Music Fundamentals for High School Marching Band Survey

After adjudicating music and music effect in several festivals this year, I am curious about practices in teaching music fundamentals in marching band.

The marching band season is winding down and directors are focusing on polishing shows for the final performances. Hours and hours of rehearsals are culminating into one last run through. Still, marching bands are part of the overall music education program for most schools.

With the amount of time and energy used during the marching season, opportunities abound in teaching music fundamentals. Work on air, tone, intonation, and articulation is important; however, many directions focus on cleaning the visual aspects of the show and not aligning notes and rhythms as much during this time of year.

I will be honest, this season has been better than other seasons in terms of musical performances. There is more uniformity in the execution of techniques. It got me thinking.

How much time are directions spending on music fundamentals? What types of exercises are they using? Is there an arrangement available for purchase or are directors creating their own?

So, I created this survey. It is a very basic survey, consisting of only 10 questions. Honestly, it should take no more than 3 minutes to complete. No personal information is needed, and there is no way for me to identify who submits which answers.

Create your own user feedback survey

I ask for your honest answers. Please, spend three minutes and help me see what groups are doing.

 

Three ways to increase music effect in marching band

Music effect greatly impacts your marching band’s overall performance. Three simple concepts will ensure your ensemble is getting the most out of every note.

The fall marching season has reached its mid-point. In some states, there are three weeks left for competitions. Other groups are performing well into November. Marching Bands should be performing their entire shows and making adjustments to cleaning their drill. While the visual aspect often requires most of our instructional attention, the music must get out attention.

Hopefully, you are no longer fighting the battle of notes and rhythms and can continue working on the nuances and details. After several weeks of adjudication in Kentucky, Tennesee, and Mississippi, Thankfully, there are some quick concepts that will help your group increase their music effect scores and overall performance.

Give me three step

  1. Hierarchy of impacts: As with any piece of music, your marching show has multiple impacts. There is likely one towards the beginning of show, a few through the middle, and one larger impact to close the program. The problem is each impact sounds the same. By labeling each moment by numbers (ideally 1-10), you assign priority. This also helps create ways to bring emphasis through dynamic contrast. Your students will understand the importance of these moments and execute them better.
  2. Move the dial each phrase. While every line has their dynamic markings, contrast inside each line brings more interest and excitement. Encourage your ensemble to perform each line with an idea of direction. Where is the phrase going? What is its important moment? Identifying these moments and leading to them with crescendos will draw audiences and judges in. It doesn’t have to be a major difference, but explore the different levels of mezzo-forte or forte. Or, dare I say, mezzo-piano.
  3. The back end of articulations is just as important as the start. Often times, our ensembles excel at matching timing and initiations of notes, but will not treat the releases in the same way. This could be due to slacking in the airstream or making notes too short. Take time to focus on the back end of notes, matching timing and style.

Five ways to improve individual practice

Finding individual practice time is crucial to any musician, thus making the most of your time is important. Here are five ways to improve practice time.

If you are a musician, you know the importance of individual practice time. If you are in school, your ensemble leader or private instructor likely nags you about finding more time in the practice room. It can be hard to find enough time, therefore making the most of the time you have crucial.

The way you practice matters as much as the amount of time. Maybe more. And there is not “one-size fits all” method. Many of us make similar mistakes which impedes progress in our performance. Playing a piece from beginning to end, for example, each and every time does little to correct the issue found in measure 52. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting difference results is said to be the definition of insanity. I don’t know about you, but not making progress in my practice is rather frustration.

As the school year enters its final months, here are five ways to improve your individual practice time.

Better Practice Time

1. Make a plan: Before you begin, create a plan. Layout the music you are working in front of you and figure out what passages need the most work. Write down what the biggest concern is, including why. For example, “the second beat in measure 52 includes four sixteenth notes and crosses the break.” Knowing the what and why will bring focus.

2. Go slow: Just because the tempo says  Allegro does not mean you have to work on it at that speed. Repetitive, slow practice builds technique and memory. Set the metronome between 60 and 72 and play everything slowly. You will soon find where your tempo fluctuates. Slow works cures  all.

3. Create a routine: Having a set routine improves focus. Start your time with some breathing exercises or even meditation. Then, spend time warming up and on technical etudes. Establishing  routine can lead to better practice times.

4. Record yourself: We listen to recordings of others and wish to sound like them. But, when was the last time your listened to yourself? For most of us, the only time you hear yourself play is when you are practicing by yourself. Recording to yourself and listening to that recording provides a medium for assessing your tone, rhythm, pitch, and musicality. Take the time to listen to yourself play.

5. Reflect: At the end of the day, reflect back on your time. Write down your thoughts on what went well and things which could have been better. Think over every part of your practice and compliment yourself on improving. Sometimes, the only compliment will be “good job for practicing today,” because our practicing was rough. No matter what, end your reflection with a positive thought.

Try these items over the next few weeks. The results will not be immediate, but you will find your practice time more enjoyable.

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.”