Peter Graham: Shine As The Light

Context

Peter Graham was born in Scotland in 1958. He is most known for his works for brass and wind bands. He studied under the tutelage of Edward Gregson, where he completed a PhD in composition from Goldsmiths College, London. 

Many of Graham’s works are now staples in brass band concert repertoire with notable works including Brilliante, On the Shoulders of Giants, Summon the Dragon and Shine as the Light. Many of these works have also been arranged for wind orchestra and other similar ensembles.

Graham was Music Associate with Black Dyke Band between 1997-2004, and has also held the post as composer-in-residence with Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards Band. His works are often rich in melodic and harmonic content, as well as being challenging for bands and accessible for audiences. 

 

The Music

Composed in 2006, Shine as the Light was written for the composer’s visit to the Salvation Army’s Star Lake Music Camp. The work is dedicated to the memory of Captain Al Honsberger. The music is  played through with no stops, but there are three movements of music within the structure. 

Three Salvation Army church songs are featured throughout the music:

 

  1. It’s a Great Day
  2. Candle of the Lord
  3. The Light Has Come

 

Movement 1

Opening with an accented long note from the lower band and percussion, the upper band respond with a two-note motif. This theme trickles through the band and makes it way to the centre of the whole work. The first motif is then heard and it resolves into the two-note motif once more. Tension is built until the whole band unites in a dazzling display of controlled fanfare playing.

This leads us into the quirky ‘Allegro’ section which switches into a bouncy 10/8 time from a steady 4/4. Lots of musical dialogue and call and response happens in this opening section before a lone cornet enters to play a fruity solo. They are joined by the percussion and the lower band who play off-beat rhythms. The soprano cornet plays intermittently to add effect on top of the solo. 

The horns take over the melody as the cornet decorate their development of the solo. This leads to the whole front row section playing the jaunty melody whilst the lower band unite in an uneasy syncopated accompaniment. The music shifts back seamlessly into 4/4 time before a slow build up to the next motif. 

The horns and baritones take over the new theme whilst a solo cornet decorates on top with an arpeggio accompaniment. This section sees the lower band unite to play the second theme, whilst the cornets are playing a skittish angular melody over the top. The band unite to play a quaver motif which packs a punch at the end of that line of music. 

The music begins to build in tension one more before it climaxes with the opening two-note motif, only this time a third higher. This leads us into the next section of the music.

 

Movement II

Lead in by the middle of the band, with muted cornets to accompany, the euphoniums perform the first melody of this section. A glisten from the percussion leads into a sweet sounding cornet solo. The warm accompaniment here really plays into the atmosphere Graham was trying to create. 

The cornet solo grows with the aid of the euphoniums who add harmony and support to the solo. The band then come in to celebrate the warmth and colour created within this section. The two-note motif is heard once more before this movement comes to a quiet end.

 

Movement III

The fast third movement rumbles out of nowhere by the lower band who establish the tempo, melodic themes and atmosphere of this finale section. The tuned percussion adds a driving force behind the melody here as the upper band unite as fast scalic passages cascade through the band. 

Lots of fast quaver and semiquaver movement drive the music forward, with offbeats and syncopated rhythms coming forward more than ever. A sense of relief is heard when the music stops momentarily and begins to sparkle and tension is built before the much-anticipated ‘Maestoso’ section. The percussion and upper band shimmer as the lower band play 3 strikes of the two-note motif, which grows each time. 

The cornets lead into the finale section with glimmering fast semiquaver runs, with the rest of the band uniting to play the fully-developed theme. The dichotomy between the chaotic upper lines and the solid foundation below is effective when they finally unite for one final proclamation of this now realised theme. 

The music leads into a bold ‘Brilliante’ finale with the band leading to four more plays of the important two-note motif. The piece ends with a dramatic rall from the band and a shimmering rumble of the tam-tam before a rousing finish. This effective finish signifies finding that the light has come. 

 

Final Thoughts

Peter Graham’s ever-popular Shine as the Light is a crowd-pleaser for many reasons. With its memorable melodies, luscious textures and complex solo writing, the work is a triumph when done well. From darkness to light, Shine as the Light is a wonderful work for brass band, which is also popular in the wind band sector. 

 

Happy Reading!

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