Rocky Point Holiday

Review by Vince Corozine

Label: Mark Custom Recording
Album Title: Wind Band Masterworks Volume III
Composer: Ron Nelson
Performer: The Texas A&M University Symphonic Band
Conductor: Timothy Rhea
Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
Length: 5:30

This 1969 composition was Ron Nelson’s first major work for band. It was commissioned for the University of Minnesota Band’s Russia tour. “Rocky Point Holiday” was written in Rocky Point, Rhode Island while the composer was on vacation.

This composition helped “typecast” the composer as a writer of “flashy, high energy overtures.” The composer states in the notes to the disc. Rocky Point is…fun to play and listen to.” It is indeed highly energetic, cast in a three-part form of fast-slow-fast and features a sound of long-lined singing melodies, underscored by moving ostinatos, colorful frenetic swirling winds and very busy percussion.

Its infectious rhythms permeate the piece, as its buoyant feeling surges forward to climax after climax.

The composition begins with forceful octave writing for the upper winds, and almost immediately turns with an obligato pattern in the clarinets and alto saxophone (made up of two sixteenths and an eighth note). Legato lines begin to emerge in the flutes and first clarinets, as the obligato continues, until at number 2 the syncopated main theme is introduced in the brass section.

This a demanding piece in that the flutes must be proficient at rapid tonguing and the high tessitura of the trumpets and horns can be demanding. The snare drum solos are effective and provide smooth linkages between sections. However, the dynamics must be carefully observed to make these transitions effective. A proficient xylophone player is necessary in this piece.

The middle of the composition has a “Gershwinesque” feel to it, somewhat reminiscent of “An American in Paris,” with its legato horns and punctuated, muted trumpets.

A beautiful impressionistic section ensues, and provides a magical atmosphere, with swirls of notes in the high woodwinds, and sustained pedal effects beneath ala Ravel or Respighi. (This effect is worthy of score study).

Challenging woodwind parts emerge in conversation with unison horns, while the brass punctuates a rhythmic background beneath. The creative use of instrumental colors and the attention given to dynamic markings make this a valuable work at all levels. This is an example of excellent writing for band.

The theme is tossed around from section to section as the work generates enormous energy and excitement as it approaches the end with strength and clarity. The main theme is stretched and written in augmentation as the composer unfolds the exciting ending.

One must be careful that the piccolo does not dominate the texture of the ensemble. It must be properly balanced within the band.

This piece is highly recommended for High School or College bands. There is excellent interplay of musical lines between sections as the theme is tossed about. This is a colorful festival piece that superbly shows off the band.