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.

Schiller Bari Sax Review

One of the instruments I bought for my school early on was a baritone saxophone. Without enough money to purchase the standard, school-approved, Yamaha YBS-52, I opted for a Keilwerth ST-90. It was not the best choice.

Now, it is true that the school baritone saxophone is often abused, mistreated, and uncared for. But the instrument we received has never been as good as I hoped (except it did start off nice and shiny). Tone is a little thin, but pitch (especially in the upper register) is difficult to control. The keywork has been solid (getting repaired just fine after being banged around and dropped), but the thumb rest seems poorly designed (it slips and slides around the screw that is supposed to hold it). The shows more than its age (8 years)--after all, it mostly stays in the band room. All that said, I feel pretty good about putting the Keilwerth bari in the hands of a 7th grader. I'm not worried about it getting busted, and so it still serves a useful purpose.

I present all this about the Keilwerth bari to provide a contrast with the Schiller model we got two years ago. It comes in a hard case (with wheels!) and our model has a matte gold finish. I have only let the older bari players (high school) play it regularly, and so it has perhaps been treated a little better than our first bari. It has suffered some knocks and scrapes, but the finish still looks good. It has had a couple adjustments at the shop after these bruises with no problems.

The sound on the Schiller bari is the best part. It is warm, plays in tune throughout its range, and independent sources have complimented it. We used it during both jazz bands's performances at the Eau Claire Jazz Festival, and the judges who heard it in each group praised the players and the instrument itself.

At this point, I feel pretty good recommending the bari we got.