Updated: Feb 27, 2021
Composer, performer, conductor, and educator Aaron Noë is a musical hero, for he writes music not only for himself or for professional performers, but for students just beginning their musical explorations. A jazz trumpet player with a passion for wind band and the marches of John Philip Sousa, Aaron is a high school band director at Orange High School in Hillsborough, NC, and founder of the Mid-Atlantic Wind Symphony (MAWS) in Fredericksburg, VA, an invitational wind ensemble of professional and amateur musicians from the mid-Atlantic region, with a mission to promote professional-level wind band literature for adults.
Why does Aaron compose for students and community bands? Because when he was a young student, music was his lifeline. As a kid, Aaron attended several different schools, and as anyone who has lived a similarly rootless life knows, it is difficult to put down roots and thrive when you never have a chance to grow in one place. Band was there for him. Starting on a trumpet abandoned by his older brother, Aaron found that music is not just Art for Art’s sake, it is a catalyst for friendship and community.
On this episode of Composer's Studio, we start with a conversation about the importance of time in music. Music is sound organized over time. Without time, a composition may be Art, but it may not be perceived by the audience as music. It is the elements of time such as rhythm, tempo and pulse which transform the soundscape from noise to music. Time is also partly responsible for defining music’s cultural identity and purpose. A march is in 2/4 time because its purpose is to keep soldiers in lock step when marching into battle. A waltz is in ¾ time because it is a dance with specific choreography. The most important skill a new musician must master is how to keep time. Aaron Noe composed Time Machine to develop rhythm skills and time signature awareness in the developing band, opening with a driving, rhythmic section, which transitions into a simple statement in ¾ time.
For new musicians, learning to appreciate various cultures’ unique musical traditions, scales, emotional expression, and forms can open up wormholes to other musical universes and folk music is the key to the portal. Aaron’s compositions draw heavily from American and world folk music for inspiration. His three movement piece, Russian Folk Songs adapts three folk songs, “The Road to Petersburg,” “A Cossack Lullaby,” and “Glorious Baikal” into a work of vivid contrasts. Having observed the dehumanization and scapegoating of the Russian people over the past few years, Aaron was moved to explore the beauty of Russia’s musical heritage, hoping to remind his young students to look for the real human beings beyond the headlines.
As an educator and band director, much of Aaron’s work as a composer is devoted to writing new arrangements for the ensembles he directs. Aaron’s arrangements of the American folk song, Shall We Gather at the River, and The Bach Fugue On A Theme By Corelli, are just two examples of his versatility as a composer and arranger for wind band.
Closing out the show, we listen to Aaron Noe’s exciting fantasy for winds, Taken by the Sky, was inspired by his time in Skiatook, Oklahoma. After being all but destroyed by a tornado, locals joked that the “Sky a took it.” Aaron took that story and turned it into a heroic musical parable of a town coming back to life after a terrible disaster.
We spend a lot of time talking with composers whose works are commissioned and performed by virtuoso musicians on some of the world’s greatest stages, but we want to take a moment to celebrate and honor the service of composers and educators who have dedicated their lives and talents to passing their musical traditions on to the next generation. It is to all of the music educators out there that we dedicate this special episode of Composer’s Studio. Thank you for your service!
You can find out more about Aaron and his music at www.aamanomusic.com/aaron-noe.
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John Philip Sousa said, "Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything." We agree wholeheartedly, and wish you a wonderful week.
Thanks for listening!