When Tim Mahr invited me to compose a work for the St. Olaf Band, a work to celebrate 100 years of the Department of Music at St. Olaf College, I was immediately honored and intrigued with the possibilities that music offers a composer to “honor” music making and the tremendous talent and vigor of St. Olaf’s professional and student musicians over the past century.  For some reason, the phrase “strut your stuff” exploded into my mind and I recognized that this new work, Strut, had to spring from that inspiration.

‘Strut.’  What a word!  Writers such as Dickens, Shakespeare, and Nobokov employ the word ‘strut’ to capture the essence of their subjects.  Traced back to its Old High German roots its meaning is “to stand out, project”. Traced to its old Norwegian roots, its meaning is “obstinate resistance.”  Traced to its American English roots, its meaning is “to display one’s ability with a certain attitude.” The Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines the word ‘strut” as “to walk with a lofty, proud gait;” while the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language states, “IDIOM: strut (one's) stuff.  Slang: To behave or perform in an ostentatious manner; show off.”

‘Strut’ is a noun: a dance, a brace, a support; a verb with many synonyms including swell, bulge, thrust forth, stick out, contend, strive, quarrel, and bluster as well as exult, swagger and “to stand erect at one’s full height.”  One might say that precision is the full height at which a world class concert band stands. I took this to heart and build the music of Strut around the idea of the ability of the band to play precisely within an unerring beat while rarely hearing it articulated.  The conductor holds the beat and the ensemble must feel it and its subdivisions exactly in order to realize the precision and flow of the music.

 All of these meanings — nouns, verb, and attitudes — are at the heart of this new celebratory work for the great and renown St. Olaf Band.  All that remains is for the band to do what it does so well — strut its stuff.