To preview the upcoming performance by Lake Agassiz Concert band on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 3 p.m., we got an inside look into what it’s like to compose a symphony like James Barnes’ 9th and final symphony.
Contrary to what one may think, composing a symphony oftentimes starts out of order. Simple lines present themselves one-after-another to unveil a larger perspective.
“One of the great misconceptions people have about composers is that they think we start on the upper left corner of the page and write all the music in the final order that is presented,” says Barnes. “This is not usually true. For instance, in the case of my “Ninth Symphony,” I wrote the second movement first, then I sketched part of the third movement before turning to the first movement. The Finale actually did come last, but I wrote the end of the fourth movement before I wrote the beginning. That way I knew where I was going.”
James Barnes’ contributions to wind band repertoire span almost five decades. He has spent a large majority of his creative life providing well over one hundred pieces for wind band; from nine massive symphonies to works for middle school children. He served as Associate Director of Bands and Staff Arranger for The University of Kansas Bands for twenty-seven years before moving to full-time teaching in Theory and Composition, where he served as Division Chair for ten years. He has guest conducted in Europe, Australia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan (where he has traveled over 35 times.)
Barnes is the only living composer to contribute major works for all five of the major American military bands in Washington, D.C. He is the only American composer to have the distinction of conducting and recording with all three of Japan’s finest professional wind bands: Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, Sienna Winds and Osaka Shion Wind Orchestra.
Barnes does not prescribe to the idea of inspiration, rather he emphasizes a more comprehensive approach to creating new music.
“The other misconception is this idiotic emphasis of the term inspiration,” says Barnes. “Non-creative people, including musicologists, have this strange concept that we have to be inspired to compose; this is perfect nonsense. The only true points of inspiration are usually the moments when a composer suddenly contemplates all the possibilities that he/she can do with some thematic or harmonic idea that they have previously written down.”
Banes goes on explaining, “There is always a period of contemplation, where one decides on instrumentation, overall tonal centers, the number of movements to be included and so forth, but one of the great things about using “classical forms”, i.e. sonata, rondo, symphonic etc., is that they provide one with a flexible framework in which to begin working on something as large as a symphony. Since it takes so long to write something of this size, it is possible to compose it “out of order” when working on it each day, since you always know where you are working inside the overall structure. If you can’t “get going” on one spot, you can switch to another portion of the work and perhaps get some work done there.”
The Lake Agassiz Concert Band has been active in the Fargo-Moorhead area since 1987. The band, comprised of adult wind and percussion players, performs four free formal concerts each year. Additional community performances include outdoor appearances at the MPR Classical Music Festival and other occasional special concerts. The LACB’s goal is to provide the community with free, outstanding musical performances; to create an artistic outlet for serious wind and percussion performers in the area; and to perform challenging traditional and contemporary wind band music.
All concerts are free and open to the public!