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sheet music

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Meet Pepper: North Carolina

December 13, 2011

Welcome to our new blog series! We would like to introduce you to all fourteen of our regional stores, representing all areas of the country, Canada, and indeed the world.  First up is the Pepper store located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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Music Advocacy

The Soundtrack of our Lives

November 18, 2010

Recently, while watching an episode of Biography about the movie Jaws, my mind wandered back to the summer of my tenth year, to our family vacation in Florida and a visit to the theater where we saw, of all things, the movie Jaws.  Don’t ask me why, on a family vacation to the beach, we wanted to see a movie about a man-eating shark loose in the ocean ravaging innocent people, but that’s what we did.

The year was 1975.  No one had heard of Steven Spielberg yet, but everyone was talking about this movie.  The terror!  It all came down to one thing:  the soundtrack.  They played a short section of the film without the music, and then they played the same section again with the music added in.  What power those few notes held!  And I mean that literally, for John Williams chose to utilize only a few notes to instill terror and fear into those watching the film — and it worked, brilliantly!  Would this film have reached the same heights of success had it not been for those famous notes?

I began to think about how our each of our lives also has a soundtrack attached to it — much like a movie does.  From the nursery rhymes that our mothers sang to us when we were toddlers to the songs we were taught in Sunday School.  The songs we learned in elementary school or the one that we played for our first piano recital.  We remember our first dance or the music we listened to the first summer we drove our own car, and the tunes we listened to on the radio during our first date will always take us right back there!  Who can forget the music from our senior prom, the first dance at our wedding, or even a favorite Christmas carol that we never tire of hearing?

These are the sounds that are the soundtrack of our lives, for our lives are filled with music every day.  When you hear talk of cutting music programs from our schools and distributing those funds to other, “more important” programs, remind those people about the music that makes up the soundtrack of their lives.  We are not talking about simply a “subject,” but a real part of who we are.  We are exposed to music in some way almost every minute of the day through the internet, in advertising, on television, radio… it is everywhere.

Those who want to dismiss music from our schools might not be swayed by research demonstrating that children learn better when they are exposed to music, or that it makes us better, more rounded adults;  but maybe they can identify with something that tugs at a memory within them — something from their own soundtrack.  We all have one, it is the soundtrack of our lives.

Culture

A Random Act of Culture

November 16, 2010
If you were one of the lucky shoppers at Macy’s in Center City Philadelphia at noon on Saturday, October 30, 2010, you enjoyed an unforgettable experience!  The Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform an impromptu rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ, the world’s largest pipe organ. This special event was one of a series of “Random Acts of Culture” to be sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation over the next three years. This video is so inspiring, I can’t wait to see and hear the next event in the series. Who knows, I might even be one of the unsuspecting people in the crowd to be surprised and delighted when it happens!

    Need the link?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp_RHnQ-jgU

Archive

Moving toward “Blended” Worship

October 26, 2010
Worship Band Play Along

Worship Band Play Along

If you are a minister of music and have been considering moving your music ministry toward a more blended style of worship, but you aren’t quite sure how to begin with the personnel you have, let me recommend a series to you that is versatile and valuable and will offer you many options as you begin to introduce new and exciting worship ideas to your congregation.

The books are called the Worship Band Play-Along series — there are five different volumes available and a sixth to be released any day now.  One of the wonderful features of the books is that they are adaptable for just about any situation.  If you are just introducing your congregation to worship music, you can have your current pianist and organist accompany you as you teach the choruses to your congregation.  If you already have an overhead or currently utilize PowerPoint, you can use that to show the lyrics.  As your congregation gets more comfortable with the choruses, your instrumentalists (pianist and organists) can begin to play along with the CDs that accompany the books.  This will offer a fuller sound and keep your live musicians from feeling unnecessary.

This set of books is a wonderful tool to implement current praise and worship music into your church’s music program.  The music that is chosen for these volumes is theologically sound and the arrangements are easy to play, sing and learn.  There are separate books available for keyboard, vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, but you only purchase what you need for your particular congregation.  One of the volumes is even dedicated to Christmas music, so that every time of year is covered.

These choruses are familiar and popular and the recordings are of the highest quality.  I have used this series in my own church with great success.  This is a wonderful tool to assist you, as a music director, in taking your church music program to an authentic “blended” worship.

Click here to see more information about the series.

Culture

Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter

August 19, 2010
Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter

Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter

For anyone who lived through the turmoil of the 1970s, songs like Close To You, Superstar, and Rainy Days and Mondays are a part of your history. Some people openly enjoyed the music of the Carpenters, others called them “cheesy” and “bubblegum” — but secretly listened to and fell in love with the velvet voice of Karen Carpenter. The way she sang so effortlessly of life and love betrayed the fact that she was barely more than a teenager. She was my first crush, and I am not ashamed to say that I still love her and the music that so deeply touched my heart as a youngster.

A biography on the late Karen Carpenter was recently completed by my dear friend Randy Schmidt, a music educator in Texas. The title of the book was taken from a Rogers and Hart tune of the same name, an unreleased track that Karen Carpenter recorded for a television special in the late ’70s but wasn’t released until years after her death. The book is called Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter.

Little Girl Blue is an honest, intimate look into the tragic life and death of Karen Carpenter. She has been called simply “The Voice” and described as being “phonogenic”; and while there have been many documentaries produced about the music of Karen Carpenter, there has never been an honest, in-depth look at the life of Karen Carpenter. Now for the first time, we can see inside this beautiful woman, through the eyes of those closest to her. This book reveals many poignant details about her – about the performer, and about the little girl inside who so desperately wanted to be loved.

We all know the music; it is a tapestry of our childhood, our adolescence, our life. Most of us have heard the story, we know about her battle with anorexia nervosa. Now, we can learn about the person who gave us the beautiful music – the drummer who always thought of herself as an instrumentalist who happened to sing, rather then the tender vocalist she was. Karen Carpenter will go down in the annals of music history as one of the greatest vocalists of her generation and will join legends like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald as one of the greatest vocalists of any time. While it may sound cliché, when she died at the age of 32, she had “only just begun to live…”   It is an honor and a privilege for me to recommend this new biography to you.

Click here to get more information about the book.

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Randy Schmidt is considered an expert on the music of the Carpenters and has served as creative consultant for several television documentaries on their lives and music, including the E! True Hollywood Story, A&E’s Biography, and VH1’s Behind the Music. He has also previously published a book entitled Yesterday Once More: Memories of the Carpenters and Their Music.

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Archive

The Power of “Glee”

August 5, 2010
 
Glee

Glee

Don’t Stop Believin’, Jump, Somebody to Love, Sweet Caroline, Can’t Fight This Feeling — these songs have two things in common: 

  1. They have all been performed on the hit television show Glee
  2. They are all featured in J.W. Pepper’s 2010-2011 Editors’ Choice choral series.

I took some time today to listen to some of the incredible arrangements that have emerged in the newest recordings and found myself pondering the significance of shows such as High School Musical and Glee from a music education standpoint.

I read that a poll by the National Association for Music Education this past February showed that 43 percent of choral directors surveyed saw an increase in interest amongst students to join their ensembles due to the popularity of Glee.  I have also read several stories about students who never would have thought to audition for show choir before becoming suddenly eager to join, citing Glee as their inspiration for doing so.  This made me wonder how many Pepper customers have experienced the “Glee” phenomenon and whether or not you feel it has helped not only to increase student interest, but also to garner support from school administrators and parents.  Have there been any shifts in attitude toward your choral programs?  Have you noticed any changes in confidence and self-esteem amongst your choir members?  Have you had to explain to your students that they won’t be able to pull off a stellar rendition from the moment you pass the sheet music out to them?  I would love to hear your stories and opinions on this subject.  Please feel free to submit them via the Comments form below.

Click here to see a partial list of titles available from Glee.

Archive

The Right to Practice

June 17, 2010
The right to practice

The right to practice

Last night after finishing my lessons I stayed at the studio and practiced drum set for 30 minutes.  It wasn’t recital preparation, but I ran some coordination exercises and improvised with some familiar grooves before concluding my session with some new grooves from a book I recently purchased from this awesome sheet music store in Dublin, CA.  (And of course, it was my Pepper store.)

My self-imposed “time-out for practice” reinvigorated me with motivation to do more — it was an affirmation to myself:  “I have a right to practice!”

Throughout music school my “right” to practice meant something quite different than it does now — it was a necessary requirement.  Every day for 4-6 hours I would bury myself in a practice room to methodically shape the phrases and nuances that would define my performance as good or great.  Recitals meant everything!

After college the majority of us do not have solo performances to prepare for and practicing that much is not realistic.  It’s also fair to say that, as career musicians, we shouldn’t have to practice 4-6 hours to achieve the practical demands of casual performance gigs.  Simply put, it’s not the amount of time but rather the efficiency of time used that matters more.

It’s not our fault that we don’t practice as much as when we were students.  Life is busy, but we still have to make the effort to stop and smell the musical roses. It’s time away from obligations that keeps us musically stimulated and ensures our longevity as musicians.

Click here  for a fantastic list of tips to help you make more of your practice time. 

Click here to read  how singer/songwriter Ken Medema uses vocal exerices to keep his voice sounding youthful.

Archive

A New Spectrum of Performance

April 28, 2010

When we think of classical music we conjure sounds of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel, Wagner, and Copland, among others.  But it’s no secret that with that love of the classics often comes a noticeable hesitation to embrace contemporary classical music,  a genre encompassing works composed from the mid-1970s to the present day.

Finding an audience for modern music that is perceived as awkward and unpleasant is not easy.  Fortunately there are major orchestras that, through artist residency programs, openly support works from new composers.  But should we as listeners take a chance on contemporary classical music?  As rhetorical as this question might sound, I believe that I have nothing to lose and attempting to answer it will only help the longevity of classical music as a whole.  In other words, why not?

In this spirit of artistic adventure I attended the debut performance of The New Spectrum Ensemble, a group of San Francisco musicians founded with a mission to combine the old and the new, an innovative approach to programming that pairs classical favorites with contemporary unknowns.  The inaugural concert, held Saturday, April 17, featured the following selections: 

Spaces Between (2006) – Jen Wang

Sonata, for cello and piano – Elliott Carter (b. 1908)

Sonata for Cello and Piano in D major, op. 102 no. 2 – Ludwig van Beethoven

S.T.I.C. (1995) – Dan Becker (b. 1960)

This was a new kind of symphonic experience, an auditory buffet that introduced me to contemporary music paired with pieces that were not so contemporary, without program notes or a pre-concert lecture.  Instead, prior to each piece the members of the ensemble would demonstrate each piece’s contrasting styles through the recitation of  “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”  It was fascinating to realize the vast differences between Beethoven’s counterpoint and Carter’s complexity, explained through a well-known folk tune.

This process gave the audience a chance to learn about each piece and the composer’s creative approach that created it.  It enabled us to personalize the music as it was played, therefore making it more difficult to dismiss it as inaccessible.   Kathyrn Bates Williams, founding member and cellist, states in her blog,  “Listening to all music is important.  It distinguishes the artistic values that we appreciate and those we don’t.  It brings us surprises both good and bad.”  I can’t help but agree with her.  It’s a risk, a small risk that we take in seeing contemporary concerts, equivalent to trying a  new restaurant.

After the concert we filed into the lobby where the composers Jen Wang and Dan Becker mingled with the audience.  Suddenly it dawned on me how important it was for these two artists that there even was an audience, that it possibly didn’t matter whether or not I actually liked their music.

This is an extremely liberating concept for me as a listener and performer.  The New Spectrum Ensemble strives to promote contemporary composers, and to accomplish that it took me on a strange journey made available through their unique, tongue-in-cheek programming.   My journey might result in me not liking everything that I hear and that’s ok.  In the end all that matters is that I showed up and listened.

Meet the members of the New Spectrum Ensemble here: www.thenewspectrum.com.  Additionally, if you are interested in learning more about contemporary classical music or just looking for an informative website from one of today’s most entertaining musical thinkers, please check out Alex Ross, music writer for The New Yorker.  His website and blog are located at www.therestisnoise.com

 

The Pepper Difference

Are your ears ringing?

April 19, 2010
Choral Music Editor Steve Kupferschmidt

Choral Music Editor Steve Kupferschmid

Did you ever get the feeling someone is talking about you?  Well, this time of year you are being talked about plenty here at Pepper.  For a span of about three months, our music editors sequester themselves amidst stacks of scores and read through every note, hunting for high-quality music for your school, community and church music programs.  While music is published year ’round, the lion’s share of new music is composed by springtime so it can be in your hands in time for the fall season.

Here’s a glimpse into the life that is review season at Pepper:   First we bring together music editors from around the country, each with the background and skills to ascertain musical style, difficulty, and usefulness to the ensembles performing it.  Enter — you.   We think about you alot.  We examine closely how you responded to our picks from previous years, and we’re very careful to keep worthy pieces in the catalogs.  Can you imagine dropping Mozart’s Requiem or a Holst Suite from the catalog?   Neither can we.

So, at this point, now that we know what music has worked for many directors, we begin the process of combing through new scores to find music that also lives up to the standard you set.   You see, while we choose the music, it’s you that sets the standard.   Yes, we are musicians, but there is a fair amount of statistical information we examine to see important trends, performance patterns, and loyalty amongst performing groups.   We couldn’t possibly print a catalog that covers every piece every director out there loves, but we’re pretty good at creating catalogs with a wide variety of music appealing to many directors.

String Editor Tim McCarrick

String Editor Tim McCarrick

The review sessions last all day long, with song following song.  We talk amongst ourselves, write comments about the music, and discuss merits of the works with the publisher.   It’s the musical equivalent of taking the SATs.   We draw upon all our experience and knowledge and give our best answer.   We have one chance to get it right, and our business quite literally depends upon it.  There’s no time for “do-overs,” as we see on average 18,000 new publications a year.  In the end, we’ll end up featuring over 10,000 titles in our choral catalogs and 5,000 in our band and orchestra catalogs.  Phew!  None of this could happen without three things:  our unyielding passion for music, the professionalism of our review team, and caffeine.

So, back to you.  What mix of serious literature and pop tunes will you want this year?   Some directors view popular music with disdain, and for others it’s a vital part of their programming.  Have we provided enough variety in our suggestions to fill out your program?  Is there music to challenge your group?  Does the music put your performers in a good light?  Is the concept of the work clear — text, notes and all?   You are very demanding, as well you should be.  You are the one that stands at the podium.

Sacred Music Editor Amy McLoughlin

Sacred Music Editor Amy McLoughlin

There are as many opinions on musical quality as there are music directors, and we know that no one catalog can be everything to everybody.   If our catalogs save you time and serve as a great starting place for your musical exploration, then we have done our jobs well.  And don’t worry, if you love to explore beyond the catalogs, we welcome you to do so.  Our website has the largest collection of printed music in the world.  We’re happy to provide anything that works well for your group, even if it’s not in a catalog.

When our editors finish their annual quest for new music, they’ll find that it is summer (and likely wonder what happened to all the snow).  They will have created the finest print music catalogs in the world.  We trust their efforts support your work as a music director.

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Archive

The Little-Known Voice in Jazz

April 15, 2010
Jazz Resources

Jazz Resources

Are you looking for interesting ways to keep your students interested in practicing over the summer?  With the school year drawing to a close and the heat of summer already upon some of us, we’ve all noticed our students becoming a little restless.

I suspect that high school and college horn students frequently live a life of musical schizophrenia.  Religiously studying and performing classical orchestral literature — while listening to or wishing to play in a jazz ensemble.  When one pictures  jazz ensemble instrumentation, saxophones, trombones, drum set, trumpets, and double bass easily come to mind.  An instrument rarely included in this list is the horn — an unfortunate oversight.  Too often high school horn players are excluded from their jazz ensembles, or worse, persuaded to participate on trumpet!  Utilizing the horn in the jazz medium is rare but was practiced as early as the 1940s with the inclusion of  the instrument in scores for Claude Thornhill and later trumpeter Miles Davis.  Willie Ruff, Julius Watkins, John Graas, Tom Varner, Adam Unsworth are just a few on the growing list of noteworthy American horn players devoted to the genre.

Horn player, teacher and composer Lowell Shaw composed Fripperies (horn quartet) in order to teach his students at the University of Buffalo how to play in commercial styles including jazz, barbershop, and funk.  He has since increased the number of Fripperies to 40 and has also added Quipperies (horn quintet),  Tripperies (horn trio), and Just Desserts (solo horn with optional string bass).

For beginning players, the Essential Elements – Jazz series is a useful introduction to jazz notation.  In addition to horn, instrumentation also includes the less conventional  flute and tuba.  We’ll keep you posted as more jazz horn music becomes available in easy, intermediate, and advanced levels.  Maybe this is the summer your horn students spend some time playing jazz!