Lee’s Engrossing Music

JLee Ancient Words St. Olaf Band

St. Olaf Band

On March 21, the St. Olaf Band gives the world premiere of James Lee III’s new band work Ancient Words, Current Realities!, conducted by Timothy Mahr. The premiere will be featured at the 2013 College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) annual conference at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Commissioned by St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN) for the ensemble, Lee’s Ancient Words, Current Realities! was inspired by biblical texts and offers the composer’s musical observations on current worldwide financial challenges and extreme climate changes.

Mahr comments, “I enjoyed meeting James at the 2011 CBDNA conference in Seattle, where he was attending as a guest of his colleague Melvin Miles, the Director of Bands at MorganStateUniversity. We struck up a few conversations and I became convinced that James should compose a work for band. After viewing his website and biography and hearing his music, I knew St.Olaf College should commission him to create a work for the St. Olaf Band.”

Mahr continues, “James responded in a very timely fashion, and produced a serious work. [In] Ancient WJLee+Ancient+Words+CBDNA+2013+logoords, Current Realities!, his treatment of the band’s instrumentation is fresh; and I think his outlook on our sonic potential guided the conceptual development of its musical materials. At the moment, we’re thoroughly engrossed in preparing this challenging work; and with each rehearsal, we’re becoming more excited and taken by it. We can’t wait to share it at a featured performance at the 2013 CBDNA Conference [and through other performances] with our own audiences this coming spring.” Other March concerts include the Detroit Symphony’s performances of Lee’s Sphinx-commissioned work Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula.

Lee’s next world premiere takes place on April 3, when Rochelle Sennet gives the first performance of the composer’s Piano Sonata No. 2 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana, IL.


Ancient Words, Current Realities! was inspired by the biblical text from Luke 21:26-28.  I have tried to provide a musical commentary on these verses that include the elements of delicate dissonances, relative security, and a world engulfed with pleasure and revelry. As the music continues, there are harsh dissonant chords that evoke the panic and strife for some people as the result of the global financial crisis and extreme weather conditions.  Throughout various passages, instrumental solos represent individual concerns, worries, and distresses. From time to time, delicate dissonances transform into beautiful gorgeous sonorities evoking nostalgia for a time of more youthful innocence and a carefree world of ease. ..”    — James Lee III