By Dawn's Early Light

David Shaffer
Birch Island Music Press, 1995


David Shaffer composed the original chorale By Dawn’s Early Light (1995) as a modern patriotic hymn.  The lyrical, gentle, flowing melody is prominent throughout the work.  With the exception of measures 9-12 and measures 17-20, the instrumentation in the accompanying voices is very densely written, with most of the band playing most of the time. 

A measure 26 the ensemble changes from the key of Eb Major to the key of F Major.  By the end of the tune, Shaffer takes the students through some chromatic adjustments and finishes out in some kind of f minor and Ab Major hybrid, ending rather anti-climactically on a piano Ab Major chord.

Performance Notes

By Dawn’s Early Light(1995) is a piece written in chorale-style for a developing band.  The flowing, lyrical melody should always be prominent over the half, quarter, and whole note accompanying chords.

Musical Challenges

While I am normally a fan of David Shaffer’s work, this piece is not a favorite.  Perhaps it is telling that the only recording I could track down was the atrocity located on the listening CD accompanying this project!  Regardless, there are quite a few areas in this piece that will require extra attention from any band attempting to perform it for a concert or festival.

As with any chorale, lyrical playing is a must!  Not only should phrases be flowing and sustained, but performers must be aware of voice leading and lean on “color” notes, moving notes, and the melody.  The ensemble should take the time early in the rehearsal schedule to identify who as the melody at every moment of the performance, as sometimes the melody is hard to locate within the ensemble.  Students should also be made aware that all non-melody parts need to be performed at least half of the written dynamic level.

Besides the style issues, Shaffer gets a little experimental with keys for a Grade 2 level piece.  There are several accidentals written throughout the piece that are not going to be comfortable notes for students of this level (B natural concert, for example).  With the amount of accidentals written in, the ensemble will have to be a very mature group, maybe too mature to be playing Grade 2 literature.  Contrast the complexity of the key signature and accidentals to the simplicity of the rhythms, the sparseness of the percussion parts, and the simple 4/4 time signature and you find a piece that really doesn’t seem to be well designed for an ensemble of any level.

If  you are considering this piece for a performance, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.

About the Composer

David Shaffer was born in Columbus, Ohio and attended Grove City High School, Grove City, Ohio. He holds a Bachelor Degree from The Ohio State University and a Master of Music Degree from Miami University (Ohio). Mr. Shaffer has taught in the Hamilton, Ohio; Northridge, Ohio; and Wyoming, Ohio schools. Mr. Shaffer has been associated with the Miami University Marching Band for 30 years as Graduate Assistant Director (1978-80), Assistant Director (1980-97) and has been the Director for the past 11 years. Under his direction, the Miami Band has performed twice at the University of Michigan, West Virginia University and the University of Cincinnati. In 2000 and 2005, the Miami Band performed a combined half-time show with the Ohio State University Marching Band. The Miami Band has performed for seven regional Bands of America Contests and is currently hosting one of these yearly events at Miami University. In 2003 the Miami Band performed as the “Santa Band” in the 77th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

In addition to his involvement with the Miami University Marching Band, Mr. Shaffer has over 250 compositions and arrangements in print. His compositions have been used at clinics and music festivals around the world and have been placed on contest required-performance lists in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Mr. Shaffer has been the recipient of the ASCAP Standard Award in Music Composition for 18 years.

Under the direction of Mr. Shaffer, the Wyoming High School String Orchestra performed as the opening group at the 1984 Mid-West National Band and Orchestra Director's Clinic in Chicago. Additional Mid-West conducting appearances were in 2000 and 2001 when Mr. Shaffer guest conducted his compositions with the Robinson School Band, Fairfax, Va., and the South Central Middle School Band, Carterville, Ga.

Mr. Shaffer is in demand as a conductor for new music reading clinics, music festivals, and music education seminars. During the Summer of 1986 and 1992, he served as instrumental director for the Saskatchewan School of Fine Arts. In February of 1997 he conducted a program of his music, with the China Youth Corps Band in the National Concert Hall, Taipei, Taiwan. Mr. Shaffer is a past adjudicator for Drum Corps International and Drum Corps Midwest and has judged championship events for both organizations.