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Program Notes

Of Sailors and Whales


W. Francis McBeth, composer

Dr. Francis McBeth is one of the preeminent composers in the field of music for wind band, producing a body of work which is internationally recognized as among the finest of its kind. Of Sailors and Whales is a five-movement work based on five scenes from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. It was commissioned by and dedicated to the California Band Directors Association, Inc., and was premiered in February 1990 by the California All-State Band, conducted by the composer. Quotes accompany each of the five movements:

  • I. Ishmael: "I go to sea as a simple sailor."
  • II. Queequeg: "It was quite plain that he must be some abominable savage, but Queequeg was a creature in the transitory state—neither caterpillar or butterfly."
  • III. Father Mapple: "This ended, in prolonged solemn tones, like the continual tolling of a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a fog—in such tones he commenced reading the following hymn; but changing his manner towards the concluding stanzas, burst forth with a pealing exaltation and joy."
  • IV. Ahab: "So powerfully did the whole grim aspect of Ahab affect me that for the first few moments I hardly noted the barbaric white leg upon which he partly stood."
  • V. The White Whale: "Moby Dick seemed combined possessed by all the angels that fell from heaven. The birds! the birds! They mark the spot."

Commissioned and dedicated to the California Band Directors Association for the 1990 All-State Band, the first movement of this work is titled Ishmael “I go to sea as a simple sailor.” With its beautiful sustained and contemplative melody, the movement builds by a layering echo of the main theme and depicts the power, beauty, and majesty of the open seas and pioneering sailors. Performed [on March 3, 2012] in Memoriam.



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