Repertoire Spotlight: Frank Ticheli’s Cajun Folk Songs

July-Repertoire-Spot_blogv2

This week we added 31 new ensemble titles to the SmartMusic Repertoire Library. Included are new pieces for concert band, string orchestra, and choir. View the complete list.

Featured Release

Among the newly added titles is Cajun Folk Songs by Frank Ticheli, which has long been one of our most requested pieces. Click the play button below to hear a recording of Cajun Folk Songs and click on the cover to follow along in the score.

Note that under the score we’ve also provided some rehearsal/performance tips.

Link to MP3 file Cajun Folk Songs:

Glenn Pohland was in our office this week and I took the opportunity to ask him to share some of his experience in conducting this piece.

The key to this piece is to find a good strong alto player, with great tone quality, to play the opening solo. They don’t have to be your technically strongest player — the melody is simple, and it’s in a great register for the alto – but it has to be someone who can make the solo sparkle, and capture the whole image of Belle, this beautiful, haunting girl.

Then, when the flutes and trumpets and everyone else comes in, they have to sound like this alto player. They have to fit their tone into this tone. This gives you an opportunity to develop tone quality, all centered on this opening sound; so that sound has to be what you want it to be.

It also provides an opportunity to talk about saxophone vibrato. Generally in the ensemble we’re telling them to not play with vibrato, but maybe here in this opening there’s a little freedom. And freedom in tempo.

You don’t just have to beat time. If you want to stretch beat two in some of these opening phrases, just let the quarter note go a little longer. There is clock time and there’s musical time. You can bend a phrase – it doesn’t have to cut off on four. Encourage the soloist to let this phrase linger a little bit – and encourage the ensemble to wait for it. We’ll get there, but there’s no rush.

The younger the ensemble the harder this is – I wouldn’t  try to teach this with a junior high band, but for more mature players, this piece offers a great opportunity to work on this.

So that whole first movement has got to be about shape and tone quality, but of course intonation is such a key any time you play slow. Again, it depends on your ensemble, but how much do you get into intonation?

As an educator, you know that in general, the third is going to be flat and the fifth will be sharp. Younger students aren’t going to hear this, so how are you going to, for example, raise the third so the major triad is really there?

Look for those spots where there are open fifths, take out the third, and tune it up. It can be painstaking. The add the third and encourage students to listen to what happens to the chord.

Also, in any chorale, there are written dynamics and applied dynamics. When the melody ascends, you have to as well – younger students won’t do this intuitively but you can work on that as well.

The second movement is just so much fun rhythmically.

With less accomplished composers, it sometimes seems like the percussion part  was written as an afterthought. Not here. Ticheli gives the percussion something musical to do and everyone’s engaged; that’s one of the reasons this piece is on so many contest lists across the county. Take the sandpaper block part that starts the second movement; it’s not just snare drum, bass drum, timpani and suspended cymbal. It’s unique, it’s a color, and it sets up an expectation.

I’d have everyone hear that part, then have them clap the part lightly. Can we clap that softly and still get that accent? Because an accent doesn’t mean loud, right?  Younger students need to be reminded that we can have piano accents. Next have them find the place in their part where they play that phrase, because he does a great job of passing it through – even the low brass get it. Have them sing their parts. It can be easier to sing accents than it is to buzz it on a mouthpiece.

The challenge is to get the rhythmic vitality to sustain the entire movement.  Again in Ticheli’s notes he indicates that the second movement is marked too slowly. Taking this six to ten clicks faster will also help maintain this pulse and energy.

It’s just such a great piece of music!

Want to request a specific piece for a future SmartMusic release? Please do so here.

Get the best from SmartMusic

Discover practical music education tips, delivered directly to you!