What are the greatest challenges in writing music for school bands?
greatest concern has always been to write music that is technically
and musically challenging, yet appropriate to the grade level
for which it is intended. Beyond that, I try to encourage instrumental
directors to select music that matches the playing ability of
their ensemble. In other words, are the musical goals attainable
and, as a result, will the students feel good about themselves
during the process of learning and performing the music?
How does your music overcome these inherent problems in writing
for bands at the lower levels?
each publisher provides its staff with a set of guidelines that
helps determine the performance difficulties for the various writing
projects. I should point out that the suggested rules seldom vary
from one company to another. An experienced writer realizes that
in order to assist the director with his or her selection of repertoire,
the temptation to extend the demands of the music must be avoided
so as to maintain the educational integrity of the publisherís
product and that of the composer.
What are some of the misconceptions about writing for junior high
school students that the general public may have?
take great pride in my desire to write quality music for younger
students. Because you are asked by the publisher to adhere strictly
to specific grade level guidelines, the process can, at times,
be more tedious and difficult than writing upper level music.
How did you get started writing for bands?
high school, I attended college to fulfill my goal of becoming
a band director. It was during my first marching band rehearsal
that I was surprised to hear chords based on jazz harmonies that,
as a young person, I had never experienced hearing. The person
responsible for those sounds was an extremely gifted and talented
man by the name of Louis Marini. For the next four years, I was
fortunate to absorb a lifetime of valuable information about composing
and arranging from this outstanding educator. I completed my degree
and was prepared to leave my writing career behind in order to
focus on my newly acquired job as a Director of Instrumental Music,
grades 5-12. My first rehearsal with our marching band made me
realize that, out of necessity, I would need to resurrect the
writing skills that Mr. Marini had generously taught me. Even
today, his teachings continue to guide me as a composer/arranger.
What advice do you give directors for the interpretation of your
a huge fan of the book CASALS AND THE ART OF INTERPRETATION, by
David Blum. The following excerpt illustrates how I feel about
the interpretation of music: "Above all, Casals hated that which
was sterile, cold and lifeless. A correct performance held no
interest for him if it failed to communicate the essential glory
of music, its ability, through the beauty of its contours, the
depth and range of its expression, to move us to the heart. When
confronted with a student unwilling to make an interpretative
commitment, Casals would say: It is even better to do something
in bad taste than to be monotonous." Here is another one of my
favorite quotes: "It is not marked in the score; that doesnít
matter. There are one thousand things that are not marked! Donít
give notes - give the meaning of the notes."
What other band composers particularly influenced you to write
for school bands?
a former instrumental director and now guest conductor, I have
rehearsed and performed works by almost all of the great educational
band composers. Each one has provided inspiration as well as valuable
insights on how to write for the school band. It should be noted
that when I first started my composing career, Claude Smith graciously
helped me as a mentor on how to survive in this profession. I,
as well as my students, always loved performing his music. He
was a wonderful composer and a far greater person than you could
ever imagine. I continue to miss him greatly, but his legacy of
memorable music helps to fill a much-needed void in all our lives.
What non-musical influences have helped your development as a
emotional qualities of a musical performance are often an extension
of the many experiences that we encounter in life outside of music.
Travel, reading stories, meeting people are but a few of the influences
that have inspired some of my compositions.
What advice would you give students wanting to become a composer?
the last year, I have encouraged all my Capital University students
to read W. Francis McBethís article in the June 2000 Instrumentalist
titled 50 RANDOM REFLECTIONS ON MUSIC AND TEACHING. The following
quote, from this noted composer, is quite insightful: "A career
in composition may be fruitless if you do not have a harmonic
language (not rhythm or melody) expressly your own by the time
you are 30 years of age."
Describe any special rehearsal-conducting technique that you may
use with school bands.
encourage bands to occasionally play a chorale without breaking
the indicated phrases. Promoting the ability to play long sustained
lines helps to develop breath support which, in turn, aids in
the improvement of tone quality. When the quality of tone is enhanced,
better intonation is more likely to occur. Many intonation difficulties
are often compounded when student musicians attempt to tune with
an immature or less developed tone. The following is a suggested
list of performance rules that Iíve created to achieve the goal
of playing with improved breath support. These guidelines not
only will provide benefit to the performance of chorales, but
may also be applied to other aspects of sustained playing during
the warm-up as well.
as many notes as you can, with as nice a sound as you can,
before you take a breath.
you need to take a breath, avoid taking it at an obvious place.
not to take a breath at the same time as the person next to
What do you see for the future of instrumental music in the schools
tend to be a very positive person and firmly believe that you
need not look any further than the school music programs to find
a high number of quality students with which to associate. In
my estimation, the future of instrumental music looks extremely
bright and promising.
Professor, Department Chair of Music Education