I first heard Chorale and Shaker Dance (1971) when I was a freshman in high school in 1994. My school was small enough that I had met and become friends with a number of upperclassmen in the band through our Pep Band and Show Choir and things like that. At the time, though, there were 2 bands at my school: the symphonic band (juniors and seniors) and the concert band (freshmen and sophomores). We had our end-of-year concert together, and each group got to listen to the other. I don’t quite remember what we in the concert band played (I’m pretty sure Alfred Reed’s Imperatrix was on the program), but I very clearly remember Chorale and Shaker Dance as played by my upperclassmen friends. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing! It was so complex, so sophisticated, so riveting! I thought multiple times, “how are they doing this?!?”. It was really a mind-blowing experience, seeing my friends do something so big and impressive.
My band director, the legendary Bruce Schmottlach, retired at the end of that year. My old middle school band director, Dean Coutsouridis, came up to replace him. Couts (as we called him) programmed Chorale and Shaker Dance again my junior year, giving me the chance to experience it from the inside. And what an experience it was! Playing that ascending whole-tone scale trumpet solo always gave me a thrill.
I’ve been sent on this trip down memory lane by the piece’s inclusion in the Hartt School of Music 2011 Instrumental Conducting Symposium. Looking through the score, 18 years and 2 masters degrees later, has made me reflect on my earlier experiences with the piece. This piece deserves its classic status, and it deserves to be played in high schools and colleges and community bands and professional bands everywhere. I am certain that it helped push me, in my formative years, towards becoming a band director.
But why talk when we can listen. Imagine hearing this from the perspective of a small-town 14-year-old and you’ll understand why it stands out for me:
Now the requisite links:
John Zdechlik (the composer) was born in Minnesota, where he still lives and teaches, in 1937. He has his own website, as well as a biography at Kjos, his publisher. He wrote Chorale and Shaker Dance in 1971 for the Jefferson High School band in Bloomington, Minnesota. To learn more about the piece, check out this guy’s “activity page”, the wikipedia article, and this instructional guide.
Bonus video: someone actually made a Chorale and Shaker Dance graphic novel of sorts…