Sunday Sounds: Lichtweg/Lightway by Jennifer Jolley

Composer Jennifer Jolley is a relatively new voice to the wind ensemble and one we all should know. Her work Lichtweg serves as a great introduction to her work.

The library of works for the wind ensemble is growing. Sure, that statement seems a bit obvious as new composers are writing for this performance medium, but it is not just achieving new numbers. Our repertoire is gaining quality works from composers, both established and new. This may largely be due to the willingness of conductors to interact and communicate with composers.

Certainly, technology helps. It is much easier to send records back and forth nowadays, as well as connect via text message or FaceTime. And, conductors are capable of sharing ideas with others regularly. That is how I discovered composer Jennifer Jolley.  In talking with a friend and conductor of a collegiate ensemble, I asked what they were programming this semester. The reply was filled with great standard works and one which I was not familiar. It was Lichtweg (Lightway) by Ms. Jolley.

Currently, Jennifer Jolley is Assistant Professor of Music at Ohio Wesleyan University where she teaches composition and music theory. She holds degrees from the University of Southern California (B.M) and the University of Cincinnati (M.M. and D.M.A.). Ms. Jolley’s teachers include Stephen Hartke, Frank Ticheli, Michael Fiday, Joel Hoffman, and Douglas Knehans.

While her catalog is diverse, her works for wind ensemble are a bit more recent. Motordom was composed in 2009, and is a musical interpretation of American light-artist Keith Sonnier’s light installation in Los Angeles. Her next work for winds, Through the Looking Glass Falls, was completed in 2014. The next four compositions were published in 2016 and 2017.

About Lichtweg

Jennifer Jolley was commissioned by the Georgia Tech Concert Band with Lichtweg being the result of the process. The ensemble premiered the work on November 19, 2017.

Like Motordom, Jolley drew inspiration from another of Keith Sonnier’s installations. This time, it was the exhibit in Terminal 1 of the Munich Airport in Germany. Photos of the installation can be found on Sonnier’s website, and are linked here. The exhibit uses glowing neon lights and mirrors throughout the corridor. The idea is to help passengers direction and variety, helping them relax from the stress of travel.

As for the composition, Jolley states the following in the program notes:

In this piece I musically portray the rhythmic placement of red and blue light emanating from this neon installation by creating a constant eighth-note ostinato that is heard throughout the piece. Just as the panes of glass, mirrors, and aluminum sheets refract and scatter the colorful neon light, this ostinato is diffused amongst the different colors in the ensemble.

The ostinato used can make the work a bit more challenging than it appears. Often times, a couple groups of musicians perform the ostinato but are separated by an eighth note, providing reflection like the mirrors in the installation. Even with the rhythmic challenges, the composition is filled with bright energy. Jolley uses the timbres of the ensemble to show the variety of light and color in the exhibit.

Her website includes a midi recording of the work, though with several ensembles performing it recently, I would not be surprised if she added a live version. There is also a sample of the score is included on her site. This work, and others, are available for rental.

Another school shooting leave me searching

When will enough be enough? Another school shooting leaves us angry and confused. We must be the change this world needs. It starts with us.

Typically, I use my blog to share thoughts on music, provide tips and tricks I have learned over the years, and present some of my favorite pieces to whoever stops by. Not today. This may be more a spewing of the emotional mess my brain currently holds. After another school shooting, I am left hurting and angry. I know many of you are as well.

Why does this keep happening? What motivates these kids to commit such radial actions against those they grew up with? The people they know.  I have no doubt they all attending birthday parties together, rode bikes down the street, or played video games at each others’ house.

The fact is school shooting keep happening. They have been since I was in high school. I still remember the Heath High School shooting on December 1, 1997. At the time I was attending Murray State University and Heath HS was less than an hour away. A couple years later, one of the survivors roomed next door to a friend of mine in a dorm. We got to know each other a bit.

April 20, 1999, was the Columbine HS massacre, where two perpetrators killed 13 people. They were also both killed.

None of this hit as close to home as the shootings at Mattoon High School – a community in which I lived for three years – and Marshall County High School – where I know teachers at the school and people from the community.

This is not a new thing. Since the 1950s, the United States witnesses at least 17 school shooting per decade.  However, since 2010, we have already witnessed 143 shootings. As much as I want to say there is good news in this, whether it is the fact no one was hurt or killed in many of these atrocities, I can’t.

Enough is enough

Look, I don’t have the answers to the solution. More control of guns? Sure. Better identification mental illness and access to treatment? Yes. Teaching our boys that being a man does not mean acting tough and responding with violence? Absolutely. I believe these events occur for a multitude of reasons and I am not here to hash them all out.

After the Columbine Massacre, composer Frank Ticheli was commissioned to write a musical response to the tragedy. In the work, Ticheli incorporated a quote from the Alma Mater of Columbine High School. To this day it is one of the most moving pieces in the wind band repertoire.

While I don’t know the answers to the situations that our nation faces, here is what I know we can do.

  • Love people. Care for the people around us and provide them a shoulder to cry on and an ear for listening.
  • Stand up. When we see injustice, including bullying or acts of oppression, stand up. Let people know we will no longer tolerate hate. No based on religion, creed, orientation, or race.
  • Raise your voice. Contact your governmental representatives and let them know we desire change.
  •  Love yourself. Take care of yourself. Find joy in who you are and what you do. I have always found it interesting that Jesus says in the Bible to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If we hate ourselves, we hate our neighbors.

We want change, and we must start the change.

As for me, I take this quote from Leonard Bernstein as my guide.

“This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely,
more beautifully,
more devotedly than ever before.”

Incorporating music and technology during performances

Music composition has taken a turn in the last several years by incorporating technology into pieces. And it is a great thing.

There is no doubting the facts: we are in an age of technology. Everywhere we go we witness the use of technology in everyday life. Most of you viewing this article are likely using your iPhone or other mobile devices. Statics for Predlines.com, a site I manage covering the Nashville Predators, shows that over 70% of views are through cellphones.

Technology changes almost as quickly as the seasons. We are constantly updating our phones and devices because something newer and better is available. Many band directors access their tuner or metronome on a tablet or phone. Yet, when it comes to concert performances, ensemble directors are reluctant to try new things…

…even if they spent thousands of dollars on speaker systems, microphones, and all the accessories for their marching ensembles.

Maybe there is fear of fixing an issue in case something goes screwy in performance or just the lack of understanding of how the technology works. But opportunities abound for programs to incorporate electronics into a concert program.

Give these a try.

Ecstatic Waters by Steven Bryant was the first pieces I was introduced to mixing wind band with electronics. It is a brilliant work which feels like a battle between man and machine ending in a compromise between the two sides. The 20+ minute composition is challenging, making it difficult for many high school programs.

Which brings us to another piece by Bryant entitled The Machine AwakesThis composition is accessible to most upper middle school groups and serves as a great introduction for conductors into the blending of acoustic and electronic sounds. Plus, it can be operated from an iPhone. Another option from Bryant is CoilWritten in 2014, Coil derives inspiration from Nikola Tesla’s famous Tesla Coils. The composition lasts about 5 minutes and can be performed by most high school groups.

Another composer known for using technology in their works is Alex Shapiro. Her compositions stretch across all genres but include seven works for winds and audio tracks. Of those, five works are 6-minutes or less in length, making them manageable for high school and college groups. Personally, I recommend trying Paper Cut or Tight Squeeze.

Speaking of Alex, she is part of a great consortium opportunity with Daniel Montoya, Jr. and Benjamin Taylor. The  New Band Electro-Acoustic Music (N-BEAM) project, led by James Mobley, looks to create three new works at the Grade 2 – 2.5 level for band and technology. The cost to join the project is $450, but includes copies of all three pieces, Skype rehearsals with the composers, rights to video-record performances, and much more.

Other options

Maybe adding audio technology is not a great option, but film could be. While I worked with Alpharetta HS (GA), we performed Frank Ticheli’s American Elegy and had students create a slideshow to be performed along with the music. Steve Danyew’s This World Alive combines the work of Ansel Adams and a beautiful score.

There are more options as well. Ensembles have added light shows to Michael Markowski’s Shine. Lights Out by Alex Shapiro calls for lighting effects during the performance.

The opportunities to add technology into your concert programs abound. And it may not be as challenging as one may think. Give it a chance. Your students will love it.

Rehearsal with your ensemble with a plan in mind

Each rehearsal provides an opportunity for your ensemble to improve. To make rehearsal more effect, each activity must have a purpose.

Rehearsal. They can be the highlight of our day or leave us dreading the next day. It is the time which we get to do what we love the most: teach music. However, with all the distractions – paperwork needing to be done, meetings with the administration about budgets, planning for a trip – we can often find ourselves “winging it” when it comes time to rehearse. We throw things together and pray it works.

Sometimes, we get lucky and the rehearsal goes well. Other times, not so much.

There is a problem with rehearsals. It often lacks a “why.” We all have the ultimate goal of improving whatever piece of music that happens to be in the folder. The music becomes the focus. A worthy goal, but is it enough?

Certainly, we all have a plan – a routine – in which we incorporate every rehearsal. It may include scales, long tones, chorales and the like. What is the purpose of these activities?

Understand the “why”

Everything we do in a rehearsal must have a purpose, and the students need to understand why it is worth doing. The “warm-up” needs to be part of the overall plan for the day and the year. Each piece performed should lead to meeting the plans you have for your students over the years you will teach them.

When planning a rehearsal, I often think about my work during individual practice. You know, all those hours we were told to work in a practice room in college.

  1. Breathing/Stretching: preparing the body and calming the mind to focus. Give the students a chance to clear their mind of the math test they just finished.
  2. Long tones: This is not just to warm-up the instrument, but a chance to build the best tone quality possible. Simply playing through a few notes without assess the sounds being produced does nothing to help you play the compositions in the folder.
  3. Technical exercises: This does not have to scale, but there should be something to help get the fingers moving. If you have to perform a piece with 16th note passages for any of your players, find a way to work on and teach how to achieve success. START SLOW and WORK WITH A METRONOME! But, teach your students how to practice.
  4. Sight-reading: How often do we practice sight reading? For some groups, it can feel like every day if your students don’t practice at home. But there is extreme value in sight reading: it provides fresh chances for your student to process unknown music, which leads to quicker reading and understanding on concert repertoire.
  5. Now, the music. Be focused, and assess based on the things introduced in previous activities. If students are not playing with the tone quality standard set, (kindly) remind and encourage them to meet that standard. Treat the technical passages in the music like practiced previously. Make the connection from “warm-up” to music.

It sounds simple and maybe you do this every day. I encourage you to keep asking “why” you are doing each activity. And make sure your students know it as well.

Indoor activity is changing marching band show design

Change can be a good thing. The creativity used in designing indoor guard and percussion shows has made its way onto the marching field.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Thus states Albert Einstein. Our thinking changes through experience, reading, and observation. Sometimes, changes are forced upon us due to circumstances. Or, change can just be a natural procession.

Over the last decade, marching band has witnessed significant changes in terms of design. While many directors will never fully embrace these new concepts, adopting a few would be wise. I certainly fall into the group which does not like all the new concepts.

What is causing all the changes? It is rather simple: indoor guard and percussion. Ensembles involved in Winter Guard International and other circuits are finding new ways to create drama and use all the design elements to generate effect. With their limited space on a basketball court, it becomes important to think outside the box in order to communicate your show to the audience.

The indoor activity has become theatrical. I do not use the term as an insult, though some people do. The ensembles are pulling ideas from the stage to build interesting and emotional performances. Props, costuming, blocking and staging, casting for characters. These ideas and more are being used inside.

And now, they are coming outdoors.

Marching bands are starting to draw more design concepts from the indoor activity. Sure, Bands of America has been around since 1975, but the progression of the activity is largely due to what happens indoors. The question is which of these changes should be incorporated into your program. Not all of the concepts are adaptable to every program. Nor are they cost effective.

Here are a few concepts I recommend incorporating.

  1. Tell a story: Music music and visual, tell a story. All parts need to work toward the drama production, from the music to the flags to the drill. Make your marching band a bit more theatrical.
  2. Useful props: Many groups incorporate props into their shows, but finding a way to make them integral into parts of your program is needed. Use them as platforms for a soloist, or an interactive piece that changes with your show.
  3. Levels of the body: By changing the height of body positions can add visual tension or impact to the music. This can be accomplished by laying down, squatting, or leaning.
  4. Staging: How you place your ensemble on the performance field is crucial. If the trumpet section is performing the most important content, they must be highlighted on the field. This could be by placing them in the center of the field in full view of the audience, or by grouping them together in a tight form off to the side while others move around them.Gone are the days of isolating the on-field percussion and guard/auxiliaries.  All parts of the ensemble can and should be mixed in the formations on the field.
  5. Casting of Characters: This one can be a challenge, but it just as necessary. Too many times I have witnessed ensembles trying to portray a character but the actors or actresses fall very short through their actions. If you are going to perform a show about James Bond, the actions on the field must fully evoke that image. Posture should be tall and elegant, and motions should be quick and exaggerated. Simply wearing a costume and moving around the field is not enough.

What about other ideas?

Good question. For me, they are optional or not needed.

Electronics are great for adding effects and percussion colors to your program, but amplifying top-performers in your ensemble to help your overall ensemble sound is over the top.

Getting new uniforms and costumes every single year is expensive. Not every marching band can afford such things.

Tarps can add great impact to your show, but can also be an obstacle in which performers lose footing and trip over. Or, it can be blown by the winds of Central Illinois on a brisk October afternoon.

The most important part of all this is doing what works for your marching band. If you can afford new uniforms, get them. Maybe start with the staging and story-telling concepts. Add as you move along. But the days of three tunes and one are in the review mirror.