A Sucker for Swearingen

Sometimes I have ideas which I’m not sure whether or not to post here. It’s true that this space is really mostly for me, but I like for the things I post to at least be interesting to other people (other people being the small circle of friends who I know read the site). I had one of those moments this week.

My relationship with music is kind of an odd thing. On the one hand, I have this oddly personal and emotional connection to the music I like. I get the feeling it’s a bit atypical (and probably a bit comical at times *grin*). On the other hand, I have friends who have much more training and talent in music who probably understand that connection but are puzzled at my tastes. I’m not as drawn to the purely original as most musicians are. So, you, my readers, end up getting really odd posts about Debbie Gibson videos and concert band music. 🙂

Anyway, I sent an email to one of those very musically talented friends the other night. I figured she would understand, but I thought it a bit odd for posting. She thinks that I need to share it with all of you, though, so I’m going to trust her. 🙂 The text of that email follows…

I’m sitting here listening to some music, and wanted to write you, because I think you’ll understand what I’m thinking right now.

You know how some people are pushovers for cheesy romantic movies? They go in knowing that the filmmaker is going to shamelessly manipulate their emotions, and it still works. Same thing with some people and romance novels. Then there’s the old cliché about people who “always cry at weddings”.

Well, I’m a pushover for a Swearingen song. 🙂 I figure back in high school band you must have played at least one piece by James Swearingen. I played a couple at least. Best I can tell, he’s the hit-maker of concert band music. If Diane Warren wrote concert band music, this is the stuff she’d write. 🙂 None of it is complex, and once you’ve heard one song, you can pretty much predict the pattern of most of his others. It’s kinda like reading Heinlein’s later books. You know pretty much which kinds of characters are going to show up and what their attitudes are going to be. It’s band cheese music. 🙂

Anyway, I have a CD of the Washington Wind Symphony playing some of Swearingen’s pieces, and there’s one in particular that just gets to me. It’s called “Centuria.” One of Swearingen’s common things is to start out fast, slow down into a very sweet middle section, then pick back up with the original fast theme at the end (”movements”, in a sense). The slow part in “Centuria” just messes with my emotions. I know Swearingen is manipulating me, and I don’t care. 🙂 He builds this big brass crescendo into a complex chord (I need to learn chord names so I can name it) that begs to be resolved and holds it in a fermata. Then the bottom drops out and a single plaintive little solo flute picks up the melody for a few notes before the band finishes it out. *sniffle*

It’s polished pop music at its best, and I’m a sucker for it. 🙂

Hi. My name’s Jeff, and I’m a pop band musiholic. *grin*

2 replies on “A Sucker for Swearingen”

I used to be annoyed when I felt something was manipulating me like that. I’ve gotten to the point where I can enjoy it now. Even though I know the tricks being pulled on me, I can enjoy the ride.

And for the record, we played a reasonable amount of Swearingen in high school band.

And for the record, we played a reasonable amount of Swearingen in high school band.

Yeah. We played a few. I know we played “Exaltation”, “Brook Park Overture”, and “Silvercrest” (didn’t like that last one as much… a bit too much like a Sousa march).

I just thought of the word I was searching for as part of that post: formulaic. A lot of Swearingen’s music is quite formulaic. In his defense, I think he wrote the formula. 🙂

Anyway, I think that touches on something about me and music. Formulaic doesn’t necessarily bother me. There have been a few notable cases of music that totally matched a formula I like, but it was nothing but formula. I’ve inflicted some of it on some of you. 🙂 But I will quite happily enjoy variations on a formula as long as they sound well-done to me.

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