Browsing Tag


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


“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.”


Elliott Carter: Celebrating a Long Life of Music

December 11, 2012

On November 5th of this year, the classical music world lost one of its giants. Elliott Carter would have celebrated his 104th birthday today, most likely by attending a concert or composing a new piece.

Elliott Carter

Born in New York City on December 11, 1908, Mr. Carter became interested in modern music in his teens. Attending the New York premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1924 was an early inspiration for the aspiring composer.  He found a mentor in Charles Ives who helped him get into Harvard, where he studied with Walter Piston and Gustav Holst.  After completing his master’s degree in music at Harvard, he went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, and received his doctorate in music from Ecole Normale in Paris.

Over his long career, Mr. Carter taught at the Peabody Conservatory, Queens College, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell and the Juilliard School, and was on the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center.  He received many awards, among them the National Medal of Arts, The Trustees Award (a lifetime achievement award given to non-performers by the Grammy Awards), and two Pulitzer Prizes.

Not slowing down in his later years, Mr. Carter composed over 4o of his 158 works between the ages of 90 and 100, and at least a dozen more after turning 100. His first opera, What Next?, was completed when he was 90 and his last work, 12 Short Epigrams for piano, was completed in August of this year.  He celebrated his 100th birthday in 2008 at Carnegie Hall at a concert which included his Interventions for piano and orchestra written the previous year.  The concert also included a performance of The Rite of Spring.

Often a polarizing force in contemporary  music, Elliott Carter was at times criticized for being too intellectual and inaccessible, but was also celebrated for his complex and challenging compositions.  His music spanned neoclassicism, populism, atonality, rhythmic complexity, and his own form of serialism, eventually arriving at a more lyrical style late in life.

Join us in remembering a life spent reinventing modern music.  We hope you enjoy this selection of Elliott Carter’s compositions.



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.


Halloween Music For Your Phobias

October 30, 2012

Halloween is the time of year where many of our fears and phobias come to life.  Haunted houses, hay rides and corn mazes can be found in nearly every city.  Horror movies dominate network TV.  And let’s not forget to be very wary of the life-size butler holding a serving tray when you walk past him in the grocery store, as you know that at any moment you will be met with glowing red eyes and a good verbal accosting.  Of course, music plays a key role in enhancing the season, playing upon those fears and phobias that thrill and chill us.  So, we’ve decided to make a list of HALLOWEEN MUSIC that people with certain kinds of phobias may want to avoid… or not.  Explore at your own risk!  Muhahahahahaaaa!

Hemophobia – fear of blood.  We recommend avoiding Feed Me (Git It) from Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors.  This is especially true if you also suffer from Botanophobia (fear of plants).

Arachnophobia – fear of spiders.  Robert Smith’s hushed vocals in The Cure’s Lullaby may make the hair on the back of your neck stand up when he tells you that “The spider man is having you for dinner tonight.”  Eep!

Lilapsophobia – fear of tornadoes and hurricanes.  With its apocalyptic theme, CCR’s Bad Moon Rising does a fine job of bringing the terrors of natural disaster to life.

Lyssophobia – fear of going mad.  They’re Coming to Take Me Away from ’70s group Napoleon XIV may not be all that frightening in the traditional sense, however you would be hard-pressed to find a song that embodies a maniacal state as well as this one does. “Ha ha , ho ho, he he…”

Osmophobia – fear of smells or odors.  In addition to the “funk of forty thousand years” assailing your senses, we’re pretty sure that between the song itself and the amazing video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller, you’re bound to encounter pretty much every phobia in existence.  I mean, there’s a very good chance that Vincent Priceophobia became a real condition immediately following its release!

Wiccaphobia – fear of witches and witchcraft.  Paul Dukas’ epic orchestral work The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was inspired by a poem of the same name by Johann Wolfgan v0n Goethe, published in 1797.  The poem was brought to life in Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia, but the concert piece itself had already been highly popular with classical audiences for quite some time.

Elurophobia – fear of cats.  When it comes to cats, no song does a better job of describing the baddest of the bad, the “monster of depravity,” like Macavity:  The Mystery Cat from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous musical… you guessed it… Cats!

Euphobia – fear of hearing good news.  If you suffer from this condition, then you may not be rejoicing with your “fellow Ozians” when they proclaim “Good news… the witch of the West is dead!” in the opening scene of Stephen Schwartz’ hit musical, Wicked.  But don’t worry, once you move past No One Mourns the Wicked, you will come to discover the bad news – she’s not actually dead.  Except that this bad news actually turns out to be good news because, in reality, the witch really isn’t bad.  Are you confused yet?

Nyctophobia – fear of the dark.  We don’t think there’s a better song to describe your phobia than Iron Maiden’s Fear of the Dark.  Perhaps, rather than avoiding, you should actually give it a listen.  It may very well be theraputic to know that you’re keeping (phobic) company with these pioneers of British metal.

Melophobia – fear or hatred of music.  Um… we really hate to be the bearers of bad news, but you’re reading the wrong blog.  Please, don’t panic.  Take a deep breath, calmly move your cursor toward the “X” at the top of your browser, and click.  If you experience any technical difficulties while performing this action, or find yourself traumatized from reading this blog, please don’t hesitate to contact our tech team at  We can help!

Uranophobia – fear of heaven.  While some may find solace in the idea of angels looking out for you every hour of every day, those who are afflicted with this particular phobia may not enjoy reciting the children’s song Angels Watching Over Me.  It just goes to show that music really is open to interpretation.

Samhainophobia – fear of Halloween.  Danny Elfman goes into great detail describing an entire town named after the holiday in This is Halloween from The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Resident ghosts, ghouls, witches, vampires, corpses and clowns all make cameos in this song.  The good news?  We’re fairly certain that real estate is cheap.

Iatrophobia – fear of doctors.  The Witch Doctor by David Seville may seem like a fun, lighthearted, kooky little ditty.  But you just ask anyone who suffers from Iatro-wicca-phobia how THEY feel about it!

Cleisiophobia – fear of being locked in an enclosed place.  If Eminem’s lyrics for ’97 Bonnie and Clyde aren’t disturbing enough, check out Tori Amos’ cover and see how you feel about the song then.  Amos spins the perspective to that of the dead woman who is now riding in the locked trunk of her murderer/ex-husband’s car, listening to the conversation he is having with their young daughter.  Positively chilling.

If you’re interested in exploring even more phobias, then check out  If you now have an urge to add some creepy sheet music to your library, then look no further:  Happy Halloween to all you non-Samhainophobes!


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 …

The Pepper Difference

Our National Customer Service Center

October 19, 2012

Ever wonder who’s on the other end of your phone call, email, fax, or mail order when you contact J.W. Pepper?  Ever wonder who staffs these areas for 12 ½ hours a day and 10 hours on Saturdays?  We are extremely fortunate to have many dedicated employees with a lot of experience, passion and drive to help you with your music needs.

When the department was created in the fall of 1981, most orders were placed through the mail, which was quickly enhanced by toll-free phone calls.  Now emails and web orders drive a large portion of our business.

The WATS (Wide Area Telephone Service) department years later became Service Assurance, which placed a stronger emphasis on customer service.  The current name, Customer Service Representatives (better known as CSR), handles all different types of customer orders, issues, and details.  No matter what the name, the focus has always remained the same:  to provide the best customer service experience possible.

Our staff members come into the department with solid musical education, music experience or customer service backgrounds.  With thirty-two people split between our Paoli, Pennsylvania and Grand Rapids, Michigan offices, we collectively have just shy of 300 total years’ worth of experience!  It takes eleven shifts and sixteen lunch periods to maximize their available time for customers.  At peak times of the year, employees from our national headquarters and Regional Marketing Centers provide additional support to manage the spikes in customer contact volume.

When you need us, we are available Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time, and on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time at 1-800-345-6296.  However, reaching us 24/7 through,, voicemail or by fax at 1-800-260-1482 are always additional options.

In addition to total customer coverage, the department handles many different tasks, all relating to customer service.  We interface with customers through phone calls, mail, fax, voicemail, emails, web orders, technical support, library orders, Wingert-Jones Publishing and our latest venture,

So the next time you contact us, we hope this gives you a better picture of the diverse demands our customer service representatives are prepared to handle, all in the interest of serving you, our customer.



Something New for K-8 Music Teachers!

September 25, 2012

Elementary Classroom MusicSelecting appropriate materials for the classroom is one of many challenges elementary music teachers face.  Working with multiple grade and skill levels in itself isn’t an easy feat.  Toss in the national standards, assessment, and No Child Left Behind, and the complexities mount.  What’s a busy teacher to do?  There simply isn’t time to review and research everything out there, so let the editorial department at Pepper make it easier for you!

When you visit our home page, hover over Shop By Department and enter the newly improved Music Classroom page specifically for classroom music teachers.  It’s not so simple to categorize the wide variety of materials that classroom music teachers enjoy, but we think we’ve hit on something that will become a truly significant resource.  Our tabs correlate to the National Standards, the critical signposts teachers use to design a comprehensive curriculum.

What do you want to teach your students?

To Sing:  Explore song collections, musicals and revues of all kinds, as well as materials to help students learn to sing their best.

To Play and Improvise:  Expose kids of all ages to making music with instruments such as guitar, recorder, or percussion in varied styles.

To Read and Write Music:  Help your students move from identifying musical symbols to teaching the basics of music writing and arranging.

To Listen:  Teach kids to recognize the sounds and the composers of music of all types —  classical, pop, jazz, and more.

Music, Curriculum and Culture:  Incorporate math, history, science, art and more into your music classroom.

For everything else, we have a tab called Classroom Solutions, which includes these (and more):

  • Board games, card games, and puzzles
  • Dance and creative movement materials
  • Games using props such as bean bags, scarves or parachutes
  • Posters, rugs, and bulletin board materials
  • Folders and music achievement certificates
  • Assessment tools
  • Whiteboard materials
  • Texts and DVDs to inspire the music educator

As you select an area of interest, you can browse through all titles in a category, or you can narrow your results further.  A new filter, called “Difficulty,” allows you to search for materials by grade level.  Do you need a fun song collection to start out the year for second and third grade, or a general musical for your fifth and sixth graders?  No problem!

We’re also working on providing you more information in our listings to give you a clearer sense of the product.  This will prevent you from wasting your valuable budget on shipping charges to see if the music will work for you.  If you do need to return something, though, no worries!  Your purchase is 100% guaranteed.  If you can’t use it, you may return it, no questions asked.

Like our customers, we are continually striving to improve what we do, and our Classroom page is no exception.  Since we’ll be tweaking this area of our site in the weeks and months to come, we hope you’ll stop by often!  As always, we welcome your feedback and hope you have an energizing school year!


John Cage: Inventor of Genius?

September 5, 2012

“Of course he’s not a composer, but he’s an inventor — of genius.” – Arnold Schoenberg on John Cage

To categorize him as simply “a composer” would certainly be failure to adequately describe all that John Cage was, nor would it serve to encompass the vastness of his influence on the arts as a whole.  Include musician, artist, author, inventor, teacher, student, philosopher, visionary, pioneer… and we’re NOW beginning to scratch the surface of all of the facets of this man’s legacy.  As the musical world celebrates what would have been Cage’s 100th birthday (September 5), we reflect on some of the contributions and influences brought forth from his work.

While not the inventor of the concept, John Cage coined the term “prepared piano” to describe a piano that has been altered by placing miscellaneous objects between on or on top of the strings, hammers, or dampers.  Cage first utilized a prepared piano out of necessity, when he was commissioned to write music for a modern dance production, called Bacchanale, by Syvilla Fort in 1938.  He had only been writing percussion music for several years when he found himself challenged by the fact that Fort’s dance was to be performed on a stage with no room for a percussion group.  So, he opted to alter the only instrument that was in the room – a single grand piano – and created “the equivalent of an entire percussion orchestra… with just one musician.”  Prepared pianos have since been used by modern artists such as Denman Maroney, The Velvet Underground and Tori Amos.

In watching a video of Cage’s performance of Water Walk on the popular TV show from the 1960s, I’ve Got a Secret, it’s easy to quickly identify a whole list of performance groups that his work most certainly inspired and influenced.  To name just some of the objects and instruments used:  iron pipe, water pitcher, bath tub, blender, ice cubes, a rubber duck, cymbals, and a grand piano.  “Extended techniques,” as they are called, are key components to performances from the likes of Blue Man Group, Stomp, several bluegrass and industrial bands, and even school and community groups performing certain Row-Loff publications, such as Bashin’.

Even before the 1952 premiere of what is probably John Cage’s most well-known work, 4’33”, critics and audiences alike have debated the reasons and purpose behind his unconventional approach to composition.  Some have described it as “nonsense” while others proclaim “genius.”  And then there are those who have accused him of simply being a vainglorious artist, with a flair for the avant-garde and the ostentatious.  However, in reading Cage’s autobiographical summary on his website,, you begin to understand that here was a man who truly saw the world around him in different hues than most of us.  Cage recounts a conversation with his former mentor, Arnold Schoenberg:

“After I had been studying with him for two years, Schoenberg said, ‘In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.’  I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony.  He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass.  I said, ‘In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall.’”

In a 1991 interview with Miroslav Sebestik, he explains “When I hear what we call ‘music,’ it seems to me that someone is talking.  And talking about his feelings, or about his ideas of relationships.  But when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic — here on Sixth Avenue, for instance — I don’t have the feeling that anyone is talking.  I have the feeling that sound is acting.  And I love the activity of sound… I don’t need sound to talk to me.”

Even though he is no longer here with us, the essence of Cage’s unique relationship with sound and silence is evident in our everyday lives.  How many of us, as toddlers, pulled the pots and pans out of the cupboard to clang them together every chance we got?  How often have you smiled when you noted that the click of your turn signal was suddenly in perfect meter with a song on the radio?  How many times have you laid back and enjoyed the smooth, hypnotic rhythm of water waves rushing to a shoreline?  In truth, there is a bit of John Cage in us all.


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.