Pilgrim's Progress

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Philip Wilby
USA Eastern Territory Music Department – Triumphonic Collection

Written for the USA Western Territorial Staff Band, and performed at their tenth anniversary celebrations in 2016, this major work was inspired by Ralph Vaughan Williams tune “Monks Gate”, to which John Bunyan’s words “To be a pilgrim” are set. The work is set out in four movements, based on significant points in Bunyan’s masterful allegory.

The orchestration of the work is large, with an essential narrator, full brass band with four percussionists,organ, and a fanfare ensemble (three trumpets, three trombones, and two side drums). The score has some inbuilt flexibility. For large performances, the off-stage players may play from various places in the auditorium, and assemble together on stage for the final hymn. However, all parts are cued, and may be played by members of the on stage band if required. Equally, the organ part may be used or omitted according to circumstance. To give some focus to the religious nature of the material, Vaughn Williams’ setting of Bunyan’s words may be sung before the narrator’s first words.

Bunyan’s classic text, Pilgrim’s Progress, proved to be a ready source of inspiration. Although a product of 17th-century English puritanism, its allegorical story, and its concerns with the basic of Christian truth has made it the subtext of all our lives. Pilgrim’s doubts and temptations, his concerns with the world, and his reliance on the cross and resurrection culminate in Bunyan’s final portrayal of the river of death and the Celestial City. The images are hugely resonant, and it has been a privilege to engage them in this setting. My own musical material is variously based on Vaughan Williams’ hymn tune, and it is that which we hear with final clarity at the music’s close.

– Philip Wilby