John Barnes Chance (1932-1972) was born in Texas, where he played percussion in high school. His early interest in music led him to the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying composition with Clifton Williams. The early part of his career saw him playing timpani with the Austin Symphony, and later playing percussion with the Fourth and Eighth U.S. Army Bands during the Korean War. Upon his discharge, he received a grant from the Ford Foundation’s Young Composers Project, leading to his placement as resident composer in the Greensboro, North Carolina public schools. Here he produced seven works for school ensembles, including his classic Incantation and Dance. He went on to become a professor at the University of Kentucky after winning the American Bandmasters Association’s Ostwald award for his Variations on a Korean Folk Song. Chance was accidentally electrocuted in his backyard in Lexington, Kentucky at age 39, bringing his promising career to an early, tragic end.
The OCU School of Music Band Program Note database offers this note on Elegy:
When a member of the West Genesee Senior High School Band died, Elegy was commissioned in his memory. It is a single-movement, solemn work based on a five-note motif stated initially in the low woodwinds. The piece builds to a bold statement in the horns which grows to a dramatic climax. A brass fanfare played with the theme in the woodwinds again ends abruptly, after which the piece closes in a fragmented echo of the beginning. The music symbolizes the tragedy of a life cut short, seemingly unfinished, as a portion of the original motif is left hanging while each instrument dies away.
Sadly, Chance wrote Elegy only months before his own sudden and tragic death. The piece stands as an emotional monument to this composers unfinished career.
Listing of a John Barnes Chance CD on Amazon.com with an extensive customer review at the bottom that is required reading.
This performance of Elegy is among the best you will ever hear. It is Frederick Fennell conducting the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, the finest conductor the wind band has ever known leading one of the finest bands in the world. Together Fennell and the Kosei folks play this tragic piece with all the necessary gravitas and emotion.