Analysis of Rustin High School's Alma Mater (Composed by Our Very Own Samuel Barber)

in #rgkmb5 years ago (edited)

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen! In honor of our upcoming school year, we have decided to look to the past for this post. One of the most famous people from West Chester is the 20th century composer Samuel Barber. You may recognize Barber's Adagio for Strings from the movie, Platoon.

Back in the 1920's, Samuel Barber attended the West Chester High School (now Henderson High School). He left around the age of fifteen to study at the Curtis Institute of Music but not without leaving his mark, this Alma Mater. As a result, this piece is still used as the Alma Mater of all three of the West Chester Area High schools. The Golden Knights marching band plays this Alma Mater after every football game and at other school activities, such as our graduation ceremonies.

@cmp2020 decided to do an analysis of the piece and post it here. Here is his analysis in written form, followed by a video with additional analysis in the musical score:



The form of this piece seems to be simple enough. It consists of an A section which is 4 bars long in C Major which then repeats in e minor; a B section which is 4 measures long transitioning from C Major to d minor which repeats and transitions from d minor to C Major; and finally a return of the character A section with a brief tonicization of IV (F) which leads to a final cadence. Judging by this (loose) description, I believe this form to be either rounded binary or ternary form. I feel that it is most likely ternary, but that could be a mis-judgement on my part. (7/18/18) Additional Comment After further review, I feel quite strongly that this piece resembles a rounded binary form. The B section leads into the recapitulation of the A section. As a result of this, I strongly feel that this piece is in rounded binary form.

Notation error?

The harmonics of this piece are quite tricky. Barber does not stay in one key for more than a few bars. There are also a lot of appoggiaturas, pedal points, and passing tones (I labeled these notes in the video with color coding). Some of the more tricky sections were areas such as the the third and fourth beats of measure 7. I am almost positive that the E-flat is actually functioning as a D sharp. If I were to take it seriously as an E flat, it would be a vii°6/5/iii. This chord would be completely out of context here because it is functioning as a dominant of i. However, if you think of the E-flat as a D-sharp, then the chord becomes a vii°. This chord completely makes sense because vii° is a type of dominant chord. Plus, the E-flat is obviously functioning as a leading tone by resolving up to E natural. So, I just judged the E-flat as a mistake on Barber's (or the editor/printer's) part.

Parallel fifths?

I am also almost positive that Barber utilized parallel fifths in the last two measures between the Soprano and the Alto and the Bass and Tenor. On the third beat of the second to last measure, he has a D in the Alto and an A in the Soprano. On the first beat of the next measure, he has an F and a C. Putting two fifths on two consecutive strong beats creates parallel fifths (something similar occurs in the bass and tenor). It is being nitpicky to judge this though because I think this area is solely for achieving a perfect authentic (ending) cadence. So for that reason, I am disregarding those fifths.

Things I like

I am quite fond of Barber's recurring use of plagal cadences at the end of phrases in order to avoid perfect authentic cadences. This is quite innovative on his part.
I am also quite fond of how Barber utilizes innovative harmonic techniques (such as the previously mentioned appoggiaturas, pedal points, and passing tones) in order to make this piece flow as smoothly as it possibly can. He uses these things to make the voices move smoothly in a logical way, without sacrificing harmonic integrity to do so.
I also like Barber's use of modulation (key changing) throughout this entire piece. It is hard to believe that a young kid could have written music as elegant as this.
I also think it is important to note the skill that went into writing the words for this piece. The (original) words fit the music perfectly and flow almost as well as the music. The changed words for Rustin also flow nicely. Please note that I only included the first verse. The poem will be listed here for those who wish to read the whole thing.

Rustin Alma Mater
Rustin High, to thee our Alma Mater,
Praises we sing and pledge our love a new.
Lessons of life and truth to us impart;
knowledge to serve to each a loyal heart.
Sing then a song unto our colors bold.
Rustin High, the Blue and the Gold!

So may we strive, that when life's dawn is past,
Mindful of thee, and loving the last,
We shall have lived the virtues thou hast taught;
We shall have found the victory we sought.
Sing then a song unto our colors bold.
Rustin High, the Blue and the Gold!

If you wish to read the original West Chester High words, they are linked here.

Color Key

Green = Appoggiatura
Pink = Pedal point
Red = Passing tone

Please also note that (hd) stands for half-diminished and (p) stands for pivot chord
Here is my harmonic analysis of the Alma Mater:

Previous Analyses


Thanks for reading this! As always, feedback is appreciated. Please let us know what you think of the analysis. Have a nice day!


Here is an embedded video of Barber's Adagio for Strings, which I mentioned in the opening.

The @rgkmb-unofficial account is an experimental account that is operated by Steve Palmer (@remlaps). The account's purpose is to demonstrate the viability of a fund-raising model that is based on use of the Steem block chain in the community. The account's goal for 2018 is to raise enough money to send one student on the Rustin Golden Knight Marching Band's trip from Pennsylvania to Florida in December for performances in the Citrus Parade and in Disney. For more information, see our introductory post: Introducing Steem to the Rustin Golden Knights Marching Band

Thank you for your time and attention.

Posted by Christopher Palmer (@cmp2020)

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Thank you for this analysis. It is always nice to learn more about our local celebrity composer.

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