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

Choose your own adventure: Mood/Mode

You’re the star of the story! Choose from 40 possible endings reads the cover The Cave of Time, the first volume in Bantam Books’s Choose Your Own Adventure series. About two years ago, I thought it would be neat to make a piece of music which was guided by choice. Mood/Mode is the first fruit of that effort. The piece consists of an introduction followed by eight possible sections which each represent a mood, an emotion reflected in the music. Each section is based on a different musical mode, a set of notes forming a scale and the basis of the harmony for that section. As the piece progresses, soloists cue the next section by playing a cadenza based on the mode for the next mood. If a mood is repeated, new material is added. Once the final section is signaled, ending music (different for each of the eight moods) is played. There are more than 16.7 million possible sequences for a performance, but at the premiere, we did just two (recordings below).

Mood-Mode Cadenzas.jpg

Each student received two pages for their part--one contained the introduction, selectable sections, and endings, while the other showed the eight modes used and a sample cadenza for each. The sections were color-coded (and labeled with the mode name and measure number) to make it easier to see how they were paired (and find the right spot more easily in performance).

The band only had about two weeks to put the piece together from start to finish, and I was still revising up until a couple days before the premiere. The most challenging part of rehearsal was helping the students know what section of the piece was coming next. The soloists did an excellent job of playing confidently and within the mode, but it was tricky to make sure the band would be ready to start playing as soon as the cadenza ended. I found that it helped to give some visual cues to the band (and especially specific players who started a section) so that we stayed on track.

Take a listen and let me know what you think about the concept and the music.

Educationally, there were several valuable things about this piece. It was great to feature student soloists and allow them the opportunity for some improvisation. Keeping the band engaged in listening was also good (and somewhat difficult!). For the future, I would love to spend more time on the modes to help students hear them more quickly. Also, depending on the ensemble, I might want to spend more time discussing the relationship between the modes and moods. With my current Concert Band, we have already done a lot of discussion on this topic (including a seminar on Plato's thoughts on the ways music influences emotions). I picked the moods based on what I hear, but others may not hear as I do.

If you didn't see it on the image above, here are the modes used:

  1. Octatonic
  2. Slavic Dorian
  3. Locrian
  4. Minor Pentatonic
  5. Diminished Whole Tone
  6. Whole Tone
  7. Mixolydian
  8. Dominant Bebop

MMEA Performance

This blog entry is over four months late!

One of the highlights of this year at school was a performance in February at the Minnesota Music Educators Association Midwinter Clinic by the Symphonic Band. Last year's Symphonic Band recorded two pieces (Caprice by William Himes and The Fire of Eternal Glory, James Curnow's arrangement of Shostakovich) and I found out about the band's acceptance in the middle of the summer. Right away, I started planning the program...but when the year started, I found that a number of students, including all of the 9th graders I had expected, would not be in the ensemble I was left with an ensemble of 36 instead of the mid-40s, and several sections were short players. Add to this that all three double reeds were new to their instruments this year, and I knew the ensemble had a ways to go to be ready.

From the start of the year, I tried to impress upon the group the need to make every note count. We had to play everything with meaning and precision, and we couldn't do this without truly listening. A performance early on in the year (on Halloween) for the other 7th and 8th graders helped put the group in a concert mindset, and our first evening concert in November got some of the works for MMEA ready. As I thought about the program more, I knew we needed to do some special things to make the program meaningful.

First, I had planned all along to write a new piece for the band. This had to wait until December and my winter break...more on that later. Second, I asked saxophonist Greg Keel if he would be willing to appear as a soloist with the group, and he agreed. I had one piece in mind for him as an improvisor and set to work trying to find another. The first, Lissa Fleming May's Reflexão e Dança is a Latin inspired tune that calls for the ensemble to create its own arrangement of the improvised section. Later, I found Basin Street Barbecue, a version of a big band chart for concert band. Greg sounded fantastic on both, and the students really enjoyed having him at the school to work with them on improvisation and having him play with us--as several students put it, he made them feel professional.

Because I waited until December to write a new piece for the band and because I didn't want to overload the program with difficulty, I kept the new work on the easy side. It's called St. Croix Valley Overture. Its not quite ready to post yet, but I hope to get to it within the next week. I was making edits up until the week before the performance and didn't finish all the tweaks I'd like to make it look nice.

Take a look at the final program. While not the most challenging program for a middle school band, it represented a significant accomplishment for the group and the school. For a band of 36 non-auditioned students in 7th and 8th grade to go to the state music convention and make the program sound good is impressive, and I was proud of the students.

Preparing for the MMEA performance pushed the ensemble farther than it has ever gone in technique and musicianship, and it remained one of the most memorable events for all the students through to the end of the year. Perhaps later I'll reflect on how the preparation impacted our rehearsals for the rest of the year.