Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

An Analysis of Passing Bell (1974) by Warren Benson (1924-2005)

Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

An Analysis of Passing Bell (1974) by Warren Benson (1924-2005)

Article excerpt


This paper seeks to provide a view on the ways Benson's writing mirrors the affects of people who are in grief. This paper also builds on an earlier analysis by William Harbinson, published also by the Journal of Band ResearchHarbinson's earlier analysis provided a descriptive analysis of the work, identifying the hymns used, their modalities, and a chronological description of the entire work. This paper expands on the traditional analysis, looking at how the melodic materials are used, the ways the opening complex harmonies are built up, as well as provide suggestions on the ways these elements could be perceived in a listening session. The more contemporary methods theorized by Kramer (temporalities) and Meyer (emotions) are provided to build the connection between the sounds we hear (listener/ audience), the ways this piece could be performed (performers and their interpretations), and the intentions that inspired Benson to present the music as he had composed it. The writer believes that real musical experiences are created when the tripartite elements (composer, performer, listener/audience) interact and communicate with one another. This paper begins with an introduction to the composer to paint his ideas and modus operandi when composing music. The next section provides information on the motivations behind the work. This is followed by a traditional analysis of the work. Looking at the work through Kramer and Meyer's theories forms the penultimate section in this paper. A short ending section provides some suggestions when preparing the work for performance.

The Composer

Warren Benson was bom in Detroit, Michigan, as the only child to Ella Alma and Frederick William Benson.2 Benson's first musical training was at the age of eight, when he studied percussion with Gerry Gerard at the encouragement of Molly Plotkin, a teacher at the Monnier Elementary School in Detroit, where Benson was enrolled. After three years of lessons, Benson began playing drums in the Fisher Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) Boy's Band in central Detroit.3

Benson attended Cass Technical High School, studying both percussion and the French hom. His percussion teacher was Selwyn Alvey (percussionist of the Detroit Symphony. His hom teacher was Francis Hellstein, the Cass Tech Band director and the principal hom player of the Detroit Symphony. He earned his Bachelor ( 1949, studying percussion with Jack Ledingham and Arthur Cooper) and Master (1950) degrees in Theory at the University of Michigan. In his junior year (age 22), he was selected to play timpani with the Detroit Symphony (at Eric Delamarter's recommendation) and the Ford Sunday Evening Hour Broadcast Orchestra. In 1949, Benson began teaching at the Transylvania Music Camp Summers at Brevard, North Carolina (now known as the Brevard Music Center). He continued to teach at the camp in 1950, 53, and 54.4 In 1950, Benson was awarded his first of two consecutive Fulbright Fellowships to Salonika, Greece, where he taught at the Anatolia College. During his stay, he founded the Anatolia College Chorale, the first scholastic co-educational school choir in Greece. He also developed a five-year bilingual music curriculum at the school, at the same time serving as the music advisor for the United States Information Agency.6

Upon his return to America in 1952, Benson became the Director of Band and Orchestra at Mars Hill College, North Carolina. In 1953, Benson took up a new position at Ithaca College, NY, where he was the Professor of Composition and Percussion for fourteen years. During his tenure at Ithaca College, Benson formed the first percussion ensemble in the east coast, touring and recording with the ensemble. Benson also became involved in the Ford Foundation Contemporary Music Project (chaired by Norman Dello Joio), where he developed the first pilot project in comprehensive musicianship at Ithaca College. A second project was similarly made at the Interlochen Arts Academy, where he developed and taught a composition class called Learning Through Creativity to high school students. …

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