Odyssey

By Aric Branchfield

This is a new work (2012) for concert band that has worked well for me as a concert closer for a 6th grade beginning band’s spring concert and a 7th grade band’s festival program. If you do not have the instrumentation to play a march, the focus on short articulation in this work makes it a good alternative.

About the Composer

According to the conductor’s score cover,

Aric Branchfield received his degree in music education from Vandercook College of Music and a masters degree in instructional technology from St. Joseph’s University. Currently an elementary band teacher in Pennsylvania, he is also active in the Philadelphia area as a composer and arranger. Mr. Branchfield is a former member of the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps and has worked with top competing bands in Bands of America.

About the Music

According to the conductor’s score cover,

The word odyssey carries a host of connotations. It has come to refer to an epic voyage. The mind pictures sailing ships or camel trains, oceans or deserts, and ever-valiant soldiers or sailors, who prevail against nature, beasts, and enemies. From first note to the last, Odyssey can be an epic voyage for young players. It has noble strains, valiant harmonies, and its rhythms prevail against all.

Analysis, Interpretation, and Performance Considerations

There is more to this piece than meets the eye. Dig in and give it some serious score study, and you will discover many ways that you can enhance it and give it as much forward motion as possible. In addition to the advice that the composer puts on the inside cover of the conductor’s score, I suggest the following:

Take note of all written breath marks. Performers should breathe at breath marks and rests. There are only a few extra places where they will need to breathe. In the first 8 measures, they should avoid breathing after quarter notes, especially those with tenuto markings. I have my students staggered breathe after half-notes.

In the main melodic statements, such as measures 13-21, almost everyone shares the quarter rest and should breathe together there to support playing together. I added several breath marks to support crescendos and avoid breaking up phrases and disrupting the forward motion of the piece:

  • Flute, clarinet, and alto – end of m. 32
  • All winds – after half-note in m. 36 to prep for crescendo
  • Clarinet, alto, and trumpet – after half-note in m. 39
  • Flute, oboe – after half-note in m. 40
  • Bassoon, bass clarinet, bari sax, tbn./euph. – end of m. 41
  • Flute, oboe, bsn., bass clar., ten/bari sax, horn, tbn./euph, tuba – end of m. 44
  • Flute, oboe, clarinet, alto, trumpet, horn – after 1st half-note in m. 53
  • Flute, oboe, alto, trumpet – after 1st half-note in m. 58
  • Flute, oboe, clarinet, alto, trumpet, horn – end of m. 60
  • Bassoon, bass clar., ten. sax, bari sax, tbn./euph., tuba – end of m. 61

I also like to add a little crescendo to the last 2 beats of measure 53 and to measure 62.

Teaching Materials

  • Hero’s Journey (video and writing prompt – language arts cross-curricular)

Related Works

  • The Last To Defend by David Shaffer
  • Odyssey for Band by Jim Andy Caudill

Repertoire Lists

Performances

  • Southwestern J.H.S. Band – April 8, 2016 (ISSMA Festival, Junior Division, Group IV)

Literary Connections

This piece could be studied along with any story that uses the monomyth, or “hero’s journey.” Homer’s Odyssey of course is one of them, but there are thousands of works that use that format in some way. Here are a few examples that follow it closely and are accessible to young readers. I especially like that these 3 titles cater to boys, who in my experience are less enthusiastic about reading than girls:

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
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