By David Pope

As students return to school this fall, orchestra rooms around the country will fill with young musicians eager to begin or continue their musical studies. To be successful, directors must motivate each student and personalize their lessons to individual needs. Successful orchestra programs also increase their standing in the community by connecting and collaborating with parents, school staff, and community members. However, it requires careful planning to meet these goals since students and other stakeholders do not have a single personality and only like one type of music. Instead, they bring differing personalities, backgrounds, and musical tastes to our classrooms and concerts.

Choosing repertoire that motivates all students and connects with all audience members is challenging. Not all students like traditional “classical” music. Not all families and community members like sitting through concerts filled with pieces that sound the same. Not all school staff members understand the detail involved in teaching music. It is difficult to choose repertoire that meets all of those needs and develops our students’ performance abilities.

Selecting quality non-traditional repertoire offers directors the opportunity to pick pieces that can please everyone. Directors can choose pieces with solo passages to encourage and highlight specific students. Programming non-traditional repertoire also allows directors to feature the viola, cello, and double bass sections; violins always get the melody. Directors can also use non-traditional repertoire to involve community and school staff members in concerts. Increasing outsiders’ involvement will help increase music’s importance and value in your community and school.

Below are non-traditional repertoire categories that can address those needs. The pieces listed below are only a starting point. Directors are encouraged to identify additional non-traditional pieces that fit their students’, schools’, and community’s needs. Finding the right repertoire is imperative. As Merle J. Isaac wrote, “I think you will all agree with me when I say that selecting the right music for an orchestra is one of the most important responsibilities of the orchestra director. Selecting the right music—at the right time—involves the likes and dislikes of the teacher, the students, and the community.” Good luck on your journey!

Section Features

Solo Features

Bluegrass & Fiddle

Rock & Pop

Tran-Siberian Orchestra

Sound Effects


Non-Traditional Performance Techniques

World & Multicultural Music

Pope_DavidDavid Pope is Director of Orchestras for the Elyria City Schools (OH). In addition, he teaches string pedagogy courses for VanderCook College of Music, conducts the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra, and serves as a senior conductor and co-director of Florida State University’s String Orchestra Camp. As an active adjudicator and clinician, he has conducted numerous all-state orchestras, regional honor orchestras, and served as a guest clinician for various orchestra programs throughout the United States. Dr. Pope has presented string pedagogy clinics and his research at state, regional, national, and international conferences. Dr. Pope received the Distinguished Music Educator Award (2015) from the Yale Symposium for Music in Schools and was the recipient of the Outstanding Young Music Educator Award (2009) for the state of Tennessee.