and became more entertaining for both young and old audiences alike. Bram strongly felt that music should serve all ages but in particular it should reach young people. His style of music became a very strong and successful recruiting aid for the Force. School programs across Canada were an instant hit. Untold wonderful comments were received about the Band’s effectiveness in Drug Awareness Programs and fundraising programs in the community. Bram's sparkling personality shone across the stage footlights and Canadian audiences loved their own "Memorable Music Man Mountie"! He earned the nickname "Captain Colgate" because of his engaging smile.
It wasn't long before the Band put out its first recording, Dynamic Sound. Bram encouraged RCMP members with musical talent to come up with new musical arrangements. In this way, he brought in new musical ideas and styles especially written for the band’s instrumentation. Here again, he had a unique sound in his mind and it wasn't long before he had several RCMP members producing new arrangements that were the envy of other bands in Canada and in the USA. At Bram's instigation, the band was invited to play at several international gigs including the Hemisfair in San Antonio, Texas in 1968, the World Fair in Osaka, Japan in 1970, and the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, MA. Other memorable performances included a TV Christmas Special with the Girls’ Choir from St. F.X. University and the opening of the Larsen Building in Yellowknife. The RCMP received incredible international exposure through his efforts. As RCMP Vets, we recall performing the Waltz from the Swan Lake Ballet for a performance by the National Ballet Company. Under Bram's guidance, we rehearsed and played and then did take after take until we thought everyone in the Band might all say to hell with it . But, Bram was after perfection and without any hesitation we can say the final cut was as good as has ever been recorded by a concert band! He thought that, in addition to touring Canada and abroad, that the band should be recording more and doing more radio and TV broadcasting. We seized every opportunity to do so. At the same time, we continued to provide "a public relations and ceremonial service for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and for Canada”.  Under Bram's direction, the RCMP Band became a very highly skilled group of musicians, with an exceptional variety of stand up soloists on a number of instruments. Our programs were more than just musical entertainment; the Band took on a ‘professional show biz’ kind of aura that made the RCMP Band stand out as, "one of the most professional and finest Bands of its kind in the world." (Centennial Review Script). As Music Director, Bram believed in musical excellence and would settle for nothing less. Bram Smith was a very intense and professional person. He put every ounce of energy into conducting a concert and he was left exhausted after each performance. Regularly, at the end of a performance, our Director would take the microphone and tell the audience that we were performing to support the operational members who work in their community 365 days a year. He always thanked the community for the support they gave our RCMP members all year round. His remarks to the public were quite remarkable because they came from a man who had never taken a day of police training or done a day of policing. He considered the RCMP in the field to be the band’s No. 1 customers. The band performed for them, supporting them and their Public Relations and Police Community Relations Programs. We can vouch that his music could bring a tear to the eye of many a hard-nosed operational police officer. Deep down every musician knew that Detachment men and women appreciated and admired his remarkable musical talents and his fun with a youthful audience. The Queen insisted that the band be included in the Royal Visit to Calgary and Depot Division in Regina. Commissioner Higgitt was overheard saying, "The RCMP could have toured the entire world with the band!" Following the Centennial Review in 1973 the Band went back to the regular schedule of tours. At this time, several contentious issues arose, including the Saul Study of the RCMP Band & Musical Ride. Our Director tried to keep focused on the music, however; we knew that Bram was not happy any longer. It seemed like he had achieved all that he wanted to accomplish and was looking for new challenges elsewhere. Come to think of it, during his life he had moved several times to meet new challenges in music. Bram's promotion to the Commission ranks upset many senior Officers in the Force and he felt this undeserved irritation for many years. On one occasion, he authorized the purchase of a contrabass clarinet, but a purchasing officer sent him a tuba! One can imagine his many frustrations but in the end he finally received the clarinet. Yet, he also had a great sense of laughter. One night after a performance in St. John’s we went out for dinner. A Newfoundlander recognized him from the concert stage and asked: “Are you the corporal?”. Bram laughed so hard we though he would roll on the floor. Bram announced his retirement in the National Arts Centre at one of his final public concerts as conductor. He seemed to be artistically and emotionally exhausted. He left the Force in the spring of 1974. He was hired by Yamaha Music Co. and he became their Leading Salesman.
We gave him our full support without any hesitation, which at times got us into hot water. But we didn't mind because we knew that we were a damn good outfit, and the RCMP deserved the best that we could be, and nothing less!  He built the RCMP Band into one of the best in the world. We give a tip of our Stetson to RCMP Superintendent Bramwell Smith, RCMP Band Director 1967 to 1974. Bram was a special person: a very talented musician, a dynamic leader and a gifted conductor. He did a great job of bringing the RCMP Band to a higher level in every respect. We proudly and fondly remember him. Unfortunately, his success in the music world was shortened by cancer. After several years in remission, the cancer returned and he wasn't able to meet the challenge. Shortly after Bram’s death, the US Marines asked to have his remains interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Photos at Arlington Cemetery (2008) by Joe Healy, Reg,#23685 Photos of Superintendent Smith and he and the Band were kindly provided by Ottawa Vet Garth Hampson and courtesy of the Historical Collections Unit at 'Depot' Division. March 2013 by Ottawa Veterans Dan Carroll and Garth Hampson

More Famous Marches March 12 2014, 0 Comments

Marches are the foundation of wind band music everywhere. From its humble military beginnings, marches proliferated into a variety of musical genres, and into the musical stylings of many different countries. Marches are very recognizable, and at their core, fairly simple, but continue to be the heart and soul of bands everywhere.

One of’s most viewed posts, Jack’s Musings: Famous Marches, provides a lengthy list of famous marches, a list that could be potentially endless. From Kenneth J. Alford all the way to Wilhelm Zehle, there are so many marches out there it would be impossible to compile them into one enormous list. At the very least, it would be very difficult. Instead, here is a much shorter list of some of my favorite marches.

This list contains a few well-known favorites, like Sousa’s The Black Horse Troop, and Henry Fillmore’s Rolling Thunder, but there are also a few that I am very fond of that do not get performed as often as they should. For example, Sousa’s Nobles of the Mystic Shrine is one of the few of the “March King’s” works that starts in a really visceral minor key, which makes it particularly special, especially when it moves into the trio, which pretends that the start of the march never really happened. Charles Ives’ Country Band March is actually a transcription from his orchestral suite Three Places in New England. It features a large number of recognizable folk tunes all cobbled together into a chaotic mass. The idea behind it was to replicate the sounds of several bands playing at once, like a parade.

Since it is the month of March, we here at Altissimo! Recordings are offering a great deal to its loyal customers! Our best-selling album 100 Famous Marches, a 5-disc set of all of the greatest marches you know and love, is now being offered on iTunes at a reduced price! Click on the link below to check it out, and don’t forget to write a review so that we may continue to introduce people to the timeless soundings of the United States military bands.

-Brian Denu

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Band March 10 2014, 2 Comments

The band was no doubt one of the finest ever assembled in Canada. The musicians were highly valued, educated performers, many of whom were graduates of major Canadian and American music schools. The band was a front-runner in developing programs for young people. They helped to maintain the image of the Royal Mounted Police as a world class police force. The arranging staff  was second to none and included talented Berkley School of Music graduate Gary Morton. Many of their jazz styles have now just begun to filter their way into the military band repertoire of other world bands.  The mixture and blend of their music impacted on audiences everywhere they performed. It was perhaps one of the most unbelievable and absurd decisions ever made by a standing  Canadian government when in 1994 they decided to break up this band.

The Royal Canadian Mod Police was organized in 1873 as the North West Mounted Police to provide protection for the settlers in Manitoba, the areas further west, and the Yukon. In 1876 its first band was formed at Swan River, Manitoba. The instruments were purchased by the 20 players themselves and shipped from Winnipeg by dog-team. This volunteer band flourished intermittently until the outbreak of the South African War in 1899.

Approximately seven other bands existed during the first 30 years of the force's history. The band at Fort Qu'appelle under Sergt-Maj Fred A. Bagley performed at a notable event in 1881, the signing of the treaty between the federal government and the Indians of the Blackfoot confederacy, the Assiniboine, and other tribes, on the banks of the Bow River near Calgary. In 1886 at Calgary Bagley founded the North West Mounted Police 'E' Division band, which achieved excellence. In addition to its regular concerts in Calgary it also played on special occasions at the Banff Springs Hotel, which was opened in 1888.

The 'E' Division band dispersed on Bagley's retirement from the force in 1899. Both the Calgary and the Regina station police bands participated in one of the most glittering local events of that era, the grand ball held in 1889 on the occasion of Governor General Stanley's visit to the Territories. As the West grew, so did the duties and responsibilities of the force. The North West Mounted Police became the Royal North West Mounted Police in 1904, and this in turn was merged into a new national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in 1920. The earliest attempt to establish an official RCMP band was made in 1934. However, owing to the Depression, approval for a part-time band was granted only in 1938.

The director of this band, located first in Regina and later in Ottawa, was Staff-Sgt Joseph T. Brown, formerly of the Governor General's Foot Guards Band of Ottawa. One of the band's first performances occurred on May 25, 1939 during the visit of George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada. The band also appeared in New York at the 1939 World's Fair. Throughout the war years it played in many concerts and parades across Canada in connection with the Victory Loan program and the war effort; in 1944 it was on duty during the Quebec Conference. In 1949 Sgt E. J. Lydall, who lead the band on its Prairie tour the previous year, replaced the retiring Inspector Brown as music director.

A second part-time RCMP band was organized in 1949 in Regina under Cpl C.C. Bryson. Both units continued to be active in their respective areas, and they merged for special occasions. In 1951 the Ottawa band played an important role at performances during the visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. In 1953 Coronation ceremonies in Canada's capital were co-ordinated by Inspector Lydall, and the massed bands were led by the RCMP Ottawa Band on Parliament Hill in a dazzling display of pomp and pageantry.  

The RCMP bands flourished throughout the 1950s, but operation on a part-time basis was difficult. Government approval of a full-time band was granted in December 1958. This band, with headquarters in Ottawa, began extensive tours of Canada and the Territories. In 1961 it covered over 11,000 km by land, appearing in cities from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, through the Prairie provinces, to Thunder Bay, Ontario. The following year the band toured the Maritimes and Quebec and introduced a popular series of concerts and retreat ceremonies at the Supreme Court building in Ottawa during the summer months.

The band made two CBC TV appearances in 1964 and took part in the International Band Festival in Moose Jaw, Sask, in 1965. Canada's centennial year, 1967, was a busy one, as the band joined the RCMP Musical Ride and toured Canada. The majority of Musical Ride performances, which originated in the 1880s, have used recorded music or employed local bands when the troupe is on tour in Europe or North America. In 1967 Superintendant E. J. Lydall retired, and Inspector W. Bramwell Smith, a former member of the United States Marine band, was appointed supervisor of music for the force and served as music director of the band until 1975.

In 1967 the RCMP sent its musicians across the Arctic for the first time, touring the full band to centres accessible to large aircraft. After a successful tour of the USA in 1968 the band was featured in a CBC TV Christmas special. In 1970 it made a memorable series of appearances at Expo 70, Osaka. In the course of nine days it was heard live by over half-a-million people and was viewed on TV by millions of Japanese and Canadians. An annual winter concert series at the NAC begun in 1968 continued until the mid 1970s. In 1973, with the RCMP Centennial Review, it the band appeared in some 20 cities across Canada. During 1974 it appeared at the Ontario Place Forum, Toronto. Kenneth Moore was appointed music director for the RCMP 1 Dec 1975 and was succeeded in 1986 by Inspector Charles Hendricks. In 1976 the band sent a group of musicians to Old Crow, Yukon Territory, the forerunner of a permanent 12-piece ensemble established in 1977 to travel to remote areas of the provinces and to communities of the Arctic accessible only by small aircraft.

Among the hundreds of noteworthy appearances the band has made after 1980 are those occasioned by Alberta's 75th anniversary (1981), the World University Games in Edmonton, the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales (1983), the ACTRA awards ceremony (1985), Expo 86 in Vancouver, the Commonwealth Conference, the Calgary Winter Olympics, the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Toronto (1987), the Cystic Fibrosis Telethon (1989) and the visits of USSR President Gorbachev and Queen Elizabeth II (1990). Notable visits outside Canada include those to Nashville, Tenn (1980), Germany and South America (1984), Chicago (1987), and Australia (1988). An annual (from 1978) commitment to the CFCF Montreal Childrens Hospital Telethon is typical of the band's work on behalf of charitable organizations.

In 1991 the RCMP band continued their demanding schedule which had been typical of the musical ambassadors of Canada's national police force. It was  a startled Canadian public when they learned that The RCMP band was to be disbanded in 1994. There was the usual uproar, in the press and from the public but this did not deter the government in destroying the tradition of a Canadian treasure. The Toronto Sun reported ‘Mountie band chopped’ on Friday December 31st, 1993.

Ottawa (CP) - Appeals to the federal cabinet and a countrywide petition failed to save the RCMP band from the budgetary chopping block. Solicitor General Herb Gray refused yesterday to grant a reprieve after reviewing the force’s decision to cut the band, “The RCMP band has made a considerable contribution to Canadian life,” Gray said. “But when it comes to achoice between maintaining core police functions or savings the band, the RCMP’s priority has to be the maintenance of core police functions.” Supporters of the band gathered more than 30,000 names on a petition. The 23 member band played about 200 shows a year. RCMP Band 1971

Altissimo! Recordings has a few albums featuring Canadian bands. Canadian Bagpipes American Brass features both a Canadian pipe band as well as traditional American brass. You can find it on iTunes, or at!


- Jack Kopstein

Best of the British Isles: Gustav Holst February 26 2014, 0 Comments

In the third installment our Best of the British Isles series, we bring our focus to the great Gustav Holst.


Gustav Holst was born on September 21, 1874, in Gloucestershire, England. Although he is known today mostly for his compositions, he was also a very talented trombonist and conductor. On top of his professional trombone playing, he spent a good deal of time teaching music in order to supplement the little income he made from his compositions. He was good friends with Ralph Vaughan Williams, a fellow English composer and champion of folk songs.

Holst’s most famous work is his orchestral suite The Planets, a huge symphonic work for orchestra, rooted in astrology and strange harmonies. However, to me, The Planets is an outlier of Holst’s compositional style. He is often credited for writing some of the first non-march music for the military band. His First Suite in E-flat for Military Band was written in 1909, and continues to be a cornerstone of wind band literature today. Before the suite was written, the bulk of wind band repertoire was a combination of marches, fanfares, and transcriptions of orchestral works, mainly operas. The First Suite in E-flat for Military Band marks the beginning of a still-growing trend of original music for the wind band.

Two years after his first suite, Holst wrote the Second Suite in F for Military Band. Here, Holst shows his interest in English folk song (the first suite was based entirely on original materials). It is also interesting to note that Holst may have forgotten about the work shortly after its completion, only to remember about its existence over a decade later when asked to write again for wind band. A few of the movements in this suite were also transcribed for choir by Holst himself.

The suite is written in four movements, each with a distinct style. It opens with a hearty English march, which moves between folk tunes Swansea Town and Cloudy Banks in the more lyric sections. The second movement is more melancholy, based entirely on the song Song Without Words, “I’ll Love my Love”. It is followed by Song of the Blacksmith, a very upbeat and disjointed movement which features an anvil and changing time signatures. The final movement, Fanfare on the Dargason, caps the suite with a constantly repeating motive, The Dargason, and Greensleeves interwoven throughout.

While Holst’s involvement in the English folk song movement was not as involved as Percy Grainger or Ralph Vaughan Williams, in the world of wind band music, you cannot mention England without mentioning his work. His two suites for military band are monuments to both the history and future of the genre. In particular, the Second Suite in F for Military Band not only expertly intertwines folk songs, but has stood the test of time as a staple of the literature

Don’t forget to check out for all of your favorite military band music, including the United States Air Force Band album Evolution, where you can find a great recording of Holst’s second suite. Also, on March 4th, you can download Best of the British Isles, a new Altissimo! release focused on English folk songs and marches.


- Brian R. Denu

Mayhew L. Lake February 24 2014, 0 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

There is probably no music library worldwide  that does not have an arrangement by Mayhew L. Lake, either in the band or orchestral field. His output was beyond the imagination. The musicians of the great civilian bands and professional military bands were certainly acquainted with his work and John Philip Sousa said he was the most talented arranger in American history. Sousa told neophytes  and other arrangers, “now if you contact Mister Lake, he may put your composition in proper form with correct harmonization’s and instrumentation."

Mayhew Lake, born on October 25, 1879 in Southville, Massachusetts, was an American conductor and orchestrator. After completing his music education at the New England Conservatory of Music, Lake’s exceptional musical career began with performing as a violinist in the Boston Symphony at the age of sixteen. At 21 he became the conductor of the Payret Theater in Havana, Cuba, the Western Hemisphere’s largest theater company at that time. He conducted many famous theatrical performances before moving to New York in 1910. There he made arrangements for some of American popular music's greatest performers and songwriters including Victor Herbert, George M. Cohan, Percy Grainger, Edwin Franko Goldman and John Philip Sousa. He also wrote a few ragtime tunes, including The Rag Baby (1916) and A Ragtime Travesty on Carmen (1918).


Beginning in 1913, Lake was the editor-in-chief of the band and orchestra department of music publisher Carl Fischer. The manuscripts in this collection were used by Lake's concert band, the Symphony in Gold, which he conducted for NBC radio. Lake's autobiography, "Great Guys: Laughs and Gripes of Fifty Years of Show-Music Business" was published in 1983. His music is featured on Heritage of the March, Volume 79 of the Robert Hoe Collection. Lake published pieces under several pseudonyms including Lester Brockton, Paul DuLac, Charles Edwards, William Lester, Robert Hall, and Alfrey Byers. John Sousa’s comments regarding Lake were right absolutely accurate as to the arranger’s skills. The generations that followed Lake learned from his work that not one of his arrangements bore anything but exact harmonizations and proper instrumentation, further while he was at Carl  Fischer in New York the music publications were a model for the entire industry.

Altissimo! Recordings is proud to present the story of Mayhew L. Lake, one of America’s greatest musical arrangers. The recordings of the numerous service bands have a multitude of his work. You can listen to some examples from the Altissimo! catalog below. The musicians of America owe him a great debt of gratitude. Mayhew Lake is discussed in Paul Bierley’s Book “The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa”.

- Jack Kopstein


Best of the British Isles: Ralph Vaughan Williams February 19 2014, 0 Comments

Last week, we took a look at Percy Aldridge Grainger, his approach to English folk music, and his contributions to the world of wind band music. Needless to say, he was not the only composer who took part in the the English folk song movement. In fact, looking at other composers and music of the era, Grainger’s music is not very typical of other English folk song compositions. His harmonies are unusual, and his sense of time is flexible and bent. The differences are very apparent when you compare his music to that of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Ralph Vaughan Williams was born in 1872, and unlike Grainger, was a native Englishman. He started playing piano at the age of six, and violin at seven. As a composer, it took time for his musical style to develop. In 1904, Vaughan Williams first came into contact with traditional English folk songs, and began collect them like many others at the time. Later, he would become the English Folk Dance and Song Society, an organization devoted to the preservation and promotion of English folk music and dance during the early 1900’s.

The music of Vaughan Williams is known for having a characteristically English sound. In comparison to the works of Percy Grainger, Vaughan Williams’ melodies and harmonies are more regular, and its easier to tap your foot in the audience without getting rhythmically displaced. For example, here is his English Folk Song Suite, performed by the United States Marine Band.

Another reason Grainger was an musical outlier of his time was because of how much he wrote for the wind band as opposed to orchestra. Before 1923, the year his English Folk Song Suite was written, Vaughan Williams wrote mostly for orchestra, with this suite being his first piece for the wind band. It features no less than nine folk songs, including Seventeen Come Sunday, My Bonny Boy, Blow Away the Morning Dew, and others. It also uses aspects of traditional military music, which he heard during his time in the Royal Army Medical Corps during WWI. The marches are set in a very English style, most easily noted by the slower tempo than American marches. There is also a certain brisk quality to Vaughan Williams’ writing, which I liken to a group of English sailors singing these songs on a ship.

Folk music perforates much of Vaughan Williams’ music. Altissimo! also carries some of the work he did for choir. His choral arrangements are just as crisp and clean as his writing for band, and capture the mood and style of the traditional folk music.

You can hear Ralph Vaughan Williams’ music on many Altissimo! albums. The above recording of English Folk Song Suite can be found on the United States Marine Band recording Live in Concert, and the choral songs are on the United States Navy Sea Chanters Chorus album Songs of Sailor and Sea. Also, be prepared for Best of the British Isles, a new Altissimo! release coming this March!

- Brian R. Denu

Leonard B. Smith and the Detroit Concert Band February 17 2014, 3 Comments

On July 16, 1922, The Detroit News' new radio station WWJ started broadcasting live performances of the Light Guard Band, led by Herman Schmeman, at the old band shell on Belle Isle. The innovative broadcasts drew national attention to the fledgling broadcast industry and WWJ. Bands performed almost nightly in the gazebos and shelters of the local parks, including Belle Isle, Clark Park, Palmer, Cass, Pingree, Nardin and Roosevelt parks. Matinees were often performed on weekends. The Belle Isle concerts were not confined to the band shell. One band played on top of a small bridge while people paddled in their canoes below.

Schmeman left the band in 1927. "The conducting of the band concerts in the city parks of Detroit for the last 19 years has always been strictly a hobby with me," he said. "I have never made any money out of it, nor have I ever sought to do so. After these years of service I feel entitled to retire." He had hoped that the idea of free concerts in the parks would continue because the performances pleased fans "in every country of the globe."

In 1937 Leonard B. Smith arrived in Detroit from New York City to play with the Detroit Symphony on the Ford Sunday Evening Hour, which was carried by 440 CBS radio stations. A champion of the music of John Philip Sousa, in 1946 he was invited by Detroit Mayor Jeffries to leave the symphony and take over the Detroit Concert Band, which played throughout the summer at Belle Isle.

The Detroit Concert Band wasn't alone in filling the air over the city with music. During the summer of 1950 the Detroit Symphony led by Valter Poole performed for free at the State Fair band shell with parking for 10,000 cars. That same year, a new $150,000 Belle Isle band shell replaced the old rounded one on a small waterway nestled between the Nancy Brown Carillon Tower and the skating pavilion. Listeners could sit on the rows of green park benches, lie on blankets on the lawn, or sit in their canoes pulled up on the shore.

The stage was 40 by 80 feet and could accommodate 80 musicians. It included restrooms, a radio control room, dressing and assembly rooms and storage. The design of the shell could mix sound waves for an audience of more than 10,000. The lighting spotlighted the performers elegantly. The Detroit Department of Parks and Recreation would make it available to other groups also. It was named after music publisher Jerome H. Remick, a Detroiter and owner of the largest music publishing firm in the world. The new band shell was dedicated on July 16, 1950, coinciding with the Tenth Annual Old Timers Day, which honored former band members. Smith conducted a concert by the old musicians and the regulars, totaling 100 players, and also soloed on his coronet. The Belle Isle concerts were so popular and the fans so devoted that one group was able to collect 8,000 signatures on a petition for year round concerts. Cooler heads prevailed -- the musicians preferred the summer warmth.

Smith's concerts became the standard for Sousa lovers. In 1969 the British Broadcasting Company flew Sousa expert Kenneth Corden to Detroit for a documentary. The Detroit Concert Band's precise beat, vigor and showmanship were a highlight of the production. Smith, pleased by this honor, called it a milestone in the band's history. "It recognized (our) efforts to maintain the high Sousa tradition."

In 1976, to mark the nation's bicentennial, Smith and the Detroit Concert Band recorded two albums of the most popular Sousa marches and sold them for $7.76 each from the Detroit Concert Band office at 20962 Mack, Grosse Pointe Woods. Included on the records: The Invincible Eagle, Fairest of the Fair, King Cotton, La Flor de Sevilla, and Century of Progress. Smith and the band recorded 22 more albums in his Gems of Concert Band series, a project begun in the 1970s that included the complete recordings of Sousa's compositions. While he considered this to be his legacy to concert band music, but Smith's primary source of income was from the royalties on 350 of his own musical composition.

Like Sousa, Smith was a disciplinarian, a trait acquired from his stint with the U.S. Navy band during World War II. He allowed no nonsense and no smoking during rehearsals. "The only thing I've ever fired people for is drinking," he said. "There is no drinking on or before the job, whether it's a teaspoon or a gallon. I've fired five men in the past 30 years, and I've been ruthless when I did it."


For a period Smith also hosted his own Sunday radio program, "From the Bandstand," on WQRS-FM. Smith's trumpet solo of the William Tell Overture ushered "The Lone Ranger" into the homes of radio listeners for 17 years. He also played theme music for "The Green Hornet," and "Call of the Yukon" radio shows. He got $75 for playing trumpet calls seven times in a row with no mistakes for Fox Movietone News.

Smith agreed with Sousa: "People want to be entertained. They don't want to be educated. Henry Ford, the old man, made a wonderful statement. He said, 'The masses resent any frontal attack on their ignorance. It's their most priceless possession.'" As if to prove Ford's point, new attitudes in the 1960s and '70s eventually brought an end to the concert band performances on Belle Isle. The band shell began to be used for free rock concerts which drew large and often unruly crowds with no taste for the music of the Detroit Concert Band. Concerts were sometimes delayed when rock musicians refused to give up the stage at scheduled times and often were disrupted by catcalls and shouted insults. Once an impromptu striptease by a young female passerby caused an unscheduled break in the program. One Sunday evening in 1979, Smith cancelled a concert when a blue van pulled up and parked on the street near the band shell with a stereo radio blaring. Detroit police ordered the owner to turn down the radio but the noise resumed when they left. "We thoroughly intended to play that concert," said Smith, "but I figured it was unfair to ask me, the musicians, or the audience to be patient when there was that much loud blaring." The Belle Isle concerts ended in 1980, The band, however, continued performing at other sites in the suburbs and the State Fairgrounds.

Smith performed as the principal trumpet player with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and was considered a successor of John Philip Sousa. He conducted the Blossom Festival Concert Band, near Cleveland, from 1972 until 1997. He also briefly played with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Toscanini's NBC Orchestra, and studied with Ernest Williams. Born in Poughkeepsie, NY, Smith began studying the trumpet at age 8, received a musical scholarship to the New York Military Academy at 14 and joined the Edwin Franko Goldman Band at 19. In the 1930s, he served his tenure as principal trumpet of the Detroit Symphony. During World War II, he was principal cornetist and soloist with the U.S. Navy Band.

Smith founded the Detroit Concert Band in 1946, recorded all of John Philip Sousa's marches, made a BBC documentary about Sousa's life and amassed a huge collection of symphonies, operas and ballet music arranged for band. "He was the world's leading authority on Sousa," said his daughter, Sandra Smith Neilson, also of Scottsdale. Although he gave up playing trumpet and cornet when he was 55, Smith conducted the Detroit Concert Band until 1991. Trumpeter/cornetist Leonard B. Smith died July 26, 2004 in Scottsdale, AZ of a heart attack. He was 86.


- Jack Kopstein

Best of the British Isles: Percy Aldridge Grainger February 13 2014, 1 Comment

Just after the turn of the century, many European composers found inspiration in the folk songs of their respective cultures. Musicians would travel out to the countryside with wax cylinders, recording and collecting folk songs sung by the few people that still knew them. As the oral tradition of traditional folk music began its decline, this trend not only allowed people to learn more about their musical past, but also to preserve a waning tradition. In the band world, this movement had its greatest impact in England, where many English folk songs were transcribed, in some form, for the earliest configurations of the wind band.

When it comes to English folk songs, my mind immediately goes to Percy Aldridge Grainger.


Grainger, a native Australian, started his musical career as a young concert pianist, who toured the world before he started to write music of his own. He left Australia in 1895 at the age of 13, and started to receive acclaim around 1900. There’s a single video of Grainger playing piano on YouTube, and it’s very interesting to see how wildly his hands move about the keyboard.

Despite being born in Australia, Grainger is always associated with the English folk song movement, but he was determined to become an established pianist before promoting his compositions. He did not being to promote his growing list of compositions until the 1910's. One of his earliest works is still one of his well-known works; Molly on the Shore.

Like most of Grainger’s earlier work, Molly on the Shore began as a work for solo piano, but was later arranged for wind band, string quartet, and string orchestra. The band version strongly features the woodwinds, playing a light, quick melody, typical of the Irish reels on which it is based.

Grainger came to the United States in 1915 primarily as a concert pianist, but his reputation as a composer continued to grow. He also became an early advocate for the wind band. When the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, Grainger joined the Coast Artillery Corps of the U.S. Army, starting on saxophone, his favorite instrument, but later moved to the oboe. He became a U.S. citizen in 1918.

What is most interesting about Grainger’s music is how true he stayed to the folk song tradition. Many composers would normalize the lilting rhythms and sometimes incorrect pitches to fit with a specific key, but Grainger embraced these abnormalities. He will sometimes use irregular meters and harmonies, adding a special and unique color to his work that cannot be found in many other places.

Of all of Grainger’s work, Lincolnshire Posy is always referred to as his crowning achievement. This six movement piece showcases his usual treatment of rhythmic and harmonic motion, as well as the sing-song quality that the audience looks for in folk music. There are also moments of "free time" in the fifth movement, something that, when it was premiered in 1937, was way ahead of its time. Each movement is titled with the name of a folk song, which he recorded himself. There are moments more beautiful than any other folk setting I know, and other moments so difficult to perform, it was left out of its premiere performance. All the settings have their own flavor, but feature the versatility of Grainger’s talent.

You can hear Grainger’s music on many Altissimo! albums. The Molly on the Shore recording was taken from the United States Air Force album The Lord of the Rings, and Lincolnshire Posy is part of the United States Marine Band Bicentennial Collection. The United States Military Academy Band also has an album titled A Tribute to Percy Grainger, which features many of his wind band pieces. Also, be prepared for Best of the British Isles, a new Altissimo! release coming this March!

- Brian R. Denu

Gian Battista Mantagazzi February 03 2014, 0 Comments

Gian Battista (Johann Baptiste) Mantagazzi is considered to be one of Switzerland's finest march composers. Due to his ability and his knowledge of the varied music styles of many countries, he was able to compose marches that were both artistic and cosmopolitan. He was born in Riva San Vitale in the Swiss canton of Tessin (Ticino). The home of his parents, Gaetano-Vignajolo and Carolina Bernaschina Mantagazzi, was less than five miles from the Italian border, and the family spoke Italian, as did almost all of the Swiss who lived in Tessin. Gian Battista attended elementary and secondary school in Riva San Vitale and, in 1914, began to play trumpet with the Tessiner Battalion Band. During World War I he led that same band and later directed the 30th Swiss Infantry-Regiment Band. He also studied music at the conservatories in Geneva (1916 – 1918) and in Bologna, Italy (1918 – 1919).

From 1919 to 1924 Mantagazzi directed the municipal band and taught music in the school in the Genova-Nervi area of Italy's Riviera. In 1924 he returned to Switzerland to conduct the municipal band in the German-speaking city of Schaffhausen. A similar position became available in Zurich in 1928 with the band, which had only two previous directors since it was founded in 1880. Although over 100 bandmasters applied for the coveted position, Mantagazzi was selected. During his tenure in Zurich he helped develop the band movement of the Swiss Confederation and received many personal honors before his death in 1958.

Most of Mantagazzi's compositions were written for band, although his Tessiner Suite was also arranged for orchestra, and the Munot-marsch was also arranged for piano and for brass band. In addition he composed a considerable amount of music for festivals and films. Thirty of his marches were recorded for the Heritage of the March series.

The United States Navy Band has recorded the following Mantagazzi marches on Heritage of the March, Volume 5:

The recording is superb and is part of the Altissimo! Release of the Robert Hoe Collection.

- Jack Kopstein

Merle Evans: Toscanini of the Big Top January 29 2014, 0 Comments

Merle Evans was born in Columbus, Kansas in 1891. His father was a foreman in a coal mine, and he had six siblings. Evans had an early job selling newspapers on corners and he used his cornet to call attention to the headlines. After holding several other jobs, Evans left home and joined the S.W. Brundage Carnival Company as a cornet player. Evans held several other jobs, including as a band director for the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show featuring performer Buffalo Bill.

Evans was hired as the band director for the newly merged Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1919. Evans held this job for fifty years, until his retirement in 1969. He only missed performances due to a musicians union strike in 1942 and the death of his first wife. He wrote eight circus marches, including Symphonia and Fredella. Evans played to an estimated 165,120,000 circus fans, remaining active in circus music until his death at the age of 96.

On July 6, 1944, a fire broke out during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Hartford, Connecticut. The fire killed around 168 people.  The Wallendas were performing on the high wire, with the Evans and his band playing some soft waltz music, when Evans first spotted the flames at the big top's sidewall. He stopped the waltz with a flick of one hand. Some of the spectators thought the fire was a joke - or part of the act, but Evans knew better. The quick reaction of Merle Evans and his band is credited with saving thousands of lives. When Evans saw the fire, he signaled that the band should play John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever used in the circus as the “disaster march,” indicating an emergency. All the musicians knew the march by heart. As the band began to play, the performers heard the music and immediately began the evacuation. Accounts state that Evans and his band played until it was no longer safe to do so, and then evacuated and reformed outside, where their playing helped to pace the evacuation and steady the crowd. It was likened to the work of the Titanic band in 1912.

Merle Evans loved the music of the circus and knew the tempi of every known circus march, waltz, and polka, and clown music. He often complained about recordings made depicting the circus march and using the well-known expression “Screamers,” which he said were an abomination because they were, “too fast, too loud, and often poorly played."

After his retirement in 1969, Evans continued to contribute to the greater band community through various workshops and guest conducting opportunities. He passed away at his retirement home in Sarasota Florida on December 31, 1987. Evans would often perform with the circus bands when they had as many as 25 musicians. In his later years the numbers were deflated and he often appeared with small six or seven piece bands, playing trumpet and conducting at the same time. He was certainly one of the finest musician- bandmasters in American history, contributing greatly to the American music scene.

The marches heard on Altissimo!'s Under the Big Top are taken directly from the original march editions of the circus march. The tempi and instrumentation heard on this masterpiece recording are as Evans would have played them himself . The marches selected are the most well know of the circus marches from the repertoire.

- Jack Kopstein

Wind Band Transcriptions January 28 2014, 0 Comments

In today’s day and age, original works for the wind band are commonplace. Composers are constantly churning out pieces for school bands, professional ensembles, and the military bands at a growing rate. The amazing part of this trend is the fact that it is only about fifty years old. Before 1952, the year the Eastman Wind Ensemble formed, the wind band was rarely heard in a concert hall. Even today, the instrumentation of the wind band is very ambiguous, adding an extra hurdle for composers and arrangers.

Before the advent of original concert band music, most ensembles would perform programs of marches and orchestral transcriptions. Often, these transcriptions would be from popular operas at the time, many of which were written by Richard Wagner. A good example is Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman.

Another great orchestral overture for band is Guiseppe Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, which is still very popular today in both the orchestral and wind band repertoires. It is known for its particularly difficult flute excerpts.

The other big form of compositions during the turn of the century was, of course, the symphony. As mentioned in our previous post, German bandmaster Friedrich Wilhelm Wieprecht arranged all of Beethoven’s nine symphonies for his military band instrumentation, although we rarely hear these transcriptions today. Wind bands tend not to program entire symphonies, unless they are original works, so one is more likely to hear specific movements of symphonies being arranged. This frequently occurs with the finales of larger works. Finale from Symphony No. 1 in G minor, by Vasily Kalinnikov, a popular Russian composer during the early twentieth century, is an example of a piece that is rarely played in the orchestral world, but still sees performances by wind bands everywhere.

Today, while original works for wind band are more popular, arrangements and transcriptions are still a big part of most concert programs, and the number of these pieces are constantly growing in number. Most popular orchestral works, from John Adams to Tchaikovsky, have been arranged for wind bands at least once. Like the Kalinnikov, many of these transcriptions have received a new life through the wind band. Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture is just one of many possible examples.

Unlike a hundred years ago, the wind band now sits on equal footing with the orchestra in terms of repertoire. Everything from symphonies to your favorite movie soundtracks is available for wind bands to play!

- Brian R. Denu

Friedrich Wilhelm Wieprecht January 20 2014, 1 Comment

Contributed by Jack Kopstein


One of the most important German bandmasters and arrangers in the 1800’s was Friedrich Wilhelm Wieprecht. His seven-volume Königliche Preussische Armee Märsche, which contains full scores of his instrumentations, für die jetzige Stimmenbesetzung (for the present-day instrumentation) of selected works arranged in the chronological order of their composition from the mid-eighteenth century to 1853.

Wieprecht’s work is the ultimate in German military band instrumentation of that period, and you can see his chosen instrumentation below. Instruments of that era lacked the sophistication of the modern day instruments. One ingredient that later helped to add a blend to the mid-range of bands had not been introduced into the military band, the saxophone by Adolphe Sax.

Woodwind and Brass Basses: 2 Bassoons ("Fagotts") 1 Contrabassoon ("Contrafagott, Tritonikon, Sarrusophone") 1 Bass Tuba ("Bombardon, Helikon, Saxhorn Basso )

Co-Clarinets, Including the Highest Woodwinds: 1 Piccolo Clarinet in A-flat ("Kleine Clarinette") 2 E-flat Clarinets ("Mittel-Clarinetten") 4 Clarinets in B-flat ("Grosse Clarinetten")

High Woodwinds: 1 Piccolo in D-flat 2 Oboes (“Contrabasso")

Brasses: 4 Trumpets in E-flat ("Trompeten") 2 Tenor Trombones ("Zug-Posaunen im Tenor") 2 Bass Trombones ("Zug-Posaunen im Bass")

The Basic Saxhorn-Flügelhorn Group and the French Horns: 2 Sopranos in B-flat ("Hoch Flügelhörner, Saxhörner Soprano") 2 Altos in E-flat ("Alt Flügelhörner, Saxhörner Alto") 2 Waldhorns in E-flat ("Waldhörner") 2 Tenor Horns in B-flat ("Bass Flügelhörner, Saxhörner Tenore") 1 Baritone ("Bariton-Tuba. Euphoneon Saxhorn Baritone")

Percussion: Drums and Cymbals ("Militair Trommel, Grosse Trommel mit Becken").

This is a large band, but forty-two musicians could do justice to Wieprecht's instrumentation, if that is what American bandmasters had in mind. It is likely that Wieprecht's international reputation as the reorganizer of the Prussian military bands made him a powerfully influential figure, particularly among those favorably disposed to things German. A fascinating aspect of Weiprecht is that he transcribed the nine symphonies of Beethoven for the instrumentation listed above. He was certainly known and respected in New York, and early in the Civil War, a Boston critic wrote an article about Weiprecht’s influence in the military band field.

“In Prussia there is a band master general, who organizes and controls the entire music of the Prussian army. Every band in the whole kingdom must conform, in numbers, in the selection and proportion of various instruments, in the particular structure, compass, pitch, &c., of each kind of instrument, to his unitary standard. He is thoroughly master of his subject, and probably knows more of the capacities of wind instruments and the best ways of combining them, so as to obtain the most effect, for every kind of service, than any man in Europe. Wieprecht is his name. He is preparing a treatise on wind instruments, which will be invaluable. Liszt and Berlioz, whose work on ‘Instrumentation’ is well known, have owed much to Wieprecht.”

Wieprecht was responsible in large part for the organization of German and Prussian bands. His  standard instrumentation formed the basis for the great marches which have been written by composers such as Teike, and Blankenburg. These wonderful masterpieces may be heard on albums such like Gott, Kaiser, Vaterland: Music of Imperial Germany and Hoch Deutschlands Flotte! Music of the Imperial German Navy, both of which feature archival recordings of German military bands. You can also hear traditional German military marches in Heritage of the March, Volume 1 and Heritage of the March, Volumes 3 - 4. If you want to read more about military band music of this era, check out this great chapter of an online textbook, devoted to the history of wind bands.

- Jack Kopstein  

John Philip Sousa: More than Marches January 15 2014, 0 Comments

John Philip Sousa will forever be known as the "March King," and for good reason. According to Wikipedia, Sousa wrote 136 marches during his lifetime, and most of them are still fairly popular and performed regularly by bands across the globe. He is easily the first name in marches worldwide.

But did you know he did other things? Of course, it is common knowledge that along with being a march composer, Sousa was an accomplished conductor, both of the United States Marine Band and his own Sousa Band. He also wrote a few books, and was an expert trapshooter. Focusing on his compositions, however, Sousa wrote many other pieces of music, in several different styles, outside of the march idiom. For example: El Capitan. [embed height="80" width="560"][/embed] El Capitan was one of several operettas composed by John Philip Sousa. It was premiered in 1896 in Boston, and would later move to New York City  that same year. Before the turn of the century, El Capitan would tour across the U.S. and Canada, as well undergo a lengthy production in London. Of the nine complete operettas, and several unfinished ones, El Capitan was the most popular in its own time, and continues to be produced today, on occasion. Themes from the operetta were taken by Sousa to produce El Capitan the march, which is the more popular version of this music today. Another non-march work by Sousa is his three-movement work titled The Last Days of Pompeii.

The Last Days of Pompeii was written in 1893, the same year as his famed march The Liberty Bell. It's a three movement suite that contains some march-elements and styles, but ventures far away from the standard forms. The first two movements are very similar, featuring a typical march theme. The third movement is where it gets interesting. Titled Destruction, it is meant to reflect the Roman town of Pompeii as it is destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius. It starts off peaceful, with a lovely melody in the woodwinds, only to change to a drastically different darker motive. The suite ends with another calm melody, almost to represent the stillness of a demolished city.

What I find most interesting about Sousa's extensive list of works, aside from the fact that he wrote a lot of music, is how he has such a distinctive style. Many people will argue that all Sousa marches sound the same, and in a way they are not wrong; Sousa's march form is very strict across his composition portfolio. But, I feel looking at some of his more obscure works grants the listener better insight into the real compositional skill Sousa had. If I did not know Sousa wrote The Last Days of Pompeii, I would probably think it was some strange lost work of Richard Strauss or some other late romantic composer. And yet, knowing that it is Sousa's work, one can hear certain harmonic and melodic elements that are unmistakably Sousa.

You can hear much more of Sousa's non-march music, and most if not all of his marches, on Altissimo!'s The Heritage of John Philip Sousa Box Set. It consists of nine volumes, totaling about twelve hours of Sousa's music, all performed by the United States Marine Band. You can order the physical set at, or download it on iTunes.

Brian Denu

Pipes Arrangements January 13 2014, 0 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

The employment of pipes and military band in special arrangements has almost been taken for granted. Bands and pipes playing together at the Tattoos of Nova Scotia and Edinburgh have become standard fare. This was not always the case.

One of the bandmasters to experiment with this combination as Kenneth J. Alford (a.k.a. Frederick J. Ricketts). Earlier, Lt. Col. McKenzie Rogan of the Scots Guards experimented before WWI with the idea but the results proved unacceptable. As bandmaster of the regimental band of the Argyll & Sutherland Highland for many years, Alford had an ideal opportunity to experiment with the novel idea. Aware of the limitations of the Scottish pipes, Alford was careful to utilize them in such a way as to maximize their sound with his band. This usually took the form of the pipers playing a tune first solo before having the band join in with a harmonized version of the music usually in the form of accompaniment. For the Argyll’s 1925/26 visit to New Zealand six pipers accompanied the band.

Alford arranged well-known Pipes Arrangements Scottish piping tunes such as Road to the Isles, Blue Bonnets, Thou Hast left Me Jamie, and Black Bear. The concerts were well received all throughout New Zealand. No doubt other tunes were combined in this way as well. This modest beginning is the true origins of the now famed band and pipes sound.

Today tunes like Amazing Grace and Scotland the Brave have become standard at many of the large Tattoos in the world. They all owe their inspiration to the arranging skill of Kenneth J. Alford who was innovative enough in his day to try new concepts. Indeed, Alford's skills as an arranger were just as great as his march composing skills.

Listeners can find examples of how the band and pipes concept has involved over the years with the Altissimo! Canadian Bagpipes and American Brass.

Original material by Roger Kennedy (with our thanks) and additional information from Jack Kopstein.

H. Owen Reed, 1910 - 2014 January 08 2014, 0 Comments

This week, the wind band community lost H. Owen Reed, a well-known composer and music educator, at the age of 103. It is likely that you know him as the person who wrote La Fiesta Mexicana, a very popular work for wind band, which has been recorded by countless ensembles, including the United States Marine Band. More on that later.

H. Owen Reed playing the jazz chart Misty at age 102

Reed began his life in a small Missouri town, where he grew up acquainted with traditional fiddle tunes and the popular piano music of the 1920’s. The piano was his primary instrument, but as he entered the world of higher education, he focused his musical talents on composition. He received a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Music degree from Louisiana State University, and a degree in French. He then went to the Eastman School of Music for his Ph.D., also in composition. Over the years, he studied with prominent composers, such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Bohuslav Martinů, and Arnold Schoenberg.

Immediately upon acquiring his Ph.D. in 1939, he began teaching at Michigan State University, and would continue to teach there until 1976. While there, he taught many composition students, many of which, such as David Maslanka and David Gillingham, have gone on to write wind band music of their own.

The music of H. Owen Reed has a certain fresh quality to it. While much of his most popular music, (ie. La Fiesta Mexicana) was composed in the mid-twentieth century, I feel as if much of it could have been written in the past few decades. A lot of his work stemmed the traditional music he grew up with, and academic research he did in the field of the traditional music of Mexico, and Native Americans. For example, Missouri Shindig is a piece he wrote for band in 1951, and is based on the fiddle tune “Give the Fiddler a Dram”, and emulates the traditional music of his childhood.

Then, of course, there’s La Fiesta Mexicana. The piece is in three movements, each of which relates back to Reed’s research in Mexico. The music he heard during his six month stay ranged from the sacred music of their churches (movement two is titled Mass), to the music of mariachi bands, to traditional Aztec music. Reed coaxes grand and luscious textures from the wind band, in a way that is not easy to do. The use of traditional and folk music makes his music relevant across generations, while still maintaining the fresh quality that emanates in all of his music.

H. Owen Reed lived a long, rich life, contributing all if not most of it to the creation of music, and educating others to do the same. While he will surely be missed, he legacy lives on in the music he has written, and in all the students he taught over the course of his life. Rest in peace.


-Brian Denu

Anniversary of a World Renowned March January 06 2014, 1 Comment

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

Colonel Bogey March, by Kenneth J. Alford, turns 100 in 2014! Colonel Bogey is arguably the most famous march ever written. It is certainly the most profitable. First published in 1914 - a portentous year for marches if ever there was one - it quickly made the best-seller sheet music lists. By the early 1930's, it had sold well over a million copies in various forms, and had been recorded innumerable times and had already begun clocking up useful performing rights from the BBC. Even better, in 1958 it was chosen as the theme tune for the splendid film The Bridge on the River Kwai – although in the form of the very tuneful counter melody. It is of course a fine march whose opening has proved totally irresistible for the best part of a century.

Its composer was Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts (1881-1945), a military bandmaster who was Director of Music for the Royal Marines at Plymouth. Because at that time Service personnel were not encouraged to have professional lives in the great big world outside, Ricketts published Colonel Bogey and his other compositions under the pseudonym Kenneth J. Alford.


So much for the composer -- but who in fact was Colonel Bogey? The story goes that this was a nickname by which a certain fiery colonel was known just before the 1914 War when Ricketts was stationed at Fort George near Inverness in Scotland. One of the composer's recreations was playing golf and it was on the local course that he sometimes encountered the eccentric colonel. One of the latter's peculiarities was that instead of shouting "Fore!" to warn of an impending drive, he preferred to whistle a descending minor third. This little musical tag stayed and germinated in the mind of the receptive Ricketts -- and so the opening of a memorable march was born.

The sheet music was a million-seller, and the march was recorded many times. At the start of World War II, Colonel Bogey became part of British way of life when the tune was set to other popular song: an unofficial national anthem to rudeness. Colonel Bogey was used as a march-past by the 10th and 50th Battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, the latter of which is perpetuated today by The King's Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC) of the Canadian Forces who claim Colonel Bogey as their authorized march-past in quick time. Numerous arrangements have surfaced including piano, orchestra, and organ.

The march has over the years developed into Nation Symbol musically of Britain. The British Heart and Soul is represented in the melodic and harmonic structure as well as the marvelous counter melody. Colonel Bogey march has the distinction of being playable in any situation-on the street, in the concert hall and with any small group or ensemble, big or small. Alissimo! salutes the 100th anniversary of the Colonel Bogey March –It is an international treasure. We are proud to say that the march appears no less than 11 times on our albums. Go to this link to see the vast array of albums.

- Jack Kopstein

Kidnapped by the Afghans! December 11 2013, 0 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

Bandmaster Murdock, 72nd Highlander, 1874/75 - From Victorian Forum

London Illustrated News; "Band Master Murdock on the March from Peshawar to the Khyber Pass".Garen, a writer in this forum said” During some Afghan War research in 2005, I happened upon an unrelated story about a Bandsman of the 72nd Highlanders in The Scotsman. It was just two short snippets - but I was intrigued”!

The Scotsman, 4 January 1875 "The bandmaster of the 72nd Highlanders has been carried off to the Khyber Pass by the Afridis."

The Scotsman, 12 January 1875 "We lately mentioned that the bandmaster of the 72nd Highlanders had been carried off by the Afreedee tribes. The Times' Calcutta correspondent now says:- The regiment is stationed at Peshawur, and it was while returning from the sergeant's mess at that station that the unfortunate man was seized. According to the latest news he was still alive, but the captors had refused to give him up until a ransom of £700 has been paid."

One of the forum members did a bit of digging around and came up with a possible name for the bandmaster based on the dates - one Charles Frederick Murdock. My next find was almost a year later, this time from The Times:

The Times, 18 Jan 1875 "I mentioned last week that a bandmaster of the 72d Highlanders had been carried away from Peshawur by some of the mountain tribes. Since then I have been able to inform you by telegram that he has been restored alive and well. It appears that he was returning from mess at night and fell asleep by the roadside at some distance from the station, but within the cantonment boundary. He was then siezed and carried off by a party of Afridis who were prowling about. They demanded a ransom of £700. This, I believe, has not been paid, and I have not heard how they were induced to release their captive."

Hmmm... "fell asleep by the roadside..." - perhaps our luckless bandmaster was not quite so blameless in the incident, after all! The Times yielded more results, and confirmed the correct name to be Murdoch (Murdock).

The Times, 19 Jan 1875 "The Afreedis have sent in the bandmaster whom they held captive for a period. It is understood, though not explicitly stated, that the ransom they demanded for their captive has been paid. Opinions differ as to the course that should have been pursued for the recovery of Mr. Murdoch. Some people think we should have undertaken a small frontier war, leaving the unlucky musician in momentary danger of having his throat cut, before consenting to pay over any number of rupees the tribe cared to demand. Perhaps, after all, we have adopted the better plan. Having paid the money, we are now free to send an expedition for its recovery, or to take its equivalent out of the astute mountaineers."

The Times, 25 Jan 1875 "In telling you the story of the bandmaster's capture I think I gave you the version generally adopted by the Indian press - that he had fallen asleep by the roadside while returning from dinner at the mess. He has, I see, written to The Pioneer indignantly repudiating this. The facts are, he says, that he dined in the middle of the day, conducted his band from 5 to 6, and then went to see the bandmaster of the 17th, and while walking home again he was seized by a party of mountaineers."

Now he's protesting at insinuations about 'falling asleep'. A month later I found the following in Paget's 'A Record of the Expeditions Against the North West Frontier Tribes' (p.293)... "On the night of 4th December 1874, the bandmaster of the 72nd Highlanders, stationed at Peshawar, was carried off by a party of raiders belonging to the Zakha Khel clan, and taken to the Khaiber pass, when he was released uninjured, after a short detention, through the instrumentality of Arbab Abdul Majid Khan. Subsequently the representatives of the tribe repudiated the acts of the robbers, and in token thereof burnt the house of the leader of the gang, and returned a small amount of property taken from the bandmaster."

This seemed to flesh out the story quite a bit, but another two years after finding that (last month, in fact) I found one more piece of the puzzle, which really gave enough to pretty much complete the picture. The following passage is from Sir Robert Warburton's 'Eighteen Years in the Khyber' (1900, p.42-44), which I recently added to my collection...

"One morning in the seventies it was whispered about Peshawar Cantonments that the bandmaster of a distinguished regiment had disappeared. The secret of his whereabouts was well kept for two or three days, and it then leaked out that he had been carried off, and was a prisoner amongst the Zakha Khel Afridis of the Khyber Pass, by whom he was well fed and kindly treated. The civil authorities called upon Arbab Majid Khan, Khalil of Taikal Bala, to recover the bandmaster, and within a week or ten days he was brought back safe and sound to his regiment at Peshawar. Some years afterwards, when I had been for a long period in charge of the Khyber Pass and had become well acquainted with the Zakha Khel, I remembered the anecdote of the bandmaster, and asked his captors to tell me what had occurred on that occasion. They said that a band of Nikki Khel Zakha Khels of the Khyber started on an expedition towards Peshawar, and passing the cemetery on the Jamrud road, they descended into the ravine, which commences at the Brigade parade ground and goes round the whole of the Cantonments on that side, past the second cemetery by the road that leads from Peshawar to Michni, where it joins the Sheikh-ka-Katha and the Budni stream, through the Military Works Department brickfields. On the night in question they had not gone far, had not even reached the lower cemetery, when they noticed a lighted lantern in the ravine and a European lying on the ground close to it. They scattered at once, thinking it was some trap laid by Mr. Nyx, at that period the Inspector of Cantonment Police; but, crawling round and round the light, they gradually approached it until they came upon the figure of a European fast asleep. Extinguishing the lantern, they raised the sleeper on their shoulders, and carried him for a distance of four miles, until they had passed the police station of Burj-Harri Singh, where they placed him on his feet and, supporting him, made him walk towards Jamrud Fort and the Khyber. It must have been a powerful narcotic that had been administered to him that evening, for he walked eight miles and had reached the entrance to the pass before dawn began to appear and cool morning breeze brought him to his senses. Making use of a friendly expression he attempted to break away from his captors, but they immediately drew their long Afridi knives, called charas, and gave him to understand by visible signs that they had no intention of being trifled with. After this he went quietly with them to their Zakha Khel settlements, and remained there until brought back to Peshawar. The Zakha Khel spoke well of the behaviour of the bandmaster, to the effect that during the week or ten days he was under their charge he displayed no fear."

A 'powerful narcotic' indeed! Finally, is it conceivable that the band members may have had a hand in this KIDNAPPING ?

- Jack Kopstein

Songs of the Season, Part II December 09 2013, 0 Comments

A recent article on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence talks about what makes a good Christmas album. It discusses how classical Christmas albums exist in our society, the economics of makings such recordings, and how things have changed over the years. The article also brings up how the holiday season is a huge time of the year for performing arts organization, often drawing the largest audiences of the year to hear the classics, such as Handel’s Messiah and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Orchestras, choirs, bands, and ensembles of all shapes and sizes frequently put on some sort of holiday concert, often marking the musical end of the calendar year. The bands of the U.S. military are no different in this regard, and I recommend checking out our new events page, which is linked directly to the events pages for the bands of each military branch. Definitely make a point to see them live if you find yourself in the vicinity of one of their performances.

Of course, not all of us can see the best bands in the land perform this holiday season. Luckily Altissimo! carries all of the best recordings of the best holiday tunes for band. Now, most holiday band concerts are going to vary between arrangers and styles of certain songs. However, to me, there are a few standards that should be part of all holiday band concerts, if they do not already.

The music of Alfred Reed is a staple among wind bands everywhere, and two of his greatest works are of the holiday flavor. Reed’s transcription of Greensleeves is one such work. Now, while this is, an arrangement, it stands out against other holiday arrangements of its kind. Reed doesn’t attempt to cover or change the original characteristics of the song, but keeps the harmony clean and simple, with the occasional counter-melody weaving through the woodwinds. It has an older feel to it, unlike other arrangements, which often stride towards a modernized feeling of older works. Like I posted last week, I’m a purist when it comes to holiday music, and I feel like Alfred Reed is as well.


Reed’s other holiday-inspired work is his Russian Christmas Music. This piece is a personal favorite of mine, despite the fact that I myself have never performed it. Unlike in Greensleeves, this piece is much more original in nature. The opening section is based on a 16th century Russian Christmas carol, but the rest of work consists of Reed’s own melodies. Russian Christmas Music reflects both the solemn religious aspects of the Christmas season, as well as overwhelming joy throughout its length. Reed contrasts solos with loud, brassy, chords, and presents orchestration and harmony which is distinctly Russian.



You can find both of these Alfred Reed works, and many more, on the album One of Our Own: Alfred Reed, performed by the US Air Force Band of Mid-America. The CD also includes Armenian Dances, Part I, another one of my personal favorites.

The music of Alfred Reed is very well written, and reflects a more serious note when it comes to the music of the holiday season, which is why it contrasts well with other more popular Christmas tunes. But, nothings says “holiday band standard” like Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride.


Everyone loves Sleigh Ride. The familiar tune resonates in people of all musical persuasions. From a performer’s point of view, it’s just really fun to play, whether you play the horse whinny on trumpet, or the percussionist who gets to crack the whip. It’s one of those pieces that you can’t help but enjoy it, regardless of on which side of the stage you sit. You can find all three of the holiday pieces mentioned here at Thank you all so much for your support.

-Brian R. Denu

Label Manager, Altissimo! Recordings

Remembering the USS Arizona and The Band December 04 2013, 0 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

On December 7th 1941 At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time (12:55 p.m. EST) on December 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes attacked the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, launching one of the deadliest attacks in American history. The assault, which lasted less than two hours, claimed the lives of more than 2,500 people, wounded 1,000 more and damaged or destroyed 18 American ships and nearly 300 airplanes. Almost half of the casualties at Pearl Harbor occurred on the naval battleship USS Arizona, which was hit four times by Japanese bombers.

As we commemorate the 72nd anniversary of this “date which will live in infamy,” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it on December 8, 1941, we remember that The USS Arizona’s entire band was lost in the attack. Almost half of the casualties at Pearl Harbor occurred on the naval battleship USS Arizona, which was hit four times by Japanese bombers and eventually sank. Among the 1,177 crewmen killed were all 21 members of the Arizona’s band, known as U.S. Navy Band Unit (NBU) 22. Most of its members were up on deck preparing to play music for the daily flag raising ceremony when the attack began. They instantly moved to man their battle positions beneath the ship’s gun turret. At no other time in American history has an entire military band died in action.

Arizona Band

The night before the attack, NBU 22 had attended the latest round of the annual “Battle of Music” competition between military bands from U.S. ships based at Pearl Harbor. Contrary to some reports, NBU 22 did not perform, having already qualified for the finals set to be held on December 20, 1941. Following the assault, the unit was unanimously declared the winner of that year’s contest, and the award was permanently renamed the USS Arizona Band Trophy.

- Jack Kopstein

Songs of the Season, Part I December 02 2013, 1 Comment

Last week I had the pleasure to see snow.

Ever since I moved to Nashville at the start of November, I was afraid that my migration south would lead to mild winters with nothing but cold rain and ice. Even though it didn’t stick, it gave me hope that one day I would wake up to a winter wonderland in my new home.

It also got me listening to Christmas music.

The music of the holiday season is a little strange if you think about it. I have trouble thinking of any other music that is only socially acceptable during a narrow window of time. And even though it only exists in the public eye for about two months of the year, it spans nearly all possible musical genres. Everyone from the United States Marine Band to Justin Bieber has released a holiday album, and while there are countless volumes of recordings, they all have roots to a few handfuls of original carols and songs. The bands of the U.S. military have recorded many holiday albums, and reflects the genre’s range of styles. During this holiday season, I want to explore the various types of holiday music that can be found on Altissimo!’s website, to demonstrate the wide variety of subgenres offered by military bands and their component organizations.

We’ll start at the more traditional end of the spectrum. While my own musical tastes are somewhat unusual, I consider myself a purist when it comes to holiday music. I’d much rather listen to a small choir sing Silent Night (preferably in its traditional German) than some other-worldly electro-punk pop version of the same song (which, for the record, doesn’t appear to exist anywhere… yet). A great example of the simple, four-part harmony version of traditional carols is the aptly named album Caroling.

Since the Eisenhower Administration, The United States Air Force Band Singing Sergeants have been caroling at the White House every December for the Washington D.C. community, and Caroling is their way of presenting their favorite carols in a recorded medium. The album does an excellent job of presenting traditional Christmas carols, and one Hanukkah song, in the simplest of forms. It transports you to a quiet city street on Christmas Eve, with a band of carolers roaming door-to-door. The disc features a few more popular songs, such as Jingle Bells, Deck the Hall, and Away in A Manger, but it focuses on more traditional tunes. Songs such as Fum, fum, fum and Somerset Wassail are traditional European carols (Spanish and English respectively), and are not songs you typically hear on all-Christmas radio stations, but are part of the larger Christmas caroling tradition. The group also performs Carol of the Bells, one of my personal favorite holiday songs as far as traditional carols is concerned.

But even though the Singing Sergeants are highlighting more traditional carols, they still offer a few more modernized renditions of some classics. Their version of The Holly and the Ivy uses tasteful jazz harmony and percussion, and still has that traditional caroling feel to it. The album’s rendition of Go Tell it on the Mountain, a song that I don’t usually associate with the holidays, is sung in its original spiritual style, and features a piano accompaniment. All of the small departures from the main caroling idiom help to spice up the album, separating it from other CD’s of Christmas carols. You can order Caroling at It’s really perfect if you’re a purist, or if you just enjoy a little choral music during this special time of year. Like I said, all holiday season I will be reviewing and discussing all corners of Altissimo!’s holiday music collection, touching upon whatever you need to celebrate this December. Thank you all so much for your support.



-Brian R. Denu

Label Manager, Altissimo! Recordings