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.