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Percy Grainger, "Colonial Song" Program Note

Colonial Song

Percy Grainger

Born: July 8, 1882, Melbourne, Australia

Died: February 20, 1961, White Plains, New York

Original Instrumentation: Two Voices (Soprano and Tenor), Harp, and Full Orchestra

Composed: 1911

Arranged: 1918, Percy Grainger

Duration: 6 minutes

The first, and eventually only, composition in Grainger's intended "Sentimentals" series, the band score is inscribed with the description, “This military band dish-up [arrangement] as Loving Yule-Gift to Mumsie, Yule, 1918.” As can be seen from the published program notes (below), Colonial Song was meant to evoke "feelings aroused by thoughts of the scenery and peoples of his native land, Australia." Unlike the vast majority of the works in Grainger's compositional catalog, Colonial Song features an entirely original melody by the composer, rather than a collection of extant folk melodies.

Like many of Grainger's works, Colonial Song exists in a number of different orchestrations. His 1914 piano solo score lists the following:

- "Composed as a Yule gift for mother, 1911" [Two Voices (Soprano and Tenor), Harp, and Full Orchestra]

- "Scored as a Yule gift for mother, 1912" ["3-Some: Fiddle, 'Cello, and Piano"]

- "Rescored, early 1914" [Piano Solo]

- “This military band dish-up as Loving Yule-Gift to Mumsie, Yule, 1918.” [Military Band]

While the sentiment was obviously there, evidently Grainger was not the most original gift-giver at the holidays.

An additional two arrangements were published in Grainger’s lifetime, scored for theatre orchestra and small orchestra. Correspondingly, the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham wrote to the composer, "My dear Grainger, you have achieved the almost impossible! You have written the worst piece of modern times." Colonial Song's reception in America was decidedly more positive.

Interestingly, the "dish-ups" (Grainger's "Blue-Eyed English" term for "arrangements" or "transcriptions") with singers feature neither lyrics nor distinct instructions for syllabic pronunciation. Similar to his instructions for the choir in his Children's March: Over The Hills And Far Away, Grainger writes, "Breathe when you like, and sing on any combinations of any vowels and consonants (such as (Italian vowels) la, ra, ta, ta-da, pa-da-ba, ti-ri-bi-di, etc.) that you find comfortable and effective.

Grainger's Short Published Program Note:

In this piece the composer has wished to express feelings aroused by thoughts of the scenery and peoples of his native land, Australia. It is dedicated to the composer's mother.

Grainger's Long Published Program Note:

No traditional tunes of any kind are made use of in this piece, in which I have wished to express feelings aroused by thoughts of the scenery and people of my native land, (Australia), and also to voice a certain kind of emotion that seems to me not untypical of native-born Colonials in general.

Perhaps it is not unnatural that people living more or less lonelily in vast virgin countries and struggling against natural and climatic hardships (rather than against the more actively and dramatically exciting counter wills of their fellow men, as in more thickly populated lands) should run largely to that patiently yearning, inactive sentimental wistfulness that we find so touchingly expressed in much American art; for instance in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and in Stephen C. Foster's adorable songs My Old Kentucky Home, Old Folks at Home, etc.

I have also noticed curious, almost Italian-like, musical tendencies in brass band performances and ways of singing in Australia (such as a preference for richness and intensity of tone and soulful breadth of phrasing over more subtly and sensitively varied delicacies of expression), which are also reflected here.

Percy Grainger, Colonial Song

Dallas Wind Symphony, Jerry Junkin, conductor

This final version of Colonial Song was no doubt inspired by Grainger's enlistment as a bandsman (saxophone) in the United States Army 15th Coastal Artillery Corps Band in New York City, at the end of World War I. However, this was not the last time that Grainger revisited the Colonial Song material; he also used the melody from Colonial Song some years later to create the basis for his Gumsuckers March. As the composer wrote in his program note for this latter piece,

A “Gum-Sucker” is an Australian nick-name for Australians born in Victoria, the home state of the composer. The eucalyptus trees that abound in Victoria are called “gums”, and the young shoots at the bottom of the trunk are called “suckers”; so “gum-sucker” came to mean a young native son of Victoria, just as Ohioans are nick-named “Buck-eyes”. In the march, Grainger used his own Australian Up-Country-Song melody, written by him to typify Australia, which melody he also employed in his Colonial Song for two voices and orchestra, or military band.

Percy Grainger, Gumsucker's March

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band, Col. Michael J. Colburn, conductor

For more, on the connection between Colonial Song and Gumsuckers March, visit this post on

Furthermore, Mark Rogers' edition of Colonial Song includes exhaustive notes on both the piece and his edition, published by the Southern Music Company.

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