Category Archives: Orchestra

Balancing the Physical and Musical Aspects of Instrumental Music

Blog-InstrumentalMusicAsPhysicalEducation_April2017_BG_Proof3

By Thomas J. West

Most public school music ensembles spend 95 percent of their classroom time preparing for public concerts. It takes many hours of repetition of the music in order to program the body to perform the music accurately. Band and orchestra directors basically run rehearsals for a living and become very good at providing the repetitions necessary to program the physical movements required to perform the music accurately.

When I began writing articles for my website, I focused on sharing music practice tips. The majority of these were strategies designed to help maximize practice routine efficiency, garnering more successful repetitions of the music. What I have only recently realized, however, is that the majority of time and effort spent practicing a musical instrument has more to do with programming the mind to physically control the instrument accurately and reliably. There is more “physical education” involved in instrumental music making than actual “music education”.

In most traditional high school bands and orchestras, the vast majority of rehearsal time is spent drilling the music in order for ensemble members to develop some level of physical proficiency in performance. Teaching basic musicianship concepts like reading notation, understanding pitch, and so on, is left to the elementary music teachers to handle. High school ensembles focus primarily on ensemble techniques such as pulse control, section and group intonation, balance and blend, and so on. Those concepts are touched upon and then drilled, drilled, drilled until the ensemble can perform them accurately.

The Marriage Between Physical and Aural

One of the amazing things about studying music performance is that it elides the physical skill of operating a musical instrument with the mental skill of perceiving and instantly processing and reacting to sound. Singers do this as well, but the need to physically train the body is quite different. Instrumentalists spend a great deal of time simply becoming proficient at manipulating the contraption that makes the musical sounds happen.

Students of music have to not only become proficient at the physical movements, they also have to use their aural skills to assess their own physical performance. The actual musical part of instrumental performance is all mental, and it requires training and skill building just like the physical training of operating the instrument.

Over-Programming the Physical Part of Performance

Because it takes so much time and repetition to program the body, musicianship and listening skills often take a secondary role in many school performing ensemble classes. This is compounded by the fact that many high school band and orchestra directors choose repertoire that demands a high level of technical proficiency on the part of the performers. Technical wizardry (those fast sixteenth note runs, screaming high notes, rapid tonguing or bowing passages, and so on) are engaging and exciting to listen to, and many directors want their students to have the experience of performing exciting works with a lot of technical fireworks.

The trade-off, however, is that technically demanding repertoire often consumes the majority of available class time simply to get the ensemble performing proficiently. Even then, traditional band and orchestra programs lean on the students with the higher music aptitude and skill development to carry the weight while their peers hang on for dear life or fake their way through the difficult passages. Add to that fact the more important consequence—the students rarely have time to improve their musical skills in favor of improving their physical skills.

Audio Gym Teacher?

If ensemble directors, for whatever reason, continue to program technically demanding works that constantly stretch the boundaries of what the students are capable of, they are providing their students with more of an “audio physical education” than a “music education.” Technical ability is only part of what makes up an effective musical performance. It is far better, in my opinion, to choose repertoire with easier technical demand that can be mastered in a shorter amount of time, leaving room towards the end of the preparation period to work on ensemble playing techniques, expressive phrasing, and communicating the intent of the music to the audience.

Quite simply, if by concert time students are not able to look away from the sheet music for more than a brief glance at the baton in order to be able to perform the piece, the technical demand is probably too high.

There certainly is a need for repertoire that “pushes the envelope” and gets students to reach for a new level of technical ability, but I have seen too many band and orchestra programs that try to stretch the ensemble with every single piece they perform. Slaving away on demanding parts is enjoyable for only a minority of students—most are turned off by such hard work, especially if that level of demand is constantly upon them.

Physical training in the band and orchestra is a major component of instrumental performing music and is constantly being addressed. There needs to be a balance, however, between the physical aspects of instrumental performance and the mental aspects of listening, audiating, and understanding music as an art form.

TomWest

Thomas J. West is an active music teacher, composer, adjudicator, and clinician in the greater Philadelphia area. He has eighteen years of experience as a concert band director, marching band director, jazz improvisation instructor, choral director, orchestra director, private instructor, and marching drill writer. Learn more about Thomas at www.thomasjwestmusic.com. 


 

Alfred Music Joins Peaksware To Help The World Experience The Joy of Making Music

Andrew Surmani

By Andrew Surmani
Chief Marketing Officer, Alfred Music

Alfred Music is excited to announce today that it is joining the Peaksware Holdings, LLC portfolio of companies. This group includes MakeMusic, Inc., the developer of Finale and SmartMusic, bringing together the leaders in educational music publishing and music technology.

Both Alfred Music and MakeMusic will continue to operate independently. By sharing resources within the Peaksware group, additional investments and innovations will provide additional content and distribution channels for both companies. Specifically, this relationship will not change MakeMusic’s long-standing commitment to work equally with all publishing partners to provide the highest level of quality content for musicians and educators within SmartMusic.

“We are excited to be working with MakeMusic. Alfred Music truly believes in the MakeMusic products which is why we took over exclusive North American and UK distribution of the Finale suite of products in 2013. We also believe strongly in the SmartMusic platform, evidenced by the fact that we are one of its leading content providers. This partnership provides the resources needed to significantly enhance Alfred Music’s mission of helping the world experience the joy of making music,” said Andrew Surmani, Chief Marketing Officer of Alfred Music.” “We are combining the leading music education publisher with the industry leader in music technology to benefit everyone, from our music publishing partners, to music dealers, composers, arrangers, educators, students and independent musicians.”

MakeMusic owns some of the most advanced and patented technology solutions to support the composing, arranging, teaching, learning, and playing of music. Regular updates and innovations to Finale make it the industry standard for music notation software and the trusted creation tool for composers and arrangers around the world. With more than one million students and 20,000 teachers, SmartMusic is at the forefront of interactive learning technologies for the classroom. And, with their recent acquisition of Weezic, an Augmented Sheet Music innovator, SmartMusic will now be available wherever musicians are – on the web, Chromebooks, iPads, Mac and PC.

Alfred Music’s customers, dealers, and industry partners should expect business to continue as usual with no immediate changes. Alfred’s main office will remain in Van Nuys, California and additional offices will stay in their current New York, Miami, UK, Singapore, and Germany locations.

To stay current with further developments, visit the SmartMusic blog or follow Alfred on Twitter and MakeMusic on Twitter.

Pick Your Side in the Star Wars® Saga

Pam Phillips
It’s coming and the excitement is building. The epic Star Wars story has proven to intrigue all generations. Alfred Music has many settings of this great music that are performed many times every year. In honor of the new movie, a new arrangement titled “Star Wars Heroes” (string orchestra, grade 2½) was just released in January. However, if you are looking for something to work on after the holiday concert/recital, when everyone is a bit excited about the upcoming vacation, try out the classic Star Wars arrangements listed here for everyone from soloists to full orchestra.

There are play-along books perfect for private lesson fun or gifts!

Star Wars: Episodes I, II & III Instrumental Solos for Strings

Star Wars Instrumental Solos (Movies I-VI) for Strings
Classic Movie Instrumental Solos for Strings

For young players, the books titled Pop Showcase for Strings include a very easy setting of “Star Wars (Main Theme)” set for flexible instrumentation for solos players, small ensembles, and string orchestra.

And, last but not least, check out these arrangements.
Star Wars Main Theme—Full orchestra, Grade 3½
Star Wars Main Theme—String orchestra, Grade 2½
Battle of the Heroes—Playable by strings alone or any combination up to full orchestra, Grade 2½
Suite from the Star Wars Epic Part I—Full orchestra, Grade 4
Suite from the Star Wars Epic Part II—Full orchestra, Grade 4

Good luck this season, and may the force be with you!

Pam Phillips
Managing Editor, Suzuki Acquisitions and Strings Editor
Alfred Music

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 (cbernotas@gmail.com) 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

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
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

Planning a Concert with Your Audience in Mind

By Jan Farrar-Royce

Jan Farrar-RoyceWhen my ensembles play at a concert, I want to hear a band parent say they enjoyed listening to the orchestra’s performance! I think that when we are choosing pieces for our presentations, we should consider not only the educational aspect of the program but the entertaining aspect as well.

Familiar pieces, especially those with lyrics, allow every listener to become invested in the performance. If you decide on a familiar piece for a concert, you might even include the lyrics on an insert in the printed program. Maybe members of your audience will want you to play that piece a second time so that they can sing along!

You can also monitor your students’ research of pieces and composers to create program notes for the printed program or, better still, have different students speak to the audience before each piece. Talking to the audience puts a friendly and accessible face on your performance, and you may discover that one of the players from the back of a section may be a wonderful researcher and/or speaker!

Another way to encourage your audience members to be active listeners is to tell them an interesting musical or historical fact about each piece or something the musicians learned by playing this piece. John Feierabend of The Hartt School calls this approach to performing an “informance.” Pointing out something in the music that the audience might listen for can be a lot of fun. Plus, it is good education for everyone, great PR for your string program, and a more fun approach to performing!

Selecting a Method Book

Phillips_pBy Pam Phillips

There are many reasons to decide to use a specific method book. Here are a few items worth considering.

Circumstances to consider when selecting a method book:

  1. The age at which your students begin instruction.
  2. The number of days per week that class meets.
  3. The length of each class.
  4. Is part of that class time taken by room set-up?
  5. Do many students take private lessons?
  6. Do you have team teaching?

Pedagogical factors to consider when selecting a method book:

  1. Do you teach by rote at first?
  2. Do you prefer to start arco or pizzicato?
  3. Do you prefer to start with fingers down and the hand blocked or fingers up?
  4. Do you prefer note names in the note heads?

Alfred Music has a method to fit every need.

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!

Creative Concert Concepts

Bob PhillipsBy Bob Phillips

Many of us use all sorts of music over the course of a school year to build creative, interesting concerts. I highly recommend a varied program over time. This can be done with great classical pieces, eclectic styles, pop tunes,  guest artists, side-by-side concerts, and so on. It can also be done with quirky, unusual, or novelty pieces that just make players and audience smile. A few pieces that might fit that category are featured in this e-mail. These are definitely worth checking out!

The new 2014 catalog has a few that fit this category as well. Be looking for that promo in your email box in April!

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.