David Maslanka (1943-2017) was an American composer whose cerebral music ranges from chamber music miniatures to large, epic symphonies.  Born in New Bedford, MA, Maslanka studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music(including a year at the Salzburg Mozarteum) and with H. Owen Reed at Michigan State University.  He spent his early career teaching at several institutions before dedicating himself solely to composition in 1990.  He won several awards for his music, and he worked solely on commission for many years.  His compositions for wind band won him particular acclaim, including more than a dozen concertos, seven symphonies (plus two more for orchestra), and several concert pieces, including A Child’s Garden of Dreams.  His Symphony no. 10 remained unfinished at his death.

On This Bright Morning was commissioned by a group of Montana bands, mostly in high schools, led by James Smart at the University of Montana.  It was completed in 2013 and workshopped with the second band at Hellgate High School in Missoula.  Its long melodic lines, slow harmonic progressions, and general reflective nature are hallmarks of Maslanka’s style.  He provides the following program note in the score:

There are times of stability in life, and times of significant transition. Transitions can be upsetting, often provoked or accompanied by physical or emotional troubles. They are times of uncertainty and unknowing, but also the times of greatest creative change.

“On This Bright Morning” acknowledges the struggle, and the feelings of pain and loss in times of transition, but embodies the pure joy of realizing the bigger life. On this bright morning, life is new, life is possible.

The following is from a Bill Moyers interview with the poet, Jane Kenyon, who suffered chronic depression, and who died of leukemia at age 48:

“Yes, there are things in life that we must endure that are all but unendurable, and yet I feel that there is a great goodness. Why, when there could have been nothing, is there something? How, when there could have been nothing, does it happen that there is love, kindness, beauty?”

David Maslanka (December 2013)

Here it is in performance by the University of Utah Wind Ensemble:

Consortium leader James Smart adds some performance wisdom of his own (taken from a Montana Bandmasters listserv):

It is everything that you want in one of David’s pieces without the technical difficulty. The melodies are glacial overlays on top of bubbling piano, percussion, clarinet, and trumpet arpeggios. If you focus on the minutia of singular notes or moments, the piece will not reveal its depth. It is David’s harmonic and melodic purpose, direction, and shape that creates the magic in the piece.

Read more about On This Bright Morning at Maslanka’s wonderful website, where you can also see a perusal score.  Also visit Maslanka at Wikipedia and Carl Fisher, and read his obituary in US News.