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).

Favorite pieces: Allegretto from Beethoven Symphony #7

I'm not usually a big fan of dumbing down the classics just so that students can play them, but once in a while I really appreciate someone's arrangement for a student-level ensemble. One such arrangement is Douglas Court's grade 1 version of Beethoven's Allegretto from Symphony No. 7. I have used in several times in the past 10 years with my 6th-grade band (a group of second-year players) and continue to find it valuable as a powerful piece of music and a vehicle for teaching important concepts.

[If you're not familiar with Beethoven's Symphony no. 7, go listen to it and read about it now before you go read on].

Court's arrangement is simple. After the opening minor chord, the middle and low voices begin the ostinato rhythm which continues through most of the work. The melody trades off between trumpets, clarinets, and flutes/oboes. Clarinet and Trumpet 2, along with horn and alto, take the counter melody, and though the low winds never get the melody themselves, getting to play eighth notes in the ostinato pattern along with some other rhythmic patterns keeps them engaged. The flutes have a long rest (about 16 bars) before coming in after the first chord, so this piece may be a nice break from having to carry a lot of the piece themselves.

My favorite section of the piece is a 12 measure long crescendo. Starting from piano, the ensemble builds to a powerful climax, sustains full volume for eight bars, and then fades out over the final eight bars. It is in this section that I most challenge students to play longer phrases and hide their breaths.

Two other important concepts to address in the Allegretto are chromatic pitches (of which every instrument has some) and the contrast between tenuto and staccato articulation. Every player must listen to to match and play the right note lengths.

The percussion parts are not that complicated. They are not original to the piece, so they can be safely omitted. The mallet part doubles the flute line. The timpani plays only the tonic and dominant with no tuning changes. Snare drum and bass drum add a little oomph to the louder sections, and suspended cymbal and triangle parts are a tasteful addition if you have plenty of percussionists. Bonus--I haven't used it, but there is a piano accompaniment if you find yourself in need of it.

In the end, I have used this piece frequently not just because of the musical concepts it teaches, but because it has the power to connect well with students and audiences alike. Many have heard it before, and it is a great piece to push students to play with more emotion. Usually I take one rehearsal to talk about and listen to the original, and I love seeing how it unlocks something special in the way students play. 

Cover tiny file look inside Allegretto from Symphony No. 7 Grade 1 - Score and Parts. Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Arranged by Douglas Court. Curnow Music Concert Band. Hal Leonard #014897. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.44000440).

Book Review: Habits of a Successful Musician

I've written before about the importance of fundamentals in band rehearsal, and today I'd like to review one of the best resources I have found for that time in the high school concert band.

Habits of a Successful Musician, by Scott Rush and Rich Moon, is "a comprehensive curriculum for use during fundamentals time." The book has seven sections:

  1. Warm-Up
  2. Chorales
  3. Rhythm Vocabulary
  4. Rhythm Charts in a Musical Context
  5. Audition Sight-Reading by Level
  6. Audition Sight-Reading by Time Signature
  7. Music-Making Exercises

The section that became the most familiar to the band was Section One, Warm-Up. We used exercises from this section nearly every day. They include activities and areas of focus like stretching and breathing, long tones, articulation, dynamics, blend, balance, timing, and more. I liked the combination of brass lip slur patterns with percussion and and woodwind chromatic scales (in eighth notes and eighth-note triplets, ascending and descending). I also appreciated the dynamic exercise that has students play a major chord in one of four patterns (ppp-fff-pp, fff-ppp-fff, ppp-fff, or fff-ppp). I felt like it was easy to select a balance of exercises that helped my concert band grow in its areas of weakness. I used the scale section (majors, two octaves where appropriate, with some extra patterns tacked on to teach key) for playing tests throughout the year.

The second section, Chorales, was one of the student favorites. Eleven tunes were harmonized (and well-orchestrated!), from old hymns to Holst, and each was a pleasure to play. It was great to make music while warming up the group as well as to have opportunities to address pitch and balance in "simpler" music that students still enjoyed. I do wish there were more chorales, but there are a lot of other options out there for that kind of material!

The third section, Rhythm Vocabulary, was the least used in our band. It is laid out in 23 lines of progressively more complex rhythms. It moves quickly through time signatures (2/4, 3/4, 4/4, cut time, 6/8, 9/8, and 5/8) and common rhythm patterns in each. The instructions in the teacher book suggest using these pages to work on a counting system. I have typically focused more on this concept (I use 1e+a) in middle school, but at the end of this year, I could see how spending a little more time on it during the beginning of the year would be helpful to the high school students. (While the strongest students had few problems with new rhythms, many of my freshmen and sophomores showed some weakness in subdividing.)

Section Four also covered rhythm, and I used this section for playing tests. There are six pairs of exercises, with each pair having the same underlying rhythm. One exercises is strictly rhythm, and its pairs has a melody. They cover the material used in section three, and I found it very helpful to require students to work on them and record them while using a metronome. They are too tricky (really just unfamiliar) for students to read perfectly the first time, and they require students to subdivide in order to play them well. Each exercise is progressive, so it worked well to assign more experienced students a longer or later section in the exercise that was tested.

Sections Five and Six contain a total of 190 sight-reading exercises. The primary difference between the two is the lack of musical markings (dynamics, articulations, etc) in Section Five. We took breaks from these sections (especially when we had a lot of other full-band music to read through), but I found them helpful for building student confidence while sight-reading. I also appreciated the inclusion of challenging keys, and I thought that, because of this, the band improved its attention to key signatures as well. The variety of keys and time signatures was excellent. The melodies are not the catchiest, but they are musically sound and serve their purpose well.

The final section, Music-Making Exercises, is a single page with some instructions on improvising musically (e.g., "long notes should have direction and shape; they should intensify or decrescendo") and using solfege to help you become more musically literate. We didn't use these sections in band, but I have said just about everything on the page during rehearsal and used some very similar exercises in lessons and in class.

Students really liked using the book throughout the year, and that is saying something! Typically they get bored with the warm-up routine (and some still did), but most appreciated the variety of material and felt like it helped them and the band make solid progress. I have students in high school band for four years, though, so the biggest downside is that I have to find something different to use next year!