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The national educational radio network presents music by Don Gillis and I for one I'm glad for since I am Don gale as this gives me a chance to play my music for you and to chat informally with you each week about the scores we're going to hear. As we mentioned last week our broadcast will devote itself to music influenced by blues. And if I were to attempt to coin an instant definition I might begin by saying that the blues is music and a melancholy mood that its general form is one of eight and 12 major duration and that its words are generally recycles of hopeless longing anguished Laghman patients or self pity all expressing sort of a general dissatisfaction with life as life really is. But that's not a definition at all. You say it's more of an explanation then you're right at this moment I'm in the position of the jazz musician who when asked what jazz was replied man if you have to ask you'll never know. And that is the problem for there is not a single one of you within the sound of my voice who doesn't know what a blues is and yet to spell it out in musical
terms almost defies the imagination. We can say of course that the blues is almost always but not quite always in a minor key. And generally it's a poignantly sad member of the with simple harmonies that is superimposed upon a slow throbbing heart beat type of pulsating rhythm. But rather than dwell further on definitions let's hear music which attempts to catch the feeling of yearning longing loneliness self pity without using either the lyrics or the constant beat. And instead of a dance band we all use a full symphony orchestra to illustrate our point in the slow movement of my Sixth Symphony I've used two themes which represent this mood in one the plaintive lonely sound of the English horn might well be a substitute for the blues singer and the other there is a feeling of lonesome aloneness in the sound of muted strings census music does not rely upon the 8 or 12 bar form of the blues. You'll find I think a sort of spontaneity of being made up right now plus some sounds that are related to
other segments of the symphony which are not actually blues at all. It is therefore an intellectual approach to a highly emotional problem and the music is objective rather than subjective. Or is it. Let's see what does happen as we hear blues from Symphony Number 6.
Yeah. On.
Him. Absolutely.
It's the south. What. Eh.
When the mood of Blues on this broadcast the music by Don Gillis and we just heard the blues from my Symphony Number six is the first example of my own use of Blues in serious writings. You know the blues is generally thought to be a part of jazz and having had its origin with negro musicians in the south. And I will admit that most evidence points distraction in the genesis of the name the form and certainly the use of it functionally as entertainment music the word entertainment in this instance being used to represent both audience and the individual singing or playing the blues. But I've never been completely satisfied with this explanation of the birth of the blues. And it's my own opinion that the origin goes far beyond Memphis or New Orleans. For instance there are many blues like tunes in some of the early American Protestant church hymns Amazing Grace. Blessed be the tie that binds Beulah Land. Not that I'm an accredited musicologist understand but I feel at this familiar type of tune was adapted by rather than developed by the negro musicians and in the change over the pulsation of the regular beat was added and the subject matter of the
lyrics changed somewhat. I say change somewhat because there is basically little difference in the moods of loneliness despair unrequited love wishing and self-concern in the Blues proper than there is in the hymn tune except that in the hymn there is a spiritual longing and sort of a longing for material things of hope rather than hopelessness. Nonetheless in both types of songs there is clearly dissatisfaction with present conditions. The one relying upon the golden shores of the Future World to alleviate present discontent the other wallowing in anguish over the pain of daily life. But in both cases there is clear enjoyment involved in a sort of spiritual uplift that momentarily relieves the burden of life struggle. Some authorities go far beyond even this theory and ascribe the real origin of the blues to Semitic peoples pointing out similarities to both melodic and politike content with the present blues and so perhaps after all the Blues had its real beginnings in the universal heartache originating with humanity itself rather than with any
single race or culture. But lest I confuse both of us with this type of talking let's get back to the music itself and examine another use of the blues in my writing. This time the music is written for five players the woodwind quintet. There are no words no drum beats nor any 8 or 12 bar major groupings. Only the slow tempo the style of playing and the mood of lonely despair. It's titled take five blues stems from a phrase heard commonly among musicians. Take five the five being Minutes which are spent in a smoke conversation or as in this case the mood of sorrow of being alone.
That was take five blows for woodwind quintet as we present music in the mood of Blues on this the 12th broadcast of music by Don give us in our next music we're going to hear a different sort of blues. The work is for Violin and Piano and the melody is if I can analyze it correctly the sort of homogenization of he break and him tune styles the mood is that of sweet sadness and the stodgy for things well remembered and wished for but gone forever the title retrospection.
Retrospection a nostalgic mood of Blues for Violin and Piano. The artist Daniel delay and Joseph Kahn. We'll hear one more example of my use of the blues in symphonic voicing the music is from my dance Symphony and the attempt here is one to express that utter loneliness that hopelessness that self sorrow and bottom of the gloom bucket feeling that sometimes all of us enjoy in music so much. The deep blues from Symphony Number 8.
New. The. New on. You're. Going.
Up. Why.
Deep Blues from my Symphony Number 8 the dance symphony all of which concludes our excursion into a style of writing using materials from a sort of folklore and transferring them into new forms new sounds and new meanings for me because my background is Midwest where the musical spectrum in my boyhood days was largely the hymn tune the dance band the barn dance and the marching band. It seems quite natural to use these sounds as basic material for my composition. Thus one may find in my many scores frequent references to these types of music not in actual use of folk novelties but an attempt to recreate memory in well remembered sounds. Time alone will tell whether my philosophies are justified. But for the moment I'm content to have written what I have written in the way I have written it. And I don't mean that in any egotistical sort of a way but rather in humility that I've even had the privilege of reading it all next. We're going to talk about opera and give you some excerpts from some of my own scores. And I warn you that
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The Music of Don Gillis II
Music influenced by the blues
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on Don Gillis' compositions that were influenced by the blues. This program includes: Blues from Symphony No. 6; Take Five Blues from Woodwind Quintet No. III; Three Time Blues; Blues from The Encore Concerto; and Deep Blues from Symphony No. 8.
Other Description
This series features the works of Don Gillis; hosted by the composer himself. Most of the performances are conducted by the composer.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Composer: Gillis, Don, 1912-1978
Host: Gillis, Don, 1912-1978
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 65-36-12 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:34
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Chicago: “The Music of Don Gillis II; Music influenced by the blues,” 1965-11-24, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 13, 2022,
MLA: “The Music of Don Gillis II; Music influenced by the blues.” 1965-11-24. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 13, 2022. <>.
APA: The Music of Don Gillis II; Music influenced by the blues. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from