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New Book by W&L's Kolman Explores History of American Wind Music

Barry Kolman’s new book, “The Origins and Early History of American Wind Music: Instrument Makers, Composers, Instructional Methods and Ensemble Performance,” (Edwin Mellen Press, Sept. 2013) is the first volume to examine the earliest musical beginnings of the tradition of community bands in America during the half century following the American Revolution.

Kolman has already been awarded the Adele Mellen Prize for his book’s distinguished contribution to scholarship in the field of American Music History. He is professor of music at Washington and Lee University, conducts the University-Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra (USSO) and is a frequent guest conductor of orchestras around the world.

Kolman noted that orchestra conductors study the history of music, such as from the baroque and romantic eras, when they prepare a piece to conduct and that he hopes that band conductors will now use his book to understand the origins of the music they are conducting. “As a clarinet player I’m very interested in wind music — for clarinet, flute and wind ensemble — and since band music is an important part of American culture, I wanted to find out how it took off and evolved into what it is now,” he said. “Some of this music is still performed now and then, and I would like readers to appreciate where this music came from and not take it for granted.”

According to Kolman, most existing studies of the history of music start around the 19th century and the Civil War but nobody has researched what happened to the music and the instruments after the Revolution, when the English musical influence was still dominant.

Music was a very popular form of entertainment before the Revolution and relatives, friends and neighbors gathered in homes to play musical instruments at evening musical soirées.  After the Revolution, interest in these soirées grew as a group of musicians, mostly from New England, began to provide instruction and music in the form of tutors — method books that gave diagrams, fingering charts, scales and exercises, as well as musical compositions in the back of the books.

Cheap and plentiful, the tutors were sold in many places, including tobacco stores and on newspaper stands. People knew all the popular marches by ear already and now, for the first time, they learned to play them in small instrumental ensembles that marked the beginning of a long tradition of community bands in America.

These tutors were published by composers whom Kolman described as “the first generation of American composers who wanted to write for a new America, defining an American style, sound and cultural identity.”

There were many authors of these tutors and in his book Kolman focuses on seven of the more prolific and influential composers: Oliver Shaw, Joseph Herrick, Ezekiel Goodale, William Whiteley, Henry Moore and Samuel Holyoke, who was probably the most important of these pioneers. The book includes a history of each composer.

These composers published both original marches and arrangements of marches for various combinations of instruments and for duets, trios and octets. Because they composed for whatever instruments they knew people in the community possessed, including woodwinds, brasses, strings, percussion and piano, Kolman said this resulted in some unusual combinations, including one piece for clarinet, flute, trumpet and a snare drum.

Kolman said that it took him 35 years to write the book, which began as his doctoral thesis, and he encountered many difficulties in tracking down primary source material. “I wanted to find the major composers of this type of music and hold what they wrote in my hands,” he said. “But it was a really tough challenge to find music that was written 200 years ago. I thought it had been destroyed, but I actually found the original copies signed by the composers through a lot of legwork going to libraries and was able to include copies of those scores in the book.”

Kolman also looked for the instruments of the period or at least pictures or descriptions of them. The book describes each instrument in detail, including original fingering charts and insight into the instructional methods at the time.

“I looked for anything I could get my hands on to figure out what instruments they were playing. For example, what did a bassoon look like? And one instrument, the serpent — a bass instrument with a strange configuration — is rarely played today,” he added.

Kolman also found the original tutors. “They were written in old fashioned English and the advice that some of these composers gave was a little humorous by today’s standards. A lot of things have changed in 200 years, probably because the instruments became better built, and we don’t have to do some of the funky things that the early teachers made their students do,” he said.

Kolman received his B.Mus. in music education from the Crane School of Music, his M.Mus. in clarinet performance from Illinois State University and his Doctor of Arts degree in conducting from the University of Northern Colorado where he was awarded the Dean’s Citation for Excellence for his graduate research.

“The Origins and Early History of American Wind Music: Instrument Makers, Composers, Instructional Methods and Ensemble Performance,” is available at the University Store and through its website at http://bookstore.wlu.edu.

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