Monday, March 14, 2022

Using Markings in the Score for Musical "Opportunities"
by John Bell
Educational Representative, PMC Liberty


Over the years I've had the great opportunity to offer suggestions and recommendations about music performance at various festivals. I've found that many directors and their students are primarily concerned about "playing it right" but often do not take advantage of indications composers and arrangers offer in the music to elevate their performance. Prompting students to go beyond what they see on the written page can be somewhat intimidating. However, the best place to begin the process of focusing on musical nuance is to bring to students' attention to indications in the score marked by the composer or arranger.

I know this seems like an obvious statement, but it's disappointing when ensembles do not convincingly convey nuance indications in the printed parts. As an adjudicator in these circumstances, my attention is then immediately drawn to all of the markings in the score, and (barring wrong notes, rhythms, blend and balance issues, questionable intonation, etc.) my attention becomes focused on what the ensemble brings to the musical aspect of their performance.

When I work as a clinician with any ensemble or make comments at festival performances as an adjudicator, at some point I inevitably make the comment "Use the markings on the page as opportunities to do something different with a note or phrase in the music." This is typically a reference to markings for various articulations, crescendos and decrescendos, tenuto markings, tempo changes, subito dynamic indications, etc. With these markings, the composer/arranger has given us permission to do something other than just play the black marks on the page!

There are times when this simple statement does not always convince the group to "use" markings convincingly. So, I usually follow by saying "do more than you think you should" particularly regarding dynamic changes and articulations. This is always tempered with a plea to NOT do more than is expected with fortissimo markings which is apparently the only marking in music universally accepted to play with abandon!

After all of the technical aspects of a work are under control, when an ensemble experiences this expressive freedom, musical nuance can become the focus of future rehearsals and ultimately the performance. Obviously, the choice of music being rehearsed and performed has a tremendous impact on the opportunity for meaningful musical nuance. But, by beginning with an emphasis on the composer's or arranger's written indications, any work can become a more musical experience for all involved, and students can develop meaningful insight to the expressive nature of musical performance.

John Bell John Bell, Artist-In-Residence at Northwest Missouri State University, conducts the Wind Symphony and teaches Applied Horn, Instrumental Conducting, Secondary Instrumental Methods, String Methods, and Instrumental Methods for Vocal Majors. He is also the Band Coordinator of Northwest's Four-State Honor Music Festival and Co-Director of the Northwest Summer Music Camp. Ensembles under John's direction received consistent superior ratings at state festivals and have performed at regional, national, and international music conferences and festivals. A recipient of the John Philip Sousa Legion of Honor, he has also received recognition as the Park Hill School District Teacher of the Year and is a recipient of the UCM Music Department's Distinguished Alumni Award, the Missouri Phi Beta Mu Outstanding Band Director Award, the MoASTA Outstanding Collegiate Educator Award, the Northwest Award of Excellence, and the MMEA Outstanding Music Educator Award. He serves as an educational representative for PMC.

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