Valley Concert Winds

So far, my big musical project this summer has been starting a community band. It's called the Valley Concert Winds, and we are almost to our first performance. I am co-directing the group with fellow teacher Kyle Manley. It is pretty nice to have the chance both to play and conduct!

We weren't sure what sort of response we would get to the group. There are quite a few community bands in Minnesota, but the far east metro seemed like it could use a group. We had over 50 people register for the band with a great balance of instruments! I was also really pleased to have a wide range of ages represented in the group. It is neat to have intergenerational interaction. After four rehearsals, we have read a lot of music and are planning our first program, "A Taste of America," with the following works:

  • America the Beautiful – arr. Carmen Dragon
  • American Riversongs – Pierre La Plante
  • Fantasy on Yankee Doodle – Mark Williams
  • Black Granite III – James L. Hosay
  • On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss – David Holsinger
  • Sweet Like That – Christopher Theofanidis
  • The Gladiator – John Philip Sousa
  • The Incredibles – arr. Jay Bocook

If you can make it, we'd love to see you at our first performance on July 13. Assuming the weather is good, we'll play at 6:30 pm on the terrace of the Stillwater Library. There's still time to sign up and join us for the second half of the summer, too! :)

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).

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.