Summer time and the living is easy. Well, maybe for some but not for most band directors. They are busy preparing for marching band camp, recruiting new members, hosting summer sectionals, washing cars to help raise funds for the program, meeting with staff to go over ideas for the season, arranging music, writing drill, and then drinking a few more cups of coffee to stay awake for the next Game of Thrones episode. And, after that episode is over, they will go back to work starting to consider music to program for their concert bands. Yes folks, music education is a 24-7-365 job.
While many directors have a handle on the current trends for marching band, many still program their concert band selections in an “old school” way. They get the promotional CDs from Hal Leonard or other publishers, select a few pieces, add a Sousa march, and BAM! that’s the program. Or, they view a list of “approved” works by some organization in their state that says “these are the works that are acceptable for your ensembles to play at festival.” Then, they select a few in the grade level they think is best for their program (or that they know and are comfortable with), and program those.
Now, I am not here to cast doubt on the quality of the music on those promotional CDs or within the state-approved lists. What I would like to say is this: changing the way you program music for concert ensembles will improve your program. Here are my thoughts on a simple way to program music for your next concert band:
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue: Ah, yes. The old saying that people use when planning a wedding. In order to have good luck, the bride is to wears something from each of these categories. This idea works for concert band programming as well.
Select a piece of merit from the original works for concert band before 1990. A piece by Grainger, Holst, Persichetti, Hindemith, Dello Joio, or Ives (just to name a very small handful). Pieces by substantial composers from the early days of concert band literature are important to the foundation of our art, much like Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, and Stravinsky are to orchestral writing. Our students and audiences should be familiar with these composers.
There are so many great new works by fantastic LIVING composers. And, with technology, directors have a chance to speak to composers on a regular basis about their works. Composers such as Jonathan Newman, Roseanne Etezady, Steven Danyew, Michael Markowski, John Mackey, Joni Greene, Jess Turner, or Steven Bryant. All of these composers, and many more, have works for ensembles of all abilities and in various styles. Plus, they have internet sites with their music and ways to connect with them. While they may be busy at times, they are willing to answer questions or provide feedback to recordings. This interaction will helps students growing in music and feel as part of the art.
It is okay to play arrangements of works from other genres. I repeat, it is okay to play arrangements. Part of the brief history of wind ensemble music is performing arrangements of works from opera, orchestral, choral, or chamber music settings. As a matter of fact, that use to be all there was for concert bands to perform. So, do not be afraid to go back to our roots and perform an arrangement of Brahms Blessed Are They, or Four Scottish Dances by Malcolm Arnold. There are works by Mozart as well. Embrace our history.
In the world of white weddings, brides are encouraged to wear something blue. Something of a different color. For winds bands, this means finding something different for us. It could be playing a piece influenced by jazz. Or maybe incorporating chamber music, a percussion ensemble, or a student composition. You can even perform something that requires lighting effects, or singing, or features a soloist. Better yet, get in contact with a composer and see if they have any active commission projects you can join, or if they have space for a new one. It is up to you, but be different!