Monthly Archives: June 2012

Cool Tips

Vince Gassi
By Vince Gassi


You’ve made it. You’ve reached the end of another busy, productive school year and it feels good to be on a well-deserved break. As you wind down during the summer months, you may find yourself occasionally thinking ahead to next year. It’s ok…just breathe. However, the ideas that occur to you are worth remembering, so be sure to keep a mobile device close by so you can record them immediately. It’s good to think back over the past year and assess: what worked well, what needs improvement, etc.? Are there any initiatives you need to implement or things you want to include next year? Your projects don’t need to be epic; they just need to be worth the time to implement. This article is meant to offer two ideas that you may wish to consider. Perhaps you’ve got the engine running smoothly and are ready to try just one new idea to up your game.


Cool Tip #1 – The Long and Short Game

Choose your performance repertoire by asking yourself all the usual questions regarding the number and types of performances (festival, holiday, etc.)? Then, for the long game, choose one piece that will be an all-year project. A few years ago, in September, I introduced a piece to my young band that was just a step beyond their ability. In fact, at the time, I was afraid it might have been too difficult. I certainly didn’t want to discourage them but at the same time, I didn’t want them to become too complacent. To reassure them, I told them that we were just trying an experiment and that we weren’t necessarily going to perform this “challenge” piece. It was just to see how much progress we could make on it by the end the year.

Each week we would just play through sections of it that I thought were “attainable”. Since we weren’t really going to perform it, there was no pressure. After two months, I began to notice that much of it was sounding fairly good, but it still wasn’t ready for performance. Besides, we had other repertoire that was definitely going to be performed. Their progress by December was amazing and, to my utter astonishment, we performed it at our Christmas concert. I’m not one hundred percent sure why they took so well to this challenge. Perhaps it was the non-threatening way in which I introduced or it was simply fun to play; whatever the reason, I was grateful. We performed it again at a festival in March at an even higher level. Even if my band had never performed that piece, they still benefitted from all the hard work.

Now for the short game. Consider selecting a number of pieces from your music library that your students haven’t seen before. Any style will do, in fact, the more variation the better. Introduce only one new piece each week. You are only going to play it once. Keep forcing your ensemble to read new material. Their sight-reading will improve greatly and they won’t be bored. Your rehearsals can consist of a warm-up, then once through the “new piece”, and then finally the remainder of the rehearsal could be spent on rehearsing the music you’ll actually perform (of course if you are playing “the long game” you can run through the challenge piece as you see fit). The rule should be that, as an ensemble, they have to play the sight-reading piece from beginning to end without stopping, NO MATTER WHAT!! Even if some or most (or even all) students get lost, keep conducting and count every bar aloud as if they were still in the right spot. It may not seem productive initially, but if you do this every week your students’ musical awareness will improve greatly. Eventually your students will be able to sight read all the way through a new piece with fewer mistakes. At the end of the term, your music folders will be really thick but your students will have far better sight-reading “chops”. As a bonus, you may actually move some of those pieces from the sight-reading column to the performance column. But that’s all cool stuff for next year. Now go have a great summer, rest up, and see you in September.

Stay Tuned for…

Cool Tip #2 The Mini Road Trip

Making Your Little Show a Big Success—Some Challenges and Solutions!

By Andy Beck

Most of my experience directing theatre over the years has been for big schools on big stages—with even bigger budgets (believe it or not). So last fall, when invited to co-direct one of my own shows for a start-up community theatre group, I got a suitable dose of reality when it came to producing a small-scale show on a shoestring budget. But despite all of our challenges, we managed to create a big hit!

Who to cast when so few have experience . . .
Even though the parts in Nanny Claus: The North Pole Nanny were written with child performers in mind, the small audition pool and limited experience of our first-time group presented a real challenge. That’s when we decided to call in a few friends to fill out the cast. This worked exceptionally well, due to the fact that some of the characters in the show are actually adults. And what a wonderful way for our younger cast members to learn from these more seasoned actors.

What to do with a tiny stage …
The opening pages in Nanny provide an in-depth description of the recommended set, but for our small performance space, adapting the suggested design was a must. Four double-sided flats were reduced to two (our main Elf house), and then simple signs (for the other North Pole shops) were hung on either side of the proscenium. Actors wheeled on small rolling carts to complete those scenes. Additionally, the three beds (for our nursery) were built to be especially small so that they could be easily tucked out of sight.

Where to go for costumes and props …
Thankfully, we were able to borrow some excellent basic costumes from a generous high school. But then there were the jobs of individual fittings and filling in the blanks. As you know, parents can be a great help! As a matter of fact, we were surprised to discover some existing sewing talent, and even develop a few new hobbyists. As for props, again volunteers came to our rescue. A few of our students were especially excited to offer their own teddy bears to be considered for that pivotal prop.

When to compromise your best choreography ideas …
The answer is simple—be ready for Plan B when choreography does not look good on the performers, or when it does not fit on the stage. We encountered both! Years ago, Alfred published my staging ideas in the Nanny score, so this provided a nice starting point. But as we worked on this production, alterations were needed. Some moves proved too difficult, others not challenging enough. One of my favorite substitutions was a double circle of “ice skaters” moving in opposite directions, which made a huge effect on our little stage.

How to get it all learned in a short time …
A well-organized schedule allowed us to get so much done in a short amount of time! The main ensemble of our cast was only responsible for three big numbers and the related reprises, so their time at rehearsal was spent almost entirely on perfecting those songs. Additionally, by dividing the chorus in half for two other features (girls vs. guys), each performer only needed to prepare four songs. The small group of leads required some extra practice, but were happy to do so—graciously accepting the responsibility of their featured roles.

Why keeping it small still works …
The most important part of any theatrical performance is storytelling. And by encouraging a cast to fully immerse in the journey of their characters, the outcome will be truly rewarding for the performers and entertaining for the audience.

Click here to learn about this outstanding Christmas musical.

Enjoy some photos of our performance of Nanny Claus: The North Pole Nanny at the Halle Cultural Arts Center in Apex, NC.


Piano Teaching Tips from Tom Gerou

Any task in life shares the same basic elements: a goal and details required to achieve the goal. The same is true in studying and performing music. The goal for an effective performance of “Willows” is to project musical color through phrase shaping and tone production. Visit the score to explore the details that I have written in red.

After hitting upon a musical idea, in the case of Willows, mostly using intervals of perfect 5ths, the first task becomes defining the parameters and boundaries that will limit what is used.

Willows is a deceptively simple piece that uses mostly perfect 5ths. Although the piece is not immediately recognized as a functionally harmonic work, the relationship of tonic to dominant is rooted in the resulting harmonies. Overall, Willows is in the key of F major.

The gestures in the piece are limited to an arpeggiated effect. The texture is deceptively transparent and requires a delicate, yet controlled, touch. Beginning in measure 1, the broken perfect 5ths need to be all played with the same even weight while shaping the 2-measure phrase with subtlety. As the first phrase ends with LH over in measure 2, a release of weight in needed towards the end of the phrase.

The second phrase, beginning a 3rd lower, echoes the first. Measures 5 and 6 are 1-measure upward gestures that lead up to the cadence in measure 8. Both of these short phrases ‘comment’ on what was already played and add harmonic movement to anticipate the cadence in measure 8. In measure 5 the phrase will need shaping by slightly emphasizing the F and lifting the hand on the G. This is echoed in the next measure.

If we look at the harmonies in measures 7 and 8 they are ii7, vi7 and V7—essentially a harmonically functional cadence.

Measures 9–16 mimic the first 8 measures beginning on the sub-dominant, Bb. We are now in the key of Bb which is firmly established by measures 15 and 16, also ending on the IV chord of Bb (Eb).

For contrast, measure 17 (remaining in Bb) changes the gesture to a downward motion. The long-long-short-short-long phrases are still maintained but ultimately lead to the final cadence in measures 22-32, finishing back in F major. The harmony in measure 21, at the forte, is the half-diminished seventh chord leading to the final chord, F major. Before the piece is resolved, some unexpected harmonies add color to the harmonic progression. The harmonies are unexpected in measure 23 (minor v7, ii7 to F major) and remain faithful to the contemporary feel of this piece.

Pedaling is very important in the study of Willows. One of the pleasures of Willows is the sound of the harmonies with the pedal down. There are three important places where the pedal plays a primary role: measures 7–8, 15–16, and 23–24. Let the harmonies build up and don’t be concerned about the slight dissonance—it is always resolved in the next measure. The final two measures are resolved with a final perfect 5h at the end.  Measures 8, 16 and 24 also define the structure of the piece. They are milestones along the way.

The patterns established in Willows will help with memorization. Although deceptively simple in nature, Willows will convey a sophisticated style lying beneath the surface.

One of the deceptively simple tasks after composing a piece is titling it. A title immediately describes a mood or feeling—a summation of what is heard. After composing Willows I chose the title because I thought it conveyed the piece the best. The willow is immediately recognized for its unique shape and it’s drooping branches and leaves. Although a willow tree is one object unto itself, the long, pliant branches and elongated leaves are open to the breezes and sway independently. The imagery fits perfectly to the open sound of arpeggiated perfect 5ths, either gesturing upwards or downwards.

I hope you enjoy the study and performance of Willows—one of my favorite compositions.

Happy teaching and enjoy your summer!

Tom Gerou
Author, Arranger, Composer
Alfred’s Vice President of Production and Director of Keyboard Operations

Willow, Page 1Willow, Page 2

How to Make Egg Boats from Songs of the Sea

Teach children about the fun adventures of the sea, with these egg sail boats. This activity is perfect for home school lessons,  or any classroom setting!


Hard-boiled eggs for group (each egg makes two boats
Deviled egg ingredients (mayonnaise, salt, mustard, etc)
Thin pretzels
Fruit leather

1. Cut a hard-boiled egg in half.
2. Follow a recipe to make deviled eggs.
3. Make a triangle from a fruit leather to be the sail.
4. Attach it to a thin pretzel for the mast.
5. Stand the mast up in the deviled egg to form a boat.


This activity is from:
S.O.S. Songs of the Sea
By Lynn Kleiner


S.O.S. Songs of the Sea is the perfect mix of music, creativity, and fun for music teachers, classroom teachers, child care providers … and kids! Students will enjoy learning about the sea and its creatures through the engaging songs and reproducible activities. Classroom curriculum, music, crafts, and snacks are integrated, overlapped and joined to immerse students in a joyful, creative learning experience.

Book & CD………………………………………..$24.95
Click here to buy now!

How to Make Worms in Dirt Cups from Farm Songs!

Teach children about fun farm adventures with songs and activities, such as worms in dirt cups. This activity is perfect for home school lessons,  or any classroom setting to incorporate music into a general lesson.


Chocolate instant pudding mix
Chocolate cookies (such as Oreos)
Mixing bowl
Hand mixer or whisk
Ziploc Bag
Gummy Worms
Serving cups and spoons


1. Follow the directions on the pudding box to make the chocolate pudding.
2. Pug chocolate cookies in ziploc bag and crush them.
3. Fill serving cups or bowls with 3/4 cup of pudding.
4. Place a few gummy worms in the pudding with heads sticking up or even hanging out of cup.
5. Use spoon to place chocolate cookie crumbs on top of pudding and worms (this is the dirt).

Pair this activity with the “Lots of Worms” song from Farm Songs!

This activity is from:
Farm Songs
By Lynn Kleiner

Farm Songs and the Sounds of Moo-sic! is a delightful combination of music, learning, humor, and fun for music teachers, classroom teachers, child care providers…and kids! Through the engaging songs, orchestral music, and reproducible activities in Farm Songs, kids will learn about music making, movement, listening, and classroom curriculum. Crafts and snacks are also integrated to immerse students in a joyful, creative learning experience. Award-winning instructor and early childhood music innovator Lynn Kleiner shares her imaginative lesson ideas for young children that capture the wonderful power and excitement of interactive musical learning.

Book & CD………………………………………..$29.95
Click here to buy now!

Encourage Students: Scale to New Heights

Chris M. BernotasBy: Chris M. Bernotas Why do we place so much emphasis on scales as band directors?  Well, that’s a silly question – to help prepare students for the challenges that arise in their music!  Specifically, we help our students learn their scales to help prepare them for technical passages and to help them attain the muscle memory skills necessary for performing music.  Scales aren’t just for learning fast music, but that could be a whole other article topic. I could continue to list the wonderful benefits of learning scales; they are so exciting and fun! Well, they are fun once you have them mastered.  There is one thing that does bother me about scales though.  You know the scale pattern we are all familiar with?  Think about it; sing it in your head.  It goes like this:

Major Scale

If you are really fancy you can double the speed, or triple it to show off at parties.  I love this scale rhythm; it is nice, neat and fits in a box.  It is such a great rhythm for teaching the skills associated with learning scales.  What, then, is my problem?  Glad you asked.  My experience with students has been that once they learn and memorize their scales with this pattern, they have trouble deviating from it.  Ask students to play a scale from the top note down and then back up, in a dotted eighth and sixteenth pattern.  Can they do it?  How about a pattern like this for some variety:

Scale Pattern

Or what about a “non” pattern, just to keep things interesting:

Changing Scale Rhythm

One of the beautiful things about music, both in performance and in composition, is that it is limitless.  There are an infinite number of possibilities of what can be written or how a single piece can be performed.  Learning scales is simply a gateway for opening up the creative and interpretive power in music. Practicing scales in a common pattern is a fantastic idea; it provides stability for the learner and a common vocabulary for teachers. I will continue to use this well established pattern with my students as well as incorporate different and innovative patterns to challenge them. I believe it is not only important for us to encourage students to accept the wisdom that mastering scales can provide, but to also encourage them to try new things with their new scale friends.  Play them backwards, start in the middle and go up then down, swing them!  Most of all encourage students to have fun!

Together in Song . . . An Ecumenical Experience

By Sally K. Albrecht
Composer, Clinician, Alfred Editor

Tradition and history . . . the area surrounding the Mystic River in Connecticut is filled with both. And happily, I discovered there’s a musical tradition as well. Since 1965, area choral directors, church choirs, and community choral ensembles have joined together in song and in worship. In April 2012, I was honored to conduct this event, plus premiere a new piece: All God’s Children (SATB and children’s choir with narrator).

In the mid-1960s, the Mystic Area Ministers Association (MAMA) initiated an “all-cooperative work” between the area churches. Church choirs combined to perform well-known larger works such as the Brahms’ Requiem and Handel’s Messiah.

In 1970-71, MAMA merged with the Mystic Interfaith Laymen’s Council, to form MAEC (Mystic Area Ecumenical Council). Since that time, MAEC has sponsored an annual choir festival utilizing distinguished choral directors and composers from outside the area. Past conductors have included Helen Kemp, Douglas Wagner, Hal Hopson, Sue Ellen Page, Michael Jothen, Allen Pote, Phillip Dietterich, and many others.

This April, ten different organizations were represented in the adult and/or youth choirs:

  • Eastern Connecticut Children’s Chorus
  • Groton Congregational (UCC)
  • Noank Baptist Church
  • North Stonington Congregational Church (UCC)
  • Sacred Heart R. C. School, Groton
  • St. David’s Epsicopal Church, Gales Ferry
  • St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Mystic
  • St. Mary Mother of the Redeemer Catholic Church, Groton
  • Union Baptist Church, Mystic
  • United Church of Stonington

Friday evening began with a two-hour rehearsal with approximately 60 adult participants. We worked on an a cappella spiritual Walk in the Kingdom (00-32958), a mixed-meter Gloria (00-21127), a benediction In This Room (Shawnee Press), and two combined selections: the premiere All God’s Children (00-39154) and a final anthem with brass and percussion entitled Ye Shall Have a Song (00-32881).

This was followed by a 90-minute choral workshop for choristers and area choral directors. I focused on “Warm-Ups and Workouts for the Choir,” discussing how warm-ups can help unify and energize your choral sound, and introducing dozens of my favorite examples featured in two of Alfred’s publications: The Choral Warm-Up Collection (00-21676) and The Complete Choral Warm-Up Book (00-11653).

The Youth Choir (approximately 63 singers, ages 6 through high school) rehearsed on Saturday from 9:30-2:30 (with pizza for lunch, of course). We practiced the pronunciation of the 3-part Israeli round Hashivenu (00-19303), added fancy claps to Clap Your Hands (00-23562), staged Elijah and Joshua (00-21738), and learned sign language for Each of Us Has a Light (00-30988), plus polished up our two combined selections.

We had about two hours on Sunday to review and put everything together, adding flute, brass, percussion, and handbells. Our 4:00 p.m. service featured our nine choral selections, prayers and readings led by clergy from several of the participating organizations, a musical prelude and postlude, a offertory handbell feature, plus two hymns with congregational singing. A lively reception followed our service.

The word “ecumenical” means: universal, promoting or fostering Christian unity throughout the world, interreligious or interdenominational. This event created a bond within the community, a unity of spirits, and wonderful harmony . . . in so many ways!

I encourage each and every one of you to create or organize a similar experience in your area.

Keeping Music in Your Life

Meet The Golden Notes Chorus from Central Florida!

Earlier in her career, Ann Taylor was juggling her time as a music teacher at three elementary schools (vocal and instrumental music), a church organist/choir director, and the founder/director of a Sweet Adelines chapter. Now, she and her husband Jerry enjoy living in a retirement area in central Florida. But that certainly doesn’t mean she’s any less active!

Ann firmly believes, as do the  members of the Golden Notes Chorus which she now conducts, that “music—either choral or instrumental—does help keep the brain cells active and the mind and body functioning far better than those who watch television all day. ” She describes her choir as “a great group of people who love to sing . . . and we do have fun—’cause that’s what it’s all about, especially in a senior retirement community!” And yes, in case you were wondering, her husband Jerry does sing in the group (and is the one who secretly called our editor to let us know that they were performing an almost all-Alfred concert this past December).

The Golden Notes Chorus consists of around 40 retired people who rehearse at their Community Center every Tuesday for about 90 minutes. They perform four to five times per year, with their primary focus being a Christmas and a Spring concert. Their backgrounds vary from folks who have sung all their lives and even some who have taught music to those who are singing again after many years away. About 12 of the members read music well (and these singers sometimes perform as a smaller ensemble) .

Ann has conducted the group for the past six years, and says, ” I enjoy working with the older folks as much as the younger crowd. Teaching the older generation that doesn’t read music presents a new way for me to use my skills. I have to be creative, encouraging, have a lot of humor, be willing to change spots that can easily be adapted, and, in general, love my singers, no matter what.”

A nominal singer’s fee of $5 covers some of the music costs. At concert events, donation baskets and a raffle help to raise additional funds. At their recent spring concert, they had an audience of almost 250 people, their biggest ever!

Ann states, “I wouldn’t trade what I do, or my chorus members, for anything. We have a good time, laugh a lot, sing well, and find strength in what we spend our time doing together. If you have an opportunity to direct, accompany, or sing in a senior citizen chorus, try it. I think you’ll be surprised at how much fun you can have. Use your skills as a musician—you’ll feel better, be heatlhier, and have a great outlook on life!”