Category Archives: Orchestra

Creative Concert Concepts

Bob PhillipsBy Bob Phillips

Many of us use all sorts of music over the course of a school year to build creative, interesting concerts. I highly recommend a varied program over time. This can be done with great classical pieces, eclectic styles, pop tunes,  guest artists, side-by-side concerts, and so on. It can also be done with quirky, unusual, or novelty pieces that just make players and audience smile. A few pieces that might fit that category are featured in this e-mail. These are definitely worth checking out!

The new 2014 catalog has a few that fit this category as well. Be looking for that promo in your email box in April!

Recruitment and Retention

Chris BernotasBy Chris M. Bernotas

Spring is coming and that is certainly welcome here in the Northeast!  Along with fresh air, spring also brings many exciting events in the world of education.  We are all enthusiastically preparing our ensembles for spring concerts, spring trips, spring community events, and many other performances.  The other school event that occurs around now is student course scheduling for next year’s classes! Kids are excitedly running to their counselors, looking ahead to the new and unique opportunities that await them (I can dream, can’t I?)  Of course the first thing on their list to register for is band!  That, at least, is the scenario we all hope and strive for.

Recruitment and retention are always on the minds of music educators.  Some goals in music education are to help students learn to be independent thinkers and problem solvers, as well as cultural contributors.  Without students studying music, it would be hard to achieve that.  We also want to share our love of music and our passion for working together in creating emotional performances and lifelong memories with as many students as possible.  Actively recruiting is essential in our quest of filling the sea of chairs in our room with fresh young minds that are eager to learn.

One way to encourage students to continue their study of music in band is to host a District Band Festival.  Many of us facilitate a district concert. Usually, we have all the different level bands perform a selection or two for each other and perhaps end the concert with a massive group performance. This is a wonderful concept and, while it can present a few challenges to arrange, the end result is often well worth it. How would a district festival work differently? First of all, the District Band Festival isn’t necessarily focused on holding a concert performance—it is about student-to-student interaction.  Let me explain.  The concept is to host a side-by-side day.  Seat the younger students next to the older students within the ensemble and run a workshop. Teach them a new piece of music!  What I love about running a festival day is that it allows the younger students (even at the 4th and 5th grade levels) to experience making music together with the older students and not just observe them.  The older kids are their heroes, their rock stars, and now they get to sit with them and even play music with them! That exciting opportunity alone creates a lasting impression on them.

The side-by-side experience is also wonderful for the older students. I encourage them to look at those little legs that don’t quite reach the floor, and think about when they were that age and what that music meant to them.  They love the reflection and gain an appreciation of how far they have come, and I bet that some of them feel wonderful about how they are making an impact on an impressionable young mind.  Not to mention that those younger kids get to see you, the director, in action doing what you love!

Adults can tell younger students that band is wonderful and how music is a lifelong passion and while we do need to impart that wisdom, words from student-to-student are incredibly powerful. Between their experience performing alongside their heroes, seeing a teacher that loves what they do, and hearing from older kids about how they love band, continuing to study music is a no-brainer.  To complete the day you may want to include a performance of the new piece for parents, teachers, administrators, and community members.  It is even a great idea to alternate between having a District Band Concert and a District Band Festival each year.

Music is an easy sell.  If we create memorable experiences that kids enjoy and connect with, when that day comes in the Spring and that student gets set to select his or her course schedule, they may just smile and remember that special day.

Including Your Students in Concert Repertoire Planning

By Jan Farrar-Royce 

Jan Farrar-RoyceWe all know that choosing a balanced program for our ensembles includes searching for pieces that contrast in tempo, mode, styles, and eras.  We also want to choose programs that are entertaining and include some musical and/or technical challenges.  Finally, we want to find music that our musicians will be excited to play,  and even practice, especially since we will spending so much time working on them!

Particularly for teaching students in the first three years, using pieces that everyone will recognize, notably ones with lyrics, can help students and their families enjoy their lesson and ensemble pieces more.  These tunes can include well known songs for children, folk tunes, some popular songs, and some of the tunes used in the General Music classes.  Building on this common repertoire encourages students to use their ear to help them become more skilled at playing more complex rhythms and better in tune.

Your students may even recommend songs that you wouldn’t have considered. If some of these pieces are a little beyond their current technical level, feeling like they have some input into what they play may further motivate students to be more invested in their practice, and encourage them to learn new notes and techniques.

You or a parent can help monitor internet research so that your students can earn extra credit by learning about “the story behind” the tunes you play, or about the composers who wrote the music.  This kind of investigating can be especially satisfying with living composers who will sometimes write back to students who ask them questions through the composer’s own or their publishers’ web pages! Use this research to create program notes that can be included in the printed program or read to the audience by a student before playing a piece.

Using familiar tunes and empowering your students to choose some of your ensemble materials may help them to be more invested in their practice, leading to better intonation and rhythmic capability, and more willingness to learn new techniques so that they can play the tunes that they have chosen!

A Note from the Suzuki Editor

By Pam Phillips

As the Suzuki editor for Alfred Music, let me first thank all the Suzuki committee members who invest hours of volunteer effort on behalf of the Suzuki Method. It is a pleasure to work with all of you!

It is an exciting time with new technology available for books and recordings, along with other news. Just recently Violin Volume 1, Viola Volume 1, Cello Volume 1, and Bass Volume 1 became available on iBooks®. The violin book is in English with the other languages to be released soon.  The long-awaited release of mp3 downloads of Suzuki materials is getting closer. The Violin Committee is working on the revision of Volume 7 and the plan is to release that by the end of 2014. New print volumes now include what we call an AMPV number above the copyright. This number allows the reader to identify the version of the book. This applies to volumes printed or revised since 2010 but not to earlier books. Later this winter a list of the most recent AMPV numbers will be available.

One last news item – Alfred Music is once again able to accept submissions for supplemental books. Remember, if your book submission includes Suzuki material, it must first go through the ISA approval process which can be found here.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the SAA Conference in Minneapolis in May!

Have Fun and Enjoy the Music!

By Bob and Pat Cerulli

Teachers of successful instrumental programs usually agree that one of the main reasons that students play an instrument is to have fun. If students enjoy the music that they play, they will continue performing with their group.

There are several ways teachers can ensure that students have fun and are enthusiastic about studying an instrument and performing in a school music program. One is to choose music that the students like or are familiar with. Especially enjoyable is music that includes audience participation. This goes a long way to partner players with listeners which in the long term grows support for music programs.

The second and equally important factor for young musicians is the socialization that performing in a group provides. Students will look forward to independent practice, group rehearsals and performances if they are motivated by positive interactions with their peers. That being said, music teachers should choose selections that mirror the interests of the students and compliment the school curriculum.

Another important consideration is to assign music that is within the playing abilities of the students in a specific performing group. Perhaps one piece could be challenging yet within the scope of the students’ technique and skills. Giving students music that is too difficult for their stage of musical development might result in frustration or loss of interest. However, when students learn music within a short amount of time, their sense of accomplishment becomes a driver of their success both as individuals and as a group.

It might be worth your time to share your musical program choices with your students so that they may rate them according to their preferences. Students could use a simple rating scale of one to ten while listening to excerpts of the titles music teachers propose. In this way students could demonstrate their interests and teacher designated music will probably be more well received.

There are many Alfred Music publications that incorporate audience participation, reflect student interests, and support the growth of music programs. Above all, when choosing music for your program, keep in mind that the number one thought of your students is that they will have fun and enjoy the music.

Building an Encounter with Excellence into Every Lesson or Rehearsal

By Scott Watsonscott_watson

Perfection is a standard that – in almost every case – can never be met.  How many lines can really be drawn “perfectly” straight?  And for those of us working in the arts, what exactly does “perfect” mean?  Can an oil painting, or a musical performance, be considered “perfect”?

But it’s a term I use when teaching music fairly frequently.  A while back I was working with my 2nd-year (5th grade) alto saxophone section.  I was rehearsing a small gesture, just a few notes, and it sounded rough.  Each time we repaired a performance error another one emerged.  Someone missed an accidental.  Another held a note too long for the staccato articulation.  Then another rushed the rhythm… and so on.  I explained that there was no reason that we – as a section – shouldn’t be able to play this small phrase perfectly.  One of the more insightful girls in the section asked aloud, “Isn’t it impossible to play it absolutely perfect?”  This was the perfect (excuse the pun) time to launch into a favorite pedagogical sermon of mine!

Perfection – I pointed out – is not the point, but rather the striving for perfection, or for beauty, or for excellence.  I drew two horizontal lines on the board, one very high near the top of the board and one in the middle.  The top line represented perfection; the lower line represented being average (or with older kids, mediocrity).  If we strive to play our saxophones perfectly but (and here I drew an “x” just shy of the top line) fall a little short, you can see we’re still pretty darn good… some might call it excellent.  But if we only strive to be average (and here I drew an “x” just shy of the line in the middle) and fall short because we don’t care enough, then we’re not even mediocre.  You see, there’s no shame in aiming for a model of perfection.

Those saxes and I played a few more times and eventually they all played together in a way that was really excellent, especially for such young players.  All seven played the right notes, were rhythmically tight, and used the correct articulations.  It was only a small phrase, and frankly I don’t have the time in a 30-minute group sectional to always lead them to an experience with such excellence, but I strive to do just that at least once in every group lesson or rehearsal I lead.

This idea of bringing students into an encounter with excellence at least once each rehearsal isn’t original.  I first heard it from my college mentor and good friend, Ken Laudermilch.  Ken led the Wind Ensemble and taught trumpet at West Chester University when I was an undergraduate Music Education major there.  When he was still teaching, Ken allowed me to use his university wind ensemble to record a piece I had recently written as a commission for a middle school band.  In return, he asked me to talk to the students about teaching in the schools.  I rehearsed my piece for about 15 minutes.  They more or less “nailed it” when they sight-read it!  After polishing a few spots, I told Ken I was ready to record.  Ken gave the students a five-minute break and pulled me aside, saying, “I don’t want them to get off this easy.  Do you mind if I work on the piece a little bit?”  Returning from the break, Ken proceeded to tear apart and put back together every phrase I had thought was fine.  Nothing was overlooked – phrasing, attacks, releases, dynamic contour, subtle tempo shifts.  When he finished, the piece sounded truly glorious!  And better still, these fine university players had an encounter with musical beauty even with a middle school band piece because a master teacher led them there.

Years later, when I read Peter Boonshaft’s Teaching with Passion, I found the same principle.  I think of Peter as one of the preeminent wind band conductors on the planet at this time. He’s also one of the authors of the Sound Innovations instrumental method. In his excellent book Boonshaft suggests that, “in every rehearsal we need to make one beautiful pearl.”  In addition to serving as what he calls a “beacon” of perfection, Boonshaft points out that these moments give our students an example of our expectations, and they encourage progress as students realize they can produce something (no matter how small) that is truly beautiful.

I think it’s no accident that two of the most talented music education professionals that I know – Ken Laudermilch and Peter Boonshaft – both employ this technique of leading students to an encounter with excellence in their rehearsals.  Whether it’s a university wind ensemble or young saxophone section, doesn’t every one deserve to bump up against something truly beautiful, revel in it, and know that he or she is responsible in part for creating that beauty?

In each meeting with your instrumental students at any level, I’d like to recommend you find something, however small, to give them an “encounter with excellence” to serve as a model, a “beacon of perfection,” for all their music making!

Classics from One Generation to Another

By Douglas E. Wagner

Douglas WagnerIf there ever was a blast to the past in my life, it happened this past spring when I began to write concert band and string orchestra arrangements of The Who classic single, “My Generation.” That day, it was 1965 and I was 13 again.

While not fitting the mold as the stereotypical angst-ridden, anti-establishment teen of the time, the words didn’t hit me as strongly as they did some of my friends. For me it was all about the beat — that driving, pulsating forward motion and unrelenting call-and-response pattern. I remember hearing it for the first time, being jolted to a new awareness of the world around me, of life, of the freedom that only music can bring. And so it has been I’m sure for millions through the decades whose lives have been forever affected by this quintessential British Rock standard.

My five-year-old granddaughter happened to be in the house when I was listening to the playback. She exuberantly came running up the stairs exclaiming: “Papaw, Papaw, what is that?” “My Generation, Alex … and now it’s yours.”

Hope you and your students like the charts!

Music in Your Community

By Julie Lyonn LiebermanJulieLL

Imagine a wedding without music. Impossible, isn’t it? How about a movie or TV show, a party, the doctor’s office, an inauguration, a worship service, or a sporting event?

Music has been inextricably connected to social events and spiritual worship throughout the world for eons. Music is to the human spirit what skin-temperature water is to the human body — an environment that provides transformation and unity through engaging in an activity that is larger than self.

Introducing the art of performance to a young person without a focal point or a higher purpose is, to my mind, backwards and bereft. Performing for its own sake —a relatively new addition to the use of music historically speaking— tends to focus a young, inexperienced musician on fear and on first person thinking:  How am I doing? What will they think of me? Am I good enough? Will I make a mistake? It’s also a missed opportunity. Music is about community and sharing. It’s an act of nonverbal communication.

There are at least three approaches you can employ to transform the performance experience for your students while providing your community with something special: 1) Intergenerational/interschool, 2) Theme-oriented, and 3) Location-oriented.

1) Intergenerational — Interschool 

Everyone immediately notices the spark and learning curve an inter-generational concert can generate within the student body and community versus the traditional “my age group plays, followed by your age group, followed by …” When you have everyone on stage together creating music, the excitement in the hall is tangible.

I first began to develop scores with interlocking parts decades ago for school systems that couldn’t afford to bring me in to do a residency for a single age group. I use the term “flexi-score” to describe a score that has an middle school part and a high school part that each work perfectly well on their own, yet interlock to create a rich, whole-group interaction. My newest flexi-score, Newtown Peace Anthem, offers this opportunity.

There’s very little published music designed to support this kind of intergenerational all-community event, but it isn’t that difficult to take a high school piece and write a simpler version of it for middle school. In fact, you can turn this into a class or student project, thereby satisfying National Music Standard number four, “Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.”

Since it’s important to respect copyright laws, you can write to the publisher or the composer and either ask for their permission to develop a complementary part or commission them to do so for you; or choose a published arrangement of a traditional piece of music and create your own level-specific arrangement that complements an arrangement in your music library.

2) Theme-oriented

Choosing a theme for your concert can provide a positive and creatively challenging point of focus for the students. For example, this fall I’ve invited NewtownPPstring teachers nationwide to schedule something in their December concerts in honor of the 20 children and 6 educators killed in my town, Newtown CT, 12/14/12. The overall project, Newtown Peace Park, invites students to conceive of ideas they can implement in their community to foster a culture of kindness in the names of Newtown’s fallen angels.

Virginia-based string educator Laura Parker approaches each concert with a theme. Her last concert theme, “Spread Your Wings,” focused on the life cycle of the butterfly. She covered the four stages of the butterfly musically through four carefully chosen pieces of music, challenged her students to identify four stages in their own musical development, and included the art department, the dance department, and many individuals outside her string program in the process. Her next theme is called “Reaching for the Stars.” You can read more about her butterfly concert here.

Whether it’s a local topic  (tragedy or good fortune), a national topic like the environment, or a personal one, the school concert can provide a model for a caring community that can accommodate many opinions, many points of view —all presented in a creative fashion while providing a unique opportunity to its music students.

3) Location-oriented

As referenced in Richard Meyer’s article, Giving Bach, moving your concert out of the auditorium and into the community can help shift your students’ focus to groups within their community that can benefit from or even be healed by their music making. Whether it’s for a school that doesn’t have a music program, a retirement home, house of worship, sporting event, or town hall meeting, giving to the community can achieve wonders for all those involved.

Playing Melodically: A Different Approach to Teaching Phrasing

By Todd Stalter

During my first semester in college, my studio teacher gave me what seemed like an insurmountable amount of technical studies to prepare for every lesson which, frankly, I enjoyed in a perverse sort of way—being able to play rings around everybody else was certainly on my mind as an ambitious freshman trumpet player (as if that was all there was to it).  During second semester, however, he tacked on some simple melodies in the back of the Arban Method for each lesson as well, saying, “I think it’s about time you learned how to play a melody.”  Of course, I thought I already did…boy, was I in for an education.  Thanks to him, I was initiated into my first truly detailed study of music.

One of the most important concepts we try to teach our ensembles is to play with good phrasing, but we often become frustrated when we don’t hear our groups playing phrases consistently.  I believe that part of the reason for this can be traced to our students’ first experiences with full ensemble music. They may be unconsciously making a distinction between that music and the material in their lesson books, which is naturally almost 100% melodic in focus.  You can’t really blame them; it’s hard to convince a young trombone player playing whole and half notes all day long, or alto sax and French horn players with an awkward middle voice part that sounds weird, that they actually have a melody of any kind.  And, to be honest, if we’re not careful, we directors can relegate phrasing pretty far down our priority list when rehearsing (guilty as charged).  After a few years of playing Grades 1 to 2.5 ensemble music with little or no attention to melodic playing, it becomes even harder to get good musical phrases out of them when they are in an ensemble capable of playing Grade 3 music and above.

We all know that for an ensemble player of any age, playing a good phrase requires knowing what the melody actually is, who plays it, and how their part relates to it.  I think too many directors get caught in the “melody vs. non-melody” trap while teaching phrasing, and are in fact unwittingly telling their students that when their part is not the melody, they should play “non-melodically,” which is exactly the opposite of what creates good phrasing in the first place.  I believe part of the answer to effectively teaching phrasing lies in convincing EVERYONE that their parts are melodic. Realizing that sometimes they may have the “primary” melody, a “secondary” melody, or even a “background” melody of some sort helps them find their place in the musical texture.  Using this approach, every member of the ensemble is focused on melodic playing, and is instinctively trying to phrase it musically, which gives the director something audible to work with, as in “Hey trombones, did you hear how the euphoniums played the part you share?  That’s how I want you to phrase it.”

Not only does this approach foster better individual and ensemble musicianship, but it teaches students to be more creative musicians and “think it” before they play it, which is a far more gratifying artistic result for both the director and their students.

“In the Zone” with Sound Innovations: Sound Development

By Kirk D. Moss, Ph.D., 
Sound Innovations Author

Remember the day when a student blurted out, “I wish this class would never end?” Students may forget the name of the piece they played, but they will remember the “in the zone” moments of music making for the rest of their lives.

Psychologists refer to “in the zone” experiences as “flow.” Achieving a flow state requires a balance between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too difficult, flow cannot occur. A state of anxiety occurs when challenges exceed the skill level, adding stress and causing uneasiness. Both the skill and challenge levels must be matched at a high level to experience “flow,” and that’s why I’m so excited about Sound Innovations: Sound Development for Intermediate String Orchestra and Sound Innovations: Sound Development for Advanced String Orchestra. Both Sound Development books help ensure that students have the necessary skills to meet the challenges found within the intermediate and advanced level of repertoire that they perform.

Sound Innovations: Sound Development for Intermediate and Sound Development for Advanced
 String Orchestra emphasize playing with 
a characteristic beautiful sound. Intermediate or advanced technical skills are presented in four levels, consistent with the revolutionary Sound Innovations structure: (1) Sound Tone, (2) Sound Bowing, (3) Sound Shifting, and (4) Sound Scales and Arpeggios. The levels can be used in the order that is best for your students, as individual warm-ups, structured units, or as dictated by your repertoire.

Each level presents a unique set of skills. Level 1 offers a systematic approach to developing right-hand technique through teaching sequences that refine the most important variables of sound: bowing lanes, bow weight, and bow speed. Following in the Galamian tradition, Level 2 introduces the bow strokes, including collé. Using collé to develop your students’ right-hand finger flexibility can make a noticeable difference on every bow change and in every attack stroke. In Level 3, new positions and shifting are thoroughly presented using finger pattern logic and guide notes. I especially like the clear and uncluttered page layout of the scales and arpeggios in Level 4. The innovative format is flexible, allowing teachers to differentiate instruction among a wide range of student ability levels.

This year, use the Sound Innovations series to help your students acquire the skills they need to get so absorbed in performing music that they can hardly stop playing. In fact, all four volumes of the series are on SmartMusic allowing even more opportunities to play! Match your teaching to the level of repertoire with exercises and routines designed for intermediate and advanced string players. Prepare your students to produce a signature sound as they gain access to the entire fingerboard. Make “in the zone” experiences a way of life in your classroom.

Have a terrific year, and remember: kids can do anything; we just have to teach them how!