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Music Advocacy

Celebrate Music in Our Schools Month

March 3, 2015


For many of us, every day is a celebration of music in our schools.  Day in and day out, educators labor to bring the beauty of music to the next generation, ensuring a richer life for their students.  By now, it is well known by most everyone that participation in music classes lead to better grades and has a strong positive impact on many other areas of a young person’s life.  However, in some schools, music education is still either underfunded or nonexistent.

With this fact in mind, it has become increasingly important that we recognize the significance of music education with a nationwide celebration.  Music in Our Schools Month, or MIOSM, stemmed from a day-long statewide event in New York in 1973.  By the 1990s, the celebration had grown to be a month long, observed by hundreds of thousands of teachers, students, and parents across the country.

One of the highlights of MIOSM is the Concert for Music in Our Schools Month, which is run by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and currently celebrating its 30th anniversary.  Classes from across the nation and overseas submit videos of themselves performing a number of pieces.  The class that receives the most views on their video is awarded an AudioBox Stereo Recording Kit.  This year’s pieces include America, of Thee I Sing; Explore, Dream, Discover; Shake Them ‘Simmons Down; The Best in Me; The Star-Spangled Banner and Una Sola Voz.  Sheet music and audio tracks for these pieces are provided by Hal Leonard.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Music Makes Me ______.”  Students and teachers alike are encouraged to discuss what music does for them in their daily lives and consider the impact it has had on them.  Together, we can build awareness of the importance of music in our schools.  For more information about advocacy and activity ideas, visit the NAfME page for MIOSM.


Pepper will be at the 2013 NAfME Conference in Nashville

October 25, 2013

NAfME National ConferenceCome visit our booth at the NAfME National Conference in Nashville, Tennessee from October 27th to the 30th!  Pepper will be in booths 100 and 102 giving out Free Shipping coupons and free posters to decorate your classroom or office.  Shipping is free on any orders placed at the conference, so come choose from our extensive music catalog.  We’ll have the newest titles and plenty of old favorites as well.

This year, Pepper is providing the music for Patrick Freer’s What is “Quality” Repertoire for My Middle School Choir?  Learn more about Dr. Freer here.

Pepper has also provided the music for the All-National Honors Ensembles and free imprinted folders for the event.  You can find more information on the 2013 NAfME National Conference on their homepage.

We hope to see you there!


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

Directors' Toolbox

Teaching Music to Deaf Students

January 22, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Veterans Day 2012

November 8, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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.


Music Advocacy

Celebrate! It’s National Arts in Education Week

September 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

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


Marching Music — A Special Art Form

August 23, 2012

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

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

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

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

Read more about Drum Corps International.

View the Live for Music video.

Learn more about INpact Indiana’s Future Band.


Choral Conversations — Greg Gilpin

November 3, 2011

Originally from the “Show-Me” state of Missouri, Greg resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.  He is a graduate of Northwest Missouri State University with a bachelor’s degree in vocal music education, K-12.

Greg is a well-known ASCAP award-winning choral composer and arranger with hundreds of publications to his credit.  He is also in demand as a conductor for choral festivals and all-district and all-state choirs, and is a member of MENC and ACDA.  As Director of Educational Choral Publications for Shawnee Press, Inc., Greg oversees creation of the educational music products for this distinguished publisher.

At home in Indianapolis, Greg is busy as a studio musician and producer in the recording industry. These projects include commercial jingles, CD projects, Broadway and Disney.  He has worked musically with Ray Boltz, Bill and Gloria Gaither, Sandi Patty, and David Clydesdale, as well as principal pops conductor Jack Everly and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Greg Gilpin is a talented, energetic, warm and funny person.  I have had the pleasure of working with him in Illinois as well as Washington.  The energy and enthusiasm he brings to workshops, not to mention his compositions, is remarkable.  If you have attended his workshops or performed any of his works, you will know this all to be true.  If you haven’t… what are you waiting for?  We are so pleased and honored that he was able to make some time for us to participate in our Choral Conversations Blog.  Thank you Greg!!!

When did you begin in music?  I started piano lessons before kindergarten.

Did you have an “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?  I think my first “a-ha” moment when I knew I loved choral music (and this is in hindsight) is hearing our high school choir sing “You Are So Beautiful” at the spring concert and saying out loud to a friend, “I want to be in that choir next year.”  I remember loving the choral sound.

What kinds of things inspire you?  I love to hear other people’s music; movie scores, texts are very inspiring, books, quiet time and other people’s stories and experiences.

What inspired you to become a composer?  At first, I wanted to express myself in a way I “thought” was disguising my true feelings but in reality was expressing them even more clearly.  Now, I so enjoy the fact that a text can be enhanced and expressed more powerfully through the musical form.  I just love creating an atmosphere of emotion and perhaps letting others feel something they normally would not feel simply by the written word.

What would you say defines your style?  I really pride myself in the diversity of my writing.

Tell me one thing that people might not know about you?  I’m an introvert.

What are you working on now?   In addition to editing, recording, and preparing a new release of choral music for Shawnee Press, I’m also working on a couple of commissions and preparing for my 2012 Carnegie Hall concert.

What is your all-time favorite choral piece by another composer?  I honestly have no one favorite.  I truly enjoy parts of so many works.  Most of the time I am more moved by a melody more then anything else.

Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing?  Don’t put every idea you have into one work.  I did this at the beginning and I see this in many young composers’ works.  Find that “one thing” and make it wonderful.

Would you say that music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning, or by sudden inspiration?  I think the “idea” of something comes to me with sudden inspiration.  The resulting work, if there is one, comes through more careful thought and planning.

What are your favorite texts to set to music?  The ones that inspire me!  The ones that make me hear a melody in my head and cause me to hesitate and think.

What is your favorite thing about composing?  I love the isolation when working and the satisfaction of discovering the music within the text.  It’s like a puzzle that leads you to a treasure.



  • What is your favorite word?  Try
  • What is your least favorite word?  Fear
  • What sound or noise do you love?  A storm
  • What sound or noise do you hate?  Fingernails on dirty glass or car paint.  I know, weird.
  • What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  Personal finance
  • What is your personal favorite composition?  I must say I am proud of and enjoy “Why We Sing.”  I have a text and melody no one has heard that I play as a favorite.  It just has not found its time in the sun, yet.
  • What is on your iPod?  I don’t use one!  I still put in CDs.  Believe it or not, my radio is always on talk stations!  If I’m on vacation, I always bring Linda Ronstadt’s CD Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind.
  • Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, living or dead, that you haven’t yet?  As a songwriter, I would love to write with and learn from Dolly Parton.  I’m also a big fan of Jimmy Webb.  Do you know his song “Shattered”?
  • If you were stranded on a desert island and you could only have the music of one composer other than yourself, who would it be?  I’m being redundant, and though I enjoy so many styles and types of music, especially instrumental music, I think I would want the stories and words of Dolly Parton to keep me company.  She would bring me laughter, love and tears.

Thank you again, Greg, for taking time to share with us.  Click here to check out more incredible choral music by Greg Gilpin.

If you are in the Washington area next summer, come and see him at our Summer Choral Clinic in July.

Music Advocacy

Play Music, Age Well

June 10, 2011

There has been much research done on the cognitive benefits of musical activity during childhood;  a recent study conducted by the University of Kansas analyzes whether or not these benefits carry over into adulthood.  While more research is needed, the findings thus far are quite fascinating.

The study divided its participants, aged 60 to 83, into the following three groups:  those with no musical training;  with one to nine years of musical study;  and with at least ten years of musical training.  All of the participants had similar levels of education and were considered fit and healthy.  All of the musicians involved were amateurs who had begun playing around age 10.  The following is an excerpt from the article published on the American Psychological Association’s website:

“The high-level musicians who had studied the longest performed the best on the cognitive tests, followed by the low-level musicians and non-musicians, revealing a trend relating to years of musical practice. The high-level musicians had statistically significant higher scores than the non-musicians on cognitive tests relating to visuospatial memory, naming objects, and cognitive flexibility, or the brain’s ability to adapt to new information.

“The brain functions measured by the tests typically decline as the body ages and more dramatically deteriorate in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.  The results ‘suggest a strong predictive effect of high musical activity throughout the lifespan on preserved cognitive functioning in advanced age,’ the study stated.

“Half of the high-level musicians still played an instrument at the time of the study, but they didn’t perform better on the cognitive tests than the other advanced musicians who had stopped playing years earlier. This suggests that the duration of musical study was more important than whether musicians continued playing at an advanced age, lead researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, PhD says.”

Interestingly enough, MENC’s 2011 slogan for Music in Our Schools Month was “Music Lasts a Lifetime.”  It would appear that they are onto something.

Click here to read the full article: