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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, February 5, 2007


The PMC Quick Note is a weekly service provided to all area directors.  It is part of our mission to support the lives of band directors across the Midwest.  The weekly Quick Note contains helpful tips and suggestions from area directors, spotlights on area college and university band programs, calendars of upcoming events, advocacy articles promoting music education, links to helpful web resources, and much more.  Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


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Band Repertoire by Dr. Brian K. Hopwood 
The late Frederick Fennell said, “ is the power and responsibility of the band director to choose music that will inspire students and attract the attention of audiences. Choosing music is the single most important thing a band director can do, and is the only thing a band director can do alone, ...”

The recurring question for the band director is “What should my band play for the upcoming concert/contest?” After answering this inquiry, the larger issue becomes “Why should my band play this piece of music?” This, of course, means that in order to adequately answer the first question, the second question must also be resolved.

There are certainly no easy solutions, but who said this business was easy? The questions above are actually philosophical in nature; in other words, the director's philosophy of music education will greatly impact the choice of performance literature. Therefore, one further question might need to be answered: “What is the primary purpose of music education?” If the director is worried about presenting an image (his and the ensemble's), then entertainment is probably the primary focus and music will be chosen accordingly. Indeed, the director who is concerned about the musical diet of his students will make different choices regarding music literature.

Listed below are criteria for choosing music taken from the band repertoire guide, Best Music For High School Band and its companion volume, Best Music For Young Band:  

Compositions must exhibit a high degree of compositional craft. This will determine what students will learn from a piece, and more importantly, what level of aesthetic experience they might ultimately gain from it. Only by playing the best music will students gain a knowledge of, feeling for, and appreciation of what is valuable in music.

Compositions must contain important musical constructs necessary for the development of musicianship. Among these (not all of which need to be present in any given work, of course), are: a variety of keys–major, minor, modal; a variety of meters–duple, triple, combinations, and both proportional metric or graphic notation; a variety of harmonic styles, ranging from traditional to contemporary to avant garde; a variety of articulation styles–smooth, light, heavy, detached, legato, and so on. Compositions lacking in sensitivity, appropriateness, and perhaps variety in these areas are less likely to be of musical value and interest.

Compositions must exhibit an orchestration that, within the restrictions associated with a particular grade level, encourages musical independence both of individuals and sections. Too much repertoire emphasizes homophonic scoring, usually with large groupings within the ensemble playing all at once. When this is done too much and too often it will rob the individual of independent musical growth. Although this tendency to “safely score” may allow the ensemble to sound better initially, these pieces will over a period of time preclude the real issue at hand, that of developing functioning, independent musicians. Scoring that is “heavy-handed,” with thick doublings predominating, inhibits the musical clarity, texture, and color that are so integral to the sounds of the band and wind ensemble.

The previous criteria list is not necessarily the definitive answer to our original question, but may be a start. Some additional thoughts on repertoire selection follow:

If there are four pieces of music in the band folder, one piece should be below the technical level of the ensemble, two pieces at the technical level of the ensemble, and one piece above the technical level of the ensemble. This will allow the conductor to work on musical matters during the first rehearsal (using the piece that is below the level of the group). Everyone in the ensemble can “play the notes” on the first reading, which will build confidence and allow the conductor to promote musical expressiveness in the initial rehearsal of the work. The two selections that are at the technical level of the group can be approached in a similar fashion, although expression may have to be delayed until the technique of the music is mastered. The technical obstacles of these selections should be minimal in order to assure that musical expression can be pursued as soon as possible. Obviously, the composition that is above the technical level of the ensemble should be used for teaching technique. The expressive elements of this music may become secondary to the technical requirements, but only in the initial rehearsals of this music. The goal should always be musical learning, not just musical technique.

...Some final thoughts on repertoire selection:

Music is part of the experiential life of the student. The musical experiences he has become his experiences. The literature the teacher chooses to present the student becomes part of that student – shapes that student. There is an art of teaching, but the essential musical experiences comes from the music itself, not from the teacher. Therefore, my first criterion for selecting educational music is that it be music which comes from the heart. (David Whitwell) [Conductor, Retired, California State University, Northridge]

The only quest in town, a matter of integrity that we cannot dodge, is the search for the best literature at all levels. This is the band director's challenge. (Butler R. Eitel) [Director of Bands, Retired, University of Montana]

Selection of repertoire is a large part of the curriculum planning process for band directors. The process might be compared to the selection of textbooks in other disciplines. Long-term planning is essential to the process and can result in what is called a “revolving repertoire,” which is a highly select list of compositions performed on a predetermined cycle (normally every three or four years).

Dr. Brian Hopwood teaches symphonic winds, chamber orchestra, conducting, instrumental fundamentals, applied trumpet, and methods of teaching instrumental music at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri. Hopwood earned a Bachelor of Music Education at Oral Roberts University, a Master of Music Education from the University of Colorado, a Diploma of the Faculty Fine Arts in Music from the University of Calgary, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from Arizona State University. Hopwood has 27 years of teaching experience in the public schools of Colorado, the last 23 years at Manitou Springs High School, in Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Contact Your Local Palen Music Center

Can we assist you with anything?  Please contact your local Palen Music Center school road representative for all of your music education needs.


(417) 882-7000
Bob Hopkins and Mike Brown
Springfield North (417) 862-2700 Burl Williams
Columbia (573) 256-5555 Robert Pitts
Joplin (417) 781-3100 Wayne Blades
Liberty (816) 792-8301 Ken Crisp


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