Tackling a long lost work from idiosyncratic composer Percy Grainger

Apr 23, 2018

The entire ensemble on stage at the Faulkner Performing Arts Center for a final dress rehearsal of Percy Grainger's "Lads of Wamphray Ballad."
Credit Chris Knighten

While on sabbatical last year, University of Arkansas music professor Chal Ragsdale arranged a new edition of "Lads of Wamphray Ballad" - a long-neglected ballad from the eccentric Australian composer Percy Grainger.

Ragsdale, a leading scholar on Grainger, says his instrumentation and compositions were integral to the development of modern American band music. 

"[He] put forward a vision of what a band could be," Ragsdale says. "What his vision was is what the wind band became particularly after World War I and World War II on into Today." 

Director of Choral Arts, Stephen Caldwell, says the process from page to performance was initially problematic. Grainger's original work calls for a significant male chorus - more than 200 singers- which the choir just does not have. The language provided another hurdle. "Lads of Wamphray" is based on the 19th century Scottish poem “The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border” by Sir Walter Scott. While the words are in English, Caldwell says the Scotch-English variation reads almost foreign to a contemporary American choir. 

"For only an eight minute piece, it's actually taken as long to prepare as usually we would take for a 30- or a 35-minute piece," he says. "It looks simple on the page, but is much more difficult to put together."

There are two performances this week, including the full ensemble production Monday, April 23 and an edition for piano and chorus Thursday, April 26, both at the Faulkner Center for Performing arts