Director’s News

“Doc Talk”/Class Lesson 5/18/2020




Registration for Marching Band is OPEN on our website!!!


Please sign up ASAP, and spread the word, especially to rising 9th graders!  The due date is Friday, June 19th.

Please note that we have covered many scenarios in our overview letter; however, we have decided to approach this in the “best case scenario” manner and we’ll make the necessary adjustments to our season as we need to.

We are requesting a deposit, but no one will lose any money should the season be shortened/cancelled.

I will have information sent out this week concerning captains, section leaders, and the drum major position.


Today’s Lesson:  Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” and Movement 1:  “Mars, the Bringer of War”

We’re going to go from Debussy’s Symphonic Sketches “The Sea” to Holst’s Orchestral Suite “The Planets.”

Everyone loves “The Planets” and I believe the most important reason why is the sheer amount of wonderful themes/melodies that are contained within these movements.  Another reason is the cool “space chords/sounds” that Holst pioneered, and which have been used by contemporary composers (notably John Williams in “Star Wars”) to give the aural impression of what outer space should sound like.

“The Planets” was an instant “hit” with audiences when it was first performed publicly in 1920 and has remained so to the present day.  “The Planets,” completed in 1916, follows the tradition of the late-Romantic works of Tchaikovsky (“Overture to Romeo and Juliet”), Richard Strauss (“Til Eilenspiegel’s Merry Pranks”), Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov (“Sheherazade”), and Claude Debussy (“La Mer”) that we have studied.


Before diving into this work and discovering its many cool features, I want to read what Aaron Copland wrote about the nature of “program music:”

“One principle must be kept firmly in mind:  No matter how programmatic or descriptive music may be, it must always exist in terms of music alone.  Never allow a composer to justify his piece to you because of the story content.  In short, story interest can never take the place of musical interest; nor can it be made an excuse for musical procedure.  The music must be able to stand on its own feet, so that a person hearing it with no knowledge of the story would not have his enjoyment curtailed in any way.”

I cannot overstate the above statement strong enough…  Beneath the sensual and expressive effects that most programmatic music “wears on its sleeves,” the music must be able to stand on its own.  Its architecture (form), its pacing of themes, and its overall dramatic shape must be strong enough to exist on its own–without any extra-musical reference–or it will not last.  Compare this to a building for an art gallery…  If the building is not structurally sound, it will collapse, no matter how beautiful the artwork within it is.  We are dealing with the polar opposite concepts of science and art, logic and emotion, concrete and abstract-which is not only the root of all music, but humankind as well.

In my opinion, Gustav Holst (1874-1934) is one of the most underappreciated composers who have ever existed.  Many of his works are sheer genius in terms of compositional craftsmanship, innovation, orchestration, variety, and wide appeal (both by amateurs and professionals).  Holst was a thoroughly “English” composer—born in Cheltenham and died in London.  Trained as a pianist, at 18 years old he became organist and choirmaster at a local church.  However, chronic pain in his arm/fingers motivated him to learn the trombone.  (This also helped with his chronic asthma.)  For most of his life, he was a music professor at an all-girls school.  He also maintained a life-long friendship with another English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, who received much more fame during his lifetime than Holst.  Both composers loved collecting English folksong.  Holst wrote several operas, choral works, orchestral works and several wonderful pieces for Wind Band!   (First and Second Suites, Hammersmith, Moorside Suite)

Holst was always fascinated by astrology—not astronomy, rather astrology which is the meanings behind celestial matter and events.  He was encouraged to write a musical work about astrology by one of his friends while vacationing on an island off the coast of Spain.  Upon returning to England, Holst dived into the project and within 2 years, created this 7-movement orchestral suite.  All of the planets are represented with the exception of Earth and Pluto.  Pluto was discovered 14 years after “The Planets” was written.  Although this was still within Holst’s lifetime, he purportedly had no interest in expanding his suite.  (For good reason—one that we will address later this week.)  FUN FACT:  A “Pluto—the Renewer” movement was written by Colin Matthews in 2000 and is sometimes added-on to Holst’s work.

Although Holst first appreciated the audience reaction and love of this work, he eventually grew tired of it.  LOL


  1. Mars, the Bringer of War (show picture)

First of all, note the novel orchestration:

Bass Oboe, Double/Contra-Bassoon, 6 Horns, Tenor Tuba (Euphonium), 6 Timpani (2 players), 2 Harps, Organ


Music cue #1:  0:00-1:20 in attached link

Note the following:

5/4 time (3+2)

Ostinato and Pedal on G (dominant of C); note contrasting rhythm of triplet vs. duple eighth notes.

Col legno manner of playing strings (percussive); timpani with wooden sticks

Melodic line containing ascending leap of P5 and descending semitone (which ends up a tritone from the starting pitch, adding to the tension).  This line sequences higher and higher (and crescendos) to a Db Major chord (a tritone from the pedal G).  Also note its resemblance to the “sunrise” introduction of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra (1896).”  Hmm… maybe an influence?


Climax is reached when pedal drops to C (key of movement) with a Db Major chord sounded above it.  (Cool “space chord”)


Music cue #2:  1:20-2:06 in attached link

Note the following:

Pt 2: New dotted rhythm melody (partly chromatic and very scalar—contrast to leaps in first part)

Ostinato continues on C—it is relentless—but also unifies this entire section

Climax is reached as brass and organ play 2 chords a tritone apart, ending on a “augmented major 7th chord (another cool “space chord”)


Music cue #3:  2:06-3:06 in attached link

Pt. 3:  New ostinato—just quarter notes

New melody in tenor tuba (euphonium) answered by trumpets—very military-like/fanfare, containing triplets and dotted-eighth-sixteenth rhythms (which are very contrasting!)

Ostinato is eventually taken over by trumpets and snare drum while theme is played canonically between euphonium and trumpet.

Climax is reached with a dark/dense dissonant chord (a minor over a F#-G# bass).

The music appears to have collapsed within itself.


Music cue #4:  3:06-4:17 in attached link

This is a bridge passage—really one long crescendo—which serves in place of the development in sonata form–the music rebuilds itself growing stronger and stronger, higher and higher, louder and louder.

Note the reprise of the Pt. 2 theme as well as the original ostinato played fragmented first by the snare drum, then with the trumpet, euphonium

Note the pedal G#/Ab


Music cue #5:  4:17:6:33 in attached link

Recap!  So, this movement is in sonata-form, where the development is replaced by the bridge.

Note octave G tutti statement of original ostinato—back with a vengeance!  Talk about a return!!!

Holst combines Pts 2 and 3 while continuing the ostinato on G.

Climax:  cool space chords, 2 fifths Db-Ab/C-G a semi tone apart (note tritones!) as well as its relationship with first melodic idea in part 1


Music cue #6:  6:33-7:03 in attached link

Very short coda with a reprise of fragmented ostinato and 2 fifths (C-G/Db-Ab) finally resolving to C-G.



1) Listen to the entire movement, “Mars, the bringer of War” to hear how the work is not only attractive by sound and expression, but also is so logically musically.


2  )Listen to “Mars” with the score!


More movements tomorrow ?


Dr. Jerry Markoch, Director of Bands

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