Of Sailors and Whales
by Francis McBeth
From 1957 to 1996 Dr. Francis McBeth (born 1933) was Professor of Music, Resident Composer and Chairman of the Theory-Composition Department at Ouachita University (pronounced wash-i-taw) in Arkadelphia, Arkansas (US). He was also conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in Little Rock for many years until his retirement in 1973, after which he was elected Conductor Emeritus. One of the most prolific composers of wind band music in the 20th Century, McBeth’s formal training was received at Hardin-Simmons University, University of Texas and the Eastman School of Music. He has consistently been in the top group of the most performed American symphonic wind composers the past 30 years, and his style is reflected in much of the music being written today by much younger composers. He also plays the trumpet and bass violin.
Year of publication: 1990
Publisher: Southern Music
Type of composition: Program Music
Style: Varies with movements
Programming suggestions: Of Sailors and Whales is a five-movement work based on five scenes from Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” It was commissioned by and is dedicated to the California Band Directors Association, Inc., and was premiered in February 1990 by the California All-State Band, conducted by the composer. The work is subdedicated to Robert Lanon White, Commander USN (Ret.), who went to sea as a simple sailor.
I. Ishmael – “I go to sea as a simple sailor”
II. Queequeg – “It was quite plain that he must be some abominable savage, but Queequeg was a creature in the transitory state – neither caterpillar nor butterfly.”
III. Father Mapple – “This ended, in prolonged solemn tones, like the continual tolling of a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a fog – in such tones he commenced reading the following hymn; but changing his manner towards the concluding stanzas, burst forth with a pealing exultation and joy.”
The ribs and terrors in the whale
Arched over me a dismal gloom
While all God’s sunlit waves rolled by,
And lift me lower down to doom.
In black distress I called my God
when I could scarce believe Him mine,
He bowed His ear to my complaint,
no more the whale did me confine.
My songs forever shall record,
That terrible, that joyful hour,
I give the glory to my God,
His all the mercy and the power.
IV. Ahab – “So powerfully did the whole grim aspect of Ahab affect me that for the first few moments I hardly noted the barbaric white leg upon which he partly stood.”
V. The White Whale – “Moby Dick seemed combinedly possessed by all the angels that fell from heaven. The birds! – the birds! They mark the spot.”
Solo instruments: Oboe, trumpet, bassoon
Anecdotal notes: Third movement is for SATB choir. May have difficultly getting students to sing on pitch for this movement. Composer recommends certain mallets to be used in order to achieve the effect he wanted, do not substitute. May sure players do not fine tune every chord, some chords are meant to be clashing and are indicated by the composer to do so. Movement V has directions for players to play unusual patterns. Will have to follow directions and divided parts accordingly. This will require you to have strong players throughout the section because of the division. Some measures in 4/4 do not always contain 4 beats, compositional technique that may have to be explained to the students. Rapid passages have articulations that occur on the weak part of the beat. For example, the second sixteen note on a group of four would be tongued. Numerous time and key changes. Extreme dynamic ranges will require good control.
Discography: MASTERS OF THE WIND BAND: THE BEST OF W. FRANCIS McBETH, VOLUME 4 – ADVANCED REPERTOIRE FOR BAND. TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY CONCERT BAND – WILLIAM FRANCIS McBETH, COND. Southern Music…..The American Band Live! CD. Dr. Francis Marciniak & Dr. Gene Pollart, conductors.
Recording of "Of Sailors and Whales"