Persichetti and Tania Leon for band

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Monday, April 16, 2018

In the years following the end of World War II, the “baby boom” led to a dramatic rise in the number of high school and college music programs across the country. By the mid-1950s, a number of well-known American composers started receiving commissions from these schools for new works for wind band.

In the past half-century, the Symphony for Band, by American composer Vincent Persichetti, has been one of the most frequently performed. It was commissioned by the Washington University Chamber Band, and received its first performance by the ensemble in St. Louis, Mo., on today’s date in 1956.

In keeping with this tradition, in the late 1990s the American Composers Forum started commissioning major composers to write new works for middle-school bands. The series was dubbed BandQuest, and in addition to new scores by composers like Chen Yi, Michael Colgrass, Libby Larsen, Robert X. Rodriguez, and Alvin Singleton, the series offers music teachers interactive CD-ROMs, which place each piece of music in a wider cultural and historical context.

This music is from Alegre, by Cuban-born composer Tania Leon. “Alegre” is a Spanish word meaning “joyful,” and Leon’s piece is meant to demonstrate the link in Latin culture between music and dance. That’s something the New York-based Leon knows more than a little about she was a founding member and the first music director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. A music educator as well as a composer, she also set up the theater’s music school and orchestra.