Sequoia, A Tone Painting
by Homer C. LaGassey
recorded by Kenneth A. Kuhn
on an orchestral synthesizer
page revised November 28, 2013


Sequoia is a very popular piece of music often performed by high-school bands.  I think what makes the music so popular is that it conveys a message that really resonates with one's inner feelings about Nature.  The music is beautiful and it is always a pleasure to hear it again.  But alas, I know of no commercial recording of the work although I am sure countless school and private recordings exist.  Many people search for a recording and search engines such as Google find my web site because I mention Sequoia .  Thus, I receive a number of emails about where to find a recording.  I too, wish I had a recording.  Owning a copy of the condensed score and an orchestral synthesizer I have the ability to make such a recording.  I have wanted to for some time but I have so many other activities that have prevented me from doing that.  After receiving another email request I finally decided to cease some other activities for a while and smell the proverbial roses and make the recording which is posted here.  So without further ado, here it is:

sequoia.mp3   First recorded March 25, 2007. Performance length: about 8:50.  File size: about 8.3 Mbytes.  The revised version here was completed on May 11, 2009 and has a extensive improvements in dynamics and expression. There is a very emotional moment as the recapitulation of the main theme leads to the coda where I briefly slow the tempo (measures 140 and 141) to capture the yearning and sonority of the woodwinds before the brass takes over.  That moment in the music is a real highlight that probably goes unnoticed by many.  I added a subtle tenuto on the high note of the last hearing of the main theme in measure 169 near the end and have added more ritardando in subsequent measures to the close.  This has great effect and makes for a very memorable and unrushed ending. 

This performance is how I would conduct Sequoia were I a conductor.  Sequoia is a very dramatic and expressive piece and there is considerable room for individual interpretation.  In 1971, the high-school band in which I played the clarinet performed Sequoia and I fell in love with it.  In 1973 I bought a copy of the condensed conductor's score and made a piano transcription which I have played countless hundreds of times since.  Over the years I experimented with tempo and dynamics and this performance is the accumulation of what I think is the best of the best.  The score is marked, Lento e con molto espressione and with an initial tempo of 72 beats per minute and is in the key of Eb and has 174 measures.  That tempo seems turbo fast to me and my opening tempo is a more sedate 54 beats per minute which allows for much greater sonority and expression.  Sequoia was not meant to be performed with static tempo and I make extensive use of dynamics in volume and tempo to create as the subtitle says, A Tone Painting.  I am unashamed to say that I carried the dramatics to the maximum and the result is very powerful.  I am very pleased with the performance and will be listening to it often.  I wish I had done this years ago.

I had to make some adaptations to some of the notes to operate within the constraints of my ancient 1992 Korg synthesizer.  The orchestration is based on my statistical orchestra program which includes concert hall acoustics and often produces the right instruments but sometimes that is not possible.  For Sequoia the result is as true to the original scoring as is possible but even though there are significant differences the sound is good and consistent.  The optional harp/piano part in sections 4 and 6 has been omitted as I do not have a way to include that now.  In other instances I added notes in octaves to add audibility to some parts.  Many might not even notice that the orchestration is different in some places if I had not pointed this out.  Purists might have some issues but if you are listening for enjoyment (as you should) then there should be no issue at all.  Listen to the music and do not judge the technicals.

The condensed score that I have shows an Ab at the opening phrase at measure 37 that I have changed to an A natural because the flat, although workable, detracts from the crescendo and the natural adds excitement.  I did the same for the piano transcription because I recall the band performance being an A natural too.  But I could be wrong.  If anyone has more information then please let me know.

Here is a piano transcription of Sequoia that I did in 1973.  It plays very well on piano if one uses an orchestral style of playing.  It takes big hands with wide reaches.  sequoia.pdf

A reader of this web site sent me the following link to a recording of Sequoia: http://mp3skull.com/mp3/sequoia_a_tone_painting.html .  Here are some YouTube links of performances: Sequoia, 1962 state contest performance by the FBHS band. Here is another link: Sequoia performed by the 1961-62 Wickliffe (Ohio) High School Concert Band. I am inspired to enter the full score into the program, Finale, to make a true performance of the above reduced version sequoia.mp3.  Perhaps this will be up in 2014 along with mp3s of the two other works by LaGassey.

Biographical information

I am doing research and I hope to be able to add interesting biographical information about the composer as people want to know something about the composer of the music they love.  Very little is known beyond that he taught music and directed a high school band in a Detroit high school.  The following are the few biographical items I have found.  Homer C. LaGassey Sr. (1902 - ???? -- I am trying to determine the date -- I thought I had information that it was in the 1990s although I recently found a tidbit that it may have been 1982.  I do have information that Sequoia was performed at his memorial service.) who wrote Sequoia had a son, Homer C. LaGassey Jr. (1924 -    ) who had a very distinguished career as an auto designer in Detroit.  See some of the references below.  Note that some sources omit the 'y' as in LaGasse. Sometimes the spelling is Lagassey without the capital G. In other instances I have found La Gassey with a space that I doubt is correct.

The following is some information relayed to me by Homer C. LaGassey Jr. by an acquaintance at a birthday party for him in May of 2009.  She confirmed that the correct spelling is LaGassey. "Homer's uncle Oscar played (horns) for the Detroit Symphony for 40 years -- he and Homer Sr in the summers would sometimes travel Europe and play in nice small venues with a trio or so.  Homer Sr was in charge of all the Detroit School Area music teachers and music programs for 30 years or so -- 1000s of teachers and programs Homer Jr said.  He played many instruments but mainly was a pianist -- played a lot of jazz and played with Tommy Dorsey's band often.  Homer Jr's sister, Mary Jane, played classical piano also for the Detroit Symphony but had a nervous tick so she couldn't play solos.  Homer Jr said it was just awful she played so beautifully but would just freeze when people came in.  Homer Jr. himself played horns also but art was his true calling.  He thinks it came from an uncle who could paint horses but alcohol ruined the uncle's art career."

The three works of Homer C. LaGassey that I am aware of are:

Sequoia, A Tone Painting .  The copy of the condensed score I have is marked copyright 1941 by Kjos Music Co.

Sea Portrait, A Tone Painting .  Sometimes referred to as A Sea Portrait .  The score I have is dated 1956 and published by Kjos Music Co. There is a record on the U.S. Copyright office web site that shows this work was registered on Nov. 30, 1956. The following are two links to recordings posted on YouTube. Sea Portrait on YouTube (1) and Sea Portrait on YouTube (2).

Boca Toccata .  The score I have is copyright 1967 and published by the Kjos Music Co.

I am planning to make recordings of Sea Portrait and Boca Toccata on my orchestral synthesizer and post these here sometime in the future -- perhaps sometime in 2014.

The following links are about all that I have ever found related to the composer:

http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/AARmonthly/Feb1944S.htm  There is probably nothing of interest here other than buried in this long list is a reference to Homer C. LaGassey (the son) who was a pilot in 1944 and was involved in a minor incident.

http://www.zoominfo.com/search/PersonDetail.aspx?PersonID=712411796  This is a short article about Homer C. LaGassey (the son) who had a career as an auto designer.

http://www.brophy.com/eodweb/htmls/designers/hd94_2.htm  (Note: this link is currently dead -- perhaps it moved -- I will try to find it again .)  This is the original article of the above link and includes a picture.

http://www.coachbuilt.com/des/l/lagassey/lagassey.htm  This is some information about Homer Jr.

http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~kipke/class_44.htm  This is a list of people in the class of 1944 of Detroit Northeastern High School and lists Homer C. LaGassey in the band.  I presume this is the son although the age would be 19 or 20.  Perhaps this refers to Sr. -- more info to come.

http://ml.islandnet.com/pipermail/dixielandjazz/2003-January/006436.html   This link mentions the brother, Oscar, of Homer Sr. who played the tuba for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  The spelling seems to be Oscar Lagasse. This link has the most information concerning music.


Email contact information  Feel free to email me anytime especially if you have additional information.

You are invited to visit my main web page at http://www.kennethkuhn.com . There is a variety of material there - mostly information for my electrical engineering students, Hewlett-Packard museum, pictures and stories of my cats, other music including mp3 files of my compositions, among other items.

You can find other recordings I have done of popular high school band works at http://www.kennethkuhn.com/music .  I am also a composer and you can find recordings of my music at http://www.kennethkuhn.com/music/works .