Monthly Archives: January 2014

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!

Know Your Series

By Patrick RoszellPatrick Roszell

The Belwin Concert Band Series Guidelines have long been the industry standard in music educational publishing. We at Alfred/Belwin are constantly honing the guidelines to keep them contemporary and to best meet the needs of today’s ensembles and directors.

When arranging popular music for Beginning Band (Red Series: Grade 1 – 1 ½), writers are employed to reduce or eliminate syncopation down to quarter notes or dotted quarter notes that are written out with the use of a tie. Choosing a key that suits the song (B-flat, E-flat, F) that can fit within the range for beginning players is also a very important factor. This series always includes a clarinet part that does not go above the break.  An “easy” low brass part, which often constitutes doubling the trombone/baritone part up an octave with the tuba, can give you many options if your ensemble is lacking a tuba player. However, for the upper end of this series, an “easy harmonic” trombone/baritone part may be written for the arrangement. Typically, percussion can be written up a grade level to include sixteenth notes and an optional drumset part may be included to allow for a more authentic performance.

Arranging for Young Band (Green Series: Grade 2 – 2 ½), gives writers a bit of a larger score including two clarinet parts (with the second part still below the break), two trumpet parts, and separate trombone and baritone parts, however, the parts are still considered “easy.” The key signatures of the beginning series, B-flat, E-flat, and F, are still the main choices, however, the ranges in this series are expanded to suit second and third year players. A main goal in this series is to give every section a chance to be featured. The syncopation and rhythm difficulties increase slightly and offer an opportunity for more “pop” rhythms. Easy eighth-quarter-eighth rhythms and sixteenth notes are included in this series. Again, percussion can be written up a grade level for this series, and an optional drum set part can be included to allow for a more authentic performance.

The Concert Band (Blue Series; Grade 3 – 3 ½) presents full instrumentation for concert band along with the inclusion of “color” instruments, if the arranger chooses, such as electric bass, synthesizer, or a piano part. This series expands the key signatures to include A-flat and C. The time signatures start to include alla breve (cut time) and compound meters such as 6/8 and 12/8. The ranges in this series are again expanded to suit players from year three and beyond. This series is also very popular with community bands.

Last but not least, the Symphonic Band (Purple Series; Grade 4+) is all stops out with expanded instrumentation, ranges, rhythms, and extended material. Or as noted in the Belwin guidelines, “as necessary for musical content.”

Personally, I find a great deal of benefit in teaching popular music in the classroom. It presents an opportunity to work on breath control, tone, balance, blend, and intonation, often times without having to intensely teach rhythms, because the students quite possibly already know the songs. All that needs to be accomplished is to turn off the radio and play the notes on the page. My intent is that this quick overview of the Belwin Concert Band Series will help you find where your ensemble fits. I hope you and your students enjoy the New 2014 Belwin Pop Music Promo.

Rehearsing and Performing a Partner Song

Sally K. AlbrechtBy Sally K. Albrecht
Composer/Arranger, Clinician, and Choreographer

“Two or more independent melodies are combined or juxtaposed, creating the ultimate mastery of counterpoint.”

Back in the fifteenth century, this combination of melodies was known as a “quodlibet” (Latin for “what pleases”). The popular TV show Glee recently renamed it as a “mash-up.” But I personally prefer this simple yet descriptive title: “partner song.”

There’s nothing more fun than a partner song, plus there’s no better way to develop independent two-part singing or to introduce harmony and polyphonic texture to your young and developing performers.

Traditionally, we hear one melody in its entirety followed by another melody. Then the two melodies are performed simultaneously, creating a challenge for singers and testing the ears of the listener to identify each melody, yet hear new harmonies as they unfold.

As the arranger of several collections of partner songs, the joy is in finding appropriate melodies to which a strong counterline or countermelody can be written. Then, the challenge is to create a text that will overlap well, even sharing the same vowels or syllables on long-held notes. I try to weave the two melodies in and around each other so that no collisions occur, but rather they play nicely with each other!

Teachers may chose to have all singers learn both parts, then divide the ensemble in two to sing together the final time through. Other directors may chose to teach half of the students Part I only and the other half Part II only. I’ve seen occasions where one entire grade/classroom learns Part I and another entire grade/classroom learns Part II—and they sing together for the first time just before the performance!

The other great plus to these publications lies in the fact that all offer reproducible student vocal pages, either in the publication or as PDF files on an enhanced CD. These books give you a way to “bridge the gap” between unison singing and dealing with 2-part choral octavos. Consider highlighting Part I in yellow and Part II in green. Your students can start learning how to read vocal lines!

Further challenge your singers by pairing them up in couples or smaller groups as they sing together, or organizing them in two circles. Your students will enjoy finding new partners and making new friends as they sing!

Partner Song Collections by Sally K. Albrecht
Broadway Partners!
Grab a Partner!
Grab Another Partner!
Holiday Partners
Pop Partners

“Rhythms of One World” International Choral Festival

Gary FryGary Fry’s “Rhythms of One World,” is not only an exciting world-music choral from Alfred Music, it is also the title song of the United Nation’s international choir festival, which aims to celebrate cultural diversity and mutual understanding through choral singing.

The first “Rhythms of One World” was held in New York City in the summer of 2012, featuring choirs from across the globe: South Africa, Luxembourg, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Norway, and the United States. It culminated in a joint performance in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations headquarters. This festival is unique from others of its kind, as it focuses not only on great performances, but also on the role of the universal language of music in promoting intercultural understanding, brotherhood, and peace.

The 2014 festival will be held in Geneva, Switzerland. It will open with a concert at the UN headquarters in Geneva, celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the UN charter, and will include other significant performances in iconic Swiss venues, by both youth and adult choirs from all nations and styles, including everything from folklore, sacred, and classical to contemporary and national pop music. All choirs are welcome to apply.

For more information on this inspiring organization, visit the website of the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation at