Wisconsin native Pierre La Plante (b. 1943) is an American composer with French-Canadian roots.  His works for band have been performed internationally.  His approach to composition is informed by his many years teaching both beginning and high school band in Wisconsin.  If you have a chance, look at his very nice website.

American Riversongs was dedicated to and commissioned by the Oberlin (Ohio) High School Band and their director, Stephen Johnson III, in 1988.  La Plante details his inspiration on the cover of the score:

American Riversongs is based on traditional and composed music of an earlier time, when the rivers and waterways were the lifelines of a growing nation.

American Riversongs begins with a rousing setting of “Down the River”, followed by an expansive and dramatic treatment of “Shenandoah” or “Across the Wide Missouri,” as it is sometimes called.  After a brief transition, a brass band is heard playing a quadrille-like version of Stephen Foster‘s “The Glendy Burk.” As the “Glendy Burk” travels along, a second theme is introduced by piccolo, flutes and tambourine.  The second theme is based on a Creole bamboula tune that probably originated in the Louisiana delta region.  Other composers have used this melody, including Louis Moreau Gottschalk in his La Bamboula, Op. 2 for piano and his Symphony no. 1, subtitled A Night in the Tropics. The bamboula theme is marked by an incessant syncopated ragtime rhythm and used to good effect in the coda to bring American Riversongs to a rowdy, foot-stomping close.

An anonymous band gives a mostly quite good rendition of American Riversongs, perhaps with some overzealous performances in the percussion section:

The first song featured is “Down the River”, which is a little lark of a song about being out on the Ohio River.  I first encountered it while teaching elementary school music (I used it to teach contour to second graders), so it is fitting that the best internet source about it is another elementary school music lesson page.  Read Beth’s Music Notes for a taste of the lyrics and the original melody (not much changed in American Riversongs).

Here is just one version of the classic “Shenandoah” (which you can read more about in my entry on Frank Ticheli’s fine version):

“Glendy Burk” is a Stephen Foster song that tells a Mississippi River story.  Here’s a folky rendition:

Finally, La Plante mentions Gottschalk, whose setting of the bamboula rhythm sounds so very straight-laced compared to what we are used to now, but it caused a sensation in Paris when it was first played in public in 1849:

David Frazier at Kansas State University put together a very good teaching unit for American Riversongs.  Sadly, it is short on information about “Down the River”, but is a wonderful resource for every other aspect of the piece.