On Saturday, October 13th, 2018, I had the privilege to perform Eric Ewazen’s On Wings of Song for Piccolo and Wind Ensemble at Culver-Stockton College, where I have been teaching since 2014. When my director approached me about performing a concerto, I knew that I wanted to perform something on piccolo since that is my specialty. I chose this piece specifically because it’s a relatively newer concerto and I feel it showcases the piccolo in a different way than people are used to hearing.
On Wings of Song was written for and dedicated to Jan Gippo, who premiered the piece at the 2010 National Flute Association Convention. Eric Ewazen says in his program notes that, “The piece was inspired by Felix Mendelssohn’s classic art song, On Wings of Song, set to the poetry to Heinrich Heine. The text of Heine’s love poem describes the power of melody to transport a pair of lovers to a magical garden. This sense of music soaring through the skies made a wonderful image, and is so appropriate to the soaring nature of the piccolo.” You hear this beautiful love theme throughout each movement, passed between the ensemble and the piccolo.
People often associate piccolo playing as “high, fast, loud” since that is usually what is heard over the rest of the ensemble. While this piece does have its loud and exciting moments, it also shows the gorgeous, lyrical side of the piccolo in the low and middle registers, without having to fight to be heard. Ewazen took great care with writing the ensemble parts to make sure the piccolo could be heard at all times. The virtuosic playing with fast runs in the high register, matched with a dark, melodious side, makes for a truly special piece. Because there are so many places where a performer could take liberties with time, I highly recommend meeting with your pianist or conductor ahead of time to talk through your ideas for each movement.
In the first movement, Over Distant Murmuring Waves, the piccolo represents a soaring figure above the waves of the ensemble. Written in 3/4, the best way to approach this is by constantly feeling a 231, 231 driving motion. Because the piccolo rarely enters on the downbeat, and often on either 3 or offbeat of 1, this helps with a constant feeling of pushing forward. In fact, over half of the entrances occur with a rest on the downbeat and the piccolo coming in on the second triplet.
Just like with feeling the quarter notes of 231, 231, the eighth notes should be treated the same way with leading towards the next downbeat. It is important not to get hung up by this figure because without this forward motion, the piece becomes very stagnant. It’s very easy to get bogged down with so many triplet figures, so make sure you stay grounded in the 231 motion!
The second movement, Under Serene Moonlight, tells a story of love and peace. The opening tremolos (in the ensemble) invoke an image of sparkling water with the romantic piccolo line shimmering above. I like to imagine that I’m looking out over a peaceful ocean in the middle of the night with the piccolo representing the sparkling refection of the moonlight. The 231 figure and recurring triplets are frequently featured as a response to the ensemble in a similar fashion to the first movement. The piccolo is often playing in the middle and low registers, so it’s crucial that you have a fat, warm sound to be heard over the ensemble. In fact, the movement ends with the piccolo holding a low D for three bars against the ensemble! I used a wider vibrato for this note to help project the sound more without cracking.
Six months later, I still think this is one of the most beautiful piccolo works I have ever come across. I often listen to the second movement when I am feeling stressed or down, because it always helps me feel encouraged and inspired to keep going. If you are looking for a piccolo concerto that’s very different from anything else out there, I cannot recommend this piece more!
Rose Bishop currently serves as Principal Flute of the Southeast Iowa Symphony, Flutist of the Durward Ensemble, Second Flute and Piccolo of the Ottumwa Symphony, Second Flute of the Quincy Symphony, and Principal Flute of the American Gothic Performing Arts Summer Orchestra. She also regularly performs with Orchestra Iowa and the Cedar Rapids Municipal Band. She has been a featured soloist with the Kansas Wesleyan University, Culver-Stockton College and Monmouth College Wind Ensembles, and the Washington Municipal Band.
Rose is the Adjunct Professor of Flute at Coe College, Cornell College, Kirkwood Community College, Mount Mercy University, and was on faculty at Culver-Stockton College for five years. Additionally, she provides private instruction for over 30 students and has given master classes at Kansas Wesleyan University, Drake University, Graceland University, and Grand View University, and has also been a guest artist at the Iowa Flute Festival, the Wisconsin Flute Festival, the Central Iowa Flute Workshop, and the St. Louis Flute Fair. She is the founder of the Eastern Iowa Flute Workshop, the Cornell College Flute and Clarinet Summer Camp, and co-created the Iowa City Flute Choir. Rose holds a Masters of Music degree from the University of Iowa and a Bachelor of Music degree from Georgia State University. www.rosebishopflute.com