The Planets

I drove Zac to school today.  He told me the 8th grade intermediate band was learning a new song:  “Jupiter”.

I got excited.

“Really?!  Jupiter?  From Gustav Holst’s The Planets? So cool!”  Finally, some culture in Shelton.  My public school education was so different than Zac’s has been.

He looked at me blankly.  He had no idea who composed it.  Wracking my brain, I couldn’t think of another song called Jupiter in the band music repertoire.  I am an old band geek, after all.

He said, “Well, the trombones keep playing this same part over and over – bom bom bom, bom bom.”

I said, “Does it sound like the music isn’t going anywhere?”, mom-speak for ‘classical music.’

“Yep,” he replied.


I remembered sitting in the Three Rivers’ District Band Concert my senior year of high school.  We had played already, our required march (something by Sousa), a lyrical piece and something syncopated – probably “Barn Dance and Cowboy Hymn” or somesuch.  We usually swept the district, nabbing first place every time.  Yes, we were that good.

We sat in the audience listening to the other schmucks play.  We had to rate them with a judge’s score card to show we were paying attention.  Milwaukie High School.  Ho-hum.  Poor intonation and weenie song selection.  Rex Putnam.  Whatever.

Then Sam Barlow High hit the stage.

Resplendent in powder blue tuxedos complete with ruffled shirts, they looked ridiculous.  We giggled to ourselves.  Our concert band uniforms consisted of a white shirt or blouse, red cummerbund (girls) and black skirt and black shoes. You already know about our sweat and shame-inducing marching band uniforms.

Then they started to play.  I don’t remember their other songs, but they played Holst’s “Mars” from “The Planets”.  I had never heard it before.  Oh my.  Our jaws were on the floor.  The song is powerful.  A thrumming rhythm drives it forward.  And I knew we had lost first place.

The underlying motif.

The underlying motif.

The irregular 5/4 time signature already throws you, as if the music is so forceful it can’t be contained by a regular 4/4 frame.  The lingering dotted half notes sound like the menacing backdrop to a monster movie.  The bass clef line bring to mind an army on the march.  It builds and builds. The winds and strings pick it up.  But the song is driven by the brass and percussion.   It’s a  testosterone-laden, at times dissonant,  homage to power.  The trumpets sound a charge.  The trombones and French horns finish it.  The horses propel the warriors into the fray.

I remember the timpani player.  He sat on that rhythm almost the entire song.  And later, he ended up at Bethany and played drums for the Ambassadors, Bethany’s elite singing group.  Small world, eh?

Long about 4 minutes in, the piece reaches an incredible crescendo.  The battle is joined.

Who says classical music is boring?!

Here, just for fun, is “Jupiter.”  Seems a bit ambitious for his age group, but the trombone part does sound like “bom-bom-bom.”

One thought on “The Planets

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