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Featured Content: Frank Ticheli’s “Loch Lomond”


Today we’re featuring Frank Ticheli’s wonderful setting of the traditional tune: Loch Lomond, which was recently added to SmartMusic. This is a powerful concert band piece at a medium-easy difficulty level.

Click the play button below to hear a recording of Loch Lomond. Click on the cover to follow along in the score. Historical context, along with notes from Frank Ticheli about his setting, follow the score below.

Link to MP3 file Loch Lomond:

Historical Background

At the time in Scottish history when Loch Lomond was a new song, the United Kingdom (which united Scotland, England, and Wales) had already been formed. But the Highland Scots wanted a Scottish, not an English King to rule. Led by their Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Start) they attempted unsuccessfully to depose Britain’s King George II. An army of 7,000 Highlanders were defeated on April 16, 1746 at the famous Battle of Culloden Moor.

It is this battle that indirectly gives rise to this beautiful song. After the battle, many Scottish soldiers were imprisoned within England’s Carlisle Castle, near the border of Scotland. Loch Lomond tells the story of two Scottish soldiers who were so imprisoned. One of them was to be executed, while the other was to be set free. According to Celtic legend if someone dies in a foreign land, his spirit will travel to his homeland by “the low road” – the route for the souls of the dead. In the song, the spirit of the dead soldier shall arrive first, while the living soldier will take the “high road” over the mountains, to arrive afterwards.

The song is from the point of view of the soldier who will be executed: When he sings, “ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road” in effect he is saying that you will return a live, and I will return in spirit. He remembers his happy past, “By yon bonnie banks…where me and my true love were ever wont to gae [accustomed to go]” and sadly accepts his death “the broken heart it ken nae [knows no} second Spring again.”

The original folksong uses a six note scale; the seventh scale degree is absent from the melody. The lyric intertwines the sadness of the soldier’s plight with images of Loch Lomond’s stunning natural beauty.

Frank Ticheli Talks about Loch Lomond

“In my setting, I have tried to preserve the folk song’s simple charm, while also suggesting a sense of hope, and the resilience of the human spirit. The final statement combines the Scottish tune with the well-known Irish folk song, Danny Boy.

It was by happy accident that I discovered how well these two beloved songs share each other’s company, and I hope their intermingling suggests a spirit of human harmony.”

Frank Ticheli’s Loch Lomond was commissioned by Nigel Durno, for the Stewarton Academy Senior Wind Ensemble of East Ayrshire, Scotland, with funds provided by the Scottish Arts Council. The premiere performance was given on June 18, 2002 by the Stewarton Academy Senior Wind Ensemble at Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, Scotland.

Harmony in the Music Department

Music teachers having an argument

Everyday music educators experience some type of stress. It may come in the form of dealing with rowdy students or unhappy parents. It may be the result of performance demands or schedule conflicts. Whatever the source, we face it and make the best of it. Sometimes, however, the stress originates within the music department. Not only can this impact those within the department, it can also be detrimental to students, parents, and non-music faculty and administration.

In my experience, dealing with conflict within the music department has been among the most difficult challenges to grasp and resolve in a low-impact way for all concerned.

Some of the most common causes of conflicts in the department include:

  • Lack of communication
  • Being territorial
  • Jealousy
  • Sharing students

Let’s look at these separately with a goal of maintaining harmony in the music department.

Lack of Communication

Issues of communication are the most common cause of problems I experience as a music education mentor and are often a contributing factor to every other conflict listed above. Failure to communicate effectively often results in loss of time and organization, creates uncertainty, reduces confidence and credibility, and spreads unhealthy rumors or gossip. A person who cannot communicate successfully is rarely a good leader.

Some general guidelines to improve communication include:

  • Listen first and be a good listener.
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand both sides of every issue.
  • Strive to always maintain a calm demeanor; avoid being negative, defensive or interruptive.

Nowhere are good communication skills more vital than in conflict resolution. Let’s look at an example.

Mary’s Dilemma

In a small school setting, the football team has just advanced to the regional game which is scheduled away and occurs on the same date as the upcoming fall choral concert. Mary is the drum major AND has a solo in the choral concert. Both events carry weight in determining grades. Both the band director and choir director have given Mary the ultimatum, make a decision between the two.

The situation has reached an impasse and Mary has gone to the school principal to ask for a meeting including the principal, the activities director, both music directors, and her parents.

Whew. Who’s looking forward to that?

Take a Step Back

Let’s take a step back from the edge and see how improved communication could have prevented some stress.

First of all, a clearly communicated written policy for school activities (or the music programs) could have provided an answer from the start. It might, for example, state that when students are in two events on the same night:

  • Students are allowed to choose between the two programs with no penalty, or
  • District, regional and state events take precedence over local events.

Creating such a policy is not easy but agreeing on the best solution for all involved is much less stressful when it doesn’t occur in the middle of an emotionally-charged event.

Secondly, when a conflict like this occurs and it’s not covered by policy, it’s best to start the conversation between the invested parties. Rather than wait for the issue to escalate to include a room full of people, either director could reach out to the other director and decide how to work together.

When you need to meet, choose a day and time that is convenient for both parties. Here are some communication best practices that you could take into such a meeting.

  • Be a good listener and learn everyone’s concerns
  • Make a list of your concerns – keep them short and to the point
  • Don’t be “picky”; stick to the most serious issues at hand
  • Be prepared to suggest resolution and give a little
  • Strive to remain calm and positive, and avoid becoming defensive.

Always remember that it’s a team effort. This is not about your wishes, it’s about what will best benefit the students and your program.

If you come to an impasse, it may be necessary to ask someone to serve as a mediator.  Should this happen, consider asking a colleague both parties respect (ideally someone outside the department) before going to your administration. Ideally, this would be someone outside the department.

Being Territorial

In my experience, being territorial is the second most common cause for conflict in music departments. With limited budgets, resources and facilities, it’s easy to become protective of your territory. This quickly can result in problems maintaining shared equipment, classrooms, and/or office space.

Again, the best way to prevent issues of territory is to effectively communicate expectations beforehand. You might create an equipment schedule and/or a room plan. Even better, share a rough draft of the schedule or plan with your colleagues, asking for their feedback and input. By doing so, you’ve made it clear you’re willing to do some of the heavy lifting (by creating the draft) and their input is vital for it to be complete and successful.

However you approach it, work together to come to an agreement about the respectful use and maintenance of the equipment. Similarly, in room planning, be clear about every detail. This can include where and when to put things away (from sheet music, chairs and music stands, to large instruments), transition responsibilities between classes, end of the day procedures, etc…

Ultimately, some groups (and teachers) are simply not as neat as others. This is a common problem. When this occurs, even the “less neat” teacher has to hold students accountable for maintaining a respectful classroom. Same goes with sharing desks, office space, computers or copiers.

A few quick, final tips about territory:

  • Be aware of each other’s personal space and possessions
  • Avoid “borrowing” items without asking
  • If you must, borrowing a stapler is one thing – but rummaging through a desk looking for a stapler is another


To a certain extent, we all have a small amount of jealousy. When we don’t get things our way we start looking for reasons, and sometimes jealousy can creep into the equation. Jealousy may develop around class schedules, unequal budgets, department regulations/policies, booster organizations, uniforms, and more.

When this emotion occurs, the best resolution is to address it head-on and discuss it. Let your neighbor know how you feel, and you may be surprised to discover they feel the same way. Or not.

Either way, starting the communication can help – keeping the frustration to yourself does not.

Sharing Students

Today, when it comes to protecting programs from being cut, it’s about numbers. Sometimes we share students like the band and choir do in Mary’s example above.

The best music students are often involved in many school activities, especially in smaller schools. These students may be active in the music department, sports, clubs, and organizations. As described above, no matter if it’s inside or outside the department, it’s best to do everything we can to avoid forcing students to make a decision between one activity or another.

One example many band directors face is the football player who is also in band. As a band director, at the beginning of the season I would meet with the head coach and discuss which students we shared. Many times, we could come to an understanding.

For example, we might agree that a football player could march — in his football uniform — if he wasn’t needed in 1st or 2nd team and playing in the second half. Otherwise, he’d go with the team. If a student was going to play a JV game in the next day or two, then he would march with the band.

These sorts of mutual compromises can really take the stress out of the situation for the directors, and eliminate the drama of conflict from students, parents, and administrators.

Build Music Department Unity

Perhaps the best way to avoid departmental conflicts is to continually work to build strong relationships. Here are a few of my favorite ways to do so:

  • If schedules allow, share performances.
  • As a director, attend other performances and encourage your students and boosters to attend those events. Your attendance shows your respect and helps you to learn to understand the needs of all concerned.
  • Parent/booster organizations can also be helpful in bringing a department together by sharing fundraisers, supporting concerts or events.

Developing open relationships and communicating effectively will result in the harmony you need in your programs. Remember, we are all here for one reason: our students. The better we communicate and operate, the better we serve them, the music, and our world.

joe-pappasA veteran of 27 years of successful teaching in public schools, Joseph Pappas currently serves as adjunct professor at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, MO., and Southeast Missouri University, Cape Girardeau, MO. A winner of multiple Teacher of the Year awards, in 2016 Mr. Pappas received the Outstanding Music Educator Award for Missouri from the National Federation of High Schools and was elected to the St. Louis Music Education Hall of Fame.

A prolific composer of more than 200 compositions, he devotes most of his time to composing and working as an educational consultant and publishing editor for his own company, JPM Music Publications, which he started in 1992.

Spotlight on Beginning Band and Carol Brittin Chambers

New Carol Brittin Chambers Beginning Band Pieces in SmartMusic

Striving to find the perfect music for any ensemble is always a noble pursuit. Nowhere is this more important, however, than when working with our beginning groups. Not only must their music fill pedagogical needs, it must also spark enthusiasm in young performers.

The SmartMusic repertoire library recently saw the addition of two excellent pieces for young band by Carol Brittin Chambers; Noble Procession and Moon Song and Tribal Dance. You can hear audio recordings of each piece below:

I recently spoke with Carol about these pieces and about writing for young performers in general.

Grade 1 and 1.5 pieces can be challenging for directors because they’re so simple. Can you point out some spots in these pieces where  conductors could introduce musical elements like dynamics and phrasing?

With pieces geared toward younger ensembles, composers have to be careful not to include too many dynamic markings and lengthy phrases that would only be appropriate for more mature players. However, there are definitely some opportunities in both of these pieces to add some dynamic interest and musicality.

In Noble Procession, adding some direction (slight crescendo) in measure 5 that leads to a slightly emphasized beat 1 in measure 6 will add much musicality to the piece. This same idea can be repeated in measure 9 leading to 10, and any other place this rhythmic idea occurs.

In Moon Song and Tribal Dance, having your students show as much contrast as possible between softer mp markings and louder f’s will make the piece much more interesting.

For example, in the fast “dance” section, after the full band plays the A theme forte at measure 27, there is opportunity for nice contrast at measure 43 when the woodwinds begin the B theme at mp. The woodwinds should be reminded to use fast enough air and still play with healthy sounds, even though they are playing more softly.

As the brass enter in measure 50, everyone can play a little louder, then do a nice crescendo in measure 54 leading to the ff eighth notes in measure 55. Measure 69 is the perfect place to teach students how to play a subito mp, leaving room for an exciting crescendo in measures 71-72.

Are there any orchestration aspects you think require special attention? Obviously, simple pieces for beginners often have a lot of doubling, etc., but are there moments in these pieces that should be brought out?

Absolutely! In Noble Procession, it is important that the low brass/low woodwinds realize they have the melody at measure 25. The trumpet, horn, and tenor sax parts starting in measure 27 are the “answer” to this low brass/low reed “question” that was just presented, but should be softer, almost like an echo. At measure 33, the upper woodwinds now have the melody, so all of the half notes playing underneath should really listen across the band and make sure they can hear the upper woodwinds.

In Moon Song and Tribal Dance, percussion begins the piece at a moderately slow tempo. When the woodwinds enter in measure 9, percussion should basically come down one level dynamically so that the woodwind color can now be the forefront. Special attention should be given to woodwind balance in this section, so that individual parts do not stick out, and the collective volume is mp. At measure 57, the flute descant should be brought out so as to be heard enough against the clarinet and trumpet main melody.

In the performance notes to Noble Procession, you mention some specific learning objectives: dotted quarter-eighth rhythms and holding long notes to the end of a full four bar phrase. As a former band director, do you have any specific exercises or rehearsal techniques that help reinforce these concepts?

For reinforcing the dotted quarter-eighth rhythms (or any rhythm, for that matter), directors can have their students play familiar fundamental exercises, but with the desired rhythm. Playing the rhythm on just one note can even be helpful, or the rhythm can be inserted into a daily Remington pattern or scale pattern.

For reinforcing 4-measure phrasing, I would suggest having the students mark in the music where they should NOT take a breath (i.e. writing “NB” at the end of measure 6), then draw in a breath mark where they SHOULD take a breath (end of measure 8). Then I would have them practice “airing it” only for a few phrases, so they can really see what it feels like to pace themselves and breathe only where they marked.

What was your inspiration for these compositions? Did they start as band pieces, or just melodies? Were they arranged in your head for beginning band from day 1?

Noble Procession and the fast “dance” theme of Moon Song and Tribal Dance definitely started as melodies. As the march progressed, I began to add in the low accompaniment line that could sound stately and march-like, but also be appropriate for this age level. As I began to develop the B section of the march that starts in measure 25, I wanted there to be a perceived key change.

In other words, rather than using a new key signature altogether, I just introduced some Ab’s in the low brass/low woodwind melody that would allow them to practice accidentals carrying through a measure.

For Moon Song and Tribal Dance, I actually gained much inspiration from one of my favorite vacation spots, Northern New Mexico. I wanted to write a piece that had two contrasting sections. I thought it would be fun to pay tribute to the Native American tribes of the Southwest with a slow, almost spiritual section, then a lively tribal dance. I tried to incorporate some interesting percussion sounds throughout that might remind the listener of these ideas (tom sound/snares off, wind chimes, and sleigh bells).

I’d like to thank Carol for sharing her music and perspective with us. You can learn more about Carol as well as about other titles from Aspenwood Music from their website.

5 Ways to Make Your MEA Conference Fun and Productive

Saxophones at MEA Conference

It’s tough for educators to get away from their classrooms for any reason, and that goes double for music educators. Attending a conference means lost rehearsal time, the problem of non-music subs, and scheduling problems in general. To minimize difficulties, many music teachers only attend one conference each year – their state music educator’s association conference. It’s vital that they make the most of this time.

As someone who’s been to music conferences as a student performer, a teacher, an exhibitor, and a speaker, I’d like to share some insider’s tips for making your conference experience productive – and fun.

Plan ahead

This starts with the basics: you need a sub, you need a hotel room, and you need a badge. Making travel plans can be more complicated if you live in a large state, but conferences are planned far in advance, giving you plenty of time to shop for deals, find a roommate, and iron out the details.

When packing, learn from my mistakes! Here are the three things I’ve regretted forgetting:

  • A water bottle. You will need this. You will want this. I promise.
  • A portable wall/USB phone charger. There will come a time during the conference when this becomes even more important than the water.
  • A bag that’s big enough to hold the day’s necessities and also comfortable to tote around. Gentlemen, you can’t fit handouts from clinics, business cards, your phone/wallet/keys, a phone charger and a water bottle in your pants pockets. Trust me. Ladies, while fashion reigns supreme at MEA conferences, make sure your bag is comfortable. If the strap digs into your shoulder in a way that makes you grit your teeth, go with a different bag.

Attend Clinics

Clinics are the whole point! Music educators’ associations spend a lot of time, energy, and money getting passionate, knowledgeable clinicians to speak. Take advantage of their expertise and learn from them! I recommend looking at the schedule ahead of time and choosing some clinics that will address:

  • Your primary instrument. There’s always something new to learn.
  • An instrument you dread teaching. Yes, many MEAs offer bassoon clinics.
  • Ensemble skills for your discipline (band/orchestra/choir). This could be about sight-reading, conducting, or something else.
  • “Educator skills” – classroom management, working with administration, mentoring student teachers, working in Title I schools, etc.

I would also suggest you pick a topic that would surprise your peers. For example, if you’re a band director, consider attending a choir clinic. Speaking as a former band director, I LOVE choir clinics. They’re incredibly hands-on. You might spend half the time singing with other educators and experience a wonderful “Kumbaya” moment.

Attend “Non-Clinics”

Getting value from MEA conferences doesn’t mean only going to clinics. They also offer an opportunity to be inspired by great performances. This doesn’t mean one token appearance at the All-State concert! Instead, look for a program you admire – or aspire to be like – and attend their performance. You’ll get a much more realistic view of what a great ensemble sounds like.

Some conferences also include awards luncheons, associated organizations (like TI:ME), and other opportunities to learn without needing to sit in a clinic. Participating in a warm-up session, for example, can be a great way to mix it up while also staying engaged. My favorite “non-clinic?” The Baylor alumni meetup at the Texas Music Educators Association conference every February.

Meet People

Networking can mean more than stiff people in business suits trading info on LinkedIn. See your friends, enjoy each other’s company, and have fun. Reconnecting with college classmates, old colleagues, and meeting new people definitely qualifies as networking. You’re actually guaranteed to be standing next to another music educator, so there should be lots to talk about. We all know how much music nerds love talking about music.

Say Hi to MakeMusic!

Come on, you didn’t think I’d leave this one out, did you? It’s the SmartMusic blog! We’re at a lot of MEA conferences – you can see the whole list here – and we’d love it if you said hi!

In fact, we want you to come to our clinics so badly that we’ll bribe you.  We give away free software at the end of every clinic. Yes, our clinics typically revolve around our products, but they aren’t infomercials. Instead of presentations by sales staff, we have current and former music educators offer tips for how you can get the most out of SmartMusic. MEA conferences are designed to support teachers, and that’s our goal too.

You can also see the latest and greatest features at our booth.

Of course, if you need help with SmartMusic (or Finale), you don’t have to wait until the conference! You can always reach our support team via You can also get in touch with us via social media (actually, with me – I’m the guy who reads your tweets).

Enjoy your MEA conferences this year!

Ryan-SargentMakeMusic’s social media manager, Ryan Sargent, has attended music conferences as a student performer, an educator, a speaker, and an exhibitor. He knows that no matter how many conference exhibit halls he goes to, there will always be a trumpet player trying (and failing) to hit a double C on every horn. As a result, Ryan spends his conference evenings at the hotel bar (where he’d love to meet you and chat about ways music educators use social media).

When he isn’t attending conferences, tweeting, or Facebooking on MakeMusic’s behalf, Ryan is an active funk and jazz trombone player in the Denver area and teaches music history at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Celebrating #GivingTuesday with Rocky Mountain Music Repair

Celebrating #GivingTuesday with Rocky Mountain Music Repair

Today is #GivingTuesday! #GivingTuesday offers a way to give back after the spending spree of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Here at MakeMusic, we’re passionate about giving back to the local community, and we’re especially passionate about helping music educators. #GivingTuesday offers us the chance to do both at the same time.

We all know how quickly a music budget disappears. This often means that only the most critical instrument repairs get done. Sometimes students don’t get to make music simply because they don’t have access to an instrument in working order.

What If?

What if we could get more working instruments into the hands of more students? We couldn’t imagine a better way to contribute to Giving Tuesday. To accomplish that goal, we’ve partnered with Brian Stevenson, owner of Rocky Mountain Music Repair.

Brian introduced us to Amy Woodley and Leanna Rutka, who combined teach at NINE (not a typo) elementary schools in the city of Arvada, Colorado, several of which are Title I schools. Both Amy and Leanna are familiar with the reality of lacking sufficient funds to repair every needed instrument.

middle school band with instruments

To help, MakeMusic has donated SmartMusic and Finale software as well as provided cash to be dedicated to repairing instruments. Brian has graciously agreed not only to match MakeMusic’s donation dollar for dollar but to donate 5% of RMMR’s sales this #GivingTuesday to the music programs at these nine schools in need. This  money will also be used exclusively for repairing instruments for these beginning students.

If you want to make a donation (or a purchase), you can contact RMMR at 303-955-8064. For other ways to contribute, visit the #GivingTuesday website.

Holiday-Themed Solos for Your Students

Holiday-Themed Solos for Your Students

As we approach the upcoming holiday season, you may wish to encourage your students to perform holiday-themed music at home. This can create some wonderful memories, especially when done as families gather for celebrations. We did this with our kids, and it was especially enjoyed by their visiting grandparents.

In my experience this works best with 5th, 6th and 7th grade students, many of whom are often looking for more music to perform. Long before SmartMusic I would often write out solos for my beginning band students who wanted to play songs beyond those in their method book.

You might consider including something in your communications with parents. You could suggest that they encourage their children to share their music with visiting family members over the holiday break.

If your students are using SmartMusic, it includes many holiday-themed solos they can choose from. Below are a few of the books you’ll find in SmartMusic that you might recommend.

For Instrumentalists:

  • Christmas Joys
  • Classic Holiday Solos
  • Cool Yule
  • Easy Christmas Instrumental Solos

For Vocalists:

  • Christmas for Solo Singers
  • Sing Solo Christmas

Most of the pieces above are well within reach of middle school students, and can be enjoyed by older students as well. The vocal solos could also accompany family sing-alongs. Of course, SmartMusic makes it easy to record and save these performances which can then be played back at family gatherings for years to come.

I hope your students take the opportunity to share some music with their loved ones this holiday season. Anything we can do to encourage students to play during the break will make things easier for everyone when students return in January.

david-hawleyDavid Hawley was the SmartMusic education specialist for more than twenty-one years before retiring in 2015. Today he continues his relationship with MakeMusic as a consultant.

His diverse background includes more than two decades of multi-level studio, public school, and college teaching. David also continues to maintain an extensive professional music performance career.

He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Science in Music Education and Master of Fine Arts in Music Performance from the University of Minnesota.

Preparing to Perform for Music Educators and Other VIPs

musician getting ready to perform

Has your ensemble been chosen to perform at an MEA event or the Midwest Clinic? Congratulations! Anytime you get an opportunity to perform for an audience of fellow music educators, it is an extra honor. With that honor comes the responsibility of additional preparation to make certain the concert is the success you know it can be.

Choosing Repertoire

Music selection is going to be your first priority. You certainly feel an obligation to pick only the best music from the entire history of the repertoire. I mean, after all, your audience will be filled with critical listeners who will be expecting to hear only the best music performed in the most musical way. You will want to have enough variety for the entire concert to be enjoyable. So where to begin with so much music to choose from?

Here are some guidelines that will help you get started.

  • Select a March

First, choose a march. You can go with a traditional march from the standard repertoire or select something less traditional. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Marches are standard to bands.

  • Select a New Composition

Next, find something new. You can choose to have a piece commissioned to commemorate the occasion or select something that has been recently composed. The commission process is quite rewarding and can be a great adventure in and of itself. Interacting with a living composer in bringing a new piece into the repertoire is an experience that your students won’t forget. Once your new piece is selected, go back to the established repertoire.

  • Standard Repertoire and Feature

Select a piece that has established itself as a staple of the repertoire either through the quality of the composition or the reputation of the composer. After that, you might consider a feature piece. Consider something that will highlight a particular section or soloist.

  • Mix it Up

In keeping with the idea of variety, select pieces of varying tempos, moods, timbres, textures, styles. Don’t pick only the fast, exciting pieces and avoid slow pieces. When selecting a slow piece, consider its emotional effect. Your audience wants to be moved by the performance. They want to be connected to the art and beauty of the music, and a slow, lyrical piece may capture their hearts.

As you balance new/old, traditional/modern, lyrical/technical, etc. try to evaluate each piece by asking the question “will this piece sustain and push the art form forward?”

  • Talk to Others

I think it is very important to solicit the advice of colleagues and mentors. Their opinions of pieces, composers, repertoire can be invaluable in shaping a program that will provide a musical experience for both audience and performer alike. As you get close to finalizing your program, it’s okay to select more pieces than you can perform and trim the list down. Put the pieces in order and listen to them. Is there enough variety? Do you have a representation of the list you started with?

Your Timeline

Once you have selected your program it’s time to plan and set up a timeline. Start with the final performance date. Work backwards to allow enough time to prepare the concert to the level that you and your students will be proud of.

Then add some extra time.

There is always something that comes up; picture day, standardized testing, fire drills, illness, weather events, etc. This is in addition to the other normal performance obligations that you have including seasonal concerts, football games, playoff football games, audition preparations, solo/ensemble preparations, and the like.

Whether or not you should ask your students to go above and beyond for a concert – in addition to the other performance obligations and school work that they are responsible for – is something to keep in mind. Allowing enough time will lower everyone’s stress levels and keep the task manageable.

Intermediate Performances

Schedule a few intermediate performances. I suggest having one about halfway to check everyone’s progress, and a few closer to the final date to serve as dress rehearsals and to fine-tune the performance. Invite clinicians and mentors to come to rehearsals and attend the concerts. Their input can help guide and shape your planning to make the performance stronger. Knowing your group’s strengths and weakness, as well as their preparation tendencies, is something to keep in mind as you develop your timeline.


Once you have your timeline in place, don’t forget to plan the logistics. It’s a big job – start making that list early in the process. Include everything from reserving the performance venues and scheduling clinicians and composers to arranging the buses to transport your students. Communicate early and often with your students and parents about the time commitments and schedules.

Being organized is essential to the success of your performances. Make organization a habit with your daily, weekly, and monthly rehearsal plans. This will help you stay on pace and let you know if you are ahead or behind.

Thoughts on the Extra Effort

It goes without saying that planning a concert of this nature is something that doesn’t happen all the time. Due to its unique and special nature, it’s common sense to put a bit more effort and energy into the planning and implementation of it.

But what if we approached every concert with the same level of determination, selecting only the very best music for our audience? What if we chose to make the generic winter concert the best concert event of the year? Many of the same guidelines for selecting music would benefit both performances… In fact, they all would work.

Giving our students and parents the best possible musical diet can be very transformative in advancing their musical understanding and appreciation. While you can’t perform for a state or national audience at every concert, you can perform great music every time.

Always Consider Performing:

  • Something traditional to connect to the past
  • New music to push and expand the repertoire, possibly collaborating with a composer to bring the piece to life
  • A piece that features a soloist or a section
  • Some “moving” music for the sheer joy it offers or for the emotional connection that it evokes

Take every opportunity to perform an amazing concert of the very best music from the entire musical repertoire. What an honor! While the event may be something as routine as a fall concert, your students will have an amazing musical experience that they will treasure.  Your community will enjoy a concert that connects them with the performers.  

You have the opportunity to perform and create something that is memorable, lasting and transformative.

Asa BurkAsa Burk is the Associate Director of Bands at Argyle High School in Argyle, Texas, and an active clinician and adjudicator.

He has twice been named “Teacher of the Year,” at the Huffines Middle School in 2001, and at Cross Timbers Middle School in 2012. His bands have consistently received UIL Sweepstakes Awards and many Best in Class designations at local and national festivals, and were state finalists in the TMEA Honor Band selection process in 2004 and 2008. In 2011, his Cross Timbers MS Honors Band was a featured performer at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. In 2014 the Argyle High School Band was the UIL 4A Marching Band State Champion.

Featured Content: Frank Ticheli’s “Earth Song”

Featured Content: Frank Ticheli’s “Earth Song”

This month we added several holiday tunes to the SmartMusic library, but that’s not all. We also added several pieces with absolutely no tie to the season. See the full list. One such title is Frank Ticheli’s Earth Song, a truly beautiful piece for beginning concert band.

Click the play button below to hear a recording of EarthSong and click on the cover to follow along in the score.

Want to learn about the creation of Earth Song? We’ve included some details from Mr. Ticheli below the score.

Link to MP3 file Fortress:

Composition Notes

Earth Song for concert band is the grandchild of Santuary for concert band. Almost as soon as I completed Sanctuary, I became intrigued by the idea of making a choral version of at least part of the work.

Within the same year, I realized this goal, inventing a poem that reflected the music’s poignant lyricism, fitting the rhythmic stresses and melodic contour of Sanctuary’s melody. Thus, Earth Song for chorus came to be.

Six years after composing Sanctuary, in 2012, I received an email from Frank Troyka, director of bands at Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas, inquiring if I might consider making a concert band version of Earth Song for one of his colleagues.

The irony of his request was not lost on either of us, but we both agreed that, in a sense, this full circle back to the music’s concert band origins would allow me to create a grandchild possessing the genetic strengths of both its ancestors: the rich textured lyricism and more concise nature of its choral forebear, combined with the wider color palette and expressive power of its concert band forebear.

Thus, Earth Song for concert band was born: a more concise (and less technically demanding) descendant of Sanctuary.” – Frank Ticheli

5 Survival Tips for the Days Before Break

life preserver cast out to survivors

In the days leading up to a break, student excitement levels rise as their concentration falls. This can be a frustrating and exhausting time for teachers. Having a clear plan for how to handle those days can increase student engagement and focus. This engagement is the key to your successand survival!

These five tips have helped us before break, we hope they help you, too.

5. Maintain Established Routines and Expectations

Keep your routines going. Students may not act like they like it, but a strong routine provides a sense of calm and security. The more you treat classroom expectations as a constant element the less resistance or complaining you will receive.

4. Stay Calm and Positive

Keep yourself as calm as possible. Take deep breaths, think about what you like about the kids, count to ten; whatever you can do to soften your voice and slow down. Stay as positive and upbeat as possible. Students will reflect your mood so model what you want from them.

Know that the kids will be geared up for break. Anticipate this by planning the start and ending of rehearsals. The calmer and more structured the start of the rehearsal, the better it will all go. The end of rehearsals are often chaotic. We have our students return to their seats after putting away equipment and use this time for announcements and room organization. Give yourself enough time to wrap things up without a rush.

3. Useful Activities vs. Throw-Away Time-Fillers

Students quickly get bored of things they initially perceive as fun. Movies, kick-back days, free time, parties, etc. are fun initially but they may be experiencing similar activities in several classes.  A little of this goes a long way, and poor decisions often come from boredom. Mixing boredom with the excitement preceding a break is a recipe for discipline disasters.

2. Keep It Simple

Plan your class to use material and methods students are already familiar with. The days leading up to a break are not the time to introduce new concepts, make recordings for festival submissions, perform in-depth work,  or clean the extra difficult piece in the folder.

1. Use the Time Wisely, Keep Students Engaged

Here are several ideas we use to make good use of our time and add some variety and fun to the days leading up to a break.

  • Review old favorites. Let students request songs they would like to play again.
  • Create games and lighthearted contests using workbook exercises, scales or excerpts of concert music.  For example, compete to determine which team or section has the best technique, dynamics, tone, etc.
  • Listen to and preview new music for the upcoming concert cycle. Find repertoire on SmartMusic, JW Pepper or YouTube to share with the students.
  • Use technology:
    • We have introduced the online game Kahoot  to our classes and they go crazy over the most boring music theory topics! If you search Public Kahoots you will find shared games that are easy to edit for your own use. Ours are under the username TraughberBand – feel free to steal!
    • We also check out our school’s iPad cart and use music theory games. The game Notenames is a favorite.  
    • If you have a computer lab available, reserve it for your class and use Google Forms to create Terms & Theory Quizzes, Concert Reviews, Self-Reflections, Goal Setting, Surveys or Instrument Research assignments.

Prepared for Break

The final days before a break do not have to be a waste of time. A well-planned combination of calm, productivity, and fun can leave you and your students in a positive frame of mind as you go into your break.

Jessica ShieldsJessica Shields is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Music Education. A current member of the National Association of Music Education, she is classically trained on clarinet and enjoys playing jazz tenor saxophone.

Ms. Shields currently serves as a director of bands at Traughber Jr. High in Oswego and is enjoying her fourth year of teaching as a Traughber Panther!

Rachel MaxwellRachel Maxwell currently serves as the director of bands at Traughber Jr. High School and as the Jr. High performing arts and band coordinator for the Oswego, IL School Dist. #308. She has taught music ed. courses at VanderCook College of Music and North Central College and has been a guest conductor, clinician and adjudicator at many music camps and festivals.

Under her direction the bands at Traughber JHS have received national acclaim and have performed at The Midwest Clinic (as a clinic presentation and rehearsal lab group), the Illinois Music Educators Association All State Conference (1999, 2008, 2010, 2014), the University of Illinois Super-state Festival and at the ASBDA 2004 National Convention.

Tips for Success at All-State Auditions

Tips for Success at All-State Auditions

We all want our students to make All-State groups. Earning a place in these prestigious ensembles is a great experience for students. It’s something they can take pride in including on college applications, and a way to impress their peers. Not only does it benefit the student, but it puts a feather or two in our caps as educators. It also helps convince other students that there’s a tangible reward for practicing the etudes, scales, and excerpts we know will help them improve!

So how do we help our students achieve this honor?

Saying “work on the notes and rhythms” is a cop out. Here in Texas over 64,000 students begin a 3-round process to make an All-State group. I’ve been an adjudicator for all three rounds on a number of instruments, and I can tell you notes and rhythms aren’t the thing we use to decide who makes the cut.

More than Notes

Let’s face it, if you’re making it to the 3rd round of auditions the notes and rhythms of your audition material must be perfect. Even in early rounds, a player should always assume that right notes and rhythms should be mastered; otherwise the odds of making a region band are greatly diminished.

There’s another side to this: cracking one note doesn’t mean that you’re automatically disqualified. Judges can tell when a student has notes and rhythms mastered. Missing one in an entire etude doesn’t mean we just stop listening. We care far more about other, more musical factors that determine the audition. Of course, I’m not encouraging students to miss notes. I said “mastered” in the last paragraph for a reason!

When listening to All-State auditions, whether jazz or classical, I am primarily listening for three things: tone quality, musicality, and time. Most of the time, tone quality and musicality are even more important than time. Rubato passages and other musical factors can influence time, but tone quality and a musical performance are always critical pieces of a successful audition. 


The best student audition performances (All-State and otherwise) will have a very mature sound. As judges, we’re not just listening for a “characteristic” sound from the instrument. All-State caliber players will be able to produce a tone quality that is past the point of a characteristic sound. They’ll sound as close to a collegiate level player as possible.

Judges are listening for a full, resonant tone that demonstrates mastery of technique. We all know that producing a great sound requires a number of technical elements to line up.  We can all hear when something goes wrong, whether that’s a brass player not keeping their teeth apart, a clarinetist not voicing correctly, or a lazy bow hold impacting the sound of a string.

Part of the challenge of the audition material is maintaining these difficult technical considerations through a performance that may include difficult notes and rhythms. Students are demonstrating that the notes and rhythms are second-nature when they play with a great sound regardless of register or speed. Just as important, the tone quality needs to be in tune! When intonation suffers, judges notice. Encourage your students to play with a tuners and listen closely for their intonation in mock auditions.


Students who wish to rank near the top of the audition will need to demonstrate an understanding of:

  • Playing with finesse,
  • Correct ornamentation performance (i.e. trills, mordents, etc), and
  • Dynamics

In general they need to  have a musical performance, not just a technically accurate one. It must be pleasurable to listen to.

Playing with finesse can be hard even for skilled high school students. This is where working with a private teacher can be incredibly valuable. A private teacher can discuss characteristic vibrato technique and appropriate ways to handle ornaments. They also have the benefit of experience when it comes to the standard etude repertoire.

For students that don’t have access to a private teacher, go in and mark their part. Help them with phrases, breath marks, bowings, and other notation that might not be written in the part. Having a clear performance plan (ritard here, be sure to play this note staccato, etc.) will guide students’ practice and make them more successful. Be sure they practice ornaments slowly so that they feel controlled in performance. Nothing sounds more like panic than a brass player rushing a mordent.

Help the student give each phrase a dynamic contour. As conductors we know these are the things that make the performance worth listening to. Students simply don’t have our depth of experience. We can help make sure they have a successful All-State audition by teaching them about these musical elements.


Lastly, I am a huge judge of time in young players. I am listening for not just the execution of technique but the also execution of that technique in time without any fluctuation of feel and tempo. That being said, some leeway can be given to portray a more musical aspect of the audition material.

An example would be at the end of a phrase where the musical line might lead a professional to modify the time. Musicality trumps time, but in a technical woodwind etude all those sixteenth notes need to take exactly the same amount of time. They need to be perfectly even, especially when crossing the break. This is often a tiebreaker for judges.

In summary, to have the best chance of ranking high in the ratings of the All-State audition process a student must exhibit signs of musical maturity.  They must be able to demonstrate more than a mastery of “the notes on the page.”

Chris ClarkChris Clark is a composer/clinician/performer/educator in the Dallas area, and is the band director at Hendrick Middle School in Plano, TX. He performs with the Dallas Jazz Orchestra, Crosswinds Jazz Band, Celebration Jazz Orchestra, as well as various Top-40 groups. He also leads and composes for the C3 Big Band.

Chris’ publishing company, C3 Compositions, offers works ranging from grade 1 jazz band to concert band and brass ensembles. His charts have been performed by numerous colleges, high schools, and middle schools across the country as well as by several professional bands in the Dallas area. Chris is also a frequent composer of the Texas All-State Jazz Etudes.

Chris holds a Bachelor of Music Education from Baylor University and a Master of Jazz Studies from DePaul University.