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, 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.

Repertoire: Five current composers whose music you should be playing

The repertoire within the world of wind bands is ever-growing. With this new literature, comes new composers and new conducting opportunities.

We all know the standards. Holst Suite in E-flat, Vaughan Williams English Folksong Suite. Vincent Persichetti’s wonderful library of works. Or that of Frank Ticheli. The depth of works within the wind band repertoire is vast.

Thankfully, there are resources and text that help guide band directors to  find and select works that may be of interest to them or their ensemble. The series Teaching Music Through Performance is one of the best resources out there. With the amount of works and composers the series presents, conductors have access to a wealth of knowledge on current repertoire.

Still, there are several composers out there you may have never heard of. Likely, you have some idea of their work. Their music has been performed at the Midwest Clinic and honor band festivals across the nation. But, in case you have not, here some composer whose work I enjoy.

Five Composers you should know:

  1. Michael Markowski: I met Michael at Midwest many years ago, through a friend who introduced me. His works were foreign to me at the time, but after buying a score and listening for a bit, I found a unique voice full of emotional sophistication and energy.
  2. Alex Shapiro: The works of Alex Shapiro are relatively new to me. Her compositions incorporate audio tracks and other items like paper or rocks to generate sounds.
  3. Steve Danyew: Some of my favorite music is that of Steve Danyew. His work Goodnight, Goodnight is rich with beauty and captivating colors. Additionally, This World Alive is an amazing collaboration of music and film.
  4. Joni Greene: Another composer introduced to me through a friend while attending Midwest in 2011, Joni Greene’s works stood out to me for their depth of voice.  It is part of the reason why I participated in a consortium for one of her works.
  5. James M. David: If you are looking for something a bit different, than James M. David is worth a look. Currently an Associate Professor of Composition at Colorado State University, James has several works for winds. Big Four on the River is one I enjoy, as it is filled with jazz influence, including Dixieland.


Of course, there are so many more, but these five are great composers to start with.