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24 December 2017


Thriller was one of the rags composed by May Aufderheide. She wrote it in 1909. May was also the composer of 'Dusty Rag', which is still a favourite with our bands.

I think May would have greatly enjoyed hearing Tuba Skinny, in 2017, adding Thriller Rag to their repertoire. As so often, we have to thank the videomaker RaoulDuke504 for recording their performance for us. You can watch it BY CLICKING HERE.

I believe the sheet music starts with the instruction 'Not Fast', but Shaye Cohn chooses to ignore this and play the piece at a pretty quick tempo. I don't think May Aufderheide would have disapproved of the effect this achieves. Such a tempo certainly provides the basis for 'thrills'.

In fact, although the whole band plays well, I think this performance is in particular a tour de force by Shaye herself.

The four-bar Introduction (from 10 seconds into the video until 14 seconds) is possibly the most thrilling part of all. Shaye leaps to the high Ab and rapidly tumbles down through arpeggios on the Ab diminished chord.

The Thriller comprises two 16-bar themes. Tuba Skinny play through Theme A twice, during the second of which (at 34 seconds) Shaye introduces some interesting variations. When they come to Theme B (54 seconds), Shaye frequently plunges down to the Ab below the stave; and yet then leaps up two octaves to the Ab above the stave for more of those descending arpeggios (e.g., 1 minute 08 seconds). This is something very difficult to do on a cornet, especially at this speed. I am not even sure I have heard Shaye do such a thing before. It's a sign that she is at the height of her powers and full of confidence.

By the way, from all I have said, you may have inferred correctly that the band plays Thriller Rag in the key of Ab - the key in which May Aufderheide composed it. But some bands (certainly here in England) have taken to playing it in F, which is - in a sense - cheating but makes it a good deal easier on the lips!

Also notice how well Shaye directs the performance. In addition to making it clear which instruments are to take 16-bar solos, there are at least six other discreet signals:
2 mins 10 secs: All the 'front line' to join in.
3 mins 09 secs: Return to Theme A.
3 mins 29 secs: Switch to Theme B - finger pointing down:
3 mins 43 secs: Washboard to play the 'break'.
4 mins 03 secs: Front line to play the break.
4 mins 08 secs: Final chorus (leg extend signal).