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“Barnstorming” was a bizarre fad of the 1920s, where skilled pilots would use old WWI biplanes to travel around the Midwest, landing on random farms. There they would charge the locals for airplane rides, and perform thrilling airshows called “flying circuses”. Much like traveling circuses, these barnstormers stayed in one given place for only a short while, and their arrivals were tremendously exciting for the culturally and technologically reclusive farmer audiences. These airshows were tremendously gripping, but were also excessively dangerous. Some of the stunts they performed were: barrel rolls, flips, dives, wing walking (walking on the wings of a moving plane), midair plane transfers, and even playing tennis on the wings of a moving plane. Quite often these barnstormers were injured of killed performing these stunts. The strange and ridiculous juxtaposition of the exciting thrills and tremendous danger is the main impetus for this piece.
The music opens with a terrifying and visceral growl, signifying the engine of the plane starting up. After taking to the air, we are abruptly introduced to some exciting popular ragtime music, soon to be joined by some jarring dissonances. Quickly and with agility, we move from style to style, tempo to tempo, interspersed with exciting flips and stunts. After a return to our ragtime theme joined by several other styles vying for our attention, we finally enter clear skies, and come to a glorious climax. However, this does not last long, as very soon after our plane stalls, and we come crashing down to earth.
I have always been interested, fascinated, and tickled by polystylism. From Ives to Schnittke to Zorn, I believe that the intrinsic humor in the incongruity of it all is worth pursuing. While I have always dabbled with such techniques in my music, with this piece I go all out. I was aiming for a ridiculous mix of styles nestled somewhere in between Gershwin, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, and Carl Stalling.
This work is dedicated to my nephew, Ethan Browne.00.-barnstormin_band-5.26.18-Full-Score-Transposed
University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Wind Symphony, conducted by Kevin Holzman