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.
Chance wrote Blue Lake Overture in 1971 for the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan. The outer sections of the piece feature rhythmic intensity brought about by Chance’s free use of both 3- and 2-eighth note groups in 4/4. While this often produces a 3+3+2 pattern which matches the length of the 4/4 bar, more often the note groupings defy that meter altogether, spilling over barlines and creating moments that sound like 5/8, 9/8, and even unknown hybrid meters. The middle section settles into a circusy waltz with wandering tonality. Every section of the band gets a soli in this rhythmic thrill ride.
Blue Lake Overture is a much-loved but not much-played piece. Program notes and reviews of the piece abound. The highlights:
Listing of a John Barnes Chance CD on Amazon.com with an extensive customer review at the bottom that is required reading.
For extra fun, here is the website of the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp for which this piece was composed.
More performances of Blue Lake Overture are popping up on YouTube. This one is still the best. It is a high school band from Florida. They go quite a bit faster than necessary, but it’s quite exciting that way!