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commissioned by the River City Brass Band, Music Director Denis Colwell
The Oval Office
Drew Fennell, composer
Denis Colwell, Lanny Frattare, narration creators


The Oval Office is a dramatic piece of music celebrating the office of the President of the United States. It brings to the fore the great power of words and ideas in leading, supporting and inspiring the people of this great land – in the best of times and in the worst of them.

Autumn of 2004 still remains one of the most creative periods of my life. I had just completed my Concerto for Trumpet and had only a very short time to finish this underscoring for the narrative created by River City Brass Band Music Director Denis Colwell and Pittsburgh radio legend (and presidential history buff) Lanny Frattare [Read the narrative script here]. I wrote the entire thing in just about two weeks, and to this day, I am not sure how I managed it.

This piece marked, for me, a considerable change in direction in my writing. I will always love pieces like Hometown Miniatures and the Trumpet Concerto. They are, for me, kind of like curling up in a warm blanket - full of sentimentality, hope and joy. The Oval Office is not entirely lacking in these things, but there is a greater depth of intensity to the piece that I had not previously achieved. I felt like this was a big step in my pilgrimage to find "my sound."

The beginnings of the main melody had been floating around in my mind for a couple of years and I was excited to find a subject which matched that melody. I completed the theme, and it became the foundation of the piece - and from it I distilled other motifs. One of my favorites is the "words and ideas" motif that weaves through a lot of the spoken monologue. These phrases sort of noodle around as the narrator speaks. A good friend remarked to me that he had in his mind the image of marble busts of presidents floating around the hall. Another favorite segment is the very simple hymn-like melody which weaves through much of the material from the wartime presidents.

For me, this is one of the most gratifying of my pieces to hear. However, the one aspect that made me uncomfortable - and continues to do so even now - is the statement at the beginning of the narrative: "We call him by many names: our nation’s Chief Executive… The Commander in Chief… Mr. President. He is also called the most powerful man in the world." Of course, the issue is the gender bias of the statement. While, in 2004, this was an accurate statement, it does have the effect (I think) of suggesting that it is simply understood that the President of the United States is a man. There have been multiple discussions on the subject, but we've never been able to ascertain an unbiased phrase that still carries the same weight. If there are any writers out there that would like to chime in with a solution that is both politically correct and elegant, feel free to drop me a line.

One of the great outcomes of this piece for me was that I have gotten to know Lanny Frattare. He is known by everyone here in Pittsburgh as the "Voice of the Pirates," and he really is that. Every Pittsburgher of my generation grew up hearing his voice on the radio, as he gave the play-by-play account of thousands of professional baseball games. On a number of occasions, I have related the story of the surreal experience of checking my voicemail and hearing the voice of Lanny Frattare coming through the phone. You just don't expect to hear that voice on your phone. Lanny truly is a gentleman, and it has been my privelege to collaborate with him.

The other great gift I received from working on the piece is a renewed sense of reverence for the office of the American President. Scandals, tabloid journalism, media bias and the blatent disrespect of international leaders have, in recent years, sullied the office for the American citizenry. It is so easy to find the faults in the system of government and in the person who occupies the Oval Office itself. But reading the timeless words penned by these presidents reminded me that it still is a worthwhile goal for a child to dream of growing up to be President. In a manner, it renewed my faith in the ability of our president, for whatever flaws he (or she) may posess, to unite the people of America and of the whole world to work toward a common goal, and to inspire all of us to believe in the ideas upon which America was founded.

Duration: approximately 22 minutes

  • The Oval Office is published by Drew Fennell Publishing.
    Available for Brass Band.

  • Hear a short sample of The Oval Office in a live performance by the River City Brass Band, Denis Colwell, Music Director [brass band version]*.

  • View a PDF version of the narration*.

  • View an unformatted text version of the narration*.

*Right click on the link and choose Save Target As... to download the file.

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Brass Band Instrumentation

Soprano Cornet in Eb
Solo Cornet in Bb
1st Cornet in Bb
Repieno Cornet in Bb
2nd Cornet in Bb
3rd Cornet in Bb
Flugelhorn in Bb
1st Horn in Eb
2nd Horn in Eb
3rd Horn in Eb

1st & 2nd Baritone
1st Trombone
2nd Trombone
3rd Bass Trombone
1st & 2nd Euphonium
1st & 2nd Tuba in Eb
3rd & 4th Tuba in Bb

(3 or 4 players)
Percussion includes:

suspended cymbal
crash cymbals
gong (tam-tam)
snare drum
bass drum


*Parts for Horn in F as well as parts for Baritone, Trombone, Euphonium and Tuba in bass clef also available.

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Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 Drew Fennell
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