Welcome to the second installment of Top 3 by Three, a series that promotes great band repertoire. Each segment features three excellent band directors and three of their favorite pieces to teach and perform. Choosing great music can be a challenging task, but it is such an integral part of educating, engaging, and motivating your students. Top 3 by Three aims to help you choose music that your students' will love and learn from. Veteran teachers Dr. Arris Golden - Michigan State University, Tiffany Hitz - Carson Middle School, and Greg Scapillato - Northbrook Junior High School, share their favorites for middle school band.
Dr. Arris Golden, Michigan State University - East Lansing, MI
Composer: Michael Oare
Publisher: Hal Leonard
Cyclone is through-composed piece, in a slow/fast format, with a coda. It is quite contrapuntal in style, at times requiring wind players to play is legato, tenuto, and staccato styles simultaneously. The low brasses and low woodwinds have multiple opportunities to perform melodic lines and the middle voices are featured on important melodic and counter-melodic lines.
To me, Cyclone is always rewarding to teach, because it reinforces so many of the important concepts that I want students to know and be able to demonstrate. Cyclone requires student performers to demonstrate clear understandings related to balance and blend, while also offering many opportunities to explore or reinforce important musical concepts (e.g. overall phrase structures, phrase shaping, programmatic/thematic implications). Finally, students LOVE the sound of this piece and thoroughly enjoy rehearsing and performing it, which is a win-win in my mind!
Key center: Concert d minor
There are seven prominent percussion parts, each of which has complex, independent lines at times. There are also sections that require these lines to interact with each other, adding additional counterpoint to the orchestration.
Contrapuntal textures, which require rhythmic independence
Clear understandings related to articulation and dynamics are necessary
More by Michael Oare:
Recordings with scores available on YouTube
Title: Prairie Songs
Composer: Pierre LaPlante
Publisher: Daehn Publications (Barnhouse)
As is typical of many works by Pierre LaPlante, Prairie Songs is based on existing folk music. In Prairie Songs, LaPlante uses two Wisconsin folk songs, The Pinery Boy and The Turkey Song. Prairie Songs is through-composed (The Pinery Boy - The Turkey Song - Themes combined - Coda). As is also typical of LaPlante’s music, each individual part is a carefully crafted potion of the whole, giving all sections the opportunity to play an important role when performing the piece.
As a conductor/teacher, I find myself wanting to program Prairie Songs whenever I have the opportunity, because it allows me to reinforce important fundamentals with students while also allowing me opportunities to scaffold in new concepts, both musical and extra-musical. Drawing stylistic ideas from the folk songs offers fantastic illustrations to students and they really enjoy performing and better understanding the music because of these connections.
Key centers: Concert F, d minor, and Bb.
Knowing both folk songs and the text for each one is important to understanding the structure and the style of this piece (especially true of The Turkey Song).
Clarinet and Trumpet parts are particularly independent.
Trumpets have a featured soli that requires straight mutes.
Timpani is featured soloistically in key places throughout the work.
There is an accelerando between the slow and fast section that will require focused rehearsal time.
Mastery of contrasting styles, specifically legato and slurred articulations (The Pinery Boy) vs. staccato and accented articulations (The Turkey Song).
Mastery of syncopation, dotted 8th-16th note figures, and 8th note/syncopated figures tied across barlines.
More by Pierre LaPlante
Recordings available at Barnhouse.com
On the Colorado Trail (Grade 1)
Minka’s Sleigh Ride (Grade 2)
Come to the Fair! (Grade 2.5)
The Voyageurs (Grade 2.5)
A Little French Suite (Grade 3)
American Riversongs (Grade 4)
Title: The Machine Awakes
Composer: Steven Bryant
Publisher: Gorilla Salad Publications - stevenbryant.com
Grade: 2 (w/optional Grade 3 parts - ossia)
One of the first electroacoustic works written specifically for young band, The Machine Awakes combines the sounds of acoustical instruments with a pre-recorded electronic track. The Machine Awakes was written for Grade 2 band, but has optional Grade 3 “ossia” parts that allow the pieces to be performed by middle school and high school musicians simultaneously; the “ossia” parts can also be performed by more advanced middle school students. The Machine Awakes app is a free download from the composer’s website or through the Apple store or Google Play store. The electronic music is “played” through the triggering of 3 cues (m. 2, m. 8, and m. 28) that align to the major sections within the piece.
The biggest performance challenge to consider is the coordination of electronics to winds and percussion. There is a bit of “novelty” that the student performers must work through when first hearing the electronics/when first performing with the electronics. I would suggest allowing the students to hear the electronic track (they can follow along with their music, which is always helpful!) before performing with it to help this issue. Once past this challenge, the piece comes together quite easily.
Key centers: c minor, with elements of locrian and phrygian modes.
A PA system, computer/tablet/mobile phone, and monitors (percussion and conductor) are necessary for performance.
In lieu of a monitor for the conductor, earphone(s) could be used to support the coordination of the electronic track to the winds and percussion.
Though the app is easy to operate, having someone to operate it during performance is preferred.
Until the electronics are employed, using an external pulse source in rehearsals is necessary (quarter note = 60).
To achieve the desired effect, it is important to perform the indicated dynamics exactly as written and with exaggeration for softer indications.
More by Steven Bryant:
Recordings available at stevenbryant.com
Interruptions (Grade 2.5)
Interruption Overture (Grade 3)
Ecstatic Waters (Advanced-Electroacoustic)
Concerto for Wind Ensemble (Advanced)