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Marching Band

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. And, while it is necessary to do all this prep work in order to get to the part everyone loves, the time it takes to get there can be overwhelming.

That’s why J.W. Pepper created My Library, a free online service that helps you plan your performances. My Library is already available to anyone with a Pepper account. Once you log in to your account, you can launch My Library and get started.

Adding pieces to My Library is as simple as shopping around the site. As you browse our site, you will notice a new icon in the same place you can view scores or listen to the music. Clicking this small folder icon will allow you to add the piece to a folder you create in My Library. Add as many pieces as you want, whether you plan to purchase them now or return to them for future consideration.

Once you have your pieces, you can easily organize them into folders by concert season, school year, performance theme or any other method you prefer. In each folder, you can move the pieces around to test different concert orders. Because most pieces give you the opportunity to listen right from our site, you can hear your entire concert exactly as it will sound before you even purchase the pieces. That means time saved and no more leaps of faith when it comes time to buy.

Many of our customers are already using My Library to plan future concerts and loving the results:

I just used the library to put my spring concert program together. It makes life easier! Thank you!“ – Amy Black


“Using it for the first time. I love that I can save all my favorites to one location and then organize by season or concert. Love it!” – Joyce Jingle


It is easy to get started with My Library and, in no time, you can finish the hard work of planning a concert and get to the fun of making music! Log in today and start planning your next concert online for free.



Music in the Air: The DCI Summer Tour

June 23, 2015
DCI show

Image courtesy of Drum Corps International

Summer in the United States offers many unique opportunities for music lovers to enjoy the weather while seeing a favorite group or hearing an entirely new genre. One such genre is a lesser-known but inarguably entertaining tradition.  It is a gathering of musicians, dancers, and other performers, all between the ages of 14 and 21.  They play at a professional level, bringing to their audiences some of the most challenging music and breathtaking choreography this country has to offer.  They are none other than Drum Corps International: Marching Music’s Major League.


An Open Atmosphere:

Crossmen performs Saturday, August 9, at the 2014 DCI World Championship Finals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. The corps finished in 12th place with a score of 86.225.

Crossmen perform at the 2014 DCI World Championship Finals.

Most people experience music in the concert hall, especially large brass or percussion.  And most people experience expert choreography on a stage in a dance hall.  But a DCI summer show brings both to the open air, presenting an experience very few have had before.  Most of these shows are held in stadiums or performed on college or high school football fields, giving audiences the chance to enjoy the summer weather while also seeing some of the most amazing performances they will witness in their lifetime.  Listen while each drum corps fills up the stadium and literally shakes the bleachers as they play.

But the stadium is only part of the experience. Before each show, the participating drum and bugle corps go off to warm up in the parking lots.  This gives attendees the opportunity to see the inner workings of how these groups prepare for their demanding performances. Brass and percussion warm-up arcs can offer a lot of educational and helpful techniques for both students and teachers.  Watching a color guard spin together with flags, sabers, and rifles while practicing their choreography is a rare chance to see some amazing art.  In short, you may never see anything quite like a DCI show again.


Comfort in the Familiar:

Boston Crusaders performs Saturday, August 9, at the 2014 DCI World Championship Finals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. The corps finished in 10th place with a score of 88.950.

Boston Crusaders perform at the 2014 DCI World Championship Finals.

Concertgoers can expect at some point to hear familiar repertoire.  The music and shows these corps produce are truly extraordinary:  from pop artists like Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, and Radiohead to jazz from the likes of Pat Metheny, Chick Corea and Louis Armstrong to the classical works of Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky;  even Broadway shows like The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, and West Side Story – all  have been arranged and performed on the field by DCI.  Some adventurous corps have even mixed and matched a number of genres to create amazing shows and themes that take audiences on a journey none has ever traveled before.

Of course, patriotic music is always in the repertoire of these drum corps.  After all, most of them started in the military or in VFW halls. Some of the most stirring renditions of the National Anthem, America, and God Bless America ever played were arranged by

Mandarins performs Friday, August 8, at the 2014 DCI World Championship Semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. The corps finished in 21st place with a score of 78.150.

Mandarins perform at the 2014 DCI World Championship Semifinals.

drum corps. Though these arrangements may come from familiar places, each DCI performance is truly one of a kind.

One of the things that makes DCI shows so special is the ever-changing members, staff, writers, and choreographers.  A show that is written and performed in 2015 by a particular group will never be performed again as written after that summer; and that group will never perform together again after the DCI World Championships in Indianapolis.  That said, don’t miss out if the DCI summer show comes to your town.  For more information and a full schedule of events, go to  If DCI trucks roll into your neighborhood, put down the iPad, turn off the TV, and get outside and enjoy a spectacular show of sight and sound.



Plan Your Field Show with Pyware

May 28, 2014

5836143 The process of planning and executing a marching band field show can take an incredibly long time, but since 1994, marching band directors have had Pyware to help them.  Pyware is an advanced tool for constructing and visualizing both formations and movements for field shows, drum line competitions, and color guard productions.

Pyware has always been great about releasing new versions and updating their existing software to continually improve the user experience.  The newest versions have a ton of great new features to help plan and visualize your field show.

Pyware has been working hard to make the visual aspect of their software more and more realistic.  They have added a plethora of new realistic poses and animations for the simulated members of your color guard, including, but not in the least limited to, Bent Wall, Windmills, and Figure 8 Carves.  There are also new instruments, props, and locations.  You can simulate a full pit with new Gymnasiums for indoor shows and different settings for outdoor shows.  Wherever your show is taking place, you can simulate it on Pyware.

The new versions also clean up the process of planning a field show and create an improved user experience.  You can now make custom yard markers and delete camera movements with one button.  Camera panning has also been improved to move in counts rather than in seconds, giving your simulation a more realistic look.  There are also new printing options for thicker grid and yard lines to make it easier for your ensemble members to learn their sets.

Read more, and check out this demo of Pyware Version 7.2.


Three Marching Band Horror Stories

April 21, 2014

Marching-Band-CoverTrying to keep a rehearsal running smoothly with a collection of musicians is difficult enough as it is.  Add to that the unpredictable outdoors, a plethora of competitions, and a hundred or so jittery teenagers and you might as well be herding cats.  With all the different factors and variables that go into a marching band field show, it is incredibly satisfying to see everything go right in the end.  Of course, with so much going on, a director cannot always expect to beat the odds and have a flawless show or rehearsal.  Here are three instances when the odds won out:


Missing in Action
Band directors have rules for a reason.  If a student ever questions that, here is a story to reinforce the fact:

Our first director has just a few simple rules.  One of the easiest of those: students are NOT allowed to leave the premises without an approved staff member or parent.  A member of the staff is provided to transport students if need be.  That is just what a certain student was told when asked if she could have another band member drive her home to pick up her medication.  Did the student listen?  Of course not.  Here is what transpired:

Lunch was over and the two students had not returned.  Eventually the father of the boy who offered to drive the young lady appeared at the rehearsal and motioned for the director to come speak to him.  The news was less than pleasant.  The students in question had been involved in a car accident.  Before you panic, the students themselves were fine.  The house they crashed into was not.

Yes, a house.  But wait, the director thought, as he looked out into the parking lot.  That’s the student in question’s car right there in the parking lot.  How could that have happened?  As it turned out, the driver had borrowed another band member’s car.  The director called that band member out to speak to them, asking “did you lend your car to this student?”

“Why, yes!  Er, after a fashion…”  What do we mean by “after a fashion?”  Well, the car didn’t belong to the student.  It belonged to his grandfather.

So to recap, a male student borrowed his friend’s grandfather’s car to drive a young lady who had been told she could not get a ride from the first boy and proceeded to drive the car into a house which, as it turns out, belonged to a cafeteria worker at the school.  Got it?

No word on whether the young lady felt this was better or worse than driving with the designated staff member.  We have a guess…


The Day the Field Stood Still
Flag markers can be a huge help when learning a new drill.  They make a bit of a mess and you cannot leave them out overnight, but the visual aid is key for teaching new movements and positions quickly.  Cleanup can take a while and be a little taxing (especially when thrust upon a horde of teenagers), but it is doable.  Well, at least until the power goes out…

That very nightmare came true for one director out in California.  To say such a thing happens once in a blue moon would be fair.  Of course, had it been a blue moon things would have gone much more smoothly, as there would have been plenty of light.  As it was, the moon was new and the field fell dark.

After the screaming (yes, screaming) subsided, the director was able to regain what sense of order one can hold over musicians.  For once, modern technology became the director’s friend as one by one the students pulled out their cell phone flashlights to illuminate the areas around them.  The power never returned, but the band was able to (slowly) clean up the field before ending practice early… and in the dark.


Regionals or Bust
The band director has many enemies that conspire to destroy the best laid plans.  You know what they are: bad weather, short attention spans, yard sales.  Wait, yard sales, you ask?  How could a yard sale conspire to destroy my plans?  One director found out the answer to that the hard way.

Three buses and one staff van left school for Regionals one fateful day.  The transports ended up separated, with buses 2 and 3 stuck behind another car.  That was no big deal, or so they thought.  Creeping up on the side of the road, however, was something none of them expected, especially the driver of the car in front of bus 2.  A yard sale, apparently a very interesting one, appeared.  The car driver stopped suddenly, fascinated by the used wares.  Bus 2 managed to slow down enough to avoid hitting the car, but bus 3 did not have enough warning.

Bus 3 crashed into the back of bus 2 while bus 1 and the staff van unknowingly left them behind.  Another motorist tracked the staff van down to alert them to the accident, and they returned to find emergency vehicles arriving at the scene.  First, of course, the director made sure there were no serious injuries.  None, which was a miracle of sorts.  The real miracle, however, would be getting to the competition on time.  If they missed the competition, they would be disqualified and could not compete in the state finals.

What happened next will instill a greater faith in humanity than you have ever had before.  First, the athletic director and cross country coaches found two other buses from the school and drove up.  Two of the competing bands sent supporting vehicles and enlisted their own band parents to take care of the logistics on site while things at the crash site were put in order.  The other seventeen bands agreed to allow them to go last so that they could get as many students ready to perform as possible.

By the time it was their turn, the band had only sixteen holes (pretty good considering the circumstances).  They ended up placing second behind one of the bands that helped them transport students.  All in all, the ordeal ended in NO broken bones and NO serious injuries, while the band still managed to qualify for Finals.  Think about next time you stop short for a yard sale!

Got your own horror story?  We’d love to hear them!


Necessities for Marching Band Maintenance

March 31, 2014

Accessories for MusiciansWith limited resources for many music programs these days, proper instrument upkeep has never been more important.  While you need to handle major repairs with a complete instrument repair kit, many smaller issues can be solved with regular maintenance.  A few cheap and easy fixes can make your equipment last a lot longer, saving your program a lot of money in purchases and repairs.  Here are a few of the most important items for keeping your instruments in playing condition:

The materials used to make woodwinds may have changed a bit over the years, but a few things are still essential to their upkeep.  As with any instrument, the interior of a woodwind comes in contact with a lot of moisture.  It is very important to keep the insides dry between rehearsals to keep the instrument in pristine working condition.  That’s why every woodwind player needs some kind of swab to dry out the insides.  Saxophonists will often use a large brush and keep it inside the neck where most of the moisture collects.

Not every woodwind instrument still uses cork at its connections, but most of them do.  Cork grease is essential to keep these cork connections from drying out.  If the cork dries out, it will begin to flake and break apart until the different segments of the instrument no longer fit together.  Without the cork, your clarinet won’t be good for anything!

Care of brass instruments can get complicated.  Even the relatively small instruments are a complex system of pipes and valves.  The French horn has over 20 feet of tubing all coiled up in a circle.  That can get a little difficult to maintain, but a few key products can make things a lot easier.  The most obvious is valve oil.  Every brass player should have their own bottle as it’s essential to keep the instrument in playing condition, but it’s important not to overuse it.  A light coating of oil every few rehearsals goes a long way.  Putting too much on can actually slow your valves and significantly impact your playing.

Of course, there’s more to brass instruments than just the valves.  If you really want to sound great, you need free use of your tuning slides — and that means you have to keep everything well greased.  When those tubes dry out, you might as well forget about getting the perfect pitch.

Percussion covers such a wide range of instruments that it’s difficult to nail down just a few essentials.  Probably the most important thing to have is a full repair kit designed specifically for percussion.  You don’t want to be scrambling for a drum key when a drum head comes loose during the first set.

Of course, there are many other maintenance items needed for incidental issues that crop up.  Pepper has a long list of necessities to help you protect your instruments and make sure they last a good long time.

Music Advocacy

Band Camp: A Crash Course in Life Skills

August 15, 2013

Band CampFor some, band camp has concluded and the school year is underway;  for others, camp is in full swing, complete with marching and maneuvering basics, sectional rehearsals, and color guard catches.  The tail end of summer is an intense time for marching ensembles, a time that sometimes finds parents and new marching students a bit surprised by the level of commitment asked of them.  There are compelling reasons, however, to put aside other activities until November (or so) and make room for the full-time commitment marching band requires.

It’s good for you:

Being a marching musician is hard physical work.  The stamina it takes just to hold a baritone horn at attention for more than a couple minutes helps develop strength, endurance, and a willingness to muscle through tough tasks.  Building enough cardiovascular strength to dash around a football field for ten minutes straight while using every iota of breath to push notes through an instrument is something no other school activity can duplicate.  Marching music is a true marriage of artistry and athleticism a student will find nowhere else.

Lasting friendships:

Even into their adult years, many musicians who participated in marching band can cite countless treasured memories from the time they spent in their school ensemble.  For many, a band reunion would hold far more meaning than a class reunion, because in band, students find like-minded friends who work together as a team.  As a bonus, the students in band tend to be high-achieving members of the teen population, which puts kids in good long-term company.  Studies show that people who engage in healthy long-term friendships enjoy success in other life areas as well.

A commitment to the greater good:

It’s easy for teens (and adults) to become “me-centric” in a society that encourages a constant jockeying for the spotlight.  In marching band, students learn to operate as an integral part of the whole.  They must execute their individual roles to the best of their possible ability, but always with a mind toward how their instrument’s voice fits with the ensemble and how their positions on the field contribute to (or detract from) the form.  A willingness to sacrifice, to make it to rehearsal even when you don’t feel like it, or to help that struggling freshman instills skills of buy-in and empathy that will serve students in any field they might choose to pursue in their adult lives.


The western world has become a padded and fluffy place where failure has taken on an ill-founded bad name.  When a student is charging across the yard lines to make a set, playing the hardest passage of music she has ever learned, and praying her shoe doesn’t come off in the mud, she might just run into a mishap.  But because there’s an entire ensemble moving on whether she has her shoe or not, she must learn the skill of recovery.  Mistakes are inevitable.  Students have the choice when errors come along to implode or to recover, and a marching ensemble has an uncanny way of demanding the mistake-maker get ‘back with the program’ quickly and seamlessly.  The recurring theme of life skills a student can learn in marching band plays yet another refrain.

Though the hours spent in rehearsal become countless, the miles on the road to football games and competitions burn more tanks of gas than imaginable, and the emotional energy required to put on the best possible performance time after time may sometimes seem overwhelming, the emotional, physical, and relational gains that come from a full commitment to a marching ensemble are equally immeasurable.  When all is said and done in November, you can count on even the most initially-reluctant student to miss band until it ramps up again next summer.

Resources you might enjoy to help your marching musicians achieve:

Leadership Success by Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, Pat Sheridan, Jon Gomez, and Scott Lang

Marching Bands and Drumlines by Paul Byer


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!


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.


Pass the Pepper, Please

October 23, 2012

Are you a music teacher or director?  If so, would you “Like” to win a $1,000 Pepper Gift Card?

Simple enough, right?  Actually, it is!

Through May 1, 2013, we are running a sweepstakes to win a $1,000 gift card.  All you need to do is visit, “Like” us, and enter our “Pass the Pepper” sweepstakes to win.  That’s it, there really is no catch… and you get information about music, music education and Pepper services as part of the deal!

Actually there is one catch, but it’s a good one.  After you register, we want you to “Pass the Pepper” by sharing this offer with other music directors or teachers in your organization so you have more chances to win!  It really is that easy, honest.  So now please enter and …