Monthly Archives: October 2013

Planning for Holiday Jazz?

Pete BarenBregge“What can I do for a holiday concert for my jazz ensemble?” The goal is to put together a performance that will offer effective programming, provide sound educational music, and be fun for the band to play, enjoyable for the audience, and fairly easy to rehearse? That’s a tall order!


  • How many charts to perform?
  • What tempos and styles will be most effective?
  • How much rehearsal time will I have to assemble the holiday program?
  • Do I go for the musical chestnuts—well-known holiday titles, or step out of the box?

Educational music:

  • How difficult should the music be—my time is limited, both rehearsal time and concert duration?
  • Do I strive to improve the skill/ability of the jazz ensemble and introduce new music or rehash music from the holiday concert two years ago?
  • Ample rehearsal time—do I have the luxury of more challenging music?
  • What is “quality” holiday music?

Selecting music:

  • What will the students consider “fun” to play?
  • What’s my budget?
  • What will the audience enjoy…or tolerate?
  • Will my principal/administration like the music?
  • The “same old same old” holiday music or clever variations of holiday melodies?

Here are a few suggestions:

1)      Listen to music publisher catalog demo tracks for holiday music and narrow down your selections to something appropriate for your band’s skill level and ability.

2)      Look and listen for arrangements that have a hook and that are interesting yet familiar—perhaps a fresh approach to a well-known holiday title.

3)      Try to find music that is new or different to broaden the holiday music experience—but not too complicated or far-out.

4)      Determine if your selections are fun to play and accessible?

5)      Can you rehearse the music quickly and effectively in the limited time you may have available? Look for danger zones of complex or unfamiliar rhythms, difficult range issues, instrumentation challenges and key signatures. To minimize rehearsal time, are there any jazz solos that are not written out that may create an additional challenge based on the rehearsal time you have?

Hopefully these suggestions will assist you in creating an enjoyable yet accessible holiday jazz band concert—you’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. I wish you the best of luck on another successful holiday season.

Pete BarenBregge

Alfred Music/Belwin Jazz Editor

Interpreting a Poetic Text

Ruth Morris GrayBy Ruth Morris Gray, Composer

Recently, a choral director asked me why I entitled my Lawson-Gould piece “Evening,” when Emily Dickinson’s original poem is titled, “She Sweeps with Many-Colored Brooms.” I chose this title because to me, Emily’s poem describes sunset. I believe that she used the analogy of an ordinary housewife (wearing an apron while sweeping and dusting, as well as sewing) to describe the extraordinary. I was simply enchanted by Emily’s lyrical prose.

“She Sweeps With Many-Colored Brooms”
By Emily Dickinson

She sweeps with many-colored brooms,
And leaves the shreds behind;
Oh, housewife in the evening west,
Come back, and dust the pond!

You dropped a purple raveling in,
You dropped an amber thread;
And now you’ve littered all the East
With duds of emerald!

And still she plies her spotted brooms,
And still the aprons fly,
Till brooms fade softly into stars—
And then I come away.

Though cleaning is a menial (but very important) task, the housewife gains the reader’s respect by using her broom as an artist would use a paintbrush—to create a vibrant sunset. When I composed “Evening”, I was a musician, wife, and mother with three young children at home. I related to the housewife. And though I am not a visual artist, I view composing as a related creative process.

When setting a poem to music, I read the text aloud over and over. I try to get a feel for the natural rhythm of the text. Sometimes this process results in multi-meter pieces, while other times the meter is more straightforward, as with the 4/4 in “Evening.” The opening melody and initial piano accompaniment came to me as I read the opening lines while improvising at the piano. I wanted the melody with its opening interval of a minor seventh and the flowing accompaniment to reflect the “sweeping” motion of the broom. I pictured this magical, multi-colored broom as it swept across the sky, leaving pieces (shreds) of vibrant color behind. It was evident to me that the housewife had traveled west to where the sun was setting. Then at the end of the first stanza, the poet enlarges the picture, beckoning the woman to return home (east) to dust (paint) the pond with her colorful broom.

When I went to set the second stanza to music, I decided to create a polyphonic layered section in the vocals. To me, the words depicted a tapestry the housewife was creating with her threads of purple, amber, and green. I wanted the slowly building vocal layers to reflect the developing texture of the art the housewife was creating.

During the third stanza, the poet returns to the ideas found in the first stanza. In my mind’s eye, I see the woman soaring through the air, her apron flying, with her broom making brush strokes of color against the sky. Then as the colors fade, the pieces of the broom become stars. What a beautiful metaphor! At the end of the poem, we discover that the poet is actually witnessing the entire scene unfold. I can envision Emily Dickinson, who was a very private person and spent much of her time alone, looking out her bedroom window and writing this poem as she watched the sun set.

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.