Suggested Listening: “Rocky Point Holiday” by Ron Nelson

As my own summer break kicks off today, this week’s SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC features a piece about a summer vacation!  Check out Ron Nelson’s Rocky Point Holiday, performed below by the Dallas Wind Symphony, Jerry Junkin conducting.

About the Composer:

Ron Nelson (1929- ) is an American composer and conductor.  An Illinois native, he taught at Brown University for nearly forty years, and now resides in Arizona.  He received his bachelor, master’s, and doctoral degrees in composition from the Eastman School of Music — that’s where I go!  Eastman had an important impact on Nelson’s output — the Eastman Wind Ensemble, founded in 1953 in the midst of Nelson’s studies, was the first ensemble of its kind.  With the instrumentation of a military band but the sound of an orchestral wind section, the Eastman Wind Ensemble necessitated a constant flow of new repertoire for this new type of group.  As a result, many of Nelson’s compositions were written for wind ensemble, including Rocky Point Holiday.  Nelson has an amazing sense of the capabilities and timbres of the instruments of the wind ensemble, and he exploits this knowledge fully in his music.

About the Piece:

In the summer of 1966, Ron Nelson went on vacation.  He was on the faculty at Brown at the time, in Providence, RI — so he didn’t stray too far, heading a mere 12 miles out of town to Rocky Point Amusement Park.  The park was founded in 1847 by a local steamship captain, and was quickly woven into the fabric of American history.  Stephen Douglas, in his presidential campaign against Abraham Lincoln, gave a speech at Rocky Point in 1860.  In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes paid the park a visit.  The park closed due to shortages during World War II, and again due to the famously devastating Hurricane Carol, and finally went bankrupt in 1996 — but over the course of its vibrant life, Rocky Point Amusement Park was a New England treasure.  Rocky Point Holiday sounds like sunshine and ice cream.  You can hear the swooping ups and downs of a roller coaster, and the cheerful woodwind chatter like children’s laughter.  The tone of the piece is “retro” and nostalgic — sparkly and effervescent and fun.  Everything a summer vacation ought to be.

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