Category Archives: Concert Band

Teacher New Year’s Resolution

Chris M. Bernotas

Happy New Year! What an exciting day of the year January 1st is! Everything is new again. We have a new outlook on life and we set new personal goals in an effort to better ourselves. We look at the prior year, consider the highs and lows and try to address anything we would like to improve upon. So why am I talking about New Year’s now? As a teacher we celebrate New Year’s twice a year. The start of school (August or September) is our New Year! At home, we have our resolutions—you know, I am going to lose weight, go to the gym, eat healthier! Sadly, those usually last about a month—okay, a week—then it is back to buffalo wings and professional couch sitting. As teachers in school we have an opportunity to look at our previous school year and wipe the slate clean with a fresh start. Each new school year we have the opportunity to hit the “reset” button. How exciting is that? It is a part of the profession that I just love, and by approaching each year as a new opportunity for personal and professional growth—and sticking to your resolutions—you can avoid the dreaded burnout.

That doesn’t mean that your prior year has to have been a disaster to take the New Year’s Resolution approach. By reflecting on even the most successful year you will find that there are areas that could have been better in some way. Maybe the collection of uniforms could have been more streamlined or maybe your attendance taking skills could use a little brush up. Or maybe there are specific concepts that you would like to focus on with your students. The exciting aspect I find is that there is never a lack of ideas on how we can improve the classroom experience for both our students and ourselves. I would like to share three of my own personal improvement goals, or School Year’s Resolutions with you. Perhaps you will be inspired to think of your own. I am excited for this school year, my 25th as a teacher, and I wish you all the best in your year!

  1. Play more, talk less. This simple phrase is so important. Everything I have to say is so incredibly important! I am sure this is true for you as well. We have all the answers and want to share those answers with our students. Many times the best education happens when you say nothing at all. Students discover the answers as we guide them. The play more, talk less approach keeps that concept in mind. It is also a wonderful tool to help with classroom management. When students are actively engaged (or have an instrument on their face) they will be less likely to talk to their neighbor!
  2. Don’t Say It. Do you ever yell over the ensemble? “BASSOONS! YOU ARE TOO LOUD!” Ok, you’ve never said that one. How about this, “TRUMPETS TOO LOUD, TROMBONES ARTICULATE, PERCUSSION WATCH ME!!!” Me too. It is so easy to just tell them with our voice, and it works in the short term. However when we do this, we are taking away from our ultimate goal of communication from the podium. We want our students to watch us to understand our interpretation, but if we yell instruction at them, why would they watch? So, my goal here is to not talk (or sing) over the ensemble as they are rehearsing.
  3. K.I.S.S. We love analogies. I know I do. They are so effective when trying to get kids to understand concepts. When a student gets a concept through an analogy it is like a beautiful ray of sunshine beaming through the darkest of clouds. (See what I did there?) I would never say to not use a wonderful analogy or share a great pun—just be sure to not overuse them. Many times we just need to keep it simple. Give a short direction with simple and direct instruction. How about saying, “Alto saxes, there is a wrong note on beat 2 of measure 5,” instead of, “Alto saxes, there is a criminal lurking in the shadows of measure 5. You need to swoop upon it to eradicate the musical world of this eternal evil.” Use your analogies, I used one this morning and it really connected with my students, but also keep it simple.

I wish you all a Happy New School Year and hope it is your best yet! If you have a resolution to share, please send me a note ( and perhaps I will compile them and share them in the future. Until then—be active, maintain a healthy weight and eat a balanced diet!

By Chris M. Bernotas
Alfred Music Composer & Sound Innovations Author

Jazz Ensemble: The 80 percent rule.

Pete BarenBregge

A jazz ensemble should always try to find its energy output “sweet spot.” What does this mean?
The sweet spot is all about playing with efficiency, and how much output or power the band can deliver. When the band can play with dynamics, have a core sound that is focused, deliver blend and balance, hear each other, and ultimately produce a cohesive and full sound as an ensemble—then you have found the sweet spot.

Often, if the band sees a fortissimo dynamic marking, that means they will play as loud as possible, at 100 percent. When that happens, that means every player is maxed out—with no room left for any nuances. In other words, you have nowhere to grow energy-wise, and that’s all you have to offer—you’re done! Instead, when the band plays, they should play at 80 percent. If they play unified attacks and releases, listen to each other, and play together as a unit, they will hardly ever exceed an output level of 80 percent of their potential. Let me be clear, this does not mean playing softer or with less intensity—you can still give 100 percent musically! This also doesn’t mean that the band should never play past the 80 percent level. There will be times when the band exceeds the 80 percent target. If the band is playing together and listening to their section and the ensemble, then every indicated dynamic and nuance and the overall band sound will be totally effective—all with the desired intensity.

Beyond the fact that when players exceed 80 percent output there is no room for nuances, the ensemble sound will be “spread.” This applies to every instrument, including the rhythm section. For example; if the rhythm players are playing too loud / too much, it will sound cluttered and the groove will typically be smothered, which means there is no space. The groove, no matter what the style is, needs some space to breathe. The saxes will be over blowing which will produce intonation problems, a distorted and poor tone, and the players will tire easily. The brass will also have intonation issues, the sound of the horn will be exaggerated, distorted with a wide sound with no center core, and players will definitely tire easily. Combine all that and the ensemble sound is “spread.” We’ve all heard bands do this and it’s not a good sound. Rhythm players will tire easily and wind players may feel tightness in their throat, hurt their ears, and more. It’s like putting the gas pedal to the floor all the time—not practical and not good.

Simply put, avoid over blowing the music. Yes, it’s loud but the sound will not carry to the back of the room because it is so spread. The goal is to back off a bit, get the same intensity, play together as one but with a solid and efficient tone that will project. The band will have more endurance, be able to execute dynamics and nuances, hear soloists, hear each other, and still be able to deliver 100 percent of the music with efficiency.

Let’s call the 80 percent concept “efficient playing.” An efficient band can deliver all the intensity it can muster and rarely exceed 80 percent. This includes all the dynamics—from fff to ppp, and any physical movements as well. The soloists will be heard, the background behind soloists will be just that, background. The rhythm section players will hear each other: the saxes and brass players will hear each other and play with better intonation. The audience will hear the nuances and dynamics, and not be overwhelmed with sheer volume. Everyone wins!

It all boils down to this: back off a notch and save some juice for that special moment. You’ll need to remind your band frequently about this efficient and more effective concept (and maybe remind certain individual players a little more often).

Enjoy the jazz!

Pete BarenBregge

Instrumental Jazz Editor

Piece of the Week: A Very Respectable Hobbit

Jack Bullock

Jack Bullock

Blog provided by:

From Academy Award winner Howard Shore’s score for the 2012 movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this piece will delight students and audiences alike. The first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey introduces audiences to the characters and themes of the fantastical world of Middle Earth, a setting already familiar from the beloved Lord of the Rings franchise. This arrangement features the Hobbit’s main theme, a folk-like tune that depicts the pastoral life of Bilbo Baggins and his fellow hobbits of the Shire, and hints at the adventures and conflicts to come. This easy and fun piece is available in both a concert band and string orchestra arrangement.

Audio Sample:

Audio provided by Alfred Music.

Composer Biography:

Howard Shore is among today’s most respected, honored, and active composers and music conductors. His work with Peter Jackson on The Lord of the Rings trilogy stands as his most towering achievement to date, earning him three Academy Awards. He has also been honored with four Grammy and three Golden Globe awards. Shore was one of the original creators of Saturday Night Live. He served as the music director on the show from 1975 to 1980. At the same time, he began collaborating with David Cronenberg and has scored 14 of the director’s films, including 2012’s Cosmopolis, The Fly, Crash, and Naked Lunch. His original scores to A Dangerous Method, Eastern Promisesand Dead Ringers were each honoured with a Genie Award and Cosmopolis was awarded for score and song “Long to Live” with Canadian Screen Awards. Shore continues to distinguish himself with a wide range of projects, from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, The Departed, The Aviator and Gangs of New York to Ed Wood, The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, and Mrs. Doubtfire.

Shore’s music has been performed in concerts throughout the world. In 2003, Shore conducted the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the world premiere of The Lord of the Rings Symphony in Wellington. Since then, the Symphony and The Lord of the Rings – Live to Projection concerts have had over 285 performances by the world’s most prestigious orchestras.

In 2008, Howard Shore’s opera The Fly premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and at Los Angeles Opera. Other recent works include the piano concerto Ruin and Memory for Lang Lang premiered with the China Philharmonic Orchestra on October 11, 2010, the cello concerto Mythic Gardens for Sophie Shao premiered with the American Symphony Orchestra on April 27, 2012 and Fanfare for the Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia. He is currently working on his second opera.

Shore received the Career Achievement for Music Composition Award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, New York Chapter’s Recording Academy Honors, ASCAP’s Henry Mancini Award, the Frederick Loewe Award and the Max Steiner Award from the city of Vienna. He holds honorary doctorates from Berklee College of Music and York University, he is an Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la France and the recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in Canada.

Howard Shore’s biography courtesy of

Arranger Biography:

Jack Bullock holds undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees in the field of Music Education. As a performer, he studied trumpet with Harry Glantz, James Ode and Craig McHenry, and performed with the Miami Philharmonic Orchestra and the Miami Opera Company. He also performed statewide with New York show and territory bands, and nationally with traveling dance bands. A prolific composer and arranger, Dr. Bullock has written more than 600 publications for a diverse group of ensembles, including concert band, orchestra, jazz ensemble and marching band. He is the co-author of the Belwin 21st Century Band Method, and was a contributing arranger for the recordings of Music Expressions, the innovative school music curriculum published by Alfred Music.

Composition Notes by Vince Gassi

Vince Gassi

Vince Gassi

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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
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!

Recruitment and Retention

Chris BernotasBy Chris M. Bernotas

Spring is coming and that is certainly welcome here in the Northeast!  Along with fresh air, spring also brings many exciting events in the world of education.  We are all enthusiastically preparing our ensembles for spring concerts, spring trips, spring community events, and many other performances.  The other school event that occurs around now is student course scheduling for next year’s classes! Kids are excitedly running to their counselors, looking ahead to the new and unique opportunities that await them (I can dream, can’t I?)  Of course the first thing on their list to register for is band!  That, at least, is the scenario we all hope and strive for.

Recruitment and retention are always on the minds of music educators.  Some goals in music education are to help students learn to be independent thinkers and problem solvers, as well as cultural contributors.  Without students studying music, it would be hard to achieve that.  We also want to share our love of music and our passion for working together in creating emotional performances and lifelong memories with as many students as possible.  Actively recruiting is essential in our quest of filling the sea of chairs in our room with fresh young minds that are eager to learn.

One way to encourage students to continue their study of music in band is to host a District Band Festival.  Many of us facilitate a district concert. Usually, we have all the different level bands perform a selection or two for each other and perhaps end the concert with a massive group performance. This is a wonderful concept and, while it can present a few challenges to arrange, the end result is often well worth it. How would a district festival work differently? First of all, the District Band Festival isn’t necessarily focused on holding a concert performance—it is about student-to-student interaction.  Let me explain.  The concept is to host a side-by-side day.  Seat the younger students next to the older students within the ensemble and run a workshop. Teach them a new piece of music!  What I love about running a festival day is that it allows the younger students (even at the 4th and 5th grade levels) to experience making music together with the older students and not just observe them.  The older kids are their heroes, their rock stars, and now they get to sit with them and even play music with them! That exciting opportunity alone creates a lasting impression on them.

The side-by-side experience is also wonderful for the older students. I encourage them to look at those little legs that don’t quite reach the floor, and think about when they were that age and what that music meant to them.  They love the reflection and gain an appreciation of how far they have come, and I bet that some of them feel wonderful about how they are making an impact on an impressionable young mind.  Not to mention that those younger kids get to see you, the director, in action doing what you love!

Adults can tell younger students that band is wonderful and how music is a lifelong passion and while we do need to impart that wisdom, words from student-to-student are incredibly powerful. Between their experience performing alongside their heroes, seeing a teacher that loves what they do, and hearing from older kids about how they love band, continuing to study music is a no-brainer.  To complete the day you may want to include a performance of the new piece for parents, teachers, administrators, and community members.  It is even a great idea to alternate between having a District Band Concert and a District Band Festival each year.

Music is an easy sell.  If we create memorable experiences that kids enjoy and connect with, when that day comes in the Spring and that student gets set to select his or her course schedule, they may just smile and remember that special day.

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.

Have Fun and Enjoy the Music!

By Bob and Pat Cerulli

Teachers of successful instrumental programs usually agree that one of the main reasons that students play an instrument is to have fun. If students enjoy the music that they play, they will continue performing with their group.

There are several ways teachers can ensure that students have fun and are enthusiastic about studying an instrument and performing in a school music program. One is to choose music that the students like or are familiar with. Especially enjoyable is music that includes audience participation. This goes a long way to partner players with listeners which in the long term grows support for music programs.

The second and equally important factor for young musicians is the socialization that performing in a group provides. Students will look forward to independent practice, group rehearsals and performances if they are motivated by positive interactions with their peers. That being said, music teachers should choose selections that mirror the interests of the students and compliment the school curriculum.

Another important consideration is to assign music that is within the playing abilities of the students in a specific performing group. Perhaps one piece could be challenging yet within the scope of the students’ technique and skills. Giving students music that is too difficult for their stage of musical development might result in frustration or loss of interest. However, when students learn music within a short amount of time, their sense of accomplishment becomes a driver of their success both as individuals and as a group.

It might be worth your time to share your musical program choices with your students so that they may rate them according to their preferences. Students could use a simple rating scale of one to ten while listening to excerpts of the titles music teachers propose. In this way students could demonstrate their interests and teacher designated music will probably be more well received.

There are many Alfred Music publications that incorporate audience participation, reflect student interests, and support the growth of music programs. Above all, when choosing music for your program, keep in mind that the number one thought of your students is that they will have fun and enjoy the music.

Building an Encounter with Excellence into Every Lesson or Rehearsal

By Scott Watsonscott_watson

Perfection is a standard that – in almost every case – can never be met.  How many lines can really be drawn “perfectly” straight?  And for those of us working in the arts, what exactly does “perfect” mean?  Can an oil painting, or a musical performance, be considered “perfect”?

But it’s a term I use when teaching music fairly frequently.  A while back I was working with my 2nd-year (5th grade) alto saxophone section.  I was rehearsing a small gesture, just a few notes, and it sounded rough.  Each time we repaired a performance error another one emerged.  Someone missed an accidental.  Another held a note too long for the staccato articulation.  Then another rushed the rhythm… and so on.  I explained that there was no reason that we – as a section – shouldn’t be able to play this small phrase perfectly.  One of the more insightful girls in the section asked aloud, “Isn’t it impossible to play it absolutely perfect?”  This was the perfect (excuse the pun) time to launch into a favorite pedagogical sermon of mine!

Perfection – I pointed out – is not the point, but rather the striving for perfection, or for beauty, or for excellence.  I drew two horizontal lines on the board, one very high near the top of the board and one in the middle.  The top line represented perfection; the lower line represented being average (or with older kids, mediocrity).  If we strive to play our saxophones perfectly but (and here I drew an “x” just shy of the top line) fall a little short, you can see we’re still pretty darn good… some might call it excellent.  But if we only strive to be average (and here I drew an “x” just shy of the line in the middle) and fall short because we don’t care enough, then we’re not even mediocre.  You see, there’s no shame in aiming for a model of perfection.

Those saxes and I played a few more times and eventually they all played together in a way that was really excellent, especially for such young players.  All seven played the right notes, were rhythmically tight, and used the correct articulations.  It was only a small phrase, and frankly I don’t have the time in a 30-minute group sectional to always lead them to an experience with such excellence, but I strive to do just that at least once in every group lesson or rehearsal I lead.

This idea of bringing students into an encounter with excellence at least once each rehearsal isn’t original.  I first heard it from my college mentor and good friend, Ken Laudermilch.  Ken led the Wind Ensemble and taught trumpet at West Chester University when I was an undergraduate Music Education major there.  When he was still teaching, Ken allowed me to use his university wind ensemble to record a piece I had recently written as a commission for a middle school band.  In return, he asked me to talk to the students about teaching in the schools.  I rehearsed my piece for about 15 minutes.  They more or less “nailed it” when they sight-read it!  After polishing a few spots, I told Ken I was ready to record.  Ken gave the students a five-minute break and pulled me aside, saying, “I don’t want them to get off this easy.  Do you mind if I work on the piece a little bit?”  Returning from the break, Ken proceeded to tear apart and put back together every phrase I had thought was fine.  Nothing was overlooked – phrasing, attacks, releases, dynamic contour, subtle tempo shifts.  When he finished, the piece sounded truly glorious!  And better still, these fine university players had an encounter with musical beauty even with a middle school band piece because a master teacher led them there.

Years later, when I read Peter Boonshaft’s Teaching with Passion, I found the same principle.  I think of Peter as one of the preeminent wind band conductors on the planet at this time. He’s also one of the authors of the Sound Innovations instrumental method. In his excellent book Boonshaft suggests that, “in every rehearsal we need to make one beautiful pearl.”  In addition to serving as what he calls a “beacon” of perfection, Boonshaft points out that these moments give our students an example of our expectations, and they encourage progress as students realize they can produce something (no matter how small) that is truly beautiful.

I think it’s no accident that two of the most talented music education professionals that I know – Ken Laudermilch and Peter Boonshaft – both employ this technique of leading students to an encounter with excellence in their rehearsals.  Whether it’s a university wind ensemble or young saxophone section, doesn’t every one deserve to bump up against something truly beautiful, revel in it, and know that he or she is responsible in part for creating that beauty?

In each meeting with your instrumental students at any level, I’d like to recommend you find something, however small, to give them an “encounter with excellence” to serve as a model, a “beacon of perfection,” for all their music making!