Browsing Tag

concert programming

The Pepper Difference

Introducing My Library

January 29, 2016


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.

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The Rite of Spring – An Appreciation

May 14, 2013

Igor StravinskyAs I write these words, we are no more than a few days away from the hundredth anniversary of one of the great events in musical history. May 29, 1913 was the date of the first performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, one of the most tumultuous first performances ever.  The Paris performance was by the company known as the Ballets Russes, whose founder and leader Sergei Diaghelev specialized in bringing together the latest in music, dance, costume and design.  The orchestra was conducted by Pierre Monteux, accompanying new choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky.

As was noted by many people who were at this first performance, a murmur of protest began in the audience from the very start of the music, which increased and redoubled as the dancers appeared in primitive costumes.  Half the audience appealed for order, and the other half violently protested the music.  The uproar grew into fistfights, and the police were called to keep order.

For my part, I first heard the Rite as a teenage high school student.  With some curiosity, I borrowed the LP recording by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic from the public library.  I had never heard the work and was astonished at what I was hearing, and that music could be like this, so different from high school music appreciation classes or from the Haydn and Heller of my piano lessons.  I listened to the recording over and over, with fascination and amazement, not believing that such a piece could actually have been created, and longing to hear it in live performance.  A year later, I did manage to hear it in concert, by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Lukas Foss.

Hearing the Rite led me to listen to and to learn from other challenging works of music, and to begin to appreciate the effect that music could have on one’s very existence.  If a single work could be said to change someone’s life, it was The Rite of Spring that did it for me.

In a future blog, I will delve into the details and differences of the varying editions of this work.

Read Part 2: The Rite of Spring at 100


The Midwest Clinic – A Preview

December 18, 2012

The 66th annual Midwest Clinic is this week! The theme for this year’s famed International Band and Orchestra Conference is “In Honor of Our Mentors,” and some important figures in band and orchestra music will be in attendance.

Wynton Marsalis, internationally acclaimed musician and advocate of the arts, will be presenting the keynote address and holding an open rehearsal as part of the jazz track.  In keeping with the theme, the conference is encouraging people to email tributes about their own special mentors to These tributes will be posted on The Midwest Clinic web site.

One of the reasons to attend Midwest is for the concerts.  The great United States Air Force Band under the direction of Colonel Larry H. Lang will have their first performance at 5:30 Wednesday evening.  Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser will guest conduct the band at this concert, which will include a performance of the Commando March by Samuel Barber.

The Air Force Band will perform a second concert at 7:30 the same evening.  In this performance, Sergeant Ben Park will be singing The Star Spangled Banner,” and the Air Force Saxophone Quartet will be performing “Concerto Grosso for Saxophone Quartet” composed by William Bolcom.  Both concerts will certainly be worth attending!

While this historic conference is known for the concerts, make sure to save time to visit the exhibit hall. In particular, stop by Pepper booth 904 to pick up your Midwest Brochure, which provides you with title information and an easy reference guide of all the published works being performed at the conference.  The conference floor is open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Book signings will also be popular events with the following composers scheduled for time in our booth:

Mark Fonder (Patrick Conway and his Famous Band) – Thursday at 12:45 p.m.

Edward S. Lisk (The Musical Mind of the Creative Director) – Friday at 11:15 a.m.

Gary Stith (Score and Rehearsal Preparation) – Friday at 3:15 p.m.

Frank Battisti – Thursday, right after his session, from 2:45 – 3:45 p.m.

Russ Robinson – Friday, right after his session, from 9:45 – 10:45 a.m.

Pepper loves being a part of the Midwest tradition. We look forward to seeing you at McCormick Place West for the 2012 Midwest Clinic. You don’t want to miss it!


Meet Pepper: Southern California

November 27, 2012

When tourists visit southern California, their itinerary will more than likely include must-see sights and trips to Disneyland, Hollywood and one of the many beaches that typify Los Angeles.  However, there is growing speculation that making a trip to Pepper Southern California may be trending positively within that list, probably somewhere in between Rodeo Drive and any MTV celebrity home.

Kidding aside, J.W. Pepper has had a presence in southern California since the early 1980s, with previous locations in the cities of Gardena and Santa Fe Springs.  Currently, our store is located in the beautiful city of Norwalk, about 15 miles away from Disneyland and 25 minutes from the beach.  The store also functions as a Regional Marketing Center, where we proudly serve southern California, Arizona and Hawaii.

Our team realizes that when it comes to our customers and their expectations, the little things mean everything.  We make every effort possible to ensure that our customers leave our store knowing that they can always depend on Pepper for all of their sheet music needs.  Our staff of four provides a wide spectrum of services for our customers, including organizing and implementing annual choral workshops and copyright presentations.  Other times, we play host on district in-service days to assist neighboring school districts in choosing their curricula for the year.  For the most part, the store acts as a musical treasure vault, where amateur and professional musicians browse for hours looking for updates to their musical repertoire.

The newest addition to the team is Gloria Zurita, who joined Pepper in 2010.  Gloria is a former clarinet player with an appetite for writing and photography.  Her favorite musical activity at the moment is “listening to and dissecting Eric Whitacre chords” in her car while she sits in L.A. traffic. 

Kristina Real joined Pepper in late 2005.  She played the accordion early in her childhood, as well as percussion in the school band. She is a bona fide music aficionado of nearly every genre.  If a customer is unsure about a song title, once they start to sing a measure or two, Kristina will almost always successfully “name that tune.” 

Valdemar Zamora has been with Pepper for over 20 years.  A proud family man and keyboard player, he once toured professionally with a Mexican pop group.  Presently, he shares his talents with his local church worship group as their keyboardist.

The manager of J.W. Pepper SoCal is Pepper Vice President Sam DeRenzis.  Sam earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Gettysburg College.  His involvement with the industry spans over three decades, and he has been with Pepper for over 20 years.  He is an accomplished saxophone player and a passionate fan of Major League Baseball.

Feel free to stop by whenever you’re in the area.  We would love to see you!

Visit Pepper SoCal’s website.

Hang out with us on Facebook.


Meet Pepper: Northern California

October 16, 2012
Hi from the San Francisco Bay Area!  The J.W. Pepper Northern California store is located in sunny Dublin, California, about 40 miles east of San Francisco.  We moved to this spot in the spring of 2008 from our original Fremont location which opened in 2001.
  Pepper Northern California regional marketing center

Our staff has fun working together and that energy translates into a relaxed and happy store environment.  We’ve worked hard to make our store into a valuable resource for the music community, and in the process we’ve made good friends along the way.

Ryan Blauvelt, Regional Marketing Manager, has been with Pepper since 2007.  He has a Bachelor of Music in percussion performance from Long Beach State University.  Ryan loves playing live music gigs, sports, backpacking absurdly long distances, and exploring the sights, sounds, and tastes of San Francisco.

Ashli Montgomery, diehard San Francisco 49ers fan and lover of the outdoors, has a business management degree from San Francisco State and has worked for Pepper for 3½ years.  Recently engaged, she is looking forward to planning a wedding in the upcoming year!

Katie Waters has a degree in applied mathematics from Sacramento State and plays tenor sax in a Dixieland jazz group called the Jelly Jam Jazz Band.  She’s also a counselor at the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Youth Camp where she teaches kids about Dixieland music. 

David Song is our resident choral music expert and has a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance from Cal State Hayward.  He’s also our graphic design genius, creating impressive signs, postcards and posters for our events.  David’s dog Melo often comes to work and is considered the “office dog.”  


Pepper Northern California staff

Hosting live events, both inside and outside our store, is a large part our fun at work.  We hosted famed composer Frank Ticheli in February 2011 and Dr. Peter Boonshaft in August later that year.  On October 20 we will host Beth Peterson, author of The Music Teacher’s First Year, in a clinic targeted to college music students and new music teachers.  We also host an annual customer appreciation party. This year our outdoor courtyard provided excellent acoustics for our featured entertainment:  a jazz band made up of local high school students!

Working at “the Dublin branch” is a special experience.  Each of us brings unique qualities to the store and this combination of personalities makes a visit efficient and memorable!  We enjoy working on new projects that will result in bringing musicians together to exchange ideas and knowledge.  We are very proud of our store and would love for you to visit!

Visit Pepper NorCal’s website.

Hang out with us on Facebook.


The Sounds of Summer: Music at the Movies – Part II

July 5, 2012

A continuation of the discussion of the value of cinematic soundtracks to the world of both serious music and to music education…

Each year, as Hollywood offers the movie-going community an array of new film scores to appreciate, publishers of educational music wisely pursue the most iconic of these scores to arrange for young musicians. Artists like Ted Ricketts, Douglas Wagner, Jerry Brubaker, Mike Story, and Victor Lopez all understand the value of arranging movie soundtracks, “the new classical music,” for student ensembles. But why should a school instrumental director consider a film score arrangement as part of his or her concert or marching program?

Victor Lopez, who works as an arranger for Alfred Music Publishing, has this to say about the value of cinematic soundtracks to the educational market:

“Today, students have many opportunities to listen to all kinds of music via radio, television, YouTube, iTunes and other mediums.  However, not all of the music provided to the public is truly educational or quality literature.  On the other hand, most of the music in cinematic soundtracks seems to require a high level of creativity and sound musical knowledge.  Movie music is an art form that is created for a purpose… although putting together a collection of pop songs may constitute a cinematic soundtrack, in my opinion, that’s not really movie music.

“Most film music is an art, and because of its artistic value, the material is perfectly geared for music education programs and becomes extremely beneficial in music curricula.”

Arrangers from publishing companies across the educational spectrum universally point to John Williams as one of the most significant composers in film history, and agree his material provides excellent content for student musicians.  The melodic quality of Williams’ work is the “something” that sets his music apart, makes it so memorable, and takes it beyond incidental background material.  By providing band and orchestra arrangements of his scores (as well as the rousing themes of other composers in the genre), arrangers make this fun and relevant material available to student organizations.

An educator who chooses a well-arranged cinema theme for band or orchestra bridges the gap between this sense of relevance and content that will challenge them artistically, a bridge that exists nowhere else.  That pursuit of what instrumentalists find exciting now may not only be an invaluable investment in students’ education, but the future appreciation of serious music as well.


The Sounds of Summer: Music at the Movies-Part I

June 20, 2012

Summer has hardly begun, but the summer movie season is already in full swing.  Every year, a parade of blockbuster films compete with each other for the millions of dollars moviegoers will spend in search of a journey into the magic of the movies.  For the music enthusiast, however, this season of film after film brings another art form into the spotlight:  the soundtrack.

Some people can watch an entire film and never truly hear a note of the soundtrack, but there’s no doubt every viewer would miss the intricate underscore if the filmmakers left it out.  From the winsome, pastoral flute of the Shire theme in Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings scores to the driving electronica that intermixes with the works of Hans Zimmer, film soundtracks set the mood and the pace of the story in a visceral way the viewer may not be able to verbalize, but feels nonetheless.

This summer promises to offer yet another constellation of musical themes. Most of the names soundtrack enthusiasts know will be present at the box office this year, including Danny Elfman on Men in Black III, Alan Silvestri on the already wildly successful The Avengers, James Horner with The Amazing Spiderman, Hans Zimmer in The Dark Night Rises. Patrick Doyle, noted for his past work on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as well as Thor will offer his talents to the score of Disney/Pixar’s Brave.

Aside from entertainment value, cinematic soundtracks bear a greater burden of artistic value than they may seem to carry on the surface. Michael Story, editor and arranger for Alfred Music Publishing, underscores cinematic music’s relevance and value:  “For many people, movie music is the ‘new’ classical music. Many symphony orchestras now present concerts that include movie music as part of their repertoire — partially because it is a way to get new people to the concerts, but also, and just as important, because so much of it is so good. Howard Shore’s successful ‘Lord of the Rings Symphony’ tour a few years back is a great example of this.”

In a time when a baseball team can sell out four seasons of games in a row while in the same city a world-class orchestra files for bankruptcy, clearly the task of generating current and future audiences for orchestral music is an urgent concern.

A love for serious repertoire is something the music educators of today have the unique privilege of cultivating in young people while their attitudes are open to the exposure. Coming soon, in a second part to this discussion, learn how school music directors can utilize movie soundtracks to plant seeds of appreciation of classical music in their students and community.


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:

Music Advocacy

Audience inCHOIRing

April 21, 2011

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!


Band Composer Series: Brian Balmages

April 6, 2011
Brian Balmages

Brian Balmages

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.

Favorite pastime?

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?

Maurice Ravel

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.