Nottelmann Music St. Louis

Literature Selection for Concert Band by Joe Pappas

This important article is from Nottelmann Music clinician Joe Pappas.  Music Educators, do you include these key considerations when you select music for your concert band?

Joe Pappas

The success of your program, performance, or rating at a festival or contest can be a result of selecting the right music. There are several factors to consider when making the selection. These factors are listed below.

Group Ability

When selecting music one thing to keep in mind is whether the group will be able to perform it now or for a future performance. Due to growth and development of a program, selecting music for the future is as important.

You should select music that is challenging, but yet in reach of a solid performance. I usually will select a piece the ensemble can play through the first time without falling apart several times, but still be able to play it within a certain time frame for concert or contest. Don’t be afraid to have additional selections to use as a back-up.

The music should reflect the strengths of the ensemble. If selecting a piece for an evaluative festival, don’t select music that is technical if your band can not reach the technical levels that are required. The same can be said for ballads or lyrical selections. If your ensemble has difficulty sustaining phrases or playing in tune, don’t select this type of piece.

Select music the students will enjoy playing and benefit. Most music has elements that fit state and national curriculum objectives.

Side note: We often select music we are familiar with or music we played while in college. One of the first pieces I purchased for my small, rural Missouri band the first year I taught was Howard Hanson’s Chorale and Alleluia. This was a major mistake and waste of budget money, but I was sure we could play it only to learn I was wrong!

Instrumentation vs. Scoring

Before making a selection, you should consider what instruments or parts are needed to make the selection successful in performance. If you lack in instrumentation or personnel see if the parts doubled. In today’s music, there is often a demand for the extended percussion section. Check to see if your percussion section can cover the parts or if you can utilize players from other instruments without sacrificing the overall performance.

If you have a small ensemble and abilities are less than average, you might consider a piece that is scored with doublings and thick textured. On the other hand, if you have an excellent group of musicians, you might look at a piece that is written for the wind ensemble and is scored with less texture. Considering tone quality works the same way when selecting music.

The Key

Many pieces are written in the standard keys, but did you know that keys effect your band’s performance and certain tone colors? Besides the obvious problem of handling the key signatures the keys can bring out or subdue the tone of the band. For an example, the key of E flat major has a tendency to bring out the bright side of the band where A flat major tends to give the band a little darker tone color. Sharp keys verses flat keys will do the same thing.

Certain keys will also affect intonation. Take into consideration intonation tendencies of brass instruments with valves, be careful in selecting music that constantly uses 2-3 or 1-2-3 valve combinations. Certain woodwinds react the same way.

Instrument and Performer Ranges

Selecting music within the ranges of the performers can help in the successful performance of a piece. If extended ranges are required for the piece make sure your students can constantly get good results before you program the work. Many times the written ranges will result in poor tone quality or intonation problems if students cannot access the range with ease.

Listen, Read and Ask

1 found it is important to listen to music before you buy it. Some music dealers will allow you to take music on consignment if there is no recording available. This gives you an opportunity to try it with your group and if doesn’t work, return it. Your music dealer can also assist you with selecting music to fit your needs. Most dealers are familiar with the new releases as well as the favorites or traditional pieces that prove to be successful.

Check web sites, reviews and cd inserts for any information that can help you make decisions when selecting music for your students.

Friends and colleagues are good resources. Talk with a director whose band size and abilities are similar to yours. They can tell you what has or has not worked for them. Former teachers are also good resources.

There are several books that are also helpful. The “Music Through Performance” series published by GIA is an excellent resource. Each selected work gives you a lesson plan that is useful in teaching the piece. In addition, the series has accompanying reference recordings available.

Categorize the Music

When selecting music, I find it useful to select music based on three categories, concert, contest/festival, and sight-reading. If you have a card catalog for your music library, I would include these categories on the card. It is possible to have more than one category for each selection. Also list them as overtures, marches, ballads, etc.

  • Concert Music — This category is obviously for selections you feel would be for concerts. Be sure to label if selections are appropriate for special occasions, seasons or general concerts.
  • Contest or Festival — This category is for selections that would demonstrate the strengths of your program and the students can successfully perform under the festival atmosphere. Check with your state officials to see if there is a required performance list for your state.
  • Sight-Reading — This category is for pieces you are sure will never fit as your choice of concert or festival selections. A good concert or festival selection will also work as a good sight-reading piece. Use these pieces often.

Finding music that works is important. At times a group’s performance could be enhanced if the right music had been selected. There is no absolute method for selecting music, only trial and error. Music selection will change each year due to ability, instrumentation and need. You as the director have the responsibility of selecting the music that is appropriate for your ensemble. You are also responsible to interpret what the composer intended and capture those intentions through performance. With experience and knowledge your ensemble will improve and succeed with quality literature.

Joe Pappas

Joe Pappas:  Joe has written over two hundred compositions for beginning bands to college wind ensembles, but most known for his compositions for young bands and young musicians. After forty six years of successful teaching in public schools and college level, he now devotes most of his time to composing, working as an educational consultant, judging band festivals, and running his own company, JPM Music Publications.

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