compositions | band | sensus vitae (2012)

sensus vitae: a fanfare for the good of humanity (2012)

UNT Symphonic Band, Dennis Fisher

Medium: Symphonic Band
Publisher: C. Alan Publications
Composed: 2012
Duration: 4:20
Difficulty: Grade 4


Flute 1
Flute 2
Oboe (optional)
B-flat Clarinet 1
B-flat Clarinet 2
B-flat Clarinet 3
Bass Clarinet
Alto Saxophone 1
Alto Saxophone 2
Tenor Saxophone
Baritone Saxophone

B-flat Trumpet 1
B-flat Trumpet 2
B-flat Trumpet 3
F Horn 1/2
F Horn 3/4
Trombone 1
Trombone 2
Trombone 3
Baritone T.C.
Double Bass (optional)

Timpani (4 drums)
Percussion 1 (bells, suspended cymbal)
Percussion 2 (vibraphone, tam-tam, suspended cymbal)
Percussion 3 (chimes, 3 concert toms, suspended cymbal)
Percussion 4 (snare drum, suspended cymbal)
Percussion 5 (concert bass drum)

When commissioned to compose Sensus Vitae (“The Meaning of Life”) by Kevin Bowen and the Wake Forest University Bands for the inaugural year of their Emerging Band Composer Series, I was given a single phrase from which to draw inspiration:

Pro Humanitate – This is Wake Forest's motto which roughly translates from Latin as "for humanity" or "to serve humanity"

As I was assembling ideas for the piece, Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday came and went, moving me to discover a couple of his quotes regarding humanity.

"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity."
- Martin Luther King Jr.

These quotes helped determine the mood of the piece, but it was a simple quote from Leo Tolstoy that gave the piece wings.

"The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity."
- Leo Tolstoy

The thematic material for Sensus Vitae is derived from the university’s fight song, which I remember extremely well from growing up watching tons of ACC basketball. The first eight notes of the fight song are heard in a brief brass fanfare after the upper woodwinds and percussion set the stage. After a climax, the mood settles down, giving way to a clarinet/flute duet, which is loosely based on the opening notes of the fight song. The original tune continues to transform into something more original and intense until the percussion takes over in a bombastic fashion, accentuated by syncopated bursts from the rest of the ensemble. After the dust settles, the fight song is stated as a chorale in the alto saxophones, horns, and low brass, with brief interjections from the upper woodwinds and percussion. This gradually builds to a full ensemble majestic presentation of the theme, bringing the piece to a glorious conclusion.