Browsing Tag



“Fame” High School of the West: The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts

July 15, 2013

If you are reading this, it most likely means that you are either a musician or involved in some type of art form.  As a person involved in the arts there’s a very good chance that you’ve had a strong desire to create and to share your passion with others ever since you were a child.  The thought of  achieving fame or even reaching superstar status may have also crossed your mind a few times as well, right?  However, as adult reality sets in and we realize we are not all destined for stardom, many of us choose to be music and arts teachers or pursue other career goals.  Only a fortunate few end up having successful careers as performers.

The truth is that seeking fame is a daunting task and is not for the faint of heart.  One has to be very driven and determined to make a career as an entertainer.  I recently came across a documentary called Fame High by director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, who has always had an appreciation for music videos and musicals.  It’s based on the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, also known as LACHSA.

The film follows four LACHSA students for an entire year, showcasing not only how artistic and talented they are but also how challenging life at “Fame High” can be.  It features a graceful ballet dancer by the name of Grace Song who had dreams of being a part of the dance program at Julliard.  Brittany Hayes is an accomplished harp player and a great singer and songwriter, too.  Brit originally lived in Baraboo, Wisconsin with her parents and siblings until her family realized that she could only go so far with the musical training available in the little Wisconsin community.  Her mother decided to move to Los Angeles so that Brittany could attend Fame High while the rest of her family remained in Wisconsin.  Zak Rios is an amazing pianist — in the film you will see him actually going through the audition process, where over 1,000 students try out for the 150 to 180 available spots.  He does his best to balance professional jazz gigs with having to practice and study his demanding curriculum.  Ruby McCollister is the budding actress of the group.  She explains how she never really fit in at other schools, but all of that changed when she became a student at LACHSA.  Ruby grew up around the theater thanks to her parents;  Fame High shows her following in their footsteps even though she knows it may mean years as a struggling, starving artist striving to make it to the big time.

Fame High is an enjoyable movie for all ages — very entertaining, motivating, and inspiring.  Perhaps you will get a chance to see this wonderful documentary about LACHSA and discover for yourself why it’s called “the Fame High School of the West.”

Music Advocacy

“I Love the J.W. Pepper!”

July 2, 2013
"I love the J.W. Pepper"

"I love the J.W. Pepper" - click to enlarge

“I love the J.W. Pepper!”  –  quite possibly the best testimonial we have had the pleasure of receiving from a customer – or perhaps future customer.  This was only one of many wonderful things Eddie from Godfrey Elementary School in Wyoming, Michigan had to say about J.W. Pepper in a letter he wrote to us shortly after being crowned the winner of our Music in Our Schools Month coloring contest and receiving his prize – a box of music games for his school. 

Pepper of Michigan has hosted this contest every March for the past four years as a means of advocating and celebrating music education.  The contest has grown exponentially each year, resulting in over 1,100 submissions in 2013!  We lovingly hang the colorful array of tubas, pianos, harps, trumpets, conductors and music notes up on our store walls as they come pouring in so that all who walk through the doors can enjoy them.  It brings us great joy to see how creative and imaginative the kids who submit coloring pages to us can be.  Oftentimes, the outline of the image meant to be colored serves only as a conduit for the child’s creative vision and we’ll see an entire orchestra drawn around a conductor, an intricate pattern drawn on a harp player’s gown, or in Eddie’s case – an electric guitar so spectacularly decorated that Les Paul would have nodded his head in approval. 

As you can imagine, the process of narrowing all of these wonderful submissions down to select just one winner is a pretty tough task, but also quite rewarding.  Heartwarming exclamations of “I love music,” “Music is my life,” and “My music teacher is my favorite” can be seen on many of the pages we receive. 

Eddie's winning guitar

Eddie's winning guitar - click to enlarge

We can only imagine how wonderful the teachers themselves must feel when it comes time to collect their students’ work, and they see for themselves what a difference they’re making in the lives of these children.  Music in Our Schools Month is not only a way to raise awareness, but is a celebration of the hard work and dedication that music teachers give on a daily basis.  That same hard work and dedication is reflected in the incredible work of these music students who are inspired by their teachers, and also by music.  We can think of no better advocates!

A huge “Thank you!” goes out to Eddie’s music teacher, Dawn Downing, for taking the time to send Eddie’s letter as well as some pictures of the two of them opening their box of games.  Most of all, thank you for being such an inspiration! 

For your enjoyment, here is Eddie’s beautiful guitar and a copy of the letter he sent to us.

Directors' Toolbox

Teaching Music to Deaf Students

January 22, 2013

As a musician and a person who deals with both the music business and the deaf world, I assumed as many do that students with hearing loss would never hear, understand or appreciate music.

Fortunately, as I began talking with fellow interpreters in schools, I learned that many deaf children (both with and without hearing aids and cochlear implants) were in music classes.  This was enlightening and encouraged me to investigate instrumental music classes for deaf students and the incorporation of sign language into choral programs.

One of the first schools to teach music to deaf students was the Illinois School for the Deaf.  They allowed the resident boys the opportunity to participate in a brass band.  The band was supported by state and private funds throughout its nearly twenty-year existence.  It gave students a musical outlet, provided functional music and entertainment for the other resident students as well as community members, and became a symbol of strength and ability among members of the deaf community.  Fred Fancher, a deaf bandmaster from Tennessee, conducted the band.  The band ensemble presented concerts in many towns and cities throughout the United States.  NAfME reported that the quality of the music produced by the boys was very good.  The band received a fair amount of criticism along with a vast amount of praise and was a most successful and meaningful endeavor.  Even though the band has been defunct for more than fifty years, some music classes and activities at the Illinois School for the Deaf are still offered to students.

As more and more hearing-impaired children participated in the instrumental music program, it was discovered that, like hearing children, the ability to play an instrument helped the deaf children alleviate their frustration.  Tim Lautzenhauser states in his book, The Art of Successful Teaching, “Music offers a chance to let go and express the rainbow of emotions we all feel, and through this experience expand our own realm of emotional expressions.”

The children were taught by developing a strong sense of rhythm, followed by breathing exercises, hand clapping, marching and body swaying to standard repertoire such as Old Mac Donald Had a Farm.  Some children were able to play by reading the score.  Just like with hearing children, music notations represents two things; a hand position on an instrument, and a time frame.  However, the deaf child cannot “improvise” and must depend totally on sight-reading the music.  Many deaf children remove their shoes for band or orchestra practice to be able to feel the rhythm from the other instruments.

According to the research done by Alice-Ann Darrow in 1989, schools offering music to deaf students start most students with understanding about how to keep a steady beat.  Once that concept is understood, the next step is rhythmic training, and from there they advance to notation, tempo markings, and dynamic structure.  Sound is not as much an issue as understanding the structure of music:  how the notes blend and the individual attributes of the notes, which finger positions produce a note, and how long to hold whole notes, half notes and quarter notes.

Band and orchestra instructors require support when teaching deaf students.  Parents, special education teachers, and audiologists can all offer help working with deaf students in the music classroom.  The expense of this individual support is costly and oftentimes the interpreter has no music knowledge, making the job more difficult.  As with most tasks, simply asking the deaf students what works is the best way to proceed.  Let them lead in this area of their development.

Both digital hearing aids and cochlear implants have difficulty transmitting the fine tones of musical structure to the listener.  It will be interesting to see how improvements in these aids will allow children to experience the joy of music in the future.

As the incorporation of sign language becomes more popular for both hearing and deaf children, many composers have added information about sign language (along with the actual signs) to their music.

Please view these musical selections which will help you bring signing and singing  into your musical programs.


Veterans Day 2012

November 8, 2012

Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

  • On November 11, 1918, the fighting for World War I actually stopped on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month bringing an end to what was called “The War to End All Wars.”
  • World War I, known as at the time as “The Great War,” officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
  • In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day.
  • On June 4, 1926, the United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution.
  • Another act, approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November a legal holiday.  This was to be a day dedicated to world peace and to be known as Armistice Day.
  • As World War II and then the Korean War followed, on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars, now known as Veterans Day.
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation on October 8, 1954.
  • The Uniform Holiday Bill, which was intended to give federal employees several three-day weekends, was signed on June 28, 1968, moving the observance of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October.
  • On September 25, 1971, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law returning the annual observance of Veterans Day to November 11, beginning in 1978.

As the son of a World War II Army veteran, I am extremely proud of my father, and all veterans, for the sacrifices he endured.  To this day, he presents inspiring programs and musical concerts to his community, constantly stressing the importance of this day and this great country.

On behalf of the entire J.W. Pepper family, we thank all veterans for your sacrifice and dedication to this great country.  If you encounter a veteran or an individual currently serving in the military, please take a moment to thank them for everything they have done – or are currently doing – to ensure future freedoms for us all.

Read more about the history of Veterans Day, from The Department of Veteran Affairs.


Live Music – It’s Something Special

September 18, 2012

Whether it’s the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps, club bands, a college recital or Pat Metheny, live music is special.  Unfortunately, it’s also somewhat taken for granted in an era and generation where just about everything is digital, recorded, synced, uploaded, downloaded, or streamed over various sources.  We tend to forget how important, and refreshing, music is live.

Since this spring, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have experienced live music more than the norm — as an audience member, performer, and even as a music adjudicator.  I’ve seen my fair share of live music this season!

My niece’s middle school musical was entertaining and fun, as were the several high school jazz band festivals I attended.  Seeing my daughter’s college choir concert and musical production of Chicago, along with my nephew’s Rock and Roll Camp band were both positive personal experiences.  As a percussionist, attending Drum Corps International championships and witnessing the musical pageantry of thousands of young performers was very rewarding.

I not only had the chance to listen to a wide array of music, but I spent some of my summer performing as well.  The community concert band I perform with played several concerts in parks and retirement communities.

The opportunity to adjudicate other performers provides a unique listening experience.  For me this included traveling to judge many indoor percussion events with the Drum Corps Associates summer season, including judging DCA championships.  Every time, this is always a fresh, fun and entertaining experience.

I’ve truly enjoyed the diverse areas of live music I encountered this year.  While your musical involvement is most likely different than mine, no matter what format of music you witness, the experience is always special!

If you have not seen music live in awhile, get out from behind the electronics and go see a musical performance.  You will be amazed with the performers and enriched by the experience.  By attending a concert or competition, you also support musicians and performers who play an important part in our society, our education and our culture.

Music Advocacy

Celebrate! It’s National Arts in Education Week

September 10, 2012

It is September 2012.  Most of us have enjoyed a host of summertime fun — picnics, barbecues, memorable vacations with family or friends.  Now, teachers and students alike are facing the fall season and schools across the country are back in session, bustling with a plethora of academic activities.  There’s something else that takes place during the month of September, too.  That’s right folks;  it is time for National Arts in Education Week, which runs from September 9 to September 15, 2012.

Back on July 26, 2010, the United States House of Representatives officially approved and declared the second week of September to be Arts in Education Week.  This annual event was developed in order to show how important the arts are in widening and expanding students’ creativity, and helping them to ultimately become well-rounded and successful individuals.

According to the concurrent resolution passed by the House and the Senate, “Arts education, comprising a rich array of disciplines including dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design, and visual arts, is a core academic subject and an essential element of a complete and balanced education for all students.”  Many educators and community arts organizations across America are passionate about the arts — the Arts Education Partnership acts as a hub, a clearinghouse of information to promote a common vision:  keeping arts in the schools!

The National Art Education Association website provides many tools and resources teachers can use to celebrate Arts in Education Week in their classrooms.  The NAEA has provided an instructional resource gallery for all age groups as well as ideas and pointers for creating great lesson plans.  Information regarding grants, honors awards, and other opportunities within the arts education world are listed on the website as well.

So with all of that said, Happy National Arts in Education Week!  Let’s keep the joy and passion for the arts growing.


Marching Music — A Special Art Form

August 23, 2012

Drum Corps International, the premiere marching music entity, recently held their world championships at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I had the pleasure of being in attendance for the week’s activities.  During this time, thousands of young musicians and performers participated in an amazing week of musical pageantry, proficiency and sheer athletic speed unparalleled in the musical world.  The way corps members performed music challenging enough for a concert hall, while covering incredible distances at great tempos, was simply amazing.

In addition to on-field performances, many corps also participated in the Saturday morning Celebrate Indy Arts! parade.  Unlike normal parades, with fire truck after fire truck (I have nothing against fire trucks as my father-in-law owns one) and other non-musical groups, this parade featured music — one corps after the other.  Concluding the morning parade, about 2000 brass musicians joined together on the steps of the Indiana War Memorial building to collectively perform a beautiful rendition of Simple Gifts.

Prior to the final night’s competition, singer/songwriter and former American Idol contestant Shaun Cannon performed Live for Music with the INpact Indiana’s Future Band, a group of middle school band students from across the state.  Shaun has been very instrumental in providing financial assistance to struggling music programs throughout the county.  He is also a strong proponent of drum corps.  A truly wonderful musical forum for young musicians to perform in front of thousands.

Music education encompasses all facets of music.  Having not attended a DCI championship in a very long time, I was again reminded of this on so many different levels.  And to top off the experience, my alma mater drum corps, Crossmen, made it back to finals for the first time since 2004!  All in all, it was a wonderfully musical and educational trip.

Read more about Drum Corps International.

View the Live for Music video.

Learn more about INpact Indiana’s Future Band.


Music in our Schools Month: A Multi-Generational Approach

March 27, 2012

March is Music In Our Schools Month!  As part of this month-long celebration of music, the Montgomery County Concert Band of which I am a member participated in a unique and positive musical experience that combined generations of musicians.

Led by directors Stephen Frederick and Chuck Neidhardt, the adult band participated in a combined concert with the Colonial Middle School Wind Ensemble from Plymouth Meeting, PA, under the direction of Mr. David O’Neill.  Being able to focus the energy and passion for music of both bands was a wonderful underscore to this month-long celebration.

As stated so clearly in the program, “Through the Arts, young people learn life skills that will allow them to become successful, contributing members in our society in a variety of professions.” This statement was borne out by the 52 middle school musicians and the 73 concert band members, representing a wide array of professions, all of whom contributed their passion for music that evening.

The middle school ensemble began the concert with Bellingrath Gardens, A Song for Friends, 21 Guns and The Torch of Liberty. The concert band then took over performing Pathfinder of Panama, Pageant, Trail of Tears, Maple Leaf Forever, Battle of Shiloh and America the Beautiful. We brought the concert to a close with both bands performing The Witch and the Saint, Among the Clouds and The Stars and Stripes Forever.

As a member of the percussion section, it was a joy to work, interact and perform with the middle school students.  As fate would have it, on the night of the concert a few of the middle school percussionists fell ill.  The adults pitched in and helped out where we could, adding a true spirit of cooperation to the event.

If you haven’t done so already this month, take time to find a concert to attend, thank a music teacher or encourage a young musician.  We all know people are better for having music in their lives, and March is a great time to share that message with young people and the adults that teach them.

More about the Montgomery County Concert Band:


A Message from Dolly Parton to Church Choirs

January 6, 2012

It’s time to celebrate the wonderful contribution choirs make in churches across the country!

J.W. Pepper is happy to sponsor National Choir Appreciation Sunday and offer here a special message from Dolly Parton to all the musicians who raise their voice in praise.   Share with us on Facebook how you are celebrating this special day in your church.

Enjoy the video!


Festivals: Dreaming, Making and Maintaining the “Magic” of Song

October 19, 2011

By guest blogger Melody Gamblin-Bullock, General and Artistic Director, Forte Dallas Choral Festival (Crescendo Arts Enterprises)

In a time where budgets are being cut, teachers being released, and programs slashed a million different ways, one must ponder… “How am I going to make music, make those magical music moments this year??”  The answer is not simple, but profound… WE MUST FIND A WAY!  The students deserve it, the culture needs it, and the future of the arts and arts programs is, indeed, ours to continue breathing life into!  Festivals provide a great opportunity to accomplish your large and small goals.  Remember, the terms “contests” and “festivals” are sometimes used interchangeably — they can be adjudicated, non-adjudicated, competitive, and even non-competitive.

Kids need something to look forward to and work towards.  Pick a festival you can participate in, be it as an individual group, or better yet, a festival where you can join with others who have your vision for the greater good of an outstanding musical experience.  Make certain that you have considered multiple financial vehicles that can help defray the expenses that accompany such endeavors and aide in your students’ enjoyment.  “How?”  you might ask.  One of the ways is to plan-Plan-PLAN.

Plan a student fundraiser… it gives them a sense of accomplishment.  Have the parents/boosters plan a fundraiser… it gives them a sense of belonging.  Think “outside the box”… with a little ingenuity the students can fund-raise their way to an experience of a lifetime.  You can hold a silent auction with a dinner included.  How about partnering with the local nursery and selling bedding plants?  Have a favorite restaurant (or two) in town?  Ask them to have a “Friends of the High School” night where they get the extra business and you get a percentage of the proceeds.  Car washes still work well.  Ever thought about promoting a nonprofit tax donation?  (Your program!!)

Let your imagination go…

From the smallest program to the largest and all the ones in between – students deserve to be part of an outstanding musical experience.  Plan that extra musical experience.  Make some “magic” in your rehearsal room and for the entire year.

Melody Gamblin-Bullock, choral music educator and conductor, is currently the Director of Choral Activities at Brookhaven College, director of the Brookhaven Choral Society, and artistic director of the Spirituals Renaissance Chorale.  While serving as assistant director of the Dallas Symphony Chorus, she prepared for noted performances with conductors Thomas Wilkins, Marvin Hamlisch, and Zap Van Zweden.  She also developed a Sight-reading Initiative for the Dallas ISD, and remains in demand as a consultant, in-service clinician and adjudicator to school districts in Texas and throughout the Southwest.  She is presently pursuing doctoral studies at Texas Tech University.  She also serves as a member of the Irving (Texas) Arts Board, and has taught in the music departments of Texas Christian University and Texas Tech University.  Professional affiliations include the American Choral Directors Association, Texas Choral Directors Association, Texas Music Educators Association, and Sigma Alpha Iota international music fraternity.