Literature for the Young Band

Chip De Stefano
DePaul University Wind Literature Guest Lecture
June 1, 2001

  1. Introduction and Overview
    1. Thank Dr. DeRoche for inviting me
    2. I'm excited to be here to discuss this topic
      1. I'm very passionate about the topic of middle school literature
      2. I apologize in advance for my opinionated nature in this matter
      3. As music educators, our decisions when we select music are extremely important.
    3. All band directors think that they pick the greatest music for their students to prepare
      1. Unfortunately, in my opinion, most (particularly at the middle school) of these directors are wrong!
      2. At the high school and college level, there is a large and well known pool in the standard literature
      3. At the middle school level, the literature push is publisher driven (it's how they make the majority of their money). Attempts to form a standard literature are quite fragmented
    4. Today I'm going to share how I go about selecting music (particularly for my top band).
    5. I have also brought scores and recordings of some works and composers that I feel qualify as quality young band literature
  2. Responsibility of picking quality music
    1. As band directors, the music we select is our curriculum
    2. We have two needs to consider when selecting music
      1. Educational needs
        1. Aesthetic
        2. Instrumental Skills
        3. Theory
        4. History
      2. Performance needs
        1. Audience Appeal
    3. If we expect our students to grow musically, they will have to be challenged and presented with music of depth that will allow this growth to occur
  3. What to look for when selecting music for you middle school band
    1. Musical Issues
      1. Aesthetic – Does the work provide an opportunity for an aesthetic experience for the students? If not, look for something else.
      2. Musical Depth – Does the musical difficulty meet or exceed the technical difficulty?
      3. Percussion/Bass Line – Do their parts represent the same level of technical and musical difficulty as the other instruments?
    2. Technical Issues
      1. Independence of Parts – The more independent the parts, the more difficult for the middle school band to prepare.
      2. Brass Range – Check the 1st parts for potential upper register problems.
      3. Key Signature – Some keys are more "band friendly" than others especially in terms of pitch issues. Don't shy away from keys just because they have lots of sharps or flats. One of the more difficult keys for kids to play with good pitch in is, in my opinion, C major.
      4. Technique – How far will the kids technique be stretched with the work? Are the technical passages scalier? Is there time for the students to learn the technique? Do you really feel like beating the technique into them, or would you rather work on other issues?
    3. Look for a balance between pushing the kids technically and allowing time to focus on musical issues.
    4. Set a high standard for the literature you select. The process should be the same whether you are selecting music for your third band or for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
  4. Choosing music, my process
    1. Listening
    2. Looking at score
    3. See how it fits with rest of program
  5. Available resources for finding literature
    1. Publisher Demos
      1. Beware! They are very good at marketing.
      2. Every year I find maybe 3 or 4 new releases that I would consider programming.
      3. The large publishers are in business to make money. Most of the pieces have a "hook." Unfortunately that hook doesn't ever seem to be musical depth.
      4. Beware of formula composers. There is a reason all their pieces sound the same. They are contracted to do six or seven pieces a year. I truly believe this is the source of some problems…they're contracted to write so many works that they don't have the luxury to sort through and truly develop their works.
      5. Many of the larger publishers have gotten into a habit of trying to make every piece sound good regardless of the bands instrumentation. The result is a catalog we everything has basically the same tutti sound.
      6. Time can help determine whether a work is of quality or not. If you're not absolutely sure about a work, give it a couple years. If you still like the work, you're probably safe programming it.
    2. Watch middle school bands play
      1. See what other bands are playing, especially the good ones.
      2. Just because several bands are playing a piece, it doesn't mean that it's good.
  6. Repertoire Lists
    1. I lived off the Doug Akey list for virtually my entire first two years of teaching
    2. A trusted repertoire list can be your most valuable resource.
    3. Teaching Music series
  7. Personal Tastes
    1. This is one area where I believe student opinions don't matter.
    2. First of all, the teacher is the one getting paid to make these decisions
    3. The average teenagers listen to hip-hop and boy bands. They can appreciate quality music, with depth, but they must be taught this.
    4. If you really believe in a piece, they will either:
      1. Learn to like it
      2. Tolerate it
    5. Don't be afraid to bail on a piece that doesn't meet your musical expectations even if you have spent rehearsal time on it
  8. How to insure quality programming for young students
  9. Marches – my take
  10. Popular music – my take
  11. Composers that I like
  12. Publishers that I like