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First Thoughts – Marching Chiefs Heroes & Villians

Steve Martin

“First Thoughts” 

The 2011 Wyandotte Marching Chiefs show is entitled “Heroes & Villains”. This year, the Wyandotte design team was struggling a bit with the concept development and asked me if I had any shows that I wanted to write. It didn’t take long for me to suggest “Heroes & Villains” as I’d been chomping at the bit to write this show, but also needed a band with the horsepower to pull it off. Based on our previous years of experience, and specifically the opportunity to see Mark’s band live last fall, I knew they would handle it well and find success.

The thematic content and structure is very basic. The brief intro leads into the presentation of our Hero theme, which intentionally evokes a Superman (or other traditional super hero) persona. After a development of the theme, the movement closes with a huge ending that is suitable for the end of the entire show. In fact, upon composing the end of the movement, I thought to myself, “How am I going to top that?” More on that later…

The next movement introduces our villain. The music tells the story of a whimsical bad guy that has a very dark streak. I think the Batman villains often fit this archetype (Joker, Riddler, etc). For that reason, the listener may taste a bit of Elfman in the air….again, that’s not by accident.

The next segment of the show is really one long movement with an intro/transition and a coda. The movement is called “The Battle” but it begins with a meditative transition from the boisterous ending to “The Villain” that portrays our Hero in the midst of mental preparation for the fight he’s about to endure. The listener may feel as though the Hero is standing atop a mountain or skyscraper, surveying the field and reviewing his plan.

Finally, with determination and resolve, our Hero decides “the time is now”, and “The Battle” begins. From the start, each opponent is surveying the other’s move. As the music develops, they move closer and eventually the two super powers collide one-on-one. At this moment, the musical themes also push against each other. Once the battle finally culminates, the scene is dark, a huge cloud of dust hangs above the rubble, and we are unsure who – if anyone – remains alive and victorious.

But soon, the dust and smoke clears. The final movement (“To Be Continued”) begins with rays of light shining upon the scene of our battle. The listener will recognize the Hero’s theme in the Horn voice as we begin to see our Hero coming to his/her feet. The Villain is defeated and our Hero stands tall. The remainder of this movement is a reprise of the first movement, both in celebration of our Hero’s victory and his/her perseverance to fight another day.

From a design standpoint, I found myself very excited about the reprise. It’s always interesting as a composer when you realize there’s something already in the piece that feels like the appropriate way to recap and punctuate the whole show. It’s not a new concept; the “D.C al fine” has been around for hundreds of years, but it doesn’t always work. It’s ironic that it has worked for two years in a row with Wyandotte’s concepts. It’s also a bonus for the composers, because the music is already written! And most importantly, it’s a bonus for the performers, because they already know the music! Win-win-win! The only thing I try to remember as a composer for high school bands it to stay away from trying to be clever and make subtle changes in the reprise. These changes only confuse the performer and are rarely noticed by the audience. So, the rule is simple: KEEP IT THE SAME. Sometimes a “coda” is appropriate, but in this year’s show, we decided to leave it the same. And, of course, that’s because I already knew I couldn’t “top that ending” in the first place (as mentioned above).

The other tidbit worth mentioning for this year’s iteration of the project is how helpful it has been to get more and more in touch with the Wyandotte band and Mark D’Angelo. I was able to spend a few days with them last fall, and witnessing their ability level and their work ethic first-hand gave me a new level of insight. I look forward to that opportunity again in the future.

Steve Martin
GPG Music Publications