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Vocal Music

Directors' Toolbox

Repertoire – Choosing Quality Choral Music, Conclusion

February 24, 2014

Now that you have found some potential pieces and they fit the “who, what, when, where and why” of your practical considerations, what now?  Consider the following additional questions:

  1. Is the piece singable by your choir?  When I was hired to teach my first high school choir, I was on fire for music that I sang when I was in college.  I thought it was so great, I wanted my student choir to sing it as well.  But, I had not given any consideration to “who, what, when, where and why.”  Well, as you can imagine, much of the choir was frustrated with the level of difficulty of the piece and I ended up removing it from their folders.
  2. Looking at the text, what is the piece saying?  Is the text suitable for the age of your students?  Make sure that the text is age appropriate.  Some years ago, I took a poll in my classes about the importance students placed on words in the popular music they were listening to.  Overwhelmingly, the majority of my students said that the words are “extremely important” to any song.  So I began paying more attention to what the text was all about in the music I was choosing.  Oftentimes we would discuss the text of a piece as a class, and sometimes we would even write in journals.  I was amazed at the reflections my students offered to “read aloud” to the rest of the class, about what the text meant to them.  Through these reflections, the students were able to connect the text and music to their own lives, ultimately creating a real and honest performance.
  3. Is the piece range appropriate?  Does the range of the notes in the piece fall within the capabilities of the choir for which you are choosing it?  Check to make sure that there are not many notes that fall outside the tessitura of each section.
  4. Will the piece pass the five-year test?  Does the piece have staying power?  Will it still be something your choirs can sing in five years?  If not, can you justify making the purchase for the present?
  5. Does the piece contribute to the variety of music chosen?  It is always a good idea to sing a number of different styles and a variety of music on any one program.
  6. Will it contribute to building the vocal ensemble sound?  An important thing to consider.  Sure, sometimes you’ll want to sing something for the fun of it, but that should be the exception rather than the rule. What specific vocal techniques can this piece help you teach?  Legato, staccato, singing chromatics, crescendos, etc.  Plus, knowing this will help when you need to educate folks as to what educational reasoning you used to consider this particular piece.
  7. Are you excited about the music?  If you have high-quality choral music and you’re excited about it, chances are your students will be excited as well.  If you and the students are excited and perform it well, the audience will recognize this and enjoy it too.  Occasionally, you will have to “sell it” a little more if it is a challenging piece, but if it’s high-quality music, they will grow to really enjoy it and recognize its intrinsic value.

The repertoire we choose is an important tool that can have a very powerful and positive influence on our students.  It is essentially our “textbook” for the class, and can determine the success or failure of a program. Balance in choosing music is important. Sure, you should choose some quality arrangements of popular songs, but don’t forget the rich music of our cultural past.  I always loved the statement the character Glenn Holland made in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus: When speaking to the principal he states, “Mrs. Jacobs, you tell them that I am teaching music, and that I will use anything from Beethoven to Billie Holiday to rock and roll if I think it’ll help me teach a student to love music.”

In this results-oriented society, let’s not forget that the most important thing is not so much the concert, it’s what’s learned on the journey toward the performance.

Directors' Toolbox

Repertoire – Choosing Quality Choral Music, Part 2

February 12, 2014

In Part 1 we discussed practical considerations in choosing repertoire, such as the makeup of your performing group and the your intended audience.  Now we’ll look at how to find appropriate literature:

Where do you look?

  • Existing library of music where you teach  If the titles in your own library are not already listed on a spreadsheet, this would be a helpful project to complete. Enlist the help of student aides and perhaps some parent volunteers. Set up the fields you want, including title, composer/arranger, publisher, voicing, number of copies on hand, the date the piece was performed and even the style. This will make it easier to search for repertoire in the future.
  • Programs from previous concerts  This is especially helpful for teachers beginning a new job. Take a good look at what’s been done successfully in the past, particularly what was done four and five years before. It might give you a good idea of where to start.
  • Go online  jwpepper.com  has more resources and search capabilities than ever before. You can customize your search, hear quality recordings, see samples of the music, and search for Editors’ Choice, Pepper’s exclusive evaluation of the best new titles each year. Take a look at the Basic Library as well, where you’ll find a selection of chorals that have stood the test of time. Pepper also carries all state and festival lists.
  • More online resources  Other websites include:
  • Attend choral concerts  This is still a great way to find music. Go to as many as you can. Keep your program and make notes on it as to what songs are worth considering (or not!)
  • Conventions and conferences  Perhaps the most exciting, conventions and conferences can afford you the opportunity to hear many concerts, attend workshops, mingle and talk with colleagues, and even pick up free music packets.
  • Publications:  The Choral Journal, ACDA; Teaching Music, NAfME; Teaching Music through Performance in Choir, GIA Publications; Choral Repertoire, Oxford University Press; The School Choral Program, GIA Publications.
  • Build a library of recordings  Go to iTunes.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com to begin listening to and collecting recordings of professional choirs singing great music.
  • Build a repertoire file  When I began my career in education, I started a file labeled “ideas” into which I was constantly dropping notes during the school year. These were reminders to myself of things that I would change or implement for the following year. I quickly set up a file labeled “Repertoire Ideas,” to which I loaded pieces of music, programs, notes from students, and any and all ideas for music that I wanted to consider in the future.

Next post, the conclusion of Repertoire – Choosing Quality Choral Music

Directors' Toolbox

Repertoire – Choosing Quality Choral Music, Part 1

January 31, 2014

Of the responsibilities that music teachers have, perhaps one of the most challenging is that of finding and choosing quality repertoire.  With the amount of literature available for all types of ensembles, the task of selecting the best music for student ensembles has become somewhat daunting.  Not only do we need to keep the capabilities and interests of our students in mind, but also our audiences;  both parents and administrators alike!

Finding excellent repertoire doesn’t just happen. It’s a career-long process. Much of what follows regarding this process is a combination of advice I have received from colleagues who have developed successful programs, books and magazines I have researched, and the results of trial and error.

Practical Considerations

Before choosing a particular piece of music there are some things to consider:

Who is singing?  Is it a mixed chorus, men’s or women’s chorus? Auditioned or non-auditioned group?  Is it large or small in number?  What is the balance between the sections?  Motivated singers or social singers?

What are their capabilities?  And what are the language and diction requirements?  Is it a group of beginners, intermediate or advanced singers?  In other words, what is the ratio of music readers to nonreaders?  This can be a challenging aspect, as you want to make sure that music chosen is not too difficult to frustrate singers, yet challenging enough to maintain interest.

When will it be performed?  How much time do you have to educate students and rehearse the piece so the performance reflects what the composer intended?

Where is the performance?  And for whom will it be performed?  Will it be in a school auditorium, local church, on a stage, in a hall or an outside venue?  Some of these aspects may affect your choices.

Why are you performing?  Is it for a winter, spring, or pops concert?  Will it be a themed or non-themed concert?  A  festival or competition?  Are there sacred or secular considerations?  Let’s face it — we’re all headed for a performance of some kind.  The skill is in making the journey toward the performance an exciting activity for the students.  Not only should they learn how to sing the piece well, but sing it with proficiency, artistry, and understanding of the music “behind the notes.”  Once these preliminary questions have been addressed, you can move forward.

 

In my next installment we’ll discuss where to look for quality repertoire.

Archive

Growing up ”Southern”

July 5, 2013

My mother and grandmother were born and bred in Kentucky, something that I am most proud of.  Having a Southern heritage is something that I wear like a new suit on Easter Sunday morning – with my head held high.  We didn’t always have a lot at our house, but my mother’s five children were clean, well dressed, and well-mannered – or we didn’t sit very well the next day!

My Grandma Becky – everyone called her that, from the neighbors to all of the folks at church – was a wonderful cook.  I can still taste her homemade chocolate pies and pumpkin cake!  My mother learned from the very best!  At our house, we learned to waste nothing.  Before the fancy silver can with the black lid that said “Drippings” on it, there was just a coffee can – but there was always a can that sat near the stove, and each time bacon was fried, the bacon grease was carefully poured into that coffee can for later use in green beans, black-eyed peas, greens, almost anything.

Another tasty treat that we southerners love is butter!  I learned that butter makes everything better!  I put butter on everything from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to pop tarts (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it).  I’m not talking about that yellowish, artificial “can’t believe it’s not” stuff that I can instantly tell isn’t, but I am talking about the REAL thing.  Good, softened, melted butter just makes everything taste so good.  I guess I should probably interject here that you should not talk to your doctor about their opinion on this subject because I am sure it would differ from mine!

Oh, and iced tea!  Nothing that comes from a can or a bottle, but tea that has sat out on the porch steeping in the sun, and then has a couple cups of white sugar poured into it – just puts a smile on everyone’s face.

As you can tell, I am so proud of my heritage.  But everyone should be – for that is where we came from. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you call home, it is the memories that truly make us who we are.  Another thing that I love about being Southern is the music.  I grew up listening to country, country gospel, and southern gospel music, and I have often said that it runs deep in my veins.  Music is such a huge part of my heritage, just like butter and green beans with bacon grease cooked in them!

J.W. Pepper offers a wonderful service called e-Clubs where we send complimentary e-mails to music directors that highlight new and best-selling music as well as go-to classic repertoire to assist you in choosing materials for your choir, band, piano or whatever musical interests you have. We have e-Clubs for instrumental directors, piano teachers, and school directors, and we have them for Church Choir directors too!  We offer this great service for traditional worship, contemporary worship and blended worship, and now I am so excited that we even have one for SOUTHERN GOSPEL too!  How about that!  So it doesn’t really matter what your heritage is, we have something just for you – and all you have to do is sign up here!  Go on now… oh, and before you go, would you pass the butter?

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.

History

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 jwpepper.com, satisfaction@jwpepper.com, 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, BandMerchNow.com.

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.

 

Archive

World Teachers’ Day – October 5, 2012

October 3, 2012

Internationally recognized as World Teachers’ Day, October 5 is a special day to celebrate the essential role of teachers.  Established by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization), we celebrate today by recognizing all teachers, especially music teachers, who constantly provide quality education to students at all educational levels.

The organization strives to address the rights and responsibilities of teachers by setting international standards for education, employment and recruitment.  Assessing and improving overall teaching and learning conditions is also a strong part of the process.  Since 1994, this has become highly regarded as an important set of guidelines for improving the status of teachers worldwide and helping them invest in the overall goal of improving the quality of education for all students.

Thank you teachers throughout the world for everything you do every day.  Enjoy World Teachers’ Day!

 

Archive

Meet Pepper: Indiana

September 21, 2012

J.W. Pepper acquired the print music division of Paige’s Music in April of 1990.  Incidentally, both companies were established in the 1870s and have been family owned throughout their history.  We were the first “satellite” Pepper location connected to an instrument dealer and are still located in the Paige’s building where customers have access to instruments, repairs and accessories as well as print music.  This is also the only Pepper location where the host dealer’s district managers deliver our product to our mutual customers.

Russ Bullis, Vice President and Regional Marketing Manager, has been in the print music business since 1980.  He holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree and taught band in southern Illinois for six years.  He began working in the music industry in March of 1980 at Paige’s Music and became active in the Retail Print Music Dealers Association, serving as its president in 1988.  When Pepper acquired the print music division of Paige’s in 1990, Russ and his wife Betsy were hired to launch this office.  He currently coordinates many live events locally as well as nationally, such as The Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, Showchoir Camps of America, the National Association of  Pastoral Musicians Convention and the Conn-Selmer Institute.

Pepper Indiana Staff

The Indianapolis staff consists of four other employees.  Betsy Bullis started with Paige’s Music in 1981 and was a school choral music teacher before working in music retail.  She taught private voice and piano for 30 years while working part-time at Pepper.  Now a full-time Pepper employee, she remains active in the music community, singing in church and doing community theatre.

Debbie Gallagher has been with Pepper since June of 2001.  She is a former elementary school teacher and serves as our local credit expert.  She is a flutist and singer, currently singing with her church choir and the extension chorus, Melody Makers.

Heather Pechin holds a degree in Music Business from Indiana State University and came to Pepper through the internship program with ISU.  She loves singing karaoke and directs her church choir as well as the Indy Adult Show Choir.  Heather is our show choir expert and is actively involved in our participation in Showchoir Camps of America every summer in Illinois and Ohio.

Janice Smith didn’t have a music background when she came to us in 2000, but you would never know it.  She has learned a great deal about our product and our customers appreciate her open, friendly attitude toward customer service.

Our store provides a home for many customers to visit with us;  we occasionally host up to 100 customers on a Saturday!  We know many of them by name and they often spend hours perusing our reference center and browsing through our bins of music.  We sometimes host group meetings in our store, providing coffee, doughnuts and a place to listen to and read through new music.  Outside of the office, we attend many live events in the states of Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia.

Visit Pepper Indiana’s website.

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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.

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