You have decided on the trip, made all the preparations, and your students and parent groups have been hard at work raising the funds to ensure that every student can participate. Now it is time to choose the repertoire that you will be presenting.
Performance planning is rarely the highlight of any music director’s season. Designing your concert may be enjoyable in itself, but the stress that comes with finding the right music, keeping track of what you have and haven’t reviewed, and deciding on the best concert order can begin to weigh on anyone after a while.
Our editors have their work cut out for them when choosing which titles to include in our Editors’ Choice series each year. We did some digging to find out which titles Pepper customers favored this past year and were pleased to see that, for the most part, you liked what we liked. Here is a list of the top 10 picks for both band and choir music, amongst you, our customers!
Have you ever attended a musical or choral event and thought, “Wow, I wish I could do that”? Perhaps you felt so inspired after witnessing a performance and for a split second you thought, “I’m going to march right up on stage and join in on the fun!” But, then suddenly you come to the realization that it’s probably best stick to your day job. A crowd of lucky people seized the opportunity to be an active part of a major choral concert and their experience is worth sharing.
On Sunday this past February, a concert event presented by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia took place at the First Baptist Church located in the “City of Brotherly Love.” However, this was no ordinary choral concert where people just sit in the audience listening quietly while a choir sings and instrumentalists play in the background. Members of the audience were provided with an opportunity to help make beautiful music along with the Mendelssohn Club.
This particular musical event was part of Audience inCHOIRing and the brainchild of Mr. Alan Harler, Artistic Director of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. Mr. Harler developed the concept of Audience inCHOIRing after the Mendelssohn Club’s 2009 season, when they performed a piece composed by David Lang that included choreography with the entire choir and a dance group. At one point during the concert, members of the audience were asked to stand up and move to another part of the concert hall area. Mr. Harler had a chance to witness all this commotion from his conductor stand and was inspired by what he saw as it seemed like the audience suddenly became involved in this musical production.
The Audience inCHOIRing event allowed individuals to learn various music styles and pieces like chants from Durufle’s Requiem, Leonard Bernstein’s The Lark, and the world premiere of a Rollo Dilworth commission, Rain Sequence. Mr. Harler’s idea is certainly a clever way to give a behind-the-scenes look at what happens with learning and rehearsing the songs to the point when everything comes together harmoniously, creating beautiful music like the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia does every time they present a concert. The Mendelssohn Club has started a very innovative trend and perhaps they’ll present more Audience inCHOIRing concerts in the future. Will other music groups follow suit and incorporate audience participation within their performances? Surely, time will tell!
An active composer, conductor and performer, Brian Balmages’ fresh style of composition has put him in high demand for his wind, brass and orchestral music worldwide. Mr. Balmages’ compositions have been performed at events such as the College Band Directors National and Regional Conference, the Midwest Clinic, the International Tuba/Euphonium Conference, the International Trombone Festival and the International Trumpet Guild Conference. His active schedule of commissions and premieres involve groups ranging from elementary schools to professional ensembles. Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Brian Balmages and asked him a few questions pertaining to his music career from his early days to the present.
When did you begin in music? What instrument did you begin with?
I began playing trumpet when I was very young – early elementary school. My father recalls my buzzing on a mouthpiece when I was younger, but I didn’t actually start playing trumpet until a bit later. Both my parents are Peabody Conservatory graduates so there was a lot of music around the house. My father also played trumpet and was actually my elementary band director – and was also my wife’s elementary band director!
Did you have a specific “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?
I always knew I wanted to be in music. It was just in my blood. I played piano all the time growing up and just loved how making music impacted my life. However, when I was younger, I originally thought I would become a music teacher like my parents. That changed in high school when I got more involved in both performance and computer music. I also started having interests in film scoring.
What inspired you to become a composer?
This has always been a tough question to answer. I did not major in composition, nor did I really study composition much at any point in my education. I was mostly focused on trumpet performance for a while. I think the main inspiration to compose came from my inner understanding that I am not able to express myself any other way. It took me a while to figure that out, which is probably why I didn’t start composing with any seriousness until graduate school.
What things inspire your writing?
Anything can inspire my writing, but it almost always winds up centering on an emotion. If a piece is programmatic, it still has to be based on emotion in order for me to truly invest myself in the work. Otherwise, it just feels meaningless and I throw it away. And if a piece is non-programmatic, the same can still apply – I need to feel an energy or emotion. The question simply involves the trigger for the emotion. It could be a letter a young girl writes to a soldier overseas about how she misses her dad (Journal for a Soldier) or just a concept of silencing the world because everything is just so loud (Silence Overwhelmed)… wherever inspiration comes from and the emotions it brings, I accept it and write accordingly.
Tell me something people don’t know about you that they might find surprising.
I have never formally studied composition. In fact, I did not major in music education, performance, composition or conducting – yet these are the things I do most often. (My undergrad was in music industry and my master’s was in media writing and production.)
What is your favorite band piece by another composer?
Wow – that’s a tough one. I recently became reacquainted with Illyrian Dances by Woolfenden and have fallen in love with it all over again. I’m also a big fan of David Maslanka’s Song Book for Flute and Wind Ensemble (almost an hour long!)
Do you have one of your own works that you would call your favorite?
One of my personal favorites is a piece for brass ensemble called Ite Missa Est. It’s a four-movement work, about 18 minutes long. As for band pieces, I really am partial to a more recent piece of mine, Journal for a Soldier. It’s extremely emotional – it was inspired by a letter I read from an 8-year-old girl to a soldier overseas. It made me think about my own kids and what it feels like when I’m not able to tuck them in at night. I released all of that emotion into the music itself. I’ve never made it through the piece without tearing up – even in a reading session. And that’s how it should be.
What advice or tips would you give to an aspiring composer?
Write from within. Don’t try to tailor pieces to publishers – just let yourself develop. Otherwise, everyone’s music would sound the same. Get your music played as often as possible, whether in performance or just a reading session. You will learn more from that than almost anything else.
Do you have the opportunity to rehearse and/or conduct your works with various groups and if so, do you enjoy the experience?
Yes, I conduct quite often. I actually enjoy the conducting aspect of things more than the composing process. I feel that conducting is where the music actually happens. I can compose all day long, but no one can hear what is in my head until I get in front of a group of musicians and get them to understand what I was after musically when I was writing. And to have that interaction with the group that is performing is a wonderful experience.
“Rapid Fire” Questions:
What is on your iPod?
Nickelback, Guns n’ Roses, Sting, Metallica, Linkin Park, Pearl Jam, Matchbox Twenty, and Rush, to name a few…
If not composing or performing, what profession could you envision yourself doing?
I have no answer to that – I can’t envision doing anything else. Music is my life.
What is your favorite composition? (of any composer, in any medium)
Mahler’s Symphony No. 2
Is there anyone, past or present, that, if possible you would like to have the opportunity to meet?
John Williams. He inspired me growing up. He got me into orchestral music and his music got me excited about conducting. I also admire how he conducts and composes both for orchestras and for film.
If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would that be?
John Adams. His music makes me think. I find it quite listenable yet I never quite know where it is going. It’s extremely compelling and would be great company.
At this point in my life, kids! But when we have a break, I love going to the gym and rock climbing.
Performer or composer?
One of Balmages’ latest compostions, entitled simply Dreaming, is scored for string orchestra and was inspired by an image of his two sons sleeping peacefully at night. You can hear a sample of this latest original on his facebook page.
One of the highlights of the holiday season is enjoying one of the many music programs that add so much to the season. While attending one such holiday concert, I experienced an added touch that really enhanced the evening’s performance.
As audience members arrived, they were greeted by several small student groups playing carols. The groups consisted of various instruments and were placed at different locations, both outside the entrance as well as throughout the foyer. I noted they were spaced far enough apart that they didn’t interfere with each other’s performance — all the while keeping the sounds of the season within earshot of the incoming audience. The effect was that of instrumental carolers, creating a festive atmosphere that greatly enhanced the seasonal atmosphere for the evening’s performance.
The “caroling” groups consisted of middle school musicians that had volunteered to perform. The carols came from several standard holiday collections that can be rehearsed with full band and are easy enough to perform with little rehearsal time. The director divided the band into the small caroling groups for the concert night. The caroling groups were so well received that they took the show on the road, and used the instrumental groups at various functions around town — playing before choir concerts and singers caroling before band concerts.
What a festive addition to holiday celebrations! It not only builds performance opportunities, responsibility and confidence in young musicians, but puts your audience in the mood for a special holiday treat!
I recently enjoyed a Ballston Spa Community Band concert while attending the New York State School Music Conference in Albany, New York. Prior to the concert, I had the opportunity to meet the conductor, Ms. Tracy DeRagon. One of the pieces programmed generated a rather interesting conversation. The name of the ninth piece on the program was ‘Tis a Gift by Anne McGinty. This piece holds special meaning in the hearts of both the composer and to many Pepper employees, so I shared the story with Tracy.
On July 17, 1996, three band students from the Montoursville Area High School (Northern Pennsylvania) tragically lost their lives aboard TWA Flight 800. Following a memorial concert held shortly after the accident, members of the band suggested the idea of a dedicatory work. With this in mind, we were contacted to make this idea a reality. We approached composer Anne McGinty about writing a commissioned work, and she eagerly agreed to write the piece to honor and celebrate the students’ lives. At that point we decided both the composer’s worldwide royalties as well as all proceeds from Pepper’s sale of the piece would be donated to the band’s ‘Tis a Scholarship Fund for Music Education.
Return now to the Ballston Spa band concert in 2010. Before each piece, the conductor shared personal stories and introductions about each piece. When it was time for ‘Tis a Gift, she shared our conversation with the audience.
Attending this concert left me with a very special feeling and I felt truly honored to be part of a special cause that transcends music and still has meaning today.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said “Music is the universal language of mankind.” So many music lovers from around the globe have enjoyed listening to albums, cassettes, CDs and digital downloads that many artists travel to foreign lands in order to share music in person with their fans. We’ve seen an explosion in technological innovations on the internet and YouTube that gives people instant access to artists from different backgrounds and cultures.
A great example of the synergy of diverse styles happened right in my back yard, here in America at a concert held at the Mann Music Center for the Performing Arts located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That summer evening concert featured the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a classically trained pianist, both peforming along with the Philadelphia Orchestra. This benefit concert was held to support the Mann Music Center’s Youth Education and Community Outreach Programs.
Both Ms. Franklin and Ms. Rice expressed their musical talents individually during the concert, and much to the audience’s delight, they combined forces as Condoleeza accompanied the Queen of Soul on her version of “I Say A Little Prayer.” Just before the benefit concert came to a close, Aretha Franklin belted out “Freeway of Love,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and believe it or not, Ms. Franklin performed Puccini’s operatic composition “Nessun Dorma,” creating an exciting and magical night for all who attended this wonderful musical event.
Aretha Franklin and Condoleeza Rice have obviously traveled through life on two very different paths, both professionally and musically, only to end up sharing a concert stage on a summer’s night. I remain amazed how music truly does bring people together.
Click here to read more about the concert and the Mann Music Center.
Click here to view music by Aretha Franklin.
Concert etiquette is important as it shows respect for both performers and fellow audience members alike. Musicians that pursue their craft in earnest grow to appreciate the hard work and just plain guts it takes to take the stage and carry out a musical performance. When I taught middle school, we included concert etiquette as part of the general music curriculum and reinforced the concept at concerts. A brief concert etiquette guide was listed on the back of concert programs, stating a few obvious points such as waiting until a piece is concluded if you must leave the room, and refraining from talking while the music is being performed. When the Principal made his opening remarks to begin the concert, he would often draw attention to the guide. This brief mention supported the effort of the musicians on stage, and pointed to the responsibility of the audience to be courteous during the concert. It effectively set the tone in the auditorium (or gym, or cafeteria.)
Here’s a perspective on concert etiquette provided by MENC featuring renowned music advocate and motivational speaker, Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser.
If you have ideas that work for you in promoting concert etiquette, please share them and we’ll post them here.
When we think of classical music we conjure sounds of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel, Wagner, and Copland, among others. But it’s no secret that with that love of the classics often comes a noticeable hesitation to embrace contemporary classical music, a genre encompassing works composed from the mid-1970s to the present day.
Finding an audience for modern music that is perceived as awkward and unpleasant is not easy. Fortunately there are major orchestras that, through artist residency programs, openly support works from new composers. But should we as listeners take a chance on contemporary classical music? As rhetorical as this question might sound, I believe that I have nothing to lose and attempting to answer it will only help the longevity of classical music as a whole. In other words, why not?
Spaces Between (2006) – Jen Wang
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D major, op. 102 no. 2 – Ludwig van Beethoven
S.T.I.C. (1995) – Dan Becker (b. 1960)
This was a new kind of symphonic experience, an auditory buffet that introduced me to contemporary music paired with pieces that were not so contemporary, without program notes or a pre-concert lecture. Instead, prior to each piece the members of the ensemble would demonstrate each piece’s contrasting styles through the recitation of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” It was fascinating to realize the vast differences between Beethoven’s counterpoint and Carter’s complexity, explained through a well-known folk tune.
This process gave the audience a chance to learn about each piece and the composer’s creative approach that created it. It enabled us to personalize the music as it was played, therefore making it more difficult to dismiss it as inaccessible. Kathyrn Bates Williams, founding member and cellist, states in her blog, “Listening to all music is important. It distinguishes the artistic values that we appreciate and those we don’t. It brings us surprises both good and bad.” I can’t help but agree with her. It’s a risk, a small risk that we take in seeing contemporary concerts, equivalent to trying a new restaurant.
After the concert we filed into the lobby where the composers Jen Wang and Dan Becker mingled with the audience. Suddenly it dawned on me how important it was for these two artists that there even was an audience, that it possibly didn’t matter whether or not I actually liked their music.
This is an extremely liberating concept for me as a listener and performer. The New Spectrum Ensemble strives to promote contemporary composers, and to accomplish that it took me on a strange journey made available through their unique, tongue-in-cheek programming. My journey might result in me not liking everything that I hear and that’s ok. In the end all that matters is that I showed up and listened.
Meet the members of the New Spectrum Ensemble here: www.thenewspectrum.com. Additionally, if you are interested in learning more about contemporary classical music or just looking for an informative website from one of today’s most entertaining musical thinkers, please check out Alex Ross, music writer for The New Yorker. His website and blog are located at www.therestisnoise.com