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Chairman Dances, The

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John Adams

John Adams (trans. Cormac Cannon)

Subtitle: Foxtrot for Orchestra (for Wind Ensemble)

General Info

Year: 1985 / 2009
Duration: c. 12:30
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: Associated Music Publishers
Cost: Score and Parts - Rental


Full Score
Flute I-II-III-IV (III doubling Piccolo)
Oboe I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III-IV
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II
Tuba I-II
String Bass I-II
Percussion I-VI, including:

  • Bass Drum (pedal)
  • Bell Tree (medium)
  • Castanets
  • Celeste
  • Claves
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Crotales
  • Glockenspiel
  • Hi-Hat
  • Marimba
  • Sandpaper Blocks
  • Sizzle Cymbal (suspended)
  • Snare Drum
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Tambourine
  • Triangle
  • Vibraphone
  • Wood Block (high and medium)
  • Xylophone

Players whistling


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

The Chairman Dances is a 1985 composition by John Adams, subtitled Foxtrot for Orchestra. A commission from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, it has several dance-like tunes and has been described by Adams as an “outtake” from Act III of the opera he was working on at the time, Nixon in China. The word “dances” in the title is a verb, not a noun.

In the opera, the music depicts Madame Mao gate-crashing a presidential banquet, hanging paper lanterns, and performing a seductive dance; Chairman Mao descends from his portrait, and the two dance a foxtrot, back in time together. The piece ends with the sound of a gramophone winding down.

- Program Note from Wikipedia

The Chairman Dances was an “out-take” of Act III of Nixon in China. Neither an “excerpt” nor a “fantasy on themes from,” it was in fact a kind of warm-up for embarking on the creation of the full opera. At the time, 1985, I was obliged to fulfill a long-delayed commission for the Milwaukee Symphony, but having already seen the scenario to Act III of Nixon in China, I couldn’t wait to begin work on that piece. So The Chairman Dances began as a “foxtrot” for Chairman Mao and his bride, Chiang Ch’ing, the fabled “Madame Mao,” firebrand, revolutionary executioner, architect of China’s calamitous Cultural Revolution, and (a fact not universally realized) a former Shanghai movie actress. In the surreal final scene of the opera, she interrupts the tired formalities of a state banquet, disrupts the slow moving protocol and invites the Chairman, who is present only as a gigantic forty-foot portrait on the wall, to “come down, old man, and dance.” The music takes full cognizance of her past as a movie actress. Themes, sometimes slinky and sentimental, at other times bravura and bounding, ride above in bustling fabric of energized motives. Some of these themes make a dreamy reappearance in Act III of the actual opera, en revenant, as both the Nixons and Maos reminisce over their distant pasts. A scenario by Peter Sellars and Alice Goodman, somewhat altered from the final one in Nixon in China, is as follows:

“Chiang Ch’ing, a.k.a. Madame Mao, has gatecrashed the Presidential Banquet. She is first seen standing where she is most in the way of the waiters. After a few minutes, she brings out a box of paper lanterns and hangs them around the hall, then strips down to a cheongsam, skin-tight from neck to ankle and slit up the hip. She signals the orchestra to play and begins dancing by herself. Mao is becoming excited. He steps down from his portrait on the wall, and they begin to foxtrot together. They are back in Yenan, dancing to the gramophone..."

- Program Note by composer

The wind ensemble version was transcribed by Cormac Cannon in 2009, in partial fulfillment of the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting at the University of Texas at Austin.

- Program Note from score


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • West Chester University (Penn.) Wind Ensemble (Andrew Yozviak, conductor) – 31 March 2019
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing) Wind Symphony (Branden Steinmetz, conductor) – 25 October 2018
  • New England Conservatory (Boston, Mass.) Symphonic Winds (Wlliam Drury, conductor) – 25 October 2018
  • University of Miami (Coral Gables) Frost Wind Ensemble (Robert Carnochan, conductor) – 26 April 2018
  • University of South Carolina (Columbia) Wind Ensemble (Cormac Cannon, conductor) – 10 February 2017

Works for Winds by This Composer