Rocky Point Holiday Analysis Essay

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

Nelson wrote Rocky Point Holiday in 1969 on a commission from the University of Minnesota Band for its Russian tour.  Its title comes from the place of its composition: Rocky Point, Rhode Island, where the composer was on vacation.  It was his first major wind band piece, and the first of his series of “holiday” themed compositions for band, all of which are popular and dramatic showpieces.  Rocky Point Holiday is notable for its transparent and colorful scoring.  This imaginative orchestration is a hallmark of Nelson’s style.

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

Review of Rocky Point Holiday on

Information on Rocky Point Holiday at the Wind Repertory Project.

A rousing performance or Rocky Point Holiday by the West Texas A&M University Wind Ensemble:

Composition Notes

Rocky Point Holiday was Ron Nelson’s first major work for wind band.

“It was commissioned in 1969 by Frank Bencriscutto for the University of Minnesota Concert Band’s Russian tour. Frank wanted an “Americana” piece to open the program. This was a pivotal moment in my notion of wind ensemble scoring, in which I focused on orchestrating in an extremely transparent way. Others have commented that they felt that Rocky Point marked a change in the overall philosophy of scoring for wind band. This style had its genesis at Eastman. I came from huge, Revelli-style bands in Joliet and had that sound in my ear. Then I got to Eastman and heard this very tight, sinewy sound in the form for the Eastman Wind Ensemble under Frederick Fennell. This sound was seeping into my musical consciousness, and it was not until I got away from it that I realized how important this experience really was.”

-Ron Nelson

Audio Sample

Audio provided by Mark Custom Recording Services, Inc. from the album, “Wind Band Masterworks, Vol. 3.”


Composer Info

Ron Nelson, a native of Joliet, Illinois, received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1952, the Master’s degree in 1953, and the Doctor of Music Arts degree in 1956 from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. He studied in France at the Ecole Normale de Musique and the Paris Conservatory under a Fulbright Grant in 1955. Dr. Nelson joined the Brown University faculty in 1960, and became a full professor in 1968. He served as Chairman of the Department of Music from 1963 to 1973, and was named professor emeritus in 1993. In 1991 he was awarded the Acuff Chair of Excellence in the Creative Arts – the first musician to hold the chair. He has gained wide recognition as a composer of choral, band and orchestral works.

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