Daniel Gordon is a Professor of Music at Plattsburgh State University of New York, where he teaches studio saxophone, directs the Symphonic Band, and teaches various classroom courses. He is founder, President, and Music Director of the Adirondack Wind Ensemble, a professional wind orchestra that consists primarily of music educators from around upstate New York. He is also a founding member of the Frontier Saxophone Quartet and the Metamusic Trio (saxophone, violin, and piano), both comprised of performers from the Plattsburgh region and Montreal. He has served as Music Director of the McGill University Wind Symphony and the Adirondack Youth Orchestra.
About his Old McDonald Concerto, composer Daniel Gordon explains, “The idea of concertos for beginning players inspired me to write this piece…Beginners deserve to experience the thrill of being a concerto soloist just like older and more experienced players.”
A collegiate and adult amateur band director and saxophonist by profession, Gordon had experimented with mixed-ability-level concertos with his ensembles prior to composing Old McDonald. In fact, he introduced me to Petri Juutilainen’s beginner-level concertos several years before my 2016-2017 pilot study and the 2017-2018 project. Seeking to experiment with creative performance experiences between the audience and musicians, he had great success programming Juutilainen’s concertos with local elementary school students as soloists with his adult community band, the Plattsburgh State University Symphonic Band.
When the idea arose of commissioning many concertos for young soloists, Gordon was interested in contributing to the repertoire. Specifically, he aimed to write a piece that would be a crowd-pleaser. He wrote, "I’m thinking of writing a simple piece based on Old McDonald, because in my experience, the kids’ concertos based on familiar material were the most successful. I’d like the soloist to play the theme three times (it has five pitches in it), with members of the ensemble making different animal noises at each statement of the theme (clarinet mouthpieces will be geese, half-valve trumpet will be a horse, and glissando bones will be a cow."
Ultimately, Gordon created his Old McDonald concerto with six verses featuring various instruments in the wind band as farm animals. Three of the verses (“Duck,” “Sheep,” and “Shark”) are optional, and the three verses of “Cow,” “Horse,” and “Geese” are required. The concerto is between 5’30” and 3’00” in length, depending on how many verses are performed. Each verse showcases a different group of instruments from the band with extended techniques, such as a trumpet horse whinny, and musical quotes, such as the William Tell Overture. The accompaniment therefore is engaging for advanced-level players, while the soloist repeats the same five-note melody in the familiar key of E-flat major. Finally, the solo part is designed to include a variety of instruments. Gordon wrote solos in C, B-flat, E-flat, F, and bass clef, making it possible for any wind band instrument to perform them.
Gordon’s background in pedagogy proved especially useful to him as a composer. In a personal e-mail correspondence, Gordon wrote, “I think that part of the reason I ‘get’ this is because I have experience as a conductor who deals with ensembles of limited skills. I have learned what works and what does not, and put all of that to use in this piece. I have always believed that my activity as a conductor informs my instrumental playing and vice-versa. I think it is true of composing, too. Far too many composers are not performers, and as such they just don't get what works in the real world. The worst is the frequent mentality of composers (and performers) that harder is better. I also have a great appreciation for making something of quality with limited technical demands. The finest example of this, which has inspired me, is Dr. Seuss. This hit me like a ton of bricks one day while I was reading The Cat in the Hat to my then 6-year-old daughter. I suddenly realized that over 90% of the words in that book are one syllable. It takes real craft to write an interesting story using almost exclusively one-syllable words.”
Old McDonald Concerto has been performed in Finland by the Finnish Navy Band and by the Junior Wind Band at the Turku Conservatory, as well as at the Building Bridges Through Music Festival at Arizona State University.
Melanie Brooks is the Director of Bands at Winona State University and co-founder of Leading Tones Music, LLC.