Educated at the University of Michigan, composer Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) has become one of the biggest names in new wind band repertoire.  Since 1991 he has been a Professor of Composition USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.

Ticheli’s 1999 composition Shenandoah is based on an American folk song of the same name whose popularity has not been dimmed by its uncertain origin and meaning – more on that in a minute.  Ticheli himself aptly describes how this song inspired his work for band:

In my setting of Shenandoah I was inspired by the freedom and beauty of the folk melody and by the natural images evoked by the words, especially the image of a river.  I was less concerned with the sound of a rolling river than with its life-affirming energy – its timelessness.  Sometimes the accompaniment flows quietly under the melody; other times it breathes alongside it.  The work’s mood ranges from quiet reflection, through growing optimism, to profound exaltation.

He also gives some historical background on the song:

The Shenandoah Valley and the Shenandoah River are located in Virginia.  There is disagreement among historians concerning the origins of their names.  Some claim that the river and valley were named in  the 1750’s by the Cherokee as a friendly tribute to a visiting Iroquois Chief named Skenandoah.  Others suggest that the region was named not by the Cherokee, but by the Senedo Indians of the Virginia Valley.  In the Senedo tradition, Shenandoah means “daughter of the moon”, and bears no relation to the Iroquois Chief Skenandoah.

The origins of the folk song are equally obscure, but all date to the 19th century.  It has been attributed variously to a coal miner in Pennsylvania, a young protege of Stephen Foster, and to a housewife in Lexington, Kentucky [ed: also to Native Americans or French-Canadian sailors!]. Many variants on the melody and text have been handed down through the years, the most popular telling the story of an early settler’s love for a Native American woman.

More info on Ticheli’s version of Shenandoah can be found here, at his publisher’s website.  This site is also home to a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music – quite a find!

Frank Ticheli’s personal website, Frankticheli.com.

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.

An anonymous band plays Shenandoah:

A vocal version by the Choir of New College, Oxford:

Shenandoah National Park’s video page can give you some idea of the natural beauty that inspired this music.  The photo slideshow on the Shenandoah Valley tourism page isn’t bad either!

Info about the original song Shenandoah on wikipedia.

Finally, one possible set of lyrics to the original tune.  Many versions exist, this is just one of them (from lyricstime.com):

O Shenando’ I long to hear you,
Away, you rolling river
O Shenando’ I long to hear you
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

O Shenando’ I long to see you
Away you rolling river
O Shenando’ I long to see you
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

‘Tis seven years since I have seen you
To hear your rolling river
O Shenando’ I long to see you
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri

O Shenando’ I’ll not forget you
I’ll dream of your clear waters
O Shenando’ you’re in my mem’ry
Away, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri