Robert W. Smith

October 15, 2007 at 7:36 am | Posted in Assignments, Music Education | 3 Comments
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After going through band programs for over half of my life and playing a lot of Robert W. Smith, I decided it was only appropriate to discuss him in one of my posts.  Robert W. Smith has written over one hundred pieces for Band and these all range from pieces appropriate for elementary schools bands to compositions that take a very skilled high school or collegiate ensemble to play well.  What he is best known for program music, which is music that depicts a certain scene, event, emotion, etc.  Some of his more commonly played pieces include The Divine Comedy, The Tempest, and Africa: Ceremony, Song, and Ritual.

Robert W. Smith actually came and spent two days with us here at Grove City College a little under two years ago.  With our concert band he worked on The Great Steamboat Race and Leroy Anderson- A Legacy.  He then worked on The Ascension- from the Divine Comedy and Monument with our Wind Ensemble.  This was especially good for pieces such as Monument and The Great Steamboat race where he has very specific images in his head of what the music is supposed to portray.  We all got a little history lesson about what each of the compositions were about.  This helped to make the pieces more memorable and meaningful.  He also introduced his new band method book “Band Expressions.”  Working with Robert W. Smith was a great and exciting experience that I, as well as the members of the Grove City bands, enjoyed. 

Going back to his music, Mr. Smith writes a lot of good music for intermediate bands but also very exciting and challenging music for better high school bands.  When I was in high school we played all four of the pieces in the Divine Comedy and they were a favorite of the band.  From the imagery in the piece to the different percussion parts (such as chains in the Inferno), everyone in the band loved playing them.  We also played “To The Summit!” when I was in high school.  This was another favorite, I think, because pieces with different images are usually very appealing to students, especially when different effects such as singing or unusual percussion parts are used. 

94979713_cd41884776.jpg (photo courtesy of yotophoto)

One piece that I’d like to talk to a little more in depth about is one that we did in the Concert Band here at Grove City.  It was called “The Great Steamboat Race.”  This composition is a perfect example of why Robert W. Smith’s compositions are so good.  This piece was loved by players and audience alike.  Mr. Smith explained the entire scenario of the piece to us in rehearsal and gave us a better idea of how to interpret our parts.  I think the favorite part in this might have been the waterjugs that the percussion got to shake in order to create the effect of the boats going off in the distance at the end of the piece.  There were also other things like a ship bell and a “foghorn” (created by the tuba) in the piece.  A composition like this is perfect for a middle school band because they can learn a little history while also making beautiful music.  Once students know more about a piece and where it is going, I believe it is easier for them to enjoy and really appreciate the piece.  Plus, this is just a really fun piece of music to play. 

 If you are a band director and haven’t done much Robert W. Smith I would definitely suggest to introduce some of his works to your students.  As I said before The Great Steamboat Race, The Divine Comedy, and To The Summit! are good choices, but I would also recommend: Monument, Africa: Ceremony, Song, and Ritual, Songs of Earth, Water, Fire, and Sky, and Twelve Seconds to the Moon.  Your students will love any of these compositions and they can also learn a lot from them.  So if you haven’t already, make sure to include some Robert W. Smith in your band program.

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3 Comments »

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  1. Hey Krista,

    I enjoyed reading your blog about Robert W. Smith. I have worked a number of his pieces over the past 13 years, and have not had a bad experience with any of them. Ilisted other RWS works below that contain some really unique musical moments, appeal to the audience and band, and provide a good opportunity for musical growth. I was very dissapointed when my graduate conducting professor I had a couple of summers ago dismissed him as a composer. As one who writes (or at least tries to), until you have written and orchestrated your first successful chorale you have no right to judge. In his music, there is something that gets kids excited about playing and that is very valuable.

    Talk to you another time!

    Sincerely,

    Travis J. Weller

    Other works by RWS –

    Encanto – a nice overture playable by a developing HS group or advanced MS group. Smith weaves some clever hooks and sensible scoring to create a good experience for all instruments.

    Declaration in Blue – work for MS Band, based on the blues scale (but with a straight eighth note). The driving impetus in the piece is the hi-hat, and auxilary percussion abound.

    Where The Black Hawk Soars – a majestic and uplifting overture. Basic ABA form in terms of tempo and melodic material. The soaring lines and powerful conclusion really appeal to the ensemble and can be used as a great concert opener.

  2. I am a Junior in band at my High School and we are playing Where the Black Hawk Soars by Robert W. Smith for contests. I like it 🙂

  3. Hello Krista,

    My name is Wendy and I play in a concert band in Brisbane, Australia. I noticed on your blog that your ensemble “The Great Steamboat Race” at a concert last July. Our band is currently working on that piece for a concert later this year.

    I was wondering if you could share with me how your band created the “paddle wheel” sound – the score calls for jugs of water and this sounds rather messy! At the moment we are using a cabasa and snare drum with brushes, but water would be fun!


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