Reflections on the 2015-16 School Year

the band at work (during posture appreciation week)

the band at work (during posture appreciation week)

This is a post I started writing three years ago! At that time, I was finishing a year that included a few fun accomplishments:

  • My school hosted a small solo & ensemble festival for the third time

  • I directed and played in the pit for a great production of Guys and Dolls

  • Our jazz band won their class at the Eau Claire Jazz Festival

  • Our concert band finished the year having learned a new piece every week

As I think back on these accomplishments and others, it is clear that most of them would not have happened without sticking around at the same place. I just completed my 12th year at St. Croix Prep, and some amazing things have happened. It wouldn’t have been possible without supportive administration, colleagues, and families! Here is a short comparison of 2007 to 2019.

Then (2007)

  • Beginning band included 29 students in 5th and 6th grades

  • Our first instrument purchase was a xylophone, and the only instruments owned by the school were a banged up cornet and beginner level drum set

  • The band rehearsed in a gigantic church sanctuary and the lobby of an abandoned eye clinic

  • The band music library went from 0 pieces to 9, plus several pieces I wrote specifically for the bands that year

Now

  • The 5th-grade band of 2019–2020 has 40+ students

  • We have a full percussion section and are within about $25k of finishing a multi-year plan for a complete instrument inventory (at least for large instruments, like tuba, bassoon, etc.)

  • We have a band room!

  • There are over 300 titles in the Concert Band library, over 100 for jazz, plus a decent assortment of music for our pep band binders

There is more to reflect on later, but for now, I’m thankful for what we have achieved!

Replacing a Wenger Legacy Basic Acoustical Shell Panel

File under “don’t try this at home.”

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Last year, someone damage the top panel of one of our Wenger acoustical shells. It’s the panel that folds up and down and can be set at one of several angles, and my guess is that someone was too rough with it. The braces connecting the panel to the joint where it pivots were pushing into the panel itself and didn’t seem safe to use any more. So, this summer I called Wenger to ask about getting a replacement panel.

Although the shell has a label that says something like “Don’t try to remove or repair this panel!”, there were no other options for us. After the panel arrived, our facilities manager and I took a closer look at the shell to figure out how to safely remove the old panel and replace it with the new one.

First up, we had to remove the top panel. We tried to careful to relieve pressure on the gas lift supports, but it didn’t matter much. When the panel is folded down, they are close to being fully extended. While I wouldn’t want to take one in the eye, they didn’t seem to pose a lot of risk.

Second, we had to remove the pins that held the top panel to the middle panel at the hinge. A pair of pliers were helpful to grip the pin guide at each end. This is where things get a little dangerous and difficult. Without someone holding onto the top panel when you remove the pins, it will fall to the floor. Worse, if there isn’t anyone keeping tension on the crank on the back, the lift arm will shoot up to its maximum height very quickly when the top panel is removed. (We may have learned this the hard way). If you mess up this part, you have to put enough tension on the lift arm to allow someone to turn the hand crank slowly back to the bottom position.

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It probably requires 4-5 people to do the job. After the old panel was removed, we put the new one back, replacing the pins first and then reattaching the lift supports.

Favorite pieces: All Ye Young Sailors

Another of my favorite pieces for 2nd year band is Pierre La Plante's All Ye Young Sailors, an arrangement of the sea chantey "Blow the Man Down." Of course, the moment the students hear the melody, they recognize it as the theme from Spongebob Squarepants. Since I'm not a fan of the show, why do I like the piece?

Melody

While some composers and styles minimize melody, most people (and that includes most students) thrive on good melodies. Recognizable, hummable melodies stick with band students for days, weeks, and months (and yes, years for some), so great tunes are high on my list of priorities when I select music. La Plante's skillful scoring provides every section with the opportunity to play at least part of the melody, so even the low brass players and saxophones have a chance to shine.

Time Signature and Rhythm

There aren't as many pieces in 6/8 for young band as ones in 4/4. All Ye Young Sailors has a great mix of beginning 6/8 rhythms, and there is just the right amount of independence in the parts. Note and rest values include eighth, quarter, dotted quarter, and dotted half. There are no offbeat entrances. Some instruments play a staccato quarter (or a single eighth) followed by an eighth rest (or two), but everything else looks pretty much like the early exercises in 6/8 from common method books. The most complicated section rhythmically is a round at the end.

Compositional Techniques

The round at bar 41 is not the only cool compositional technique in the piece. The melody travels between sections in two bar segments as a call and response (for instance, 13-21). There is an example of stretto at 19. Trumpet 1 plays an augmented version of the melody at 23. I don't dig into all of these with my sixth graders, but I'll spend at least some time on the ways La Plante disguises the melody. After all, knowing who has the melody is an important part of playing your own part, no matter what you have!

Be Prepared

I always start working on All Ye Young Sailors with a review of 6/8 in the book and then take brief sections of the piece with the ensemble. We may speak or clap some parts before playing them as well. If a group is doing well with 6/8, they can likely get through the whole piece on the first read-through, but watch out for the tempo changes at 35 and 37. I typically conduct 35-36 in 6 and watch the flutes carefully--once they can play their eighth notes with me, I make sure the clarinets and saxes are watching and listening to sustain their pitches. Good cues at 41 and following for the round are also important.

If you're interested in purchasing All Ye Young Sailors, doing so through the affiliate link below benefits my school.

Cover tiny file look inside All Ye Young Sailors Composed by La Plante. Score. Published by Daehn Publications (DH.DP2509-SC).