Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Creative Christmas

By Robert D. Vandall

Robert D. VandallTo celebrate the Christmas season, I love colorfully orchestrated arrangements of familiar carols and songs. My new three-book series of holiday music, titled Christmas Extravaganza, contains my imaginings of familiar seasonal pieces. I wanted the pieces in Christmas Extravaganza to have moments of pianism and creativity that would allow students to shine, give teachers valuable musical concepts to teach, and audiences something out of the norm to enjoy. In each arrangement, I strived to use both fresh and familiar harmonies, unique melodic treatments, and interesting rhythms. At the same time, my goal was to keep the technique required to play each piece within limited boundaries to ensure students’ success.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas, pg. 1“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is from Book 1. The tempo is a very quick ¾ meter and the student should play beat one slightly stronger than beats two and three so that there is a gentle, dance-like lilt in each measure. Notice that the left hand uses only two chords for measures 1–14 (F and F sus 4). This allows students to concentrate fully on the dancelike articulation of the right-hand melody.
Measures 32–42 are exactly like measures 5–15. After practicing these measures, students should move to measures 54–61 to focus on like phrases. In these measures the melody is played in the bass register with the right hand crossing over the left hand. The rests in measures 19, 23, 27, 31, 42, and 53 allow time for the right hand to move to the beginning of the melody in the different registers.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas, pg. 2To create interest, I like to develop motifs from the melody. Measures 16–31 develops the first melodic motif, moving through the keys of D minor and F minor. The left-hand harmonies are the minor i and major IV chords in those two keys. The right hand plays the motif above the left-hand chords and then crosses over the left hand for the next motif. This happens both in D minor and F minor.
Beginning in measure 43, the second part of the melody enters in the right hand accompanied by 5ths in the left hand (measures 43–49). In measures 47–49 the right hand also plays 5ths. When combined with the left-hand 5ths, seventh chords are created. The molto riten. in measure 49 creates a dramatic tempo contrast before the return to a tempo in measure 50.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas, pg. 3The coda (ending) of the carol uses the melodic motif found in measures 60–61. In these measures, the right hand plays the motif below the left-hand chords in the low register. It plays the same motive above the left hand in measures 62–63. The right hand then moves up an octave to play the same motif with a quarter rest between the D, G, and E. One expects to hear the final melodic F on beat one of measure 66, but there is a whole measure of rest before playing the final F on beat one of measure 67. The surprise is even more striking because the p mark in measure 64 is followed by the sudden f of measure 67.

Many elements combine to create surprises for the audience when listening to this arrangement. Among them are many hand crossings, dynamic changes from motif to motif, key changes, dance-like articulations contrasted with legato phrases, changes of tempos, rests and accents. I hope that you and your students will enjoy exploring the compositional devices used in the other arrangements in Christmas Extravaganza. (See the list of titles below for all three books.) Merry Christmas!

Book 1
Angels We Have Heard on High
Go, Tell It on the Mountain
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Good King Wenceslas
The Holly and the Ivy
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Silent Night
We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Book 2
Away in a Manger
Deck the Halls
Jingle Bells
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas (Theme and Variations)
Joy to the World (Improvisation)
O Come, Little Children
Ukrainian Bell Carol
We Three Kings of Orient Are

Book 3
Ding, Dong! Merrily On High
The First Noel
Good Christian Men, Rejoice
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
O Christmas Tree
O Come, All Ye Faithful
Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow

Latin Philharmonic

Victor Lopez

Providing all students with multiple music opportunities has always been a priority at Alfred Music, and the latest publication for strings certainly supports that intention. Co-writers of Latin Philharmonic,, Victor López and Bob Phillips, present with a new concept that is original, comprehensive, flexible, practical, and intended for classroom or studio instruction, as well as performance. Read on to learn more about teaching cha-cha-cha and how to rehearse Latin rhythms!

Latin Philharmonic is a collection of original Latin dance tunes for strings and rhythm section. All pieces are written in the “Philharmonic” format that features flexible instrumentation. This format allows string students to switch between playing the melody, accompaniment/bass line, solos, and the included Latin percussion parts. Each piece has a complete audio track and an accompaniment track for performance or practice. Today, one can hear the influence of Latin music on the radio, commercials, television, movie soundtracks, and other mediums. The titles presented in this publication will provide students the musical experience necessary for understanding the several different Latin styles that have influenced today’s music.

For this article, I have chosen to discuss “Muchacha Cha” from the book and highlight the crucial rhythmic patterns of the piece. The clave rhythm pattern provides the foundation for the Latin music style. This selection is written in a cha-cha-cha style, one of the most popular Latin music styles. It is a medium slow Cuban dance and the pulse is based on quarter notes. Most people are familiar with this pattern. One song that comes to mind, written by Tito Puente and made famous by Jorge Santana, is “Oye Como Va.” In Puente’s original recording, one can hear the basic rhythmic characteristics of the cha-cha-cha style, which basically are the quarter note pulse, the rhythm played by the pianist, and the clave pattern (2/3 Son clave).

There are two major types of clave rhythms in Afro-Cuban music, the son clave and the rumba clave. Usually, the son clave is associated with dance styles, while the rumba clave is associated with folkloric rhythms. The clave rhythm is a two-measure pattern with three notes in one measure and two notes in the other measure. Therefore, one may start the pattern as a 3/2 (forward clave) or 2/3 (reverse clave.) The melody is the determining factor as to which clave pattern is played. “Muchacha Cha” has a 2/3 Son clave pattern and, as is customary, basically continues the same way from beginning to end. However, in many contemporary compositions, we find that composers/arrangers have interchanged the patterns within the same composition.

The following example shows the basic 3/2 and 2/3 Son two-measure patterns:

Basic Clave Pattern

This clave concept is the same throughout all of the other titles in Latin Philharmonic. All parts in the rhythm section should be practiced individually before putting it all together. Start with the hand percussion instruments first, then, add the other instruments one at a time. Aim for a cohesive interrelated sound in the section. The conga drum part will be the most challenging as it requires basic hand position and techniques. Practicing slowly is key to developing the correct hand technique. Should a student not be ready to play the written pattern, then, have the student play the open tones (black head notes) only. The students who play the hand percussion instruments could do a little research on the instrument they play. There are many good videos on YouTube that will show exactly the correct playing position and sound for each instrument. The complete audio track and accompaniment track included on the CD will be most helpful. It is ideal to use authentic percussion instruments. The drumset part is made available for support only although recently many Latin bands are using drumset also. This same process can be employed when learning the other tunes in the book.

The last step is to add the strings to the rhythm section. Use the same strategies to teach the rhythm patterns to the strings, particularly in the bass and accompaniment parts.

Here’s how to use the book:
Each piece in Latin Philharmonic repeats four times and includes the following parts: melody, accompaniment, bass, solo 1, solo 2, piano, guitar, hand percussion 1–4, and drumset (Optional). Each part can be assigned to different groups of players or soloists. The first and last time through, all parts except the solos should be played. The second and third time through, the solos are played by an individual or group while the rest of the ensemble plays the accompaniment or bass, as appropriate. String students can play the hand percussion or a drumset player can use the optional drumset part in the rhythm book. There are two tracks for each piece on the CD. The first track is a complete track, and the second track is an accompaniment track to be used in rehearsal or performance in place of the rhythm section.

Ultimately, as an added value, Latin Philharmonic is a bilingual publication written in English and Spanish, which provide the classroom and studio teacher another valuable tool for effective teaching of non-English speaking students.

Victor López