Log in


Interested in guest blogging? Click here for contributor guidelines

  • Sun, July 21, 2019 1:15 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by Dana Paul Perna. 2019 marks the Bicentennial of WALT WHITMAN’s birth. Often referred to as “The Poet of Democracy,” his poetry has incentivized, inspired and influenced all manner of artists across the board in every corner of the world where his words have taken root to resonate. Poets, painters, composers, musicians, writers, actors, visual artists, world leaders….you name it, have placed his writings to register among those most celebrated by any of those authored in the English language. 

    Recently, a framed portrait of Walt Whitman was unearthed in the basement of Percy Grainger’s White Plains home. This should come as no surprise when one realizes how valued the Grainger’s found Whitman’s words. Among the gifts Percy presented to Ella when he proposed was a copy of “Leaves of Grass”, which he inscribed to her - paraphrasing as I will, something to the effect of “Let us discover the ‘Poet of Democracy’ together.”  

    If we limit Whitman’s influence simply to composers who have turned to Whitman, either for texts for their works, be them songs, or for more extended compositions of the (soloist-and-)chorus-with-orchestra variety, or for instrumental works drawn from them, it represents a stellar list of masters that include Holst, Vaughan Williams, Adams, Delius, Neely Bruce, Coghill, Siegmeister, Carpenter, Converse, Rorem, Hoiby, Schonthal, Weill, Hanson….and that does not even represent a beginning point for the innumerable creations that have musically flowed forth. 

    To this point, and for those readers who may be interested, save the date of 3 August 2019. Beginning at 8:00 pm - unless you arrive early when a Pre-Concert lecture is set to commence at 7:15 pm - an outdoor concert in celebration of Walt Whitman’s Bicentennial has been scheduled. The location will be at Heckscher Park, Huntington, Long Island, New York (not far from Whitman’s actual birthplace) and will include the World Premiere performance of A Walt Whitman Reader by Dana Paul Perna (Recording Secretary of Percy Grainger America, and the International Percy Grainger Society), to be performed by acclaimed bass-baritone, Robert Osborne, accompanied by renowned pianist, Jeffrey Biegel. (It is suggested that any interested attendees bring something to sit upon, and that hydration is also recommended. Please note that weather conditions can neither be determined, nor controlled.) Here is a link regarding that event: 


    In terms of Percy Grainger more directly and specifically, he also numbers upon the many who turned to Whitman as inspiration for his music, leading Percy to have composed one of his most significant compositions, namely MARCHING SONG OF DEMOCRACY. For those who may wish to, or are able to attend, on this year’s “Last Night of the Proms” (e.g. Proms 75), the BBC Singers, Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, to be conducted by Sakari Oramo will be performing that Grainger masterpiece on that occasion (in this version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44eizaByCS4). Scheduled to occur on 14 September 2019 at 19:15 (e.g. 7:15 pm), here is a link that will provide you with further information:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ezcd2m 

    …..but, the final words should come from Walt Whitman, as (allegedly) heard by way of this 1890 cylinder recording, reciting a passage from his poem “America”: WALT WHITMAN 1890.mp3

  • Sat, June 15, 2019 11:15 AM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    by Susan Edwards Colson

    In addition to the Grainger music and legacy, there is the house itself. The Percy Grainger House, 7 Cromwell Place, White Plains, is a stunning time capsule. It is an increasingly popular tourist destination, with the certainty of an immersive visit to a bygone era for delighted visitors. It is also a hold out, a 19th century house left standing in a rapidly modernizing, urban neighborhood.

    The house is filled with Percy’s things and Ella’s things too, in dusty choc-a-block stacks. Visitors comment on Percy’s extreme organization of scores and letters, box after box, and Ella’s softer approach to her own poems and sketches, tied together with a pink ribbon or two. Going through a closet now with several years of sorting experience, I feel an intuitive sense of who might have packed what when. Who cherished it, then eventually forgot it? Ella, probably. Who noticed it late in life, then, touched by the memory, added a note of explanation? Ella, certainly. Who deemed it important enough to be packed away wrapped in the October 5, 1930 New York Times edition announcing that CBS had broadcast the New York Philharmonic live over the radio for the very first time that day? Percy, no doubt.

    Preservation of the house is truly important. The IPGS board of late lives and breathes the three R’s of historic houses: rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction. Rehabilitation is our first challenge, balancing the need to update the house to meet changing uses while retaining the property's historic character. Restoration will dictate that we depict the Grainger House at a particular place in time, packing away evidence of other periods, to tell the Grainger story in an understandable way. Reconstruction will establish a coherent interpretation, item by item.

    This is an enormous undertaking! We are grateful to those who have believed in us, invested in us, and coached us along the way. Early on, the Greater Hudson Heritage Network’s Needs Assessment Program sent site preservation experts to survey the collection. Their careful, thoughtful, recommendations initiated deep reflection and sent us in the right direction.

    In 2015, the Museum Association of New York provided a grant that allowed the IPGS board to engage its long time members, friends and board to complete a Strategic Plan. This plan has guided the house reconstruction and helped shape our plans for a celebration of Percy Grainger’s 100th year in White Plains.

    The Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services of New York provided an Archival Needs Assessment that thoroughly examined our program, identified and addressed specific needs, operational efficiencies, facility and storage concerns, and collection management issues. The assessment pinpointed problems, recommended solutions, set priorities, and helped guide the development of our archival program. Their follow-up 2018 grant allowed us to buy software to organize our collection, and a large scanner for documentation.

    A Technical Assistance Grant (“TAG”) from the Preservation League of New York State allowed us to complete a building condition survey with the help of architect Joanne Tall of KamanTall Architects. The technical survey focuses on the windows and exterior doors providing essential information for stewardship of the house.  Joanne’s thoughtful observations and helpful insights to the building structure will continue to inform the restoration plan for the entire house. There are serious considerations concerning the Percy Grainger House’s historic character as well as any intended use. She was also instructive about alterations needed to meet accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the concern of visual change to our historic building. (The Technical Assistance Grant Program is made possible by the New York State Council for the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Generous additional support for this project has been provided by the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area.)

    An essential, practical question for the IPGS board is: Will the building be used strictly to house the collection and limited to interpretive tours, or will it be given a new and expanded use? We hope that any such expansion can make full use of the historic house without compromising its historic character. We work to achieve this balance and make it so.

  • Sun, May 12, 2019 11:58 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by Cora Angier Sowa

    Springdale Arkansas, in the heart of the Ozarks

    In June, 2014, I had the good fortune to visit Springdale Arkansas, located in a lovely area of Northwestern Arkansas, deep in the Ozark Mountains. Springdale is best known as the headquarters of Tyson Foods; the headquarters of Walmart and of the J.B. Hunt trucking company are nearby. A few miles to the south is Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas. To the north, in southern Missouri, is Branson, known for its theme parks and tourist locations.

    I was in Springdale June 10-15 for the convention of the National Railway Historical Society. We were guests of the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad, which is also headquartered in Springdale. The A&M is a short-line road, only 140 miles long, that is an important connector between the BNSF Railroad to the north, and the Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern Railroads to the south, on the Arkansas River. We spent most of our time going on rail excsursions, and took plenty of photographs, in a land where wooded hills and rocky cliffs are intersected by deep valleys. There is a saying that "It's not that the mountains are so high, but the valleys are so deep." This is true, for as the Ozark Plateau was uplifted by great geologic forces, streams continued to cut their way into the land. The scenery is beautiful, but it was not a place I expected to find Percy Grainger.

    Percy Grainger's music in Springdale

    The evening of June 13, there was a banquet, preceded by a social hour where we were entertained by a quartet of saxophone players. They turned out to be students from Springdale High School and their teacher, Daniel Hodge. They played a program of light music on a full range of sizes of saxophones (with Mr. Hodge switching from alto to soprano sax at one point in their performance). As they concluded their set, I asked if they ever played Percy Grainger. They do, big time! Mr. Hodge told me that they play, among other pieces, Handel in the Strand, Tune from County Derry, and Lincolnshire Posy. They have purchased a copy of our LP of the Lincolnshire songs recorded by Grainger, "Unto Brigg Fair," which they have in their library.

    Mr Hodge and his students graciously posed for their picture, which you see above.

    Grainger's music for wind band

    I was pleased to find that The Springdale students and their teacher were so familiar with Grainger's music, so far from locations that we often think of in connection with Grainger. However, there are two reasons why this is not so surprising at all. One concerns Grainger's involvement with music for wind band, the other with his three-year residence in the Ozarks, from 1940 to 1943.

    Grainger's compositions for wind band are among his most important works, valued by wind players everywhere. Timothy Reynish writes, in the chapter on "Music for Wind Band" in Penelope Thwaites' The New Percy Grainger Companion:

    "Percy Grainger is undoubtedly the greatest composer in the past century to be involved in the wind band and its development. He is the only composer of stature to consider military bands the equal, if not the superior, in expressive potential to symphony orchestras (or as he described them 'bow-down-to-blend bands'). . . From his program note to Lincolnshire Posy (1939):

    "Why this cold-shouldering of the wind band by most composers? Is the wind band — with its varied assortment of reeds (so much richer than the reeds of the symphony orchestra), its complete saxophone family that is found nowhere else . . . its army of brass (both wide-bore and narrow-bore) — not the equal of any medium ever conceived? As a vehicle of deeply emotional expression it seems to me unrivalled."

    Grainger's years in Springfield, Missouri, 1940-1943

    During World War II, Percy and Ella abandoned their home in White Plains and moved to Springfield, Missouri, a town in southeastern Missouri located on the Springfield Plateau of the Ozarks. It is home to several universities, including Missouri State University. The reasons for their move have been speculated on. The place was centrally located for the strenuous touring about the country that Grainger was engaged in at the time. It was also far from both coasts, where there were fears of an enemy invasion. While there are no accounts of Grainger giving any concerts or workshops in the immediate area of Springdale, he toured extensively in that general part of the country, including Little Rock, Arkansas (at the other end of the state), in Columbia, Missouri (where the University of Missouri is located), and an entire series of concerts in Oklahoma, the neighboring state. He also paid a visit to Branson, Missouri.

    During their time in Springfield, the Graingers leased an apartment with a balcony on the third floor of the Wilshire Apartments, pictured below. In his journal he praises the scenery and atmosphere of the Ozarks, and in a letter to Ella in 1941 when she was out of town he says "How I love Springfield and our Missouri home! Glorious sunrise, of course, and the same balcony Missouri-Kansas breeze. Everything is choicely clean, tidy and sweet in this apartment . . . It is a rare love and art nest . . ."

    Grainger liked the song "The Arkansas Traveler" and liked to play it. A catalog of "Grainger's Collection of Music by Other Composers" at the Grainger Museum in Melbourne lists a copy of an arrangement of the tune by Frank S. Kenyon, described as an "American country dance." And the Guide to the Pianist's Repertoire by Maurice Hinson lists among folk song adaptations by composer David Guion: "Arkansas Traveler: an old folk tune heard by Guion as a fiddle 'breakdown'; often performed by Percy Grainger." The most familiar words to the song are about a clever country man who makes a fool of a city slicker who acts in a patronizing way, but there are several sets of words, all different from each other. Like another Grainger favorite, "Tune From County Derry," better known by its most familiar words as "Danny Boy," the tune of "Arkansas Traveler" is an old melody. Both are older than any of the words that have been set to them, and their origins are lost in the mists of time.

    Marissa Kyser's research on Grainger's Springfield years

    Marissa Kyser, a graduate student at Missouri State University in Springfield, has done extensive research on Grainger's years in Missouri. A trumpet player herself, she has delved deeply into her subject in both Springfield and Melbourne, examining journals, letters, newspaper articles, financial records, and whatever other pieces of information can shed light on this too little known period of Grainger's life. Many tales and rumors have circulated in Springfield about Grainger's years in their city, and Ms. Kyser's work is to untangle these rumors and bring them to light.

    Ms. Kyser will be giving a lecture at the Grainger House in White Plains on May 11 at 2:00 P.M. on Grainger's Springfield years. We invite all of you to come and hear what promises to be a fascinating talk.

    Join us to hear Marissa Kyser speak on Grainger's Springfield years !

    • Date: May 11, 2019
    • Time: 2:00 P.M.
    • Location: 7 Cromwell Place, White Plains, New York 10601
    • Donations gratefully accepted

  • Thu, April 11, 2019 6:27 PM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    The Etude was an American print magazine published between October 1883 and 1957, roughly the lifetime of Percy Grainger.  The magazine was published by Theodore Presser, the founder of the Music Teachers National Association

    The Etude was aimed at all musicians, from novices to serious professionals. It printed articles ranging from popular interests to more-involved musical subjects --history, literature, gossip, politics—and contained write-in advice columns about musical pedagogy in general.  It also printed sheet music and discussions by famous pianists. 

    In November 1920, Percy Grainger contributed his notes on how to play Edvard Grieg’s Norwegian Bridal Procession, including discussion of “two salient point of modern pianism: (1) the sustaining pedal, (2) non-stretching fingering.”  Find the full text of the article here. 

    James Francis Cooke, editor-in-chief from 1909 to 1949, added the phrase "Music Exalts Life!" to the magazine's masthead, and The Etude became a platform for Cooke's somewhat polemical editorials. This change in editorial policy may have finished it. But in many way, the magazine moved with the times and embraced current technology, unequivocally supporting the phonograph, radio, and eventually television, and, by the late 1930s, fully embracing jazz. It was a true reflection of the heyday of piano.

  • Sat, March 09, 2019 3:32 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    Paul Jackson. Honorary Visiting Senior Fellow, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK, and International Percy Grainger Society Board Member. 

    ‘There is one thing I look down on new-timey folk for: their not being able to write A LONG LETTER.’1 So wrote Percy Grainger to his friend and fellow-musician Gustav Adolph Nelson in the summer of 1942. Among his many accomplishments – composer, pianist, conductor, writer, teacher, folk-music collector, artist, inventor – Grainger’s ability to write letters, often long letters, remains a relatively unexplored part of his life’s work. Ranging from the conversational and practical, to the ideological and autobiographical, Grainger’s letters form perhaps the largest part of his output – estimates range between 10,000-50,000 letters – and chronicle his personal and artistic life from his early years in Australia, through his formative studies in Germany from 1895-1901 and his maturation in Edwardian English concert society between 1901-1914, to his long life in America, his adopted home, from 1914 until his death in 1961. Grainger’s fame, firstly as an international concert pianist and then as a composer, opened the doors to acquaintances with composers, musicians, artists, poets, writers, folklorists, educators, society figures, royalty and even an American president. His letters detail his professional and personal activities, plotting the arc of his career, and also serve to chart the course of the development of his views on music, the creative artist, race, sex and language (among many other things). From the exuberance of his early writings, which burst forth with accounts of his voracious engagement with the world and his seminal encounters with a range of influences, through the mid years of detailed, perhaps even obsessive, self-documentation, to his old age, when an emotionally mellower Grainger enjoyed new-found recognition, the letters provide an essential insight to a thinker of distinction.

    To date, only three volumes of letters have been published: The Farthest North of Humanness: Letters of Percy Grainger 1901-14 (Palgrave Macmillan, 1985), the first and most significant presentation of Grainger’s letters from his years in London; The All-Round Man: Selected Letters of Percy Grainger, 1914-1961 (Oxford University Press, 1994), 76 letters from a wide range of areas following the composer’s move to America; and Comrades in Art: The Correspondence of Ronald Stevenson and Percy Grainger, 1957-61 (Toccata Press, 2010), correspondence between Grainger and the Scottish pianist and composer, Ronald Stevenson, covering the last four years of Grainger’s life.

    Central to Grainger’s body of writing is the group of 33 letters2  known as the ‘Round Letters’. Intended for posterity (as, indeed, was all of his output), these letters were copied and sent to fellow composers, friends, family and acquaintances periodically from 1942 until 1958, three years before his death. Grainger frequently wrote letters and articles whilst travelling by train or boat between concert engagements, often on headed hotel notepaper. As he took no other form of transport (he would not fly), such travelling could take several hours or, in the case of overseas trips, several weeks or months. Grainger used his time fruitfully on these trips, composing, attending to his business affairs, writing to friends, family and professional colleagues, and writing articles. He would generally write by hand, and then type up the draft, making several copies with his own, in-house, copying systems at White Plains. Grainger’s efforts to establish the Grainger Museum in 1938 as a study centre for Australian music meant that he not only lodged many of his letters there – a boon to modern researchers – but also asked letter recipients to send him back letters for which he had no copies (such requests were not always met with approval, particularly from ex-lovers!).

    The Round Letters are also distinguished by their use of ‘Blue-Eyed English’ (also known as ‘Nordic English’ or ‘Rosy-Race-y English’), Grainger’s attempt to formulate a language which replaced words he thought of as having Latin and Greek roots with words of his own devising based on Anglo-Saxon terminology. The preface to The Love-Life of Helen and Paris, written in 1924 when he and his future wife Ella Ström were courting, sums up his thoughts on the matter:

    The English stretches of this story are written (as well as I can) in “Nordic English”. I have always believed in the wish-for-ableness ((desirability)) of building up a mainly Anglo-saxon-Scandinavian kind of English in which all but the most un-do-withoutable ((indispensible)) of the French-begotten, Latin-begotten & Greek-begotten words should be side-stepped ((avoided)) & in which the bulk of the put-together ((compound)) words should be willfully & owned-up-to-ly ((admittedly)) hot-home-grown out of Nordic word-seeds. My nature-urge ((instinct)) tells me that speech (like tone-art ((music)) & all other arts) ought to be over-weighingly ((preponderantly)) a forth-showing ((manifestation)) of race, place & type, & that nothing is gained (at least from an artist’s mind-slant ((attitude))) by making speech a gathered-togetherness ((conglomeration)) of worn-out Europe-wide word-chains ((sentences)) such as “in commemoration of this illustrious anniversary”, “this involved situation demanded a readjustment of the entire machinery of representation”, & the like.

    Such language not only reveals something of Grainger’s character – not least, his preoccupation with notions of race – but also frequently make for patterns of expression that capture particular ideas in a revealing way. Commenting on the Declaration by United Nations in 1942, Grainger writes that:

    ‘First of all, world-haps: I have always preached that world-peace (the one thing we all yearn for, of course) could only be brought about by team-work between the British World-Realm ((Empire)), America, Russia & China. And now this team-play (almost unthinkable tho it seemed only a short while ago) is fact-fully ((actually)) happening. I have always said that the mete-ment ((measurement)) of any theed’s ((nation’s)) clear-thinkingness is its understanding of the Russian out-try-th ((experiment)). I have always longed to see the whole English-speaking world at-oned. I have always longed to see the whole Rosy-Race-y ((Nordic)) world brought together in spirit. Now all these hopes are fulfilled. So I feel more at rest than I have for many years. [Feb 15-17, 1942].

    Grainger’s hectic concert life is chronicled in some detail throughout the letters. Even in his sixties and seventies he toured throughout the US, performing at civic halls and high schools. His music enjoyed something of a renaissance during these years, and the frequent performances he took part in or attended gave him the opportunity to reflect on a lifetime of composing:

    I think I wrote you in my last Round Letter that this season was proving a somewhat dull one for me, from my tone-wright’s ((composer’s)) angle. This dullness has somewhat lifted, toward the end of the season. The other day in Boston I heard Green Bushes & To a Nordic Princess very finely given – & I think highly of the last-named piece, as being truly string-&-wind-band ((orchestra))-minded. Ella & I have just come from Oberlin College, Ohio, where I gave Hillsong II (22 single winds), a stunningly played & sung group of English Gothic Music (13th to 17th year-hundreds), my seldom-done County Derry Air (which is the setting of Irish Tune from Co. Derry written in 1920 for sing-band ((chorus)), organ & band—a setting which has nothing in common with the 1902 setting. The 1920 setting has a Handel-like bredth & grandness about it) … So I have nothing to grumble about, just now, on the ground of non-forth-played-ness ((non-performance)). To hear Hillsong II (first scoring, 1907) is enough to at-rest-set me for some time. [May 17, 1944].

    Whilst an uncharacteristically humorous Percy noted in 1958, after hearing a performance of the piano-only version of Random Round, that:

    At Cincinnati I heard for the first time a properly worked out perform[ance] of my Random Round in the dish-up for 6 pianists at 2 pianos (the original form is 3 voices, 3 strings, 2 guitars, flute, xylophone, wooden Marimba, ukulele etc): 6 elderly ladies, all with immense backsides, romped away at terrific speed & quite note-perfect. The sound is utterly unlike anything else. [March 25, 1958] 3

    On a more serious note, Grainger frequently makes the case that the creative artist’s works should be judged in the light of a full understanding of their whole life, that youthful output is every bit as valid as mature work, and that we hear music in the light of previous experience and earlier knowledge:

    In dealing with an oversoul [genius] 4 we must, I feel, sense the truth of Goethe’s saw “Art is who-th” ((personality)). We listen to Meistersinger without forgetting that Wagner before it wrote the Ring & Tristan. If Wagner had done away with all his earlier works before writing Parsifal, we would listen to Parsifal in a poorer mood. When we listen to the Minuet of a Symphony we are still somewhat swayed by the soldierliness of the first movement; as we listen to the bustle of the last movement, we are still somewhat under the spell of the slow movement’s dream-world. Art cannot be sundered from its hap-lore ((history)) any more than can a tree from its roots. And the greater the oversoul, the truer this is of his art; for we judge him by his whole art-life & by the breadth of his lifelong intake. [May 17, 1944].

    The Round Letters – all 85,000 words of them – are currently being edited and prepared for publication. To date, only 4 Round Letters have been published in full, in The All Round Man (Oxford University Press, 1994) and Grainger on Music (Oxford University Press, 1999) and publication of the full set of letters will provide another useful resource to researchers and to the general public who want to better understand the thoughts behind Grainger’s ever-fascinating, and sometimes perplexing, music!

    Letter dated 11 June 1942 from Grainger to Gustav Adolph Nelson (1900-1979), pianist, organist and conductor, and music director of the Gustavus Choir at Gustavus Adolphus College, Saint Peter, Minnesota from 1930-45.

    2 The Granger Museum’s (incomplete) collection of Round Letters suggests there are 39 letters in the collection. However, my research has shown that the first six letters in the collection, dated between 1924 and 1940, are not part of the Round Letters proper, which Grainger identifies as beginning on 15 Feb, 1942 in his own cataloguing system.

    3 Concert given on 11 March 1958 at the Wilson Auditorium, University of Cincinnati, with Grainger’s former pupil, Dorothy Stolzenbach Payne, and members of The Keyboard Club. The ‘6 elderly ladies’ were identified as Mrs. Robert Pugh, Mrs. Elmer Hess, Mrs. Ranald West, Mrs. Ford Larrabee, Mrs. Luke Jacobs and Mrs. Raymond P. Myers.

    4 ‘Oversoul’ is generally translated as ‘genius’, although the latter term is neither as poetic, not perhaps as nuanced, as the former.

  • Mon, January 07, 2019 10:19 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    By Cora Angier Sowa.                                                What is that strange object?

    What is that strange object in storage on the top floor of the Grainger House at 7 Cromwell? (We hope to raise funds to conserve and put it on display.) It looks like a demented beach chair, half folded up. It is, in fact, a small model of Percy Grainger's biggest idea, the Free Music Machine, a device to produce music that was like the sounds of the real world, unconstrained by conventional pitch and rhythm. Designed in the last years of his life, he felt that it was his "only important contribution to music."

    His fascination with the sounds around him

    From the time he was a child, Percy Grainger was obsessed with sounds. In Melbourne, Australia, where he grew up, his mother would take him boating on the lake in Albert Park, where he was fascinated by the sound of the waves lapping against the boat, as well as by their visually smooth shapes. He spent hours listening to the eerie sounds of the wind as it blew down chimneys or through the telegraph wires. These experiences led Grainger to want to create music that was continuous, like the real, continuously fluctuating world.

    The sounds of the railroad train provided another source of pleasure. On a trip through Europe as an adult with his mother, as described by John Bird in his biography of Grainger, "It was whilst travelling by train in southern France and Italy that Percy was suddenly struck by the rhythmical complexities of the sounds penetrating the railway carriage as it rattled over point systems. For Percy this single experience touched off a desire to make radical experiments with irregular rhythms in music."

    A squeaky door

    Daniel N. Leeson, U.S. Army computer specialist and clarinettist, was assigned to an IBM office next door to Grainger and they became acquainted. He tells the following story, quoted in Portrait of Percy Grainger by Malcolm Gillies and David Pear: "I once saw him open and close a closet door in his house 15 or 20 times because a new and different kind of squeak had developed in the hinge and he found the sound interesting." Leeson also tells how Grainger turned down eating in a fancy restaurant in favor of his favorite donut shop, where there was a jukebox. He was particularly fascinated by new records by Elvis Presley because of his sound: "Listen to that sound! It's really wonderful!!"

    Making the piano resonate like an orchestra

    Many know Grainger only as a collector, arranger, and adapter of folk tunes, in such simple forms as "Country Gardens" or in reimagined works like "Lincolnshire Posy." Band musicians are eternally grateful to him for his prodigious output of band music. In his own day, he was known as a virtuoso pianist, interpreter of Grieg, Tchaikovsky, and Bach. But even here, he was fascinated by producing sounds that only he could hear in his head. In a masterful lecture and demonstration at the Percy Grainger Piano Mini-Festival in White Plains in May, 2018, composer and International Percy Grainger Society Vice President Mark Grant demonstrated some of the tricks used by Grainger to produce the sound he wanted, in particular using the resources of the piano to sound like an orchestra. These included playing arpeggiated chords ("harping sounds," he called them), and raising or lowering the center (or "sostenuto") pedal of the piano to make selected chords continue, then fade away. (To listen to Mark's entire presentation, click here.)

    Free music finally created

    But the desire to create the continuous sounds he could hear in his head never left Grainger. In 1938, he said,

    "...Out in nature we hear all kinds of lovely and touching 'free' (non-harmonic) combinations of tones, yet we are unable to take up these beauties and expressiveness into the art of music because of our archaic notions of harmony.

    "Personally I have heard free music in my head since I was a boy of eleven or twelve in Auburn, Melbourne. It is my only important contribution to music ... Yet the matter of Free Music is hardly a personal one. If I do not write it someone else certainly will, for it is the goal that all music is clearly heading for now and has been heading for through the centuries. It seems to me the only music logically suitable to a scientific age." (Grainger's Statement on Free Music, 6 December 1938, Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne, Australia, quoted in Penelope Thwaites, The New Percy Grainger Companion.)

    Grainger first tried using available instruments, such as the theremin (invented by Léon Theremin), played by waving the hands between two antennas attached to oscillators, one antenna controlling the frequency, the other the volume. He modified a piano to play microtones (the "Butterfly Piano"), but this was not satisfactory, as the tones still moved in stepwise progression, not with the gliding movement he desired.

    The Reed-Box-Tone-Tool, the Kangaroo Pouch and the electronic Free Music Machine

    In 1945 he met Burnett Cross, a high school science teacher who also had a background in music. In a collaboration that lasted for the rest of Grainger's life, the two developed increasingly sophisticated machines (which were also of increasing size, eventually filling most of an entire room). On early versions, they experimented with hitching together arrays of Solovoxes, electronic instruments manufactured by the Hammond Corporation. A version called the Reed-Box Tone-Tool used harmonium reeds, played by punched paper tape like that used to control player pianos, with suction from a vacuum cleaner applied to its back. As they tinkered, they built contraptions out of all kinds of "found" materials. John Bird describes the process in his biography of Grainger:

    "All kinds of junk were utilized as well as the more common items which were bought at local hobby and hardware stores. At times Ella and Percy would don their finest clothes to avoid police suspicion and spend part of an evening rummaging amongst the piles of rubbish by the back doors of department and furniture stores. Eventually the machines employed such improbable articles as pencil sharpeners, milk bottles, bamboo, roller-skate wheels, the bowels of a harmonium, linoleum, ping-pong balls, children's toy records, egg whisks, cotton reels, bits of sewing machines, carpet rolls, a vacuum cleaner, a hair dryer, and, of course, miles of strong brown paper and string."

    For Grainger, invention came easily. One of his inventions was a roller for holding the pages of a musical score in one long roll instead of separate pages that had to be turned. Penelope Thwaites sums up Grainger's inventiveness as "a kind of outback ingenuity common to the older traditions of Australia and the U.S. ... a resourceful use of available materials summed up in story and song in the phrase 'stringybark and greenhide'..."

    (In the interests of full disclosure: As a child I myself invented a "rubber band guitar," consisting of a cigar box with rubber bands wound around it, tuned by stretching the bands to make different notes — Note: I later became a harpist! I also made a "milk can marimba" out of small condensed milk cans, played with a stick. There's nothing like inventing your own instrument to stimulate the mind.)

    Perhaps the most famous of Grainger and Cross' machines was the "Hills and Dale" or "Kangaroo Pouch," which had rolls of paper with the edges cut in a wavy pattern, made to turn on a roller. As the roll revolved, mechanical followers rode the outline cut into the side of the paper, controlling the pitch of a set of oscillators and the volume of the amplifiers. In the beginning, Grainger wanted nothing to do with the electronic synthesizers that were being invented by others. He felt that their inventors approached the problem wrong end to, inventing a device, then searching for something to do with it, whereas he started with the music, then searched for a means of realizing it. The final version of the Free Music Machine was, however, purely electronic. In the last version, the cut paper outlines were replaced by patterns painted on rolls of clear plastic. A row of spotlights shining through the plastic projected light beams onto an array of photocells, which in turn controlled the oscillators. The inventors were working on this device at the time of Grainger's death. A full description of all permutations of Grainger and Cross' radical inventions, with illustrations, appears in Rainer Linz, "The Free Music Machines of Percy Grainger," first published in Experimental Music Instruments, Vol. 12, No.4, 1997.

    Examples of the Free Music Machines are on display at the Grainger Museum in Melbourne. At 7 Cromwell only the small model remains.

    Percy's work on his experimental machines, installed in his living room, can be seen in the archival photos reproduced above: (1)Burnett Cross and Percy working on the Free Music machine, 1951, (2)Percy's "Kangaroo Pouch" Free Music machine, set up in his living room, ca. 1950. (Illustrations from Inez Bull, 7 Cromwell Place: A Loving Tribute to Percy Grainger.)


    Do you want to hear what Free Music sounds like? In February, 2019, you will get a chance!

    Various musicians have played the music that Grainger composed for his Free Music Machines, on a variety of instruments, including a version played on the theremin. In 2011, as part of their Downtown Music at Grace Church in White Plains, Vincent Lionti, violist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and International Percy Grainger Society Board member, led a group from the Met Orchestra in a program that included Grainger's Free Music No.1.

    And now we will get to hear them again!

    At noon (12:10 PM) on February 13, 2019, at Grace Church in White Plains, you will once again get an opportunity to hear Grainger's Free Music No. 1. played by Vincent Lionti and musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

    • Date: Wednesday, February 13, 2019
    • Time: 12:10
    • Location: Grace Church, 33 Church Street, White Plains, NY
    • Admission: Free, but donation is gladly accepted
    • Contact: www.DTMusic.org

    A teaser from a past performance:

    Meanwhile, you can listen to the performance of Free Music No. 1 of February 20, 2011 at Grace Church by clicking on Free Music Performance.

  • Wed, December 12, 2018 5:03 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by Vincent Lionti, viola, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Board Member, International Percy Grainger Society. 

    My own introduction to the music of Percy Grainger was having the good fortune to take part in a swashbuckling performance of "The Warriors" conducted by Gerard Schwarz at the Waterloo Festival in the summer of 1982, Grainger's Centenary year. Fast forward to February 20, 2011, when I was entrusted with putting together a concert of sixteen Grainger works for a memorial commemoration of his death exactly 50 years before, to the day, in 1961. I began to slowly discover, during those intervening years, one piece after another of Percy's that had irresistible charm, was well crafted and highly original. Because I didn't play a "band" instrument, and was primarily interested in chamber music, I came upon these pieces only by accident or by word of mouth from friends and colleagues. This is how I learned of the existence of the "Arrival Platform Humlet", when my friend the violist Paul Coletti found it hard to believe that I, of all people, had not heard of the work. He promptly supplied me with a copy. Of course, meeting fellow Board member Cora Sowa, who in turn introduced me to Barry Peter Ould and his Bardic Editions of vast quantities of Grainger's chamber music, was a revelation. With Grainger's "elastic scoring", many of his compositions were easily adaptable to various instrumentations, with the composer's blessing. The "Arrival Platform Humlet" is one such piece, but violists have a special affection for it, and like to claim it as their own.* I have always had a great fondness for it and have felt a special connection to the composer when I play it because of the following story:

    I had many wonderful conversations with Stewart Manville before he died. Stewart was, as we all know, the great archivist and curator of the Estate of Percy Grainger, and married Percy's widow, Ella, in 1972. Any time I played a concert with a Grainger work on it, I would invite Stewart to say a few words about the music and its composer. It was the next best thing to having the composer there in person. Stewart always graciously accepted my invitations to speak, and would speak rather eloquently while the audience sat transfixed.  He related the story to me (which unfortunately can't be corroborated) about one of the only times (possibly the only time) that he ever came face to face with the composer, waiting (probably in the 1940's) for a train, sure enough, on the arrival platform at the White Plains (New York) train station.  Stewart spotted the great composer standing alone on the platform and inched closer to him. Before Stewart realized what he was doing, he began whistling nervously.  The composer eyed him suspiciously, but then smiled and said, "... the arrival platform, I take it?"  Apparently the train arrived, and they went their separate ways.  One of the last times Stewart spoke publicly was at the 50th Anniversary commemoration concert in 2011, mentioned above. He broke down emotionally during his speech, and had to be encouraged by members of the audience exhorting him to continue.

    The "Arrival Platform Humlet" puts the violist through his paces demanding skill, agility, imagination, a solid technique, and to some degree, endurance, even though the piece is only about three minutes long. Numerous and sometimes awkward double stops require spot on intonation, and the player needs to get comfortable climbing into the very highest registers and Everest-like regions of the instrument, demonstrating acrobatic tricks and leaps while up there. The violist may be tempted to compare Grainger's "Humlet" to Paul Hindemith's Solo Viola Sonatas; the two composers were almost exact contemporaries, born 12 years apart and died two years apart. Both were virtuoso proponents of their respective instruments, had huge solo careers, performed and conducted widely, taught at American Universities and institutions, and composed large quantities of music "on the side".

    Penelope Thwaites writes in "The New Percy Grainger Companion" that Arrival Platform Humlet  dates from 1908, at the height of Grainger's love affair with the Danish Karen Holten, and the excitement he describes of meeting at the railway station is clearly autobiographical. She also writes that any performance of it "should be fierce and exhilarating". Grainger first met Karen Holten in 1904, when the composer was 22 while on a concert tour with cellist Herman Sandby. They soon began an eight year relationship that ended on the eve of World War I. Their last meeting was at a Copenhagen Railway Station, shortly before Grainger left England for America. Karen Holten married two years later and died in 1953. There seems to be no doubt that Karen Holten was the muse that inspired the creation of the "Arrival Platform Humlet".

    *Editor's note - It has recently been reported to the Grainger Society that "Arrival Platform Humlet" is currently being arranged for Solo Tuba!

    **live recording of Vincent Lionti, viola, made at the Percy Grainger 50th Anniversary Memorial ConcertSunday, February 20, 2011Grace Church, White Plains, New York (audio recording made by Rocco Bueti).

  • Tue, November 20, 2018 11:39 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by Barry Peter Ould. When Grainger first visited Interlochen National Music Camp in 1930, he had already travelled far and wide from his native Australia, gathering folk tunes and concertizing in Britain as well as Europe and eventually in America where he and his mother, Rose arrived in September, 1914.  Grainger’s first association at Interlochen was as guest conductor. By 1937 when he joined the faculty and began teaching there, he was attracted to the quiet, and to the idea of not travelling, and the salary he received was also appealing.

    Grainger, with his wife Ella, lived in a cabin within earshot of the band shell.  The days were long – private teaching from eight in the morning until 6:30 in the evening and evening rehearsals until ten o’clock.  After this, Grainger would often practice until one or two in the morning.  He was popular with the students, although the music he chose to teach was not.  He remarked that he felt like “a lonely old crow on the bough.”  He complained of being unable to find a talented student and was puzzled by the emphasis on developing piano technique – which came to him naturally.  He told one student, “You can get more keyboard skill out of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues than out of a boatload of studies by tone-deaf nit-wits like Czerny.”

    Another student persisted in playing a piano passage faster than he was capable, explaining that he had heard Horowitz play it “like a blue streak in his recording.” Grainger dismissed the phenomenon by saying, “There likely wasn’t room on the recording at the right speed, so he had to hurry it up.”

    Eventually the teaching and rehearsing got to be too strenuous, and Grainger became increasingly disillusioned with the staff and students at Interlochen.  It was simply not the place for him.  After his last summer there in 1944, he vowed, “I shall never teach again.” His wife echoed his sentiments by commenting, “It would have been so nice there if it wasn't for all those horrible children.”

    The following list includes information on the concerts Grainger was involved in during his association with the Interlochen National Music Camp and I am indebted to their current archivist and librarian, Byron W. Hanson, for his work in compiling this information.  I hope that this preliminary information will be of use to any future scholar who might be wish to undertake a more detailed study of Grainger’s time at the National Music Camp.

                 *The National High School Orchestra Camp was established in 1927 by music educator Joseph Edgar Maddy (1891-1966), and opened at Interlochen, Michigan in 1928.  In a climate where school music provision was very limited, the camp was initially set up to provide opportunities for high school students to rehearse and perform together.  By the 1930s, the Camp Orchestra was broadcasting for CBS and NBC radio, and in 1939 performed at the New York World’s Fair.  One of the very few examples of Grainger on film is contained in the 1943 Interlochen publicity film, Youth Builds a Symphony, where Grainger is shown demonstrating the correct way to play Country Gardens to a throng of students as well as brief clips of him conducting, playing the Delius ‘Piano Concerto’, and running and leaping onto the podium to the shouts of “we want Grainger”.  

    All photos taken between 1930 and 1944 at  Interlochen National Music Camp.


    August 24 3:00pm PAG conducted a substantial concert featuring keyboard ensembles, band, orchestra, and choir. It began with his settings of Bach fugues in A minor (four pianists), C major (pianists and four harmonium players), and Purcell four-part fantasia No. 8 (pianos, harmoniums and string orchestra). The National High School Orchestra presented To a Nordic Princess and Spoon River.  Next were five pieces for choir combined with various instruments: Australian Up-Country Song, Recessional (Kipling), The Hunter in His Career, Irish Tune, and Father and Daughter. Next came “Hillbillie’s Song”, a student work played by the orchestra conducted by the composer, Lee Briggs, then Marching Song of Democracy (choir and orchestra), and “Love Song” by Herman Sandby, played by a cello ensemble. The orchestra played Danish Folk Song Suite and the band closed with Children’s March and Shepherd’s Hey.

    7:00pm The Camp’s third season closed with another substantial concert in two parts. The first part is indicated as being a broadcast, but considering that Les preludes and fifteen shorter works performed variously by band, orchestra, choir, a faculty cellist, and a tenor in a New York studio are listed, unless the broadcast extended beyond its customary hour it seems unlikely all were actually heard by the radio audience – unless severe cuts were taken.  Part two indicates a somewhat shorter program, although part of the band’s portion is “a group of request numbers”. PAG is listed as conducting in part one only; the three works are Shepherd’s Hey (band), Irish Tune (choir), and Spoon River (orchestra).



    June 28            “Talk by Percy Grainger” followed 45’ orchestra sight reading.

    July 1              Faculty concert – PAG played Cyril Scott’s arr. of Handel’s “Hornpipe from the Water Music and “Cherry Ripe”, followed by David Guion’s arrangement of “Turkey in the Straw”.

    July 4              10:30am PAG gave talk at Interlochen Bowl Service: “The Characteristics of Spiritual Music”.

    3pm National HS Band concert – PAG conducted a group of four early pieces “The Annunciation Carol”, Bach-Dolmetsch  “March”, Bach Air from 3rd Suite, Fantasy (5-part) No. 1 (Jenkins), and later, “Irish Tune from County Derry”.

    9pm NBC NHSO broadcast – JEM conducted “Spoon River” with PAG at the piano and John Hammond at the Hammond Organ. PAG repeated Annunciation Carol and the two Bach pieces from the afternoon concert, and conducted 1812 Overture and Irish Tune played by massed orchestra, band, and Hammond Organ [which had been but two years on the market]. PAG introduced the three early pieces on the air; Bill Kephart’s radio script printed in the following week’s booklet reveals that the Irish Tune preceded the 1812 overture, and both were played by the combined ensemble.

    July 8              Faculty recital – played Brahms F minor clarinet sonata (Op.120/1) with Gustave Langenus.

    July 11            3pm NHS Band concert – conducted Machaut “Ballad, No. 17”, Josquin “La Bernardina”, Gardiner “Shepherd Fennel’s Dance” and selection from Victor Herbert “Eileen”.

    8pm NHSO concert – played 2nd and 3rd movements of Grieg concerto.

                            9pm broadcast – played 1st movement of Grieg, and repeated the Gardiner and Josquin pieces with NHS Band [Maddy conducted the concerto]. 

    July 18            3pm NHS Band concert – PAG conducted Prelude in the Dorian Mode (Cabezón), Tuscan Serenade (Fauré), and O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sunde gross (Bach), and was at the piano for Children’s March, G. T. Overgard, conducting.

                            9pm repeat of Cabezón Prelude, and Children’s March.

    July 21            7:30pm NMC Band – conducted Grieg “Norwegian Dance No. 1”, Irish Tune and Shepherd’s Hey, ”Funereal Chant” (Fauré) and Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” with a cornet solo, then played piano in “Spoon River” with Overgard conducting. Bainum is credited for band arrangement of Spoon River.

    July 29            Faculty concert – played piano (continuo) for 2nd Brandenburg Concerto, then duet with Skeat for C major fugue from WTC I/1 arr. for Hammond Organ and Bilhorn Folding Organ – no indication who played which. His piano ensemble class (4 pianos,16 hands) ended program with Fugue in E major (WTC II/90).

    August 1         3:00pm NHSB concert – PAG conducted “A Children’s Overture” White), and his arrangement of “See What His Love Can Do” from Bach Cantata 85. [It may have been played in the afternoon and only trimmed from the evening broadcast due to time constraints. See comment below regarding broadcast radio script published in the following week’s program.]

                            8:00pm NHSO concert – played 2nd and 3rd movements of Tchaikovsky B-flat minor concerto.

                            9:00pm broadcast – played 1st movement of concerto (orchestra; Maddy) and conducted 1st performance of his arrangement of ”Fantasy and Air (Wm. Lawes). [The Lawes and the Bach cantata selection are both listed here and “1st performance” is noted for the Bach, but it is likely neither was played since they do not appear in the radio script published in the next week’s program.]

    August 5         Faculty Concert – PAG played Brahms E-flat major clarinet sonata, Op. 120/2 with Burnet Tuthill.

    August 8         3:00pm NSHB concert – conducted “Interlochen Camp Reel” (Cowell).

    8:00pm NHSO – PAG and Clarke Kessler played mvts. 1 and 2 of Bach C major 2-piano concerto, Vladimir Bakaleinikoff, conducting.

    9:00pm broadcast – they played the 3rd movement of Bach, and PAG conducted Cyril Scott’s “Festival Overture”. The Scott is not in the radio script published the following week, so likely was not broadcast. 

    August 12       Faculty concert – performed movements 3-4 of Beethoven violin/piano Sonata Opus 30/3 with Cecil Leeson, saxophonist/transcriber.

    August 15       3:00pm NHSB concert – conducted Franck Chorale No. 1 (arr. Ralph Leopold) five Norwegian Folk melodies from Op. 66 (Grieg-Storm Bull), Josquin “Royal Fanfare”, and Fanfare to precede “La Peri” (Dukas).

    8:00pm NHSO concert – “To a Nordic Princess” and Scott’s Festival Overture” were performed.  PAG is listed only as conducting the Scott; Bakaleinikoff presumably led the Nordic Princess.

    9:00pm broadcast – PAG conducted the NHSO in Le Carillon (Bizet), The Elf-hill (Herman Sandby), and “Molly on the Shore”. He is also listed as conducting the Franck Chorale and Storm Bull’s Grieg arrangements. [In the next week’s program, the radio script does not include the Franck and lists only 3 of the 5 Grieg movements.]

    August 18       National Music Camp Band presented 8pm “Clinic Concert” at which a number of visiting band directors each conducted a selection announced only by number from a list of 24 pieces.  Children’s March with PAG at the piano is No. 6 on the list.  The printed comment saying only that “a program of nominal length will be chosen by the visiting band directors” offers no indication as to which of the listed pieces were played.

    August 22       3pm NHSB concert—PAG conducted Two Pieces for “Tuneful Percussion” Instruments: Pagodas (Debussy-Grainger) and Eastern Intermezzo. Ella is listed among 16 performers; there is no indication of who plays what instrument(s).

    8pm NHSO concert—PAG conducted Song of the High Hills (Delius).


    1942                (little program information for this year – other performances likely)

    August 16       High School Choir – “Australian Up-Country Song”, Henry Veld, conducting.

    August 23       NHSO concert – “In a Nutshell Suite” PAG at the piano, probably Thor Johnson conducting. Final concert of summer.



    July 1              Conducted Irish Tune on WKAR broadcast (strings/horns).

    July 6              Orchestra sight reading included Spoon River and Molly on the Shore. PAG played Grieg Concerto (unstated who conducted what).

    July 14            Band sight reading included “Over the Hills and Far Away” (cond?).

    July 17            7pm WKAR broadcast – PAG played Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, Guy Fraser Harrison conducting.

    8:30pm Faculty concert – PAG played Grieg G sonata with Stolarevsky. The Merry King was played by 12-piece wind ensemble – members unidentified.

    July 18             Repeated Gershwin for evening concert.

    July 20             Orch SR played Grieg Concerto, JEM cond. PAG cond. Molly (identical repertoire to 7/6: unusual: possibly an error, possibly a  postponement.)

    July 24             WKAR broadcast-conducted English Waltz, Harvest Hymn.

    July 25             Repeated 7/24 selections for evening concert.

    July 30             PAG (steel-string guitar) and Ella (gut-string guitar) did “Random Round”. Additional performers not identified.

    July 31             7pm-Delius Concerto-3mvt version (TJ) for WKAR broadcast.

      8:30-Solo recital

                                        Star Spangled Banner

                                        Fantasia and Fugue in g                     Bach/Liszt

                                        The Carman’s Whistle                        Byrd

                                        Handelian Rhapsody                          Cyril Scott

                                        Etudes symphoniques, Op. 13          Schumann

                                        Liebestraume #3                                  Liszt

                                        Paraphrase on “Flower Waltz”            Tchaikovsky-Grainger

    August 1         NHSO concert – repeated Delius: 3 mvts listed, so original version.

    August 13       7pm conducted band in Harkstow Grange [sic] and The Lost Lady Found from Lincolnshire Posey [sic].

    8:30 conducted about 20 players in Pagodas, 1st of two pieces for tuneful percussion. Eastern Intermezzo was conducted by Thomas J. Glenecke.

    August 14       Faculty concert – pianist in Quintet (from the Seventh Realm) by Fickensher.

    August 15       Saxophone Quintet played the Four Note Pavane (Ferrubosco/Grainger) at morning service.

    3:30pm PAG conducted band in all of Lincolnshire Posey [sic]. Considering that E. Rollin Silfies is listed as soprano saxophone soloist for Rufford Park Poachers, Grainger appears to have chosen the saxophone version. Composers Domenico Savino and Ferde Grofé also conducted their own works on this concert.



    July 6              Conducted The Four Note Pavan (strings) for WKAR broadcast.

    July 14            Conducted “The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart” (band, string orchestra, organ and piano)WKAR broadcast “PREMIERE PERFORMANCE”.

    July 15            NHSO broadcast (WKAR) – soloist for Morton Gould “American Concertette”, Homer LaGassey, conducting.

    Faculty concert – Fauré Quartet No. 2, Op. 45 with Millard Taylor, Mihail Stolarevsky, and Allison McKown.

    July 16            Afternoon – repeat performance of The Power of Rome…

                            Evening – repeat performance of “American Concertette”.

    July 19            Band sight reading (LaGassey) – piano soloist for Children’s March.

    July 29            Faculty concert – played “English Dance” for three pianists at two pianos with Marjorie MacKown and Guy Fraser Harrison.

    July 30            High School Choir sang “Australian Up-Country Song”’ conductor probably Maynard Klein.

    August 5         WKAR broadcast – played Gershwin “Concerto in F” with NHSO. Homer LaGassey likely conducted, as he is listed in next day’s concert program.

    August 6         NHSO concert – “Concerto in F”.

    August 12       NHSO broadcast WKAR – composer at piano for “Danish Folk Music Suite”. Also, Russell Howland’s “Sussex Psalm” was performed (“inspired by and dedicated to PAG and based on his harmonization of “A Sussex Christmas Carol”). Thor Johnson conducted entire program.

    Faculty concert – PAG played “Lullaby from ‘Tribute to Foster’” and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

    August 13       NHSO concert – repeat of August 12 program. If the program is complete this would have been his last performance at Interlochen.

    August 24       College Division Orchestra broadcast WKAR – student conductors led 16 pieces including “Spoon River”.

  • Mon, November 19, 2018 6:44 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by Dana Paul Perna. Percy Grainger’s music for band is renowned and highly heralded. Another article in regard to, or in support of that fact is completely unnecessary, unless it proved to be included as a prologue to a Doctoral Dissertation. It has become common for band directors to program a Grainger work surrounded by titles by other composers on the same concert. What may prove to be of interest to readers of this blog occurred to me following a lecture I had presented at Grainger’s home (May 6, 2018), namely that a theme for a concert can be built around Grainger and his Composer Colleagues. In terms of these “Composer Colleagues”, I am referring to those who mattered to him most, either as professionals, associates, and/or as friends. In support of that thought, here is just a small listing of titles and composers whose works can be culled from for such an endeavor towards a program that will consist of some real content, quality and imagination. The selections fall into three categories: 1) music Grainger transcribed/arranged for band as penned by his colleagues; 2) music by his immediate group of colleagues written directly by them for the medium; and 3) music by his immediate group of colleagues as scored on their behalf by others. Let us begin with a listing that is far from complete:

    1) Music Grainger transcribed/arranged for band as penned by his colleagues. As part of “Chosen Gems for Band”, Grainger’s intention was to include music from all periods, Medieval right up to the 20th Century, in order that bands had a full range of repertory from which to perform from. In a few instances, some of his “composing colleagues” were included within that mix, all of whom having numbered among his friends, too. It is not a long list, but it includes these truly golden gems: 

    Tuscan Serenade by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) - for band with a Euphonium solo. Grainger played his own “English Dance” for the French Master while he was still living in London during Fauré’s visit there. From that point on, Grainger was always a devout champion of his music.

     Intermezzo by Herman Sandby (1881-1965) - the Danish Master who was Grainger’s Frankfurt classmate, and the cellist for whom Percy dished-up his “Youthful Rapture,” as well as the suite “La Scandinavie” when they performed as a duo together. 

    Folk-Tune by Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), one of Grainger’s favorite conductors that he enjoyed the pleasure of having worked with as piano soloist, and/or composer during Goossens' tenure as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. (It is also known under its more complete title Sheep Shearing Songan edition with that title being available by Southern Music, as edited by R. Mark Rogers.)

    Down Longford Way by Katharine Parker (1886-1971). Among Grainger’s favorite pupils was this Tasmanian-born composer/pianist, whose nickname was “Kitty”. The “Longford” in its title relates to her Tasmanian birthplace. Parker was thrilled that Grainger transcribed this title from her piano suite “Four Musical Sketches“. Due in large measure to that transcription, it has since proven to have become her most performed title. (For those of you who know it, there is also a first-rate band version of this same opus by Leroy Osmon {via RBC Music Company}, that is not too dissimilar from Grainger’s own setting.)  

    While not for a large band’s instrumentation is Bruyères by Claude Debussy (1862-1918), to whom Grainger also performed-in-the-presence-of during Claude’s visit to London, this Prélude having been transcribed for a small ensemble of winds with harmonium during Grainger’s time in a branch of the United States Army Band.

    2) Band music by his immediate group of colleagues written directly by them for the medium. Henry Cowell (1897-1965), who lived with The Grainger’s in their White Plains home for one year, composed several titles for band, many of which seem to have disappeared from catalogs. Noted Cowell scholar, Grainger enthusiast, and Director of Instrumental Music Activities at Carthage College, Dr. James Ripley has prepared scorings, setting some of Cowell’s exceptional piano pieces (e.g. Cowell’s complete Four Irish Myths) for band, as well as more recently having completed a new edition of Celtic Set, the work that Grainger helped to shepherd on Henry’s behalf. 

    Among Grainger’s students, in this case from his days teaching at Interlochen, is the late Walter S. Hartley (1927-2016) who composed directly for band, creating a supreme catalog of his own for the medium. Among that output includes a set of transcriptions Hartley prepared that he titled - in appropriately Graingerian-style - A Tit-Bit Suite, which is comprised of two of Percy’s posthumously published piano originals Harlem Walkabout, and A Bridal Lullaby, as well as ELLA Grainger’s The Bigelow March. I believe that this set is still awaiting its world premiere. For interested parties, their performing materials are available through Bardic Edition.

    Two colleagues of Percy’s that require mentioning were Morton Gould (1913-1996) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), the latter having been among those colleagues with whom Grainger enjoyed one of his longest friendships. Apart from that, any additional comment as to the value of the music these two great Masters created directly for the band medium becomes extraneous.

    John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) prepared his own first-rate settings of Grainger’s Country Gardens and Handel in the Strand, respectively. While they may be quite different than Percy’s, they remain no less imaginatively prepared by “The March King”, capable of standing in contrast to Percy’s concept of these genuine warhorses on their own merits.

     3) Music as scored on their behalf by others.

    On the other side of the coin is a title by one of Percy’s teachers that has become available in rolls royce fashion as expertly arranged by R. Mark Rogers in a manner that I doubt even its composer could have scored much better, namely Turandot by Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924; as published by Southern Music:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1zwQcPn9-Q  ) 

    A composer who greatly admired Grainger, and with whom Grainger met on one occasion, was Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), the composer/conductor/pianist whose championship of  Grainger helped lead to a renaissance of interest in Percy’s music. Of Britten’s important works, a transcription of his ‘Four Sea Interludes’ from the Opera “Peter Grimes” - yes, you are reading  that correctly! - now exists due to its masterful setting by Musician 1st Class David J. Miller of the United States Navy Band (where he is also a member of its trombone section) that remains completely faithful to one of Britten’s best known, and most celebrated compositions.  

    On a more personal note, I have prepared versions of works by composers who knew Grainger, one, in particular whose music Percy actively championed. Of the one who “knew him” (and visa versa) was Jerome Moross (1913-1983) who, despite having had a successful career writing for the theatre, television, radio and motion pictures did not compose directly for the band medium. Selecting his orchestral work Biguine - or, as Jerry put it to me, “Oh, you mean my little Latin number!” - I dished-up a scoring of it for band, which is available through Subito Music. His reflections about Grainger were most insightful, having left a most positive impression on him that I was honored he shared with me. 

    Of the composer Percy championed remains Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), of whom I have prepared band versions of his two earliest, yet most engaging among his titles, specifically Cave of the Winds (published by LudwigMusic Masters Publications) as well as the recently released After the Cake Walk, editing and expanding the materials from its original 1901 scoring by Lee Orean Smith into - and for use within - our present time (published by Southern Music Publications under their “Concerts in the Park Series”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsjMk_WOt9Y  ) While these two titles are indicative of the music the young Dett and others would have heard at the turn-of-the-20th-Century, these foot-stompers possess some of the catchiest and most engaging melodies he was ever to compose that are certain to make an audience smile from ear to ear.

  • Tue, October 09, 2018 10:07 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    As part of the remembrance of the Armistice Day Centenary, this November there will be three concert performances entitled War and the Human Heart, to be held in Logan, Utah, Chicago and Valparaiso, Indiana.  The purpose of the concert series is to commemorate the Centenary and honor veterans by communicating to the audiences what a veteran's experience is really like. 

    On the concert program is Percy Grainger's We Have Fed Our Sea for a Thousand Years (1911), based on the poem of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).  Both Grainger and Kipling knew the war first hand: Kipling’s son John was killed in action at age 18, during the First World War Battle of Loos in September of 1915.  Grainger served in 1917-19 as a U.S. Army Bandsman. 

    While still a student at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfort, Grainger discovered Kipling’s poetry and began setting it to music. We Have Fed Our Sea for a Thousand Years was originally composed between 1900-1904, and rescored in 1911. As noted by Grainger’s close friend, the pianist and composer Cyril Scott, "Whenever Grainger elects to produce one of his Kipling settings . . . he becomes Kipling."

    The concert dates and locations:

    UTAH: Saturday, November 3 @ 7:30 pm (MT)  

    Daines Concert Hall, Utah State University, Logan, Utah USA

    Presented by the American Festival Chorus and Utah State University, Craig Jessop conducting (http://www.americanfestivalchorus.org/performance/2018/war-and-human-heart)

    ILLINOIS: Saturday, November 10 @ 7:30 pm (CT)

    St. James Cathedral, Chicago, Illinois USA

    Presented by the Rembrandt Chamber Players, Craig Jessop conducting (http://www.rembrandtchamberplayers.org/events/war-and-the-human-heart/)

    INDIANA: Sunday, November 11 @ 5 pm (CT)

    Chapel of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana USA

    Presented by Valparaiso University, Christopher Cock and Jeffrey Scott Doebler, conducting (https://www.valpo.edu/music/whh/)

7 Cromwell Place, White Plains, NY 10601


Tel: (914) 281-1610

Subscribe to e-newsletter here

Privacy Policy

The Percy Grainger Society's programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software