Hot Cross Buns Suite

Composer: York, Barbara
Instrumentation: Wind Band
Genre: Contemporary

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This is a perfect piece for any High School band and every audience member will know the tune it is based on: Hot Cross Buns

It is set in three movements:

1. Introduction and Processional, "The Buns Are Made!"

2. One a Penny, Two a Penny

3. Give Them to Your Daughters


Program Notes for “Fantasy Suite on “Hot Cross Buns’”

The common nursery rhyme, “Hot Cross Buns,” refers to a sweet, spiced roll topped with a cross, made and sold at Easter.  Breads such as these have a long history and carry religious, and sometimes controversial, significance.  At one troubled point in English history, crossed buns were considered dangerous because of their association with one or another religious group.  The law suppressed their sale, limiting it only to specific holidays. 

The rhyme and song is the call of a baker marketing his wares: 

            Hot cross buns!

            Hot cross buns!

            One a penny, two a penny,

            Hot cross buns!

            If you have no daughters,

            Give them to your sons.

            One a penny, two a penny,

            Hot cross buns!

In spite of the simple melody and words, there is an underlying air of desperation.  The baker has created a perishable product that must be sold within a limited time.  He anxiously peddles his product from street to street.  Bearing on this man’s dilemma are the larger issues of ancient customs, religious meaning, and sectarian conflict.  “Hot Cross Buns,” a seemingly straightforward piece, is charged with powerful human and historic issues; of course, most nursery rhymes are.

The musical significance for me as a band director is that “Hot Cross Buns” is usually the first actual piece of music that beginners play.  Prior to this, they produce unrelated pitches in routine exercises.  When we get to Hot Cross Buns, suddenly the connection from one note to the next makes sense.  Order emerges out of chaos and the light bulbs come on.  The excitement at that golden moment is almost uncontainable!  No matter what amazing musical accomplishments may follow, “Hot Cross Buns” is fondly remembered as the first, decisive music-making moment.

In “Fantasy Suite on ‘Hot Cross Buns,’” Barbara York has created an advanced, serious work in four movements describing different moods inspired by the baker’s story.  It also reflects our story as musicians recalling the first exciting days with our instruments, followed by years filled with the joy of music.  It is my hope that performers and listeners alike will find inspiration in Barbara York’s refreshing treatment of my favorite song.

--John Cisetti (Louisburg School District)

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Hot Cross Buns Suite
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