The Tenth Planet

Michael Story
Belwin-Mills Publishing, 2002


The Tenth Planet (2002), opens with a mysterious mezzo piano introduction characterized by slowly moving slurred quarter notes in the clarinet and alto saxophone with wind chime accompaniment.  Flute joins in measure 3 with a lyrical, hopeful melody leading up to measure 8.  At 8, the time signature changes from a slow 4/4 to a fast 3/4 with low brass sustaining long tones and percussion providing an almost tribal rhythmic background.  At 14, the main quarter note theme of the piece finally makes an appearance in the clarinet, alto saxophone, and trumpet.  This theme continues to develop until the bell solo at 49 transitions the band into a more lyrical section between 53 and the D.S. al Coda at 68.  After repeating the initial theme on the D.S., the band wraps the piece up with a forte ending in rhythmic unison.

As a piece written for a very young band, The Tenth Planetoffers variety in tempo and mood, easily keeping students excited and motivated to perform this well-constructed piece of music for a concert or festival program!

Performance Notes

A few years before this piece was written, two independent teams of astronomers reported the unusual behavior of  the orbits of long-period comets from an icy cloud of debris at the edge of our solar system.  Instead of having random orbits, these comets appeared to be bunched together.  The most obvious explanation for this non-randomness is the existence of a huge and distant planet much farther from the sun than Pluto – a tenth planet!

This enormous planet, having an estimated mass approximately three times that of Jupiter, circles our sun from an orbit three trillion miles away.  And although no one has actually observed this tenth planet, it is highly probable that it could be identified through new-generation infrared searches of our solar system as early as a few years from now.

Musical Challenges

Reminding the students that the key of c minor is a close relative to Eb Major may help keep them from inserting too many wrong accidentals!  As with any piece written for a very young band, rehearsing tempo transitions will be vital to a successful performance, not only in the initial change from “mysteriously” to “bright” at 8, but also as the percussionists set up the style change at measure 49.  Reviewing cantabile style and lyrical slurred quarter notes is a must or the section from 53 to 68 will be more disappointing than lyrical.

This piece provides an excellent opportunity to teach or reinforce articulations!  Students should be aware of the difference between an accent and a staccato, but also be very aware of the transitions from the very technical and separated articulations in the main theme to the lyrical, chorale-style playing required in the introduction and the middle section.

The percussion section will require a minimum of 6 players to cover all written parts. Be careful to place a student with a good sense of time on the bell part, as that player will lead the transition from the “A” section to the “B” section, and a strong sense of pulse is vital in that voice of the band!

About the Composer

Michael Story has written extensively for college, high school, junior high school, and elementary school bands as well as for professional groups including the Houston Pops Orchestra. Adept at writing for all levels, he is most known for his numerous publications for young or developing concert and marching bands.

Mr. Story holds bachelor and master degrees in Music Education from the University of Houston, where he served as assistant director of the UH Cougar Marching Band under the leadership of Dr. William Moffit. His first piece was published by Studio P/R of Lebanon, Indiana when he was only 20 years old.  Mr. Story has been an exclusive writer for Columbia Pictures Publications, CPP/Belwin, and Warner Bros. Publications. Currently a full-time writer with Alfred Music Publishing, he has over 1,200 compositions and arrangements published for concert band, marching band, jazz ensemble, and orchestra, as well as numerous solo and ensemble collections. Many of his concert band pieces can be found on numerous required state music lists, and his Big & Easy Marching Band Series has been an industry leader for over 30 years.

Michael has been a contributing arranger and composer for numerous band methods, including the First Division Band Course, the Medalist Band Course, and the 21st Century Band Method. He is also a chief music arranger for the Expressions Music Curriculum, the first-ever comprehensive K-12 music program, as well as a composer/arranger/author for its band component, Band Expressions.

Mr. Story also serves as Editor/Producer for Marching Band Publications with Alfred, a position he also held at Warner Bros. Publications from 2000-2005.