A Look at Modern Literature – Chroma, Carl Strommen

By Kathleen Mulligan

Selecting works to create a balanced programme, or a balanced season of learning/experiencing, is a fun part of the director’s role.  Concert band repertoire is rich and colourful, even without taking into account transcriptions of orchestral works.  Consider building a programme of classic band works, including a march, an overture, lyrical pieces, something from the jazz/pop/musical culture and a contemporary piece of band music. Chroma, a grade 3.5 piece, is a great example of a fresh new work with a contemporary bent.

Chroma, by Carl Strommen, was this year’s NZCBA Festival set work for the new Competition Category. Each band which is eligible, and decides to enter this category, played this three-minute piece.

Chroma may challenge the melodic and harmonic notions of the band.  Its angular motif, built on 4ths, rather than more diatonic thirds, modulates unpredictably and quickly, then returns to the home key of Bb.

It has many changing meters, and timbrally is colourful, with solos from most sections.  The texture is largely homophonic, but does vary considerably from thin to thick.  Rhythms can be taught en masse and should provide plenty of opportunity for laughs in rehearsal as people miscount into the frequent tutti silences.

While it is grade 3.5, it does not have any highly technical semiquaver passages, and the rhythms, notated almost exclusively in quavers, should be easy to read. The tempo seems darn fast, but at 152, the quaver is a manageable speed for younger bands. Feel free to adapt the instrumentation as required; the bassoon solo in particular can be well augmented by baritone sax.

The challenge in Chroma is to interpret this more contemporary sound so that your audience ‘gets it’ and is delighted by its colour, rhythmic fun and harmonic playfulness.