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percussion

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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 www.dci.org.  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.

 

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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:

Woodwinds
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!

Brass
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
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.

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Meet Pepper: Pennsylvania

August 14, 2012

Greetings from Paoli, Pennsylvania!  If you’re thinking “Where the heck is Paoli?”, we’re about 25 miles west of Philadelphia and 25 miles north of Wilmington, Delaware.  We are a Regional Marketing Center housed in the J.W. Pepper corporate headquarters.  We benefit from the added musical talents and expertise of many corporate employees with whom we exchange thoughts and ideas.

What truly makes our job rewarding is the diverse group of musicians that visit us.  Recent college graduates come to browse music alongside loyal customers who have been coming here for years.  They’re the old pros, the ones who used to shop in the original Pepper store that was located in downtown Philadelphia.  Some remember the location in Valley Forge on Trooper Road.  And others recall when we moved to our current location and installed a conveyor belt almost the entire length of the building!

It’s nice to see composers and customers come together as we host various events and workshops here in the store every so often.  Many district music departments spend their in-service days meeting, researching and shopping in our reference center.  We also offer a presentation about copyright that many groups find informative.  If it is the first time they’ve been here, we enjoy showing them our collection of antique instruments made by J.W. Pepper earlier in the company’s history. Whether it’s a group or an individual, a first-time or returning customer, we welcome anyone to visit and spend time with us.

We have a staff of five, with years of experience and diverse musical backgrounds, that will greet you in the Pennsylvania Regional Marketing Center.  Hans van Mol is newest amongst our ranks, coming to us in 2011.  Hans attended West Chester University, just down the road, as a music education major.  He plays clarinet and has sung in choirs.  In the fall he is on the staff of a high school marching band and he enjoys following politics.  Clara Thorne and Jason Nackord joined the Pepper team in 2005.  Clara studied music and holds two degrees in vocal performance.  She sings professionally and also enjoys community choirs.  Jason splits his free time between drumming and karate.  His family owns and operates a local karate school where Jason, who has studied the martial art for almost his whole life, teaches kids’ classes.  Celebrating 30 years with Pepper, George Class is the company historian and enjoys sharing memories with our customers.  George is a seasoned percussionist and plays with church and community groups.  The glue that holds  us together is our branch manager, Denise Collins.  A transplant from the Midwest, Denise has been involved in instrumental and vocal music for years both as a performing jazz musician and as a school music teacher prior to coming to work for Pepper.  During her 10 years with Pepper, she’s held positions as Operations Manager in our Chicago branch and Accounts Receivable Manager in the corporate office.  In her free time, Denise is active in her church music ministry and takes care of two Himalayan kittens.

There’s a lot of territory to cover (12 mid-Atlantic and New England states!) and many people to get to know.  The five of us work well together as we learn and try new things to better serve our customers.  Come visit us! We look forward to seeing you!

Visit Pepper Pennsylvania’s website.

Hang out with us on Facebook.

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Band Composer Series: Garwood Whaley

January 31, 2012
Garwood Whaley

Looking back on my high school and college percussion studies, I recall working through many of Garwood Whaley’s books.  I particularly liked working with Recital Solos for Snare Drum and Primary Handbook for Mallets to name a few.  I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gar (as most call him) for this blog series.  As a student having used his percussion materials, it was a joy to learn of his life and adventures.

When did you begin in music?  What instrument did you begin with?

Well, I actually started taking clarinet lessons in 4th grade, but then quit because the teacher was scary.  In the 8th grade I started playing the drums and was hooked.  In high school I started playing with local pickup groups and then moved to various jazz groups.  My main lessons were actually through high school band.

Did you have a specific “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?

When I was in high school, we got a brand-new band director.  When Joe Greco became the  new band director at Ardsley High School in Ardsley, New York, he very quickly totally changed the program for the better.  He strongly encouraged me to go into music to the point where I was accepted at Juilliard to study music.  I had the privilege to study and learn with many great percussion teachers.  When I was drafted into the military, I auditioned at West Point and, based on the word of the director, the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in Washington, D.C. accepted me into the band.  Since the war in Viet Nam was in full swing, I truly credit Joe Greco with saving my life.

What inspired you to become a composer?

While in the Army, I started teaching privately.  There were no real percussion books that fit my needs, so I started writing books and ultimately had them published by Joel Rothman.  They sold really well, but I ultimately sold the rights to them.  I also started writing ensembles and solos for percussion.

How did you start Meredith Music?

From this start, I then started my own publishing company with the help of Bernie Fisher of Plymouth Music.  After several attempts at determining a company name, I finally settled on my daughter’s name, Meredith, which is where the name Meredith Music came from.  My very first publication was Musical Studies for the Intermediate Mallet Player. At the same time, I was also teaching at a local high school, and from this experience developed with Robert Garofalo numerous books on comprehensive musicianship.  Currently, Meredith publishes about one new book a month.  Eleven years ago I began a wonderful relationship with the Hal Leonard Corporation, which is currently distributing all of our publications.

Do you have a mentor, or someone who has influenced your style of writing the most?  If so, who would that be?

I had four great role models and leaders helping me develop my overall writing style.  First was Saul Goodman, former timpanist in the New York Philharmonic and former faculty member at the Conservatoire de musique du Quebec a Montreal and the Juilliard School of Music.  I learned so much from him in college as my early books were very musical thanks to him.  He was a phenomenal teacher and motivator.  My Scherzo for Timpani was dedicated to him.  Second, my high school band director Joe Greco.  I’ve already talked a lot about how he shaped my life.  Third, Morris (Moe) Goldenberg, who I studied with at Juilliard;  his writing also had an influence on me.  Last but not least, my good friend Anthony (Tony) Cirone, former percussionist in the San Jose Symphony and former professor at San Jose State University with over 100 published works, who I met at Juilliard and have remained great friends to this day.  Tony has been a great role model for me as well.

What would you say defines your style?

Trying to make percussion music “musical.”  I also want to try and have good material for teachers to teach, and not for me to tell them how to teach.  I truly want to support teachers with quality musical material.

What are you working on now?

Nothing, really.  I’ve had a real dry spell, primarily due to my focus with Meredith Music 100% of the time.  However, I did recently write some very beginning drum class books at an elementary level.  Between conventions, clinics and other events, people would always ask me for books like this at the elementary level.  So I wrote books for a beginning drum class which would work with band methods and ended up with Rhythm Reading for Drums, Book 1 & Book 2. These books move very slowly with minimal dynamics, but filled a particular need teachers were asking for. They are great for the elementary and junior high level as both supplementary band methods and standalone methods.

What is your favorite instrumental piece by another composer?

That’s really hard to say.  But, Lincolnshire Posey by Percy Granger, Stravinsky’s Right of Spring and the Carlos Chavez Toccata for percussion are a few of my favorites.

Do you have one of your own works which you would call your favorite?

Dialogue for Snare Drum and Timpani, Recital Solos for Snare Drum and Solos and Duets for Timpani.

Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing?

Study the works of the masters and don’t be afraid to write in a variety of styles and for all types of ensembles.  In addition, really try to be broad-based in your writing.

Would you say your music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning, or by sudden inspiration?

Slow careful planning.  Most is educationally originated as in building collections or methods.  I always write an exact outline, thinking through everything very carefully and methodically.

What is your favorite aspect of composing?

Great question.  The excitement of beginning a project and going through the process of outlining what you are going to do.  And then the final completion of the project.  It’s very difficult to write for beginning students and it is very challenging.  You have to be really careful.

Meredith Music is very active in social networking.  What is your approach to this as a publisher?

Anyone who publishes with us needs to provide a short video about the piece or book, which can be added to our website and social media channels.  We are receiving very good comments and interest in these videos and the website really drives everything.  We are active on Facebook and just getting into QR coding on ads in magazines.  We are always interested in staying technologically current.

Could you tell me something people don’t know about you?

I am really physically active with the ‘crossfit’ exercise program.  This keeps me in great shape.  I would recommend this to anyone.  I’m also a very avid scuba diver and am actually a dive master.

Inside the Actors Studio-type Questions:

  • What is your favorite word? Yes
  • What is your least favorite word? No
  • What sound or noise do you love? A waterfall or water
  • What sound or noise do you hate? Screaming
  • What is on your iPod? I don’t have an iPod, but I have an iPhone
  • What profession other than your own, would you like to attempt? Medicine, law, or a military officer
  • If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would that, be? Well it wouldn’t be mine.  I would have to say Mahler.

Thank you, Gar, for your time, information and insight into your life as composer and music publisher.  I hope everyone finds your story as intriguing as I did.  All the best to you and everyone at Meredith Music, and thank you for providing music and methods for musicians.

Music Advocacy

Witness the Spark

July 27, 2010

On a break from a practice session I walked through downtown Hayward when my ears perked at the sound of an amplifier. The familiar “Test-1-2” reached me as I rounded a corner and discovered a local blues band warming up on the patio of a restaurant.

A few minutes into the start of their first set, a small boy about the age of 8 or 9 walked up fearlessly to the lead singer.  The hulking bandleader motioned for the boy to enter the band’s live performance area to “groove along” while the band vamped the 12-bar blues.  After a few minutes the mic was handed over to the new ringer and the kid proceeded to belt out a few repetitions of the title line ‘I’ve Got My Mojo Workin’.  The crowd went wild!

After all the older members had each taken 24 bars of solo, I spied in the kid’s small hands a harmonica, a gift given to him by the guitar player.   He blew huge gulps of air into the mouth harp and continued to dance while the band played.  In his eyes he was now part of the band.  I couldn’t help but think that this moment was this kid’s musical “spark.”

My personal “spark” experience was seeing STOMP for the first time.  I can remember being in the audience feeling tingles on my spine and picturing myself as a member of the already-famous percussion group.

Can you remember having a music moment similar to our young bluesman?

We all know that instance when music touches us in ways not easily described in words.  The feeling of that musical spark is part of why we are musicians and why we teach children this mysterious form of art.