Wrangling Wildfire (2010) for concert band
Difficulty: Grade 5
Wrangling Wildfire was commissioned by Ryan Johnstone for the Aledo Middle School Band in Aledo, TX in 2010 as a memoriam for Johnstone’s mother who passed away due to cancer a year earlier. The work's title is a metaphor for the fight against cancer, which seems at its worse to spread like wildfire. Less of an elegy and more of a call to arms, the piece offers a somewhat narrative account of a firefight. The lyrical theme of the piece (in the oboe oboe solo) is constantly being overwhelmed by dissonances and needling motives trying to overcome them throughout only to have them continually flare up again. The battle reaches a fever pitch in the middle section with heavy brass before, exhausted but not beaten, the theme picks up enough steam for one last triumphant climax.
The piece, as it was envisioned, was to be used as an opportunity to educate students on the power music can have to express our feelings, raise awareness and inspire hope and action about something that touches and effects all of us.
As Johnstone put it, it would be “a good lesson on how the meaning of a musical work can play a significant role in how it is performed or heard” and our “hope that this will open our students’ senses to a new revelation about music and how it can be played and heard differently when we explore beyond the superficial.
In an interview during the initial rehearsal process, Johnstone elaborated, "To this point, the students are only being made aware of the piece as it relates to the battle one might fight against a fierce wildfire. Once there is a basic understanding for the piece from the student perspective, our staff will inform the students about the cancer metaphor and use this as a tool to pull more music from the pure notes on the page. It will be a good lesson on how the meaning of a musical work can play a significant role in how it is performed or heard. So many times, middle school band music is played and listened to from a pure aesthetic perspective. It is my hope that this will open our students' senses to a new revelation about music and how it can be played and heard differently when we explore beyond the superficial.”