For concert band

Grade 5

SKU: POLKaFUN Category:


by James M. Stephenson

for concert band

Commissioned and premiered by the North Shore Honor Band, January 14 2023 at Lake Forest High School, James M. Stephenson conducting. 



piccolo – 2 flutes – 2 oboes – 2 bassoons – 3 Bb clarinets – bass clarinet – contrabass clarinet
2 alto saxophones – tenor saxophone – baritone saxophone
3 Bb trumpets – 4 french horns – 2 trombones – bass trombone – 2 euphoniums – tuba (min. 2 players) double bass – timpani
percussion (5 players; 7, if possible):

P1 (mallets): xylophone, vibraphone
P2 (mallets): marimba, glockenspiel
P3 (+P6): slapsticks, cymb. a2, woodblock, triangle, sus. cym., tambourine, chimes, finger cymb., shaker, glock.

duration: 9 minutes

Program notes – from the composer:

In early 2020, I was asked to compose a piece for an Honor Band festival, to be held two years later. The best part, the festival would literally be in my hometown, just two blocks from my house. The unfortunate reality: the intervening years would be filled with a global pandemic.

During the pandemic (which is still ongoing as I write this), many composers, myself included, were asked to musically respond, and to write pieces about being alone, or about hope, or about how one deals with such overwhelming circumstances previously not experienced. I think these are necessary reactions, and important artistic statements to make. That being said, eventually, for me, one just wants to experience fun again.

Therefore, in my most recent works, my intention was to shrug off the heavy weight on my shoulders, and to just write music that is nothing more than fun to play (hopefully), and fun to listen to. We’ve had enough problems for a while, and why not just be entertained?

POLKaFUN is an off-kilter look at a polka. It is sometimes in counts of five, sometimes in counts of three (neither of which belong in a polka), but always has that afterbeat, which is ALWAYS in a polka. It contains harmonies that might be surprising, and contains instrumental scoring that wouldn’t normally be used. It also involves the musicians saying (or whispering/shouting/singing) the actual word “POLKA” as a new section of music portrays a variation on what a polka might be.

In other words, it “pokes” fun at audience expectations.

However, this being for an honor band, I also wanted to highlight all of the sections of the ensemble. Therefore, throughout the piece, almost every instrument and section gets featured, in an almost battle-of-the-bands type atmosphere, hopefully allowing all of the players to truly have fun performing this work. Hence: POLKaFUN.

I am truly grateful to Janene Kessler for spearheading this effort to have me compose this piece, and it is my hope that if there are current worries in the world, that those worries might be forgotten while this piece is being performed.

~ Jim Stephenson; October 13, 2021



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