First off, a note on the title of this post. Two years ago Sam Hazo visited the All-State festival I was at. He conducted the teacher band in a program mostly consisting of his music, and some other band classics. The thing I could not get over was the size of his eyebrows: they are big. His hair was all up so they could be easily seen. Yes, that is what struck me about this world famous composer, his eyebrows.
Now on to the meat of the post: I for whatever reason, don’t really like the music of Mr. Hazo. It’s not that it is bad, but it doesn’t really strike me as having a whole lot of sustenance.
Hazo’s music is nearly universally loved by all high school band kids. Refer to all the comments on this video of perhaps his best known work, Ride. It is melodic and massively accessible, by performers and listeners. But there’s the problem: music that can be so easily appreciated generally lacks the qualities needed to make a truly great piece of music. The music is full of melody and rich harmony, and rich orchestration, but as I said before, it lacks great depth. I’ve played his “Fantasy and a Japanese Folk Song”, “Keltic Variations”, and “In Heavens Air” and they are all lovely pieces, but the passion seems, at least to me, a bit superficial. He also, in his music, tries to incorporate different cultures (Arabesque, Keltic Variations, Japanese Folk Song). While this is generally admirable, the music is his stereotyped versions of these cultures. Arabesque, which i’m listening to now, is just a bunch of snake-charmer melodies backed by tambourine. The music is full of energy and power, but again lacks depth. (As a side complaint, he is guilty of a classic band composer fault, being unable to appreciate the Saxophone family. All his Sax lines are doublings, with the exception of the solo in Ride. It makes me so angry. You have a gorgeous color, why not use it? Do something other than double the horns. Anyways…)
His music is really more like pop music than classical music. At the aforementioned All-State festival, there were a ton of kids who were coming up to him to get pictures taken, or getting autographs. He was like a rock star. Eric Whitacre is the same way, but all of his music is superb, and he is a very handsome man, so all the ladies love him (Seriously, I’m straight, but man is he handsome; and funny, check out his Facebook page). Ride, the piece I linked above (which I am playing in All-State this coming year), is basically a pop song, but with time changes, and more interesting harmonies. This one may be his best because it is all energy, which is great, for performer and listener. But seriously, listen to Ride, and then listen to Whitacre’s Ghost Train, or anything by Maslanka, and tell me which one has more genius. Yet who is more appreciated and loved: Maslanka or Hazo? On it’s own, Hazo’s music stands up, but in comparison with good music, it doesn’t stand a single fighting chance. Hazo doesn’t make a listener do anything other than listen. Listening to a great composer you want to do so much more than just listen. You get moved. Hazo doesn’t move you. His music is written to be appealing and be nothing else. There is no expression of the self, or of a greater power. Like pop music, it is mostly commercial; made to sell, and sell it does.
In conclusion: While his music isn’t great, Sam Hazo’s music isn’t going away anytime soon. I guess it’s not that bad relative to most high school band music *cough” James Swearingen *cough*. If Hazo’s music can act as a gateway drug to good band music by Grainger, or Persichetti, I’m all for it, but other than that, I guess I’m stuck doubling the horn parts…