Monthly Archives: October 2012

Music + Art + Dance = MAGIC! Combining the Arts

By Sally K. Albrecht
Director of School Choral &
Classroom Publications

(Photo: Heritage Middle School Choir members with Sally Albrecht and accompanist Kimberly Pryzbyl)

When we put music together with art and dance, we can create magic! That’s what the singers at Heritage Middle School (Wake Forest, NC, Elsie Shuler—Director) discovered early in the school year when they rehearsed and performed Green Eggs and Ham (arr. Andy Beck).

First, there’s a great story. Green Eggs and Ham is one of the many imaginative books written by Dr. Seuss (the pen-name of Theodor Seuss Geisel). Before it came Cat in the Hat, but this book is his top-seller. Dr. Seuss’s publisher challenged Seuss to write interesting and imaginative stories to help young readers develop their vocabulary, but using very few words. Green Eggs and Ham, published in 1960, actually consists of only 50 different words! Why not ask an English teacher to talk about this author with your singers? Have your students do a dramatic reading of the book. See if they can list the 50 different words for extra credit!

The creative team of composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens took many of the amazing rhyming books of Dr. Seuss and put together a musical called Seussical, which opened on Broadway in 2000. In the musical, the Cat in the Hat cleverly tells the story of the elephant Horton, who discovers tiny Whos living in a speck of dust.

We decided it would be fun to have our own hats, based on the one that the Cat in the Hat always wears. Happily, we discovered a simple craft kit available from (#IN-48/9174). These simple paper top hats (12 to a set) arrived ready for the students to color as they desired. You can use crayons, colored pencils, or markers. A small adjustable strip of paper wraps around the head (but be gentle, remember . . . this is only paper!)

We staged Green Eggs and Ham based on the choreography suggested on Alfred’s Lift Me Up! choral movement DVD (00-38171 – $39.99), though I decided to further decorate the lyrics (“house,” “mouse,” “rain,” “train,” etc.) to help us all remember the fun rhyming words!

The students performed during a special arts event at their school. And, well, it was magic. Adding the special visual touches made such a difference. And it was a perfect way to present art + music + dance! (Plus, we even got some coverage in the local paper!!)

Websites to visit:

Note: Also available:
Seussical the Musical: A Choral Medley – arr. Andy Beck (10 minutes). Available SATB, SAB, 2pt, SoundTrax, SoundPax.
GRINCH! A Christmas Choral Medley – arr. Andy Beck (4 minutes). Available SATB, SAB, 2pt, SoundTrax, SoundPax.

The Jazz Standard

Pete BarenBregge
By Pete BarenBregge
Instrumental Jazz Editor

What makes a song a jazz standard? Wikipedia defines the term as: “Jazz standards are musical compositions which are an important part of the musical repertoire of jazz musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded by jazz musicians, and widely known by listeners.”

Jazz greats/legends do account for composing many jazz standards. But there are countless tunes considered jazz standards composed by individuals not associated with jazz at all. For example composers of show tunes, Tin Pan Alley songs, blues tunes, pop tunes—both new and vintage pop, and many other genres as well.

Where can I see a list of jazz standards? While there are many informal lists in books, magazines, and online, the reality is there is no definitive or official list of jazz standards as it is a fluid subject, constantly changing and based on an interpretation or opinion.

Who are some jazz standard composers? The easiest and most accessible resource to find jazz standards and jazz composers is a real book or fake book.

Here is a very short list of composers of jazz standards—there are many, many more:
• Antonio Carlos Jobim
• Cannonball Adderley
• Charlie Parker
• Clifford Brown
• Cole Porter
• Duke Ellington
• Eddie Harris
• Freddie Hubbard
• George Gershwin
• Harold Arlen
• Herbie Hancock
• Horace Silver
• Joe Henderson
• John Coltrane
• John Lennon/Paul McCartney
• Johnny Mandel
• Juan Tizol
• Kenny Dorham
• Luiz Bonfa
• Miles Davis
• Nat Adderley
• Quincy Jones
• Sonny Rollins
• Thelonious Monk
• Wayne Shorter
• Wes Montgomery

Why do band directors want to have their jazz groups play jazz standards?
• Title recognition
• Melody recognition
• Teaching students some jazz history by performing jazz standards, many of which are composed by jazz greats/legends

The successful jazz program is often influenced on the music performed by the bands. Therefore, directors will carefully select and purchase new music that will be educationally sound, playable by their band, charts that are fun to play for the students, and accessible to the audience.

Where can you get jazz song titles and published arrangements of jazz standard charts at various difficulty levels? Check out the real books and jazz ensemble arrangements of jazz standards by Belwin Jazz/Alfred Music Publishing.

What’s your favorite jazz chart? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Composition in the General Music Classroom

Anna WentlentBy Anna Wentlent,
Editor of School Choral and Classroom Music

In the midst of current education reforms, all teachers are working hard to incorporate the Common Core standards into their traditional programs of study. Music teachers have the advantage of a rich history of standards-based education using the National Standards for Music Education. And music itself is an integrated subject that naturally connects to other academic areas. In particular, music composition presents numerous possibilities for addressing the new standards within your established curriculum.

The fourth National Standard reads as follows: “Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.” Composition is truly an integrated activity. Regular classroom lessons and projects can be designed to encompass the majority of the other music standards, as well as many English and mathematics standards. Mathematical concepts such as fractions, percentages, patterns, and sequences are addressed through the analysis of rhythm, melodic contour, and musical form. English literacy is addressed as students are called upon to self-assess their individual and ensemble performances and compositions in an articulate manner using appropriate vocabulary. Along the way, the students’ preparatory work, notated music, and class performances offer excellent opportunities for concrete assessment.

Composition should not be an activity reserved for the most experienced and well-trained musicians. Everyone is instinctively creative, and students of all ages should be given frequent opportunities to compose in the general music classroom. Don’t let your students’ limited knowledge of music notation hold them back. Composition is first and foremost a creative endeavor! And your students will have you to guide them through the creative process of making musical decisions, testing and revising ideas, making a written record of those ideas, etc. Young children without an understanding of formal notation can be asked to “notate” their composed work so that others might understand it, using self-designed symbols, musical drawings, and other visual representations.

Frequent compositional activities will hopefully leave your students with a greater respect for composers and the process of writing or arranging a piece of music, as well as an appreciation for music notation. I have found that students are much more motivated to learn about notes and rhythms when they are regularly exposed to practical applications of that knowledge, such as composition and performance.

Autumn Composition Project

Prep: If time allows, spend some class time listening to and discussing one or more of the following works of program music. Some tell a sequential story, some create a picture or scene.

  • Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No.1 in G Major
  • Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 (“Storm” Movement)
  • Bernstein’s “Dance at the Gym” from West Side Story
  • Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt
  • Grieg’s “Sunrise” from Peer Gynt
  • Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain
  • Ridout’s Fall Fair
  • Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee
  • Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre
  • Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons

K-2nd Grade: As you play the piece for the first time, have the students close their eyes and just listen to the music. When you play the piece a second time, prompt them to let their imaginations run wild . . . Imagine a scene that might be happening while this music is playing. What do you see? What type of people and animals are there? What are they doing? Are they happy, sad, excited, or worried? Afterwards, have your students sketch a picture of the scene they imagined. Prompt them to include meaningful details to fill in the story.

3rd-5th Grade: Instruct the students to write down words or phrases that come to mind as they are listening. After the piece is finished, work together as a class to compile a master list of words and phrases. Challenge them to use similes, metaphors, and other literary devices they may be learning about in their English lessons. Use the master list to write a class poem that reflects on the piece of music to which they just listened.

Once the connection has been made between musical sound and the written word, you can guide your students in working from the opposite direction to create their own musical compositions. Select poetry with relevant themes and vivid imagery. At this time of year, you might use “Autumn Woods” by James S. Tippett (for K-2nd grade) or “Leaves” by Elsie N. Brady” (for 3rd-5th grade).

Begin by reading and discussing the poem with your class. Then provide an example or two of connections that can be made between the text and musical sound. Work as a class to isolate one line of the poem and create a musical sound that reflects or adds to the scene. In fact, if you’re just introducing composition to your students, you might do all of this preparatory work together as a class, coming up with a master list that your students can select from when they actually create their work. Examples for the above poems might be the sound of a person slowly walking through an empty forest, wind whistling through the trees, leaves falling to the ground, or a grandfather clock ticking. Older students can delve into more complex musical representations, such as the sound of a sunrise or a fall afternoon.

Separate the students into groups of a workable size, perhaps three or four students. The groups will then need structured classroom time to plan. Depending on the scope of the project, this may take an entire class or more. Each group should develop the details of their theme, brainstorm musical sounds, and design the musical form of their piece. It may be easier for younger students to actually tell a story through instrument sounds, while older students can be challenged to create a more traditional musical piece that reflects the theme of poem. Prompt them to consider musical elements that you may be learning about in class, such as texture, tempo, dynamics, etc. Then allow them to select classroom instruments. We all know that instruments can be both a motivator and a distraction. Saving them for the end of the compositional process will help your students to focus on their preparatory work! The parameters of instrument selection can be as wide or narrow as you choose.

I recommend creating “stopping points” within the project. For example, after each group has worked out the basic framework of their piece, allow them to perform a few musical ideas or even the first draft of their piece, soliciting constructive feedback from their peers. Testing and revising ideas is an important idea of the compositional process. The stopping points will also give you an opportunity to assess each group’s progression. When it comes to the final performance, consider displaying their written work, having the poem read aloud beforehand, or appointing a student announcer to introduce each group. Even if the students are simply performing for each other during regular music class, you can structure the event to impart mutual respect and importance. Create a positive experience that your students will enjoy and look forward to repeating in the future!

Make Your Jazz String Group Sound Authentic

Randy Sabien
By Randy Sabien

I hear a string group or individual playing a swinging jazz or blues tune, more often than not, the music doesn’t sound all that different from classical music.  Here are a few quick tips to get you headed in the right direction quickly.

1)  Bow placement – for smooth swinging eighth notes violins and violas should bow in the upper half; cellos and arco basses should be in the middle.  Avoid the lower half or the eighth notes will be choppy and not in the groove.

2)   Bow tension – make sure bow hair is not too tight.  Having just the right springiness in the bow allows you to feel the groove with your bow arm.

3)  Slurring – for a series of swing eighth notes sometimes slur the offbeat eighth to the downbeat eighth.  I tend to play a few single bows, slur a couple groups in the middle of a phrase or across the barline, then a few more single bows.  Avoid long series of single bows or slurs.  It’s the combination that creates a fluid swinging line.

4)  Articulation – many jazz phrases end with short syncopated notes.  Think of the word “be-bop.”  “Be” is long  – use legato detache bowing.  “Bop” is short – use a staccato martele bowing or better yet….. let the bow come off and dampen all the strings with the left hand.  You cannot play the note too short.

5)  Vibrato – limit the use of classical style vibrato.  Replace it with either a totally flat sound or slide into the notes for a blues expression.  Sometimes a “shake” sounds good – a wild vibrato that goes as much as a whole step above the pitch quickly once or twice.

6)  Rhythm Section – make sure your group at least has a drumset and bass.  Piano and/or guitar are great additions but can be optional if the arrangement has enough harmonic support throughout the string section.  A drumset can be as simple as a high hat and ride cymbal.  If more than one bass is playing, the line will have to be written out so everyone plays the same part.  The cello is not an acceptable substitution for a bass.  It’s not low enough and the duration of the pizzicato is too short to fulfill the proper function of the bass.  The cello should be treated as a low melodic voice like the tenor or baritone sax or trombone.

If you follow these easy steps your group will sound great right away.  I can’t wait to hear you!

Violinist Randy Sabien is head of the String Department at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, MN offering Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Violin, Viola, Cello, and Bass Performance.  He is the co-author of the Jazz Philharmonic series and composer for String Alternatives.  Randy and his Fiddlehead Band will be the featured performer at the closing concert of the 2013 ASTA convention in Providence, RI.

The True Meaning of Peace

Anna Laura PageBy Anna Laura Page

On a Thursday night, when we lived in Tennessee, J. Paul Williams called and wanted to know if I could set his text, “Creation Will Be At Peace.” The catch?. . . we had to turn it in on Monday!  He gave those words to me over the phone, and I wrote them on a scrap of paper! The piece happened, and I turned it in on Monday.

During this time, I met a Minister of Music from a church in Kentucky – about 40 miles from us.  In his congregation was Peggy Say, the sister of Terry Anderson, former hostage held in Beirut, Lebanon from 1985-1991.  She was an inspiration and she worked tirelessly to help free her brother.  I was able to visit with her on several occasions, and we sang Creation Will Be at Peace on her birthday, in her church, around the time of his release – this was the first time the piece was performed. Peggy Say did all she could for her brother’s release and, to me, she represents the true meaning of peace.

J. Paul Williams loved our piece and always kept me up to date on performances he knew about.  He is survived by his wife, Donna, two sons, daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren. We all miss him terribly.

Competitive Marching Band and Indoor: Who Benefits?

Thomas J. West
It’s an age-old debate – is competition for scholastic music ensembles helpful or harmful? The correct answer is simple: it depends upon the community your school serves and their expectations. Large affluent suburban school districts have the resources to hire the best staff, recruit the deepest talent pool, provide the best equipment, and create a rehearsal environment that minimizes distractions and allows students to hyper-focus on their competitive show. Anyone else without those resources who tries to compete with that are doing their students a disservice. That is not to say that a smaller school can’t strive for excellence, but directors need to keep their egos in check and keep their choices student-centered. Does the community support that kind of aesthetic and artistic elitism? Do the students really understand and connect to the repertoire and skills that they are investing so much of their life on?

I know what it’s like to spend three months, 24 hours a day, focused on a 10-minute presentation as a member of a championship-winning drum and bugle corps. The life-lessons learned there were invaluable, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. There needs to be a place in the world for that kind of activity. Where I diverge from this, however, is when high school bands and other competitive scholastic programs become a snobby, egotistical display of extravagance with a poorly-contrived attempt to be innovative or gregariously artistic.

Over this past weekend, I watched video of several of America’s top competing high school bands as part of our judge’s clinic for the Cavalcade of Bands Association. There were two presentations that stood out of the lot for two very different reasons. Both of them were large, affluent suburban programs with more in common with each other than not. The results of their efforts were also comparably excellent in execution and performance quality. The differences, however, were literally night and day in an odd, backwards and upside-down fashion.

The first band’s show was technically challenging (but not overly so – which is what probably cost them the championship), visually stimulating, and extremely emotional. The energy and emotion pouring out of the students was palpable, even on DVD. As the finale of the show was in progress, you could see tears of pure emotion on the faces of students in the band.

The second band’s show quite possibly cost the school district and parents over $100,000 to put on the field for the season. It had an extravagant amount of props, staging, and costumes. The faces of the students is this band was one of disengagement and rote regurgitation. There was little or no emotion communicated from that show.

Both bands had a product and a season that would leave long impressions on the students and families involved. Both bands had student musicians who spent countless hours invested in their participation. Yet, what would the students in those bands come away with from the experience? On paper, just about anyone would rather be a student in Band A than Band B. And yet, Band B is an all-too-common sight on the competitive field.

When design teams sit down to design a program for their competitive season, I believe that the guiding principle behind the decisions they make should be “who benefits?” Every decision made, from repertoire to color choices, should be made from a student-centered point of view rather than a mature music staff’s personal need to display their artistry. All of the arts are about communication. If the show designed does not communicate to the student, it will communicate nothing to their audience other than a sense of “what was all of that?”

Here is another example of a staff decision that was not student-centered from that same Band B from above. Part of the band’s show involved costume changes. The front ensemble (percussion pit) were not involved in the color change, but were garbed in a unitard that matched the theme of the show. From an artistic standpoint, the costume choice worked. If the looks on the faces of the students in the pit were any indication, there were students who were not comfortable wearing the unitard. Yes, part of the lesson of being involved in a music ensemble is that you have to sacrifice personal tastes and preferences for the benefit of the ensemble. But, there is something to be said for taking the age and maturity of the ensemble’s participants into account. For how many of those students was wearing that uniform a barrier to being able to completely invest in the show? Again, who benefits?

Repertoire selection is one of the most important decisions that a music teacher in any scholastic performing setting has to make. In the case of designing a competitive music presentation, repertoire selection is only the tip of the iceberg. Drill design, choreography, staging, equipment, and transportation all take a part as defining factors, to name but a few. Unlike many other scholastic performing settings, students involved in the competitive arena spend a significantly higher amount of time and attention on a comparatively smaller and more focused musical product. They eat, sleep, and breathe that work for months. If anyone is going to spend that much time and effort, it needs to be something they can intellectually and emotionally buy into. If the students fail to grasp the content of their competitive show intellectually or emotionally, it will take a large amount of extrinsic motivation on the part of the staff to get them to perform, and the end result is a student ensemble that performs an emotionally flat, over-rehearsed show with the demeanor of a group of prison inmates. But, the staff will have the artistic vision that they labored for.

Who benefits?

Thanks goes to Thomas J. West Music for letting us use his blog!

Thomas J. West is an active music educator, composer, adjudicator, clinician, and award-winning blogger.

Piano Teaching Tips from Carol Matz

Carol MatzWe all know how much our students just love to play ragtime. But unfortunately, ragtime music has its challenges, especially for earlier-level students. So, I arranged a three-book series called Joplin for Students, which features very carefully graded arrangements, starting at the late elementary level. I’d like to share with you some teaching tips about ragtime, and take a close look at one of my favorite Joplin compositions, “Bethena (A Concert Waltz)” from Joplin for Students, Book 2.

In the 1970s, there was a major ragtime revival, partly due to the classic movie The Sting, with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. The soundtrack to The Sting featured lots of Scott Joplin pieces, including “The Entertainer,” “The Easy Winners,” and “Pine Apple Rag.” For the movie, the late Marvin Hamlisch did orchestrations of many of the pieces, in a very up-tempo, staccato style, which is an interpretation of ragtime that has stuck in many people’s minds.

However, most of Joplin’s rags actually have a tempo heading that simply says “Not fast” with no metronome mark given. It’s important to encourage students to take their time while playing ragtime, and not speed through the pieces. Since ragtime music developed from marches, you could use a moderate march tempo as a guideline (quarter note at 120), but rags can be played slower than this, especially when Joplin indicates “Slow march tempo” or other tempo headings.

My personal favorite Joplin piece is a beautiful medium-tempo waltz called “Bethena (A Concert Waltz).” This piece defies the misconceptions some people have about ragtime music: it makes use of the pedal, has legato phrases, and of course, it’s written in 3/4 time.

When teaching “Bethena (A Concert Waltz),” be sure that students understand and review the syncopation that is used throughout the piece: eighth/quarter/eighth/ quarter (in 3/4 time). Have students linger a bit on the first eighth note of each measure that contains this rhythm.

In the 16-measure “A” section, the first four measures are at mezzo-piano, then “answered” slightly louder in the next four measures. The eight measures that follow use this same dynamic pattern.

Whenever assigning ragtime music, it is always a good idea for students to block the left-hand chords first, before playing them broken (as written). You may also ask students to write the names of familiar chords in the score. In “Bethena,” for example, students can write the chord names at measures 5–8, and then you might ask them to identify the familiar “V7 to I” pattern in measures 7–8.

The “B” section starts at measure 17 with parallel 10ths (an octave plus a third). Have students perform a crescendo with these ascending notes. At measure 21, students should be sure to block these left-hand chords, and play with intensity until the mood softens at measure 24. At measure 32, have students practice the right-hand descending D7 arpeggio until they can play it smoothly and gently.

Overall, attention to the indicated pedal and dynamics will contribute to an expressive performance of this lovely Joplin ragtime waltz. I hope you and your students enjoy exploring this piece along with the other timeless Joplin compositions in this series.

Best wishes,
Carol Matz
Arranger, Composer, Keyboard Editor

Bethena (A Concert Waltz


Thinking Outside the Box

VideoTrax DVDBy Sally K. Albrecht

Musicians are, by nature, creative people. Don’t you enjoy attending concerts where something completely surprising or different happens? I’m always looking for new ideas, fresh tricks, inventive ways to present a song and create a magical, memorable moment. Here are a few ideas.

• Have your singers process in while singing, forming a circle around your audience or singing in the aisles.

• Plan a “preshow” feature with small groups singing in the lobby or in the aisles—great for a cappella training! (Cirque du Soleil does this all the time, creating audience rapport or a special mood before each of their shows.)

• Select a choral that features a special instrumental obbligato or small instrumental group.

• Plan a teacher/student selection or a parent/student selection that requires minimum rehearsal time.

• Program an audience sing-along, clap-along, or play-along. Teach the audience a rhythm if necessary before performing the song, then assign a student to be the audience “leader” and show the audience when it’s their time to participate. I’ve been known to pre-set small rhythm instruments at different seats. I’ve also invited the audience to find keys, tic-tac containers, or two writing utensils from their pockets or purses! Pens that click open even make a neat sound!

• Assign or select individual students to prepare short, concise spoken introductions, especially if the song is in a foreign language, from another country, or features a text written by a famous person/poet. Tell your audience if there’s something special they should listen for during the performance of that song.

• If several groups are performing, connect your concert with featured performers, soloists, or small groups (audition and work with them beforehand).

• Invite a sign-language specialist to your concert to sign an inspirational song.

• Consider hosting a “pyramid concert” with your feeder schools, with each level performing individual selections. Then plan a big group finale with all the participants singing from their seats or on stage. Make sure that siblings sing side by side for an extra touch!

• While performing a special “music” or “friendship” song, project a powerpoint featuring photos of your singers during rehearsals or on a recent trip or music tour.

Add a special touch with Alfred’s two new VideoTrax DVDs. Each VideoTrax DVD provides overlapping photographic images to be projected onto your large screen. Two versions are included, one with overlaid lyrics and one without, and both offer accompaniment orchestrations.

Thank You, SoldiersBy Michael & Angela Souders. Available SATB, 3-part mixed, 2-part, SoundTrax CD, VideoTrax DVD, Orchestration (Concert Band/Orchestra).
These stirring images of men and women in the military will take your audience on an emotional journey. Combine your choirs for an uplifting Veteran’s Day performance (Nov. 11) or use for any patriotic event.

Elementary teacher Karen (MD) writes: What a wonderful idea for concerts. Thank you, once again, for stepping it up for us. I love it!

Click here to see a Video Preview.

Light a CandleBy Andy Beck. Available SATB, 3-part mixed/SAB, 2-part, SoundTrax CD, VideoTrax DVD.
Experience a wonderful photo potpourri of candles and candlelight, celebrating the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Las Posadas. Music teacher Costa (NC) reports that his singers will also be holding battery-powered candles!

Click here to see a Video Preview.