Listening Journal #3

I actually started listening to new music for the coming fall before school was out for the summer. It started when I found a great set of albums on the Naxos Music Library--Distinguished Music for the Developing Band. Each album has a selection of music for beginning, middle, and high school band, and the works included are superb. In this post (and at least one more later), I'll share some of my favorite listening so far and what I am looking forward to programming next year.

Courtly Airs and Dances - Ron Nelson

I can't believe I didn't remember this piece until this summer. I'm sure I must have played it at some point during high school. The combination of old Renaissance dances and modern harmonies is fun to play and a pleasure to hear. How could anyone dislike the Saltarello?

Suite from Bohemia - Vaclav Nelhybel

Great melodies in some modal tonalities, plus this is a pretty substantial work (8-9 minutes) at a lower difficulty level. I think the second movement is my favorite.

Salvation is Created - Bruce Houseknecht

There are quite a few arrangements of Tschesnokoff's beautiful hymn. This is the one I am planning on getting and playing this year.

Afterburn - Randall Standridge

The pacing on this piece is great, and it has a catchy hook. Perhaps I'll get sick of it by performance time, but after listening through several times this summer I do still enjoy it.

Old Churches - Michael Colgrass

While I think it will be challenging to sell some students on Old Churches, it will be worth it. I'm considering teaching some about Gregorian Chant this year (more on that later if it happens), and the graphic notation used in this piece is also a great teaching opportunity.

Please, share your favorite pieces! I'm always on the lookout for great music.

Picking Music for Contest

Judges have often commented to me that they appreciated my music selection. Perhaps it's just something they say to everyone, but I take it as a sincere compliment when it happens regularly for adjudicated performances for both concert and jazz bands. Here are my basic guidelines and then a couple great sample programs for contest.

Be respectful of the given time and style guidelines

If there is a required music list, choose from it. If a ballad is asked for, play one. These things seem obvious, but listening to other groups at events we have attended tells me that not everyone thinks of this.

Choose music that makes your group sound as good as possible

Sometimes we directors are used to having a certain level of group, but it may not always be possible to sustain playing that level of music. While I agree that it is good to make a group stretch, music selection for a contest needs to be within the reach of the ensemble. The feedback a group receives can be uplifting or devastating based on the difficult of the music, and the students should not be penalized for a director's poor choice of music. [As an aside, if you realize too late that something is too hard, own up to it! Let the students know your own failings.]

Value variety

Your selections should provide as much contrast as possible with each other. Possible areas include: key center and tonality, tempo, style, time signature, time period, cultural influence, weight, length, and more

Sample Programming

Here are two sample programs and my considerations in picking each.

Jazz Band at a Competitive Jazz Festival

Punta del Soul
Together Houses
Better Get Hit In Your Soul

With these three tunes, we fit the requirements of the festival really well. A Latin chart, a ballad, and a 3/4 gospel swing gave us three contrasting styles. All three tunes stretched the band in different ways, but none was out of reach. Punta del Soul required a level of timing and execution (and some woodwind doublings) beyond anything they had previously played, but they really liked it and worked for it. I knew that Punta and Together gave us a strong 1-2 in the program, so I looked specifically for a closer. Better Get Hit was exactly what I wanted--energetic from beginning to end, and the 3/4 swing feel worked great with the straight eighths in 4/4 from the previous tunes.

Concert Band at State-Sponsored Contest

Prospect - Pierre La Plante
Symphony No. 4 - Andrew Boysen

I think it is really important to play a good ballad at contest. Sometimes an inner movement of a longer work will be sufficient, but I didn't think the slow movement of the Boysen Symphony would be enough for this program. Adding Prospect made the program 15 minutes long, though, and so I chose not to include a third piece! [If I had, I it would have been a march--we were working on Sousa's The Gladiator March around that time.] At this particular festival, each group has only 30 minutes to set up, perform, and receive a critique from a judge, so it seemed worthwhile to keep the program shorter to allow for a little more face time in our critique.

The Boysen Symphony was a fun work for students to dig into. Though it was technically not as difficult as some other music we worked on, it happened to fit the instrumentation of the group well and made them sound great at contest. The contrast of Prospect's simple calm and the rage and chaos of the Symphony was a big part of the program's success.

If you have a particularly successful program, send it my way! I'm right in the middle of looking at new repertoire for next year.

New Music Tuesday!

New Releases

Stereos for Mixed Brass – If you wanted to perform Stereos but didn't have seven friends who play trombone, here is your chance to do it with a mixed group of brass. I think I prefer the trombone version, but I hope this arrangement gives the piece a little more exposure. If you purchase one version and want the other, let me know and I will send it to you so you have both.

Badoodot – Young band piece with a rock beat and some quirks. 

Tarantella Contrapuncta – Middle level band piece in 6/8.

Upcoming Blog Posts

Over the next two months, I'll be covering...

  • Reviews of Habits of a Successful Musician and a couple more instruments
  • Using improvisation in middle school classes
  • Upcoming repertoire for the new school year
  • Grades in band
  • More new music from me