Cajun Folk Songs

Frank Ticheli
Manhattan Beach Music, 1991


Cajun Folk Songs (1991) is written in two movements.  The first movement, “La Belle at le Capitaine”, begins with a free-flowing alto saxophone solo in d dorian and in 2/4 time.  Eventually this light, lyrical melodic passage is passed through all instruments in the band.  To add to the free-flowing quality, Ticheli has the band move freely between 2/4 and 3/4 time.

The second movement, “Belle”, is a much quicker, energetic, accented movement.  Frequent short solos, muted brass, syncopation, and rhythmic energy create a drastic contrast between this and the first movement.  

The two movements combined create a nice pair of contrasting pieces to help balance a well-rounded performance.

Performance Notes

Cajuns are descendants of the Acadians, a group of early French colonists who began settling in Acadia (now Nova Scotia) around 1604. In 1755 they were driven out by the British, eventually resettling in South Louisiana and parts of Texas.  Although a rich Cajun folksong tradition exists, the music has become increasingly commercialized and Americanized throughout the twentieth century, obscuring its original simplicity and directness.  In response to this trend, Alan and John Lomax travelled to South Louisiana in 1934 to collect and record numerous Cajun folksongs in the field for the Archive of Folk Music in the Library of Congress.  By doing so, they helped to preserve Cajun music in its original form as a pure and powerful expression of Louisiana French Society.

Cajun Folksongs is composed as a tribute to the people of the old Cajun folksong culture with hopes that their contributions will not be forgotten.

Musical Challenges

The keys of d dorian and d minor are not too far out of most students’ comfort zone, but it may be a good idea to address the tonality changes with some targeted scale warm-ups.  The alto saxophone solo in the first movement requires a competent soloist!  This piece requires two oboes and two bassoons, as these parts are unique and not doubled in any other instrument.  The easy flow between 2/4 and 3/4 in the first movement shouldn’t be too challenging for a band performing Grade 4 literature.

In the second movement, the 5/4 time should actually have the feel of 6/8 + 2/4, giving the piece a strong mixed meter feeling.  Accents throughout should not be heavy, but rather should provide energy to the light-feeling accompaniment.  Care should be taken with the muted brass players that they don’t push the pitch sharp.  The repeated note ostinato figures that appear throughout the movement should not overpower the light, crisp melody.   This movement especially requires soloistic playing from many members of the ensemble, particularly trumpet 1, flute 1, oboe 1, and alto saxophone 1.

Because of the density of parts, multiple movements, and the virtuosic requirements, this piece may be better suited to a high school than middle school ensemble.  Each movement could also be performed independently on a concert program, allowing your students exposure to Ticheli’s work without the requirement of having all of the instruments and soloists available to your young concert ensemble.

About the Composer

Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) joined the faculty of the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music in 1991, where he is Professor of Composition. From 1991 to 1998, Ticheli was Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony, and he still enjoys a close working relationship with that orchestra and their music director, Carl St. Clair.

Ticheli's orchestral works have received considerable recognition in the U.S. and Europe. Performances have come from the Philadelphia Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Dallas Symphony, American Composers Orchestra, the radio orchestras of Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Saarbruecken, and Austria, and the orchestras of Austin, Bridgeport, Charlotte, Colorado, Haddonfield, Harrisburg, Hong Kong, Jacksonville, Lansing, Long Island, Louisville, Lubbock, Memphis, Nashville, Omaha, Phoenix, Portland, Richmond, San Antonio, San Jose, and others.

Ticheli is well known for his works for concert band. In addition to composing, he has appeared as guest conductor at Carnegie Hall, at many American universities and music festivals, and in cities throughout the world.

Frank Ticheli is the winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2. Other awards for his music include the Charles Ives and the Goddard Lieberson Awards, both from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Walter Beeler Memorial Prize, and First Prize awards in the Texas Sesquicentennial Orchestral Composition Competition, Britten-on-the-Bay Choral Composition Contest, and Virginia CBDNA Symposium for New Band Music. He is a national honorary member of Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and he was named by the American School Band Directors Association as the 2009 recipient of the A. Austin Harding Award.

Frank Ticheli received his doctoral and master’s degrees in composition from The University of Michigan.