By Ray Benton, Technology and Media Specialist, Nottelmann Music Co. Ray, who serves as editor for The Nottelmann Blog at Music Educators Corner, has 32 years of experience teaching band in the St. Louis area. Most of these picks were performed while directing his successful band program at Rockwood South Middle School.
What a challenge we have in finding quality, Grade 2 band compositions! One well-known band arranger once told me confidentially in a hallway during a break in a band clinic, “I do all of my new pieces in the summer. First, I do my grade 2 pieces and get those out of the way so I can move on to the real music!” He went on to say that he wrote those grade 2 pieces while watching TV. Wow, can you imagine how inspiring HIS Grade 2 compositions are?
Here are 10 quality compositions that don’t sound like they were written while watching TV, written by composers who understand the art of writing “real music” for the younger students. These are pieces worthy of festival and concert performance. Take a few moments to look them over and review the full audio recordings. The selections appear in no particular order. Enjoy my Grade 2 list! -Ray
This is a well-crafted piece with a slow, dramatic opening. Lots of contrast here with allegro syncopated sections and slower legato opportunities. I found this to be a Grade 2 staple.
If you’d like to challenge your young students with a beautiful, lyrical ballad, this is it. While technically a Grade 2 piece, it’s elegant lines and contours challenges are in the area of musicianship. It’s the perfect vehicle to teach chorale style and phrase-shaping to young students, but programmable for bands at all levels. The reference recording here is by the Central Connecticut State University Symphonic Band.
An original work, designed to pay tribute military and first responders. Commissioned by the Sacred Heart Jr./Sr. High School Knight Band. It includes legato and marcato styles, written with an air of dignity and pride. AUDIO RECORDING
Master composer/arranger Claude T. Smith takes this beautiful, simple hymn tune and arranges this two-part grade 2 gem. Training opportunities abound in many areas here, including chorale style, lyrical phrasing, and melodic balance. You’ll find a partial recording is below.
If you’re looking for a quality overture, here’s a strong candidate for you. With a driving, quick tempo from the start, this piece gives everyone a chance to shine, including percussion. Dramatic themes and shifting colors and textures keeps this one interesting to the last bar.
A stately and majestic fanfare, great as a concert or festival opener. Bright character in a major key and provides a training opportunity in mixed meters (alternating 4/4 to 3/4). Brass and woodwinds each are highlighted in fanfare and chorale styles throughout.
Ann McGinty created this young band staple to paint the picture of a thunderstorm. It’s textures and colors begin with the light but ominous cirrus clouds, giving way to the violent thunderclouds, but ending with the “all is well again” cumulus clouds. I found it to be a terrific training piece in shaping phrases. We expanded the middle thunderstorm section which calls for the percussion section to free form create storm sounds. My percussion kids had a great time with double mallet bass drum, timpani, cymbals, gong and other instruments to depict the crescendo and decay of the storm. You may find this listed as a Grade 1 piece, but more mature players will benefit from it’s musical challenges.
Can there be a more interesting title than this one, written for a rehearsal room full of young players? Excitement is generated from measure one throughout this one. Driving percussion, accented rhythms and meter changes keep the interest level up. It could very well be listed as Grade 2.5 or Grade 2+, but Grade 2 bands should love playing this one and be willing to put in the extra effort it may require technically.
I’ve listed these two together because they are two of the all-time classic training pieces on chorale style. I don’t believe any grade 2 list would be complete without these staples for young band. Caution: an expressionless performance of either piece, devoid of shaped phrases, sensitive treatment of tension/release, dynamics, and musical rubato can result in a very boring experience! I’m afraid I’ve heard this too many times with pieces such as these! However, they each provide the perfect challenge for students to develop real musicianship and expression. The provided recordings below of Air for Band by the North Texas Wind Symphony and A Childhood Hymn by the Concordia Chicago Wind Symphony give you an idea of their musical possibilities.