Monthly Archives: November 2016

Pieces with Pedagogical Value Can Also Be Fun!

By Mike Springer
Mike Springer
As a composer, I endeavor to create music that has pedagogical value, but also is fun for students to play and for audiences to hear. The pieces in Mike Springer’s Favorite Solos, Books 1–3 were written over a period of years to best exemplify this idea. Each solo in the series focuses on one or more pedagogical issues that teachers face on a daily basis. The remainder of this article highlights these issues in two pieces from each book.

Medieval TournamentBook 1: The first piece in Book 1, entitled Medieval Tournament, takes the student back to the medieval times! With the exception of measures 8 and 24, the left hand consists of perfect 5ths (See Example 1a).
The right-hand melody, beginning in measure 5, incorporates simple repetitive rhythm patterns that make the piece easy to learn. Also beginning in measure 5, the right hand completes the chord by adding the third to the open fifths in the left hand. This creates an excellent opportunity to discuss triads with students.
Perfect 5th ImprovisationAs a supplement to this piece, I have included an improvisation exercise that I use in my studio (See Example 1b). Ask the student to play a perfect fifth (A and E) in the left hand, while improvising on perfect fifths in the right hand. Avoid the fifth in the right hand that begins on F (F and C) and use F-sharp when playing the open fifth that begins on B to avoid the dissonance associated with F natural and the left-hand E.
Majestic Mountain

 

Majestic Mountain, a former selection included in the Federation Festivals Bulletin of the National Federation of Music Clubs, is a piece that I wrote after my wife and I took a trip to Alaska. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the state and the grandeur of the mountain ranges. This is a piece that sounds very big, but is quite easy to play. It is an excellent study of the diatonic chords in the key of C major and uses many triads in root position in both hands to create interesting harmonic structure. The B section, beginning in measure 17, allows the student to explore a more gentle touch and dynamic range. A gentle, but definite crescendo beginning in measure 25 leads back to the A section (See Example 1c).

Sunset SerenadeBook 2: Sunset Serenade uses a variety of five-finger patterns that move around the keyboard. This makes it a great piece for students with small hands. Lush harmonies, found throughout, include many examples of 6th and 7th chords (See Example 2a). As a composer, sometimes I have very specific ideas for dynamics in mind and include such markings in the score; at other times I wish to leave it open to allow students to experiment with dynamic subtleties in the piece. For example, the student could make a gentle crescendo in measure 1 and a gentle diminuendo in measure 2. At measure 15, the piece could build even further to the beginning of measure 17. I have included some additional suggestions for dynamics in example 2a, although many other possibilities exist. Ask students to be creative in selecting appropriate dynamics that will aid in shaping phrases, and let the creativity flow!
El Toro
The opening of El Toro begins with a strong A major to B-flat major harmony that is indicative of the Spanish style (See Example 2b). The remainder of the piece allows the student to work on expression and a variety of touches and color. Beginning in measure 16, a slower more lyrical touch is required. The indication at measure 16 says ‘slower with freedom’ (emphasis on freedom), to allow the phrase to breathe. Measure 33 can begin more slowly with an accelerando to the beginning of measure 40. At measure 41 the lyrical nature returns, but with more passion and force.

The evolution of 'Jazzy Locomotive'Book 3: When I was growing up, my father would often refer to the music of Floyd Cramer, who created his own style by adding a static note that was part of the chord above a given melody. This type of device was used in his very famous piece Last Date. When I first sat down to write Jazzy Locomotive, I was not trying to write something that sounded like a locomotive. However, when I applied to the same techniques Floyd Cramer used in his music to my jazzy melody, the tritones in the right hand reminded me of a train (See Example 3a).The piece should begin moderately loud and get stronger when “the locomotive starts to move” in measure 9 (See Example 3b). Jazzy LocomotiveIt is very important to observe all articulations in this piece to achieve the maximum effect. Notice the train whistles in measures 19 and 20 and in measures 34 through 37. Finally, “drive” the sound of the triplets in measure 40 to the beginning of measure 41 until the locomotive comes to rest on the last note.
Rio Grande

 

 

Rio Grande is one of the pieces from my Recital Suite “Mexico: South of the Border.” On a trip a few years ago, my wife and I went to Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas. As we stood on the mesa looking over the river separating Texas and Mexico, (without billboards, telephone wires, or anything else to ruin the landscape) I had a wonderful serenity that came over me and inspired me to write this piece. The piece should not be played too fast, and must begin very quietly (See Example 3c). Enjoy the gentle flow until measure 26, when the crescendo takes us to a new level of passion. Avoid getting too loud in measure 29, as the ultimate climax of the piece occurs in measure 39. In the coda, imagine the setting sun shimmering on the water of the river, and then let the ending fade into dusk.

Enjoy the music in Mike Springer’s Favorite Solos, Books 1–3. May it spark the imaginations of you and your students. Best wishes and success to you in your teaching endeavors!

Sincerely,
Mike Springer

Teaching Masterworks to Developing Choirs

Dr. Russell L. Robinson
Emeritus Professor of Music Education, University of Florida
Composer, Arranger, Consultant, Speaker

www.RussellRobinson.com

I have been arranging masterworks for young choirs for over 20 years, from madrigals to larger choral classics to recently arranged solo masterworks for choirs. It has been my goal to create choral music for young choirs (elementary through high school, and even college choirs who have many non-music majors) to help elevate their choral sound and be proud of their musical results.

You must start with a great piece of music. We cannot make great arrangements out of bad pieces. Classics that have stood the test of time are best. From some of my first arrangements such as: “Sing We and Chant It” (Morley/Robinson), “In These Delightful Pleasant Groves” (Purcell/Robinson), “Sing Unto God” (Handel/Robinson), and “How Lovely Are the Messengers” (Mendelssohn/Robinson) to lately taking solo works and arranging them for choirs. Pieces such as Faure’s “Pie Jesu” (ed. and arr. Robinson) and the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria” (arr. Robinson) are good examples of this. These timeless melodies are often familiar to singers and audiences, but not in a choral setting.

Let me for the moment focus on the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria.” As the performance notes say, this piece was originally written by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) as his “Prelude No. 1 in C major” for
piano (clavier) and later a melody was composed by Charles Gounod for solo violin. The traditional “Ave Maria” lyrics were added later. Since that time, such famous soloists as Placido Domingo, Jackie Evancho, Renée Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli have performed this piece. So, there is a good chance that many audience members will have heard the melody and perhaps the singers themselves. It’s timeless and beautiful.

So how does one arrange these masterworks, such as the “Ave Maria,” to be accessible for young choirs or inexperienced singers?

There are many considerations when writing such arrangements of classics regardless of their style. First, the ranges should be treated intentionally. If it is a 3-part mixed (where the third part is for changed or changing male voices and uses a range from F below middle C to D above middle C) or a SAB arrangement, and the boys/men’s voices can go lower, I try to “think like a young man” when writing their parts. Avoidance of great leaps in the intervals is essential. And, in the case of the “Ave Maria”—allowing parts other than the Soprano to sing the melody. In addition, the piano part should subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) reinforce the parts to assist the singers. An arranger of these masterworks should not alter the musical or lyrical qualities of the original piece. I always feel like the original composers are looking over my shoulder from above, and I want their “ok” in what I’m writing.

What about responsibilities of the director/teacher and singers?

Pure vowels are essential regardless of language! All vowels should be sung with a bit of “oo” in them. In other words, ah-vowels should be sung “aw”—ee-vowels should be sung with an “ee” in the inside of the mouth and an “oo” vowel on the lips to keep the vowel from spreading. For more information on these concepts, see these recommended Alfred Music publications: The Complete Choral Warm-Up Book (Robinson/Althouse), Creative Rehearsal Techniques for Today’s Choral Classroom (Robinson), and Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs (Robinson).

Perhaps most importantly, pay close attention to dynamics and text accents. There should be an audible difference between piano and mezzo forte. I hear too many choirs that sing with a limited range of dynamics, usually from mezzo forte to forte. Dynamics contrasts are essential. And, text accents—no two syllables or words should be sung at the same volume, regardless of language. In just the two words “Ave Maria” we have an example of text accent treatment. “Ave” should be sung with an accent on the first syllable and a dramatically softer second syllable. The same with “Maria” where there are three syllables. The second syllable gets the accent and the first and third are unaccented.

Taking into account these considerations and steps—a great original masterwork, along with a well-written arrangement, and finally pure vowels, dynamic contrasts, and text accents will lead singers to making beautiful music with these classics.