Five Mardi Gras Impressions for Wind Ensemble
- Hair of the Dog
- The Ole Marchin’ Krewe
- King for a Day
- Sin Boldly
- Dust and Ashes
Literally, “Fat Tuesday,” Mardi Gras refers to an entire pre-Lenten carnival season beginning on January 6 (Epiphany) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. For celebrants in the Gulf Coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, Mardi Gras presents an opportunity for self-indulgence before Lent’s call to repentance and fasting.
I was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, and have lived in the Coastal region of Mississippi and Louisiana for the majority of my life. Although I was reared in a family of Protestants and teetotalers, my life as a musician has resulted in an extensive connection with Mardi Gras celebrations. As a school band trombonist, and later as a school and college band director, I participated in countless parades. I also provided music for numerous balls and tableaux hosted by various carnival “krewes,” elaborate presentations of faux royalty and their courtiers. In recording these musical impressions, I have attempted to capture the mood of the various events, often incorporating the traditional jazz styles that are so closely associated with the celebration. “Throw me something, Mister!” is the repetitive cry of parade goers, begging masked float riders for strings of plastic beads and aluminum “doubloons.”
The opening section’s title references a hangover remedy consisting of more alcohol. Fairly early on Mardi Gras morning, parade marchers and float riders gather in the staging area, and open containers of alcohol are everywhere. It is the chemically-induced calm preceding the bacchanalia. Many are simultaneously sleep deprived and slightly drunk. As parade participants continue gathering, an annoying collection of sounds mix from simultaneous marching band warm-ups and float sound systems. Intoxicated locals slump past, slowly traveling to find positions on the parade route.
The Ole Marchin’ Krewe recalls a marching club of men in my hometown. Clad in tuxedoes, tennis shoes, and gold top hats, they offered women paper flowers in exchange for kisses. The whistled music for this section evokes Professor Longhair’s popular recording of Big Chief.
King for a Day smirks at Mardi Gras royalty. His highness does his best to observe kingly protocol, despite being shod with old loafers that have been spray-painted gold. Like the king in Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the wine of his country is beer. He appears before his public to fulfill an important ceremony of his office, but at a crucial moment he commits a proletarian gaffe, exposing him for the poseur he is.
The title Sin Boldly is plucked, out of context, from the writings of Martin Luther: “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.” The revelers on Mardi Gras night seem to have adopted, “Sin Boldly,” out of context, as their rallying slogan. Gone are the tame (by contrast) flower-kiss exchanges of the morning. Flashes of nudity are sometimes offered to win the favor of float riders who throw beads, doubloons, cups, moon pies, and even women’s panties to the crowd.
With the stroke of midnight, Lent begins, calling the faithful to contemplate their sin and their mortality. The title of the concluding section is taken from the words of Job, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) The music accompanying this Ash Wednesday mass reflects the sorrow of the penitent who is confronted by a holy God. Will the repentance be genuine? Even as the benediction is being pronounced, the sounds of Tuesday night are heard, foreshadowing next year’s celebration.