Monthly Archives: May 2014

Composition Notes by Vince Gassi

Vince Gassi

Vince Gassi

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www.smartmusic.com/blog

Poems and paintings are often great inspiration for writing music. “Climb the Mountains Tall” was inspired by “The Dream,” a poem by James Clayton. James’ poem resonated with my desire to travel to new places, meet new people, and learn new things. New experiences enrich our lives and allow us to grow in unexpected and ever interesting ways. In this work, I really tried to capture the spirit of risk involved whenever we step into the unknown and so, the words brave, heroic, and adventurous might spring to mind when you listen to it.

“Climb the Mountains Tall” was commissioned by the Unionville Public School Band in Unionville Canada. I met with their conductor, Will Stokes, to chat about the band, the piece, and the performance. Will’s passion for music and for sharing it with young musicians is impressive. Music educators are some of the most dedicated and hard-working people I know. The truth is, it’s not an easy job, plain and simple (so thank your teacher regularly for all they do).

After deciding on a title, I usually try to create a theme or motif that the piece will be based on. You can hear this theme in the flutes and bells at measure 11. Next up, an accompaniment part; at measure 11, it’s the snare drum providing support for the flutes. Incidentally, did you notice the baritone helping out there as well with a simple counter-line? Now take a look at measure 21. Do you hear the more pronounced accompaniment part (horn, baritone, and tuba) where the trumpets join in the melody? This accompaniment part starts two bars earlier (bar 19) so that it connects the previous section to the next.

At measure 29 a secondary theme is heard in the horn, trombone, baritone, tuba, and other low woodwinds. By the way, you can hear a variation of this in the introduction to the piece. For the slower middle section, the melodic shape is reversed. Instead of the melody moving from a low note to a higher note (see bar 38 in the flutes), it goes the other way as at bar 11 in the flutes. At bar 40, you can hear it in the baritone, tuba, and bells, then back to the flutes and bells in measure 42 and, well… you get the idea, it keeps moving around the band. Even the accompaniment part, (low brass and saxes at measure 38) is a “slowing-down” of the accompaniment figure at measure 29.

But watch out! At measure 51 the tempo increases and we hear the main theme again at measure 62, only this time it is played softly by the low brass, bass clarinet, and baritone saxophone (flute, oboe, and clarinets play a countermelody). Finally, at measure 70, the key moves up a step and we are carried to the end.

After I had finished this piece, I had the wonderful opportunity to rehearse with the band and conduct the premiere performance. The Unionville students had a lot of energy and, being well trained young musicians, made it a very enjoyable experience for me. Thanks James, thanks Will, thanks Unionville Band, and thank you too. Here is James’ poem. Enjoy!

The Dream,
by Darren James Clayton

I walk, I run, I fly,

Through street, through field and sky;

I open every door,

To those who’ve flown before;

We fly to countries too,

And speak in language new;

I sing the natives’ songs,

Not caring if they’re wrong;

I swim in oceans deep,

As clouds begin to weep;

I bathe in Heaven’s spring,

And hear the angels sing;

I climb the mountains tall,

I jump, I fly, I fall;

A darkness fills my head,

I land at home,

In bed.


Climb the Mountains Tall

Climb the Mountains Tall

View the score and hear the recording at alfred.com.
This piece is also available on SmartMusic

The Challenge: To Keep Your Students Practicing During Summer!

Victor LopezBy Victor López

As most of you know, the end of the 2013-14 academic year is just around the corner and most students will be off for the summer! During the summer recess, roughly 60 to 90 day span, depending on the school district, many music teachers worry about returning students not practicing and keeping up their playing chops. Moreover, some students may have to enroll in the summer school academic program, work full-time jobs, attend music camps, take private lessons, or participate in other music or non-music related activities. However, several of the above mentioned activities may be costly and not all students can afford them. Consequently, we must look for alternative ways to guide and provide all students with cost effective opportunities.

So you ask, how do we keep the students practicing, or at least playing their instrument during the summer recess? The following is a suggestion:

As many of you know, Alfred Music has a wealth of supplemental materials for learning and teaching music. Most recently published are The Flex-Ability Series, which is ideal for solos, duets, trios, quartets, or any size ensembles, including woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion. Players of various abilities, levels 1–3, can play together. An optional play-along CD is available separately. Each instrument book includes 11 songs in four-part score form. The arrangements are carefully crafted to be educationally sound and effective across different groups of instruments. Optional octaves and cue notes are included to allow for range flexibility. Here is a break down for each book:

Line 1: Melody; Level 2½–3; intermediate range; sixteenth-note combinations; rock/jazz syncopation
Line 2: Harmony; Level 2–2 ½; wide range; sixteenth notes; easy syncopation
Line 3: Harmony; Level 1 ½; limited range; dotted rhythms; some eighth-quarter-eighth syncopation
Line 4: (Bass) Harmony; Level 1; narrow range; simple rhythms (eighth notes); alternate note suggestions

Flex-Ability Series 1) Flex-Ability Pops titles: La Bamba • When the Saints Go Marching In • Eye of the Tiger • Peter Gunn • In the Midnight Hour • China Grove • Jeepers Creepers • Soul Man • Sweet Georgia Brown • Frosty the Snowman • Celebration.

Flex-Ability More Pops Series 2) Flex-Ability More Pops titles: Alegria (from the Cirque du Soleil show Alegria) • American Idiot • Because of You • Boulevard of Broken Dreams • Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky) • Hedwig’s Theme (from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) •Hips Don’t Lie • Jumpin’ Jack Flash •The New Girl in Town (from Hairspray) •We Are Family • Wonka’s Welcome Song (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

Flex-Ability Series 3) The Flex-Ability Classics books include classical themes from opera, symphony, piano, and lute compositions, but are arranged in rock, jazz, swing, and other contemporary styles. It’s a fun way to learn about these classics! Composer biographies and program notes are included. Titles: Overture from the Opera The Barber of Seville • Bourée from Lute Suite No. 1 • Habanera from the Opera Carmen • Theme from Hungarian Dance No. 5 • Minuet from Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook • Theme from the “New World Symphony” • Ode to Joy from Symphony No. 9 • Theme from “Pomp and Circumstance” • Prince of Denmark’s March • Toreador from the Opera Carmen • Overture from the Opera William Tell.

Flex-Ability Holidays 4) Flex-Ability Holidays titles are: Jingle Bells • Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas • (I’m Gettin’) Nuttin’ for Christmas • Frosty the Snowman • I’ll Be Home for Christmas • Angels We Have Heard on High • Joy to the World • We Wish You a Merry Christmas • Auld Lang Syne • Chanukah Medley: Chanukah/I Have a Little Dreydl.

These books provide music teachers with a wide range of opportunities. The series work well for any combination of instruments and almost any ability level. They are also of great use when the instrumentation is small and unusual. No matter the instrumentation, they are great for get-togethers or just playing along!

The Value of Summer Study

Pam PhillipsBy Pam Phillips

Summer workshops, camps, and student orchestras all share one thing in common. They are more laid-back, informal, and fun-oriented than study during the school year. Maybe it’s the warmth, or not wearing big coats, hats, and gloves. I’m not sure, but I am sure of the value of summer study.

Summer orchestras not only keep the students playing and give the parents a reason to pay for instrumental rental in the summer, but they often provide the basis for orchestra memories and friendships. It’s also a time to explore fun repertoire without pushing the limits of the technical expertise of the ensemble. We give ourselves permission to play less difficult music, allowing the chance to work on musicality, or to just allow for all the days that students will miss because of vacations. The same goes for camps—we play fun and good music, though often more challenging music than is possible at a school summer orchestra. After all, the kids are on campus so they tend to be at rehearsals.

Summer teacher workshops follow the same pattern—fun, music, and challenge—a chance to remember why you do what you do and learn to do it even better! After attending these events, running them, and presenting at them for many years, I firmly believe that they are well worth the time and money.

The May e-mail included fun, summer orchestra-friendly tunes for browsing and a link to summer workshops presented by Alfred Music authors. Enjoy!