Saturday, July 26, 2014

ICO 2014, Concert 4

This will be my final repertoire entry of the summer 2014 season.  It has been a great summer filled with wonderful music and friendships.  I have loved every minute of my work with the Intermediate Concert Orchestra this summer.  I believe there has been a great deal of musical growth and some really nice ensemble music-making.

Dance Parhelia, William Hofeldt

For this concert, the centerpiece of the repertoire will be William Hofeldt’s Dance Parhelia (published by Kjos).  This is a work that I first conducted back in the mid 1990’s.  It is 12:00 minutes long and is really a large work to take on with this group.  Truth be told, I have had it in the ensemble’s folders the last 4 summers and never had the guts to go for it.  This feels like the year to take that leap. It is listed as a Grade V and that is probably accurate.   That said, I would call is a tricky Grave V and it has taken me several performances to really develop a plan for the rehearsal process on this work.  I am convinced that slow preparation and careful explanation and drill on the rhythms is absolutely the key to success on this one.  The piece is in an A-B-A form, beginning with an Allegro section in 2 sharps (not always D Major), moving to a beautiful, lyrical Andante section in E flat major, and then returning to the Allegro and D Major.  The piece employs numerous time signature changes and syncopated rhythms.  There are frequent moves from 4/4 to 3/8 and 5/8 time that create interesting rhythmic tension and movement in the work.  This piece requires a firm understanding of time changes and counting of rests in order to successfully pull off a performance.  The musicians must also be clearly engaged in the tonality and changes of tonality within the work.  The Andante is lush and beautiful and, for those of you that know Hofeldt’s The Gift or Lullaby, you will hear ideas that seem very familiar.  In all, this will take up a large percentage of our time and focus.  In some ways, I consider this to be the equivalent of 2 or even 3 pieces on our normal concert preparation.

Mozart Symphony No 1 Mvt 1, Arr. LaJoie

We will open our concert with Symphony No 1, Mvt. 1(K. 16), by Mozart, and Arranged by Tom LaJoi.  This is published by Higland Etling and is listed as a Grade III.  This magnificent adaptation of Mozart’s work is in sonata-allegro form and provides numerous teaching opportunities.  These young string players must master light spiccato bowing and incorporate it into many passages of the work.   The work is in D major and the tempo can really get going once the parts are mastered at a slower tempo.  There are ample opportunities to teach other techniques and concepts from the “Classical” era of music and students love spending time on this work.   

Waltz No. 2 (from Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra), Dmitri Shostakovich, Arr. Lavender

We will finish our program with Waltz No. 2 (from Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra) by Dmitri Shostakovich, Arranged by Paul Lavender.  It is published by G. Schirmer and I would also call this a Grade III piece.   It features Piano and 2 percussionists in addition to the string orchestra.  This beautiful waltz lays down nicely for all string players.  It is a blast to play and sounds terrific.  This work will be the perfect finale for our concert on Saturday August 2 at 4:00 PM in Kresge Auditorium on the Interlochen campus.

If I can ever shed any further light on any of these works, please don’t hesitate to drop me a note.

Peace.

Scott

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thoughts on Accessories for String Players

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts on my relationship with D’Addario and giving away some strings sets to a few students.  There was a comment on that post that asked me to give some remarks about the importance of strings and other accessories for parents that aren’t string players so that they can make more informed choices with making purchasing decisions.  This is a response to that request.

Strings

The question started with strings.  So, here are some thoughts on strings.  First, families have to start from the perspective of budget.  I know, I am the father of three string players.  Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I am affiliated with D’Addario Strings as an Educational Specialist.  That said, I am affiliated with them because I love their product and play their product.  For almost all of my remarks in the post, you will see one recurring thought:  You get what you pay for!  So, with that said, here are some more thoughts on strings.  First, they all sound different.  And, in the end, sound and tone is what really matters when playing an instrument.  Tone is what keeps you coming back for more. If a player doesn’t like the tone of their instrument, they are less likely to practice, less likely to play for others, and less likely to continue.  You get the idea.  Tone is everything.  Even among the D’Addario products, there are a broad range of price points on strings and a broad range of tonal offerings.  Some strings are brighter, others are sweeter.  Strings also come in a variety of compositions and tensions.  These all impact the tone.    My advice is to try out several types of strings over a period of months and see what you like.  When you find one you really like, stick with it.  Strings do wear out after a period of time.  So a great sounding string today may not sound so great in 6 or 8 months.   For students, I would recommend changing strings every 6 months to one year.  Many professionals change strings much more frequently.  The strings may not even look worn out.  It is the tone of the string that wears out more quickly.   Listen to the instrument when they put on new strings.  It should sound more resonant, and “live.”

Here is my “cut to the chase” advice: If your student is in their 3rd or 4th year of instruction, playing on a “step up” full size instrument, playing in a competitive youth orchestra, competing for regional or all-state opportunities, or performing in solo recitals, they should be playing D’Addario Helicore or Zyex strings or strings of another brand of a similar quality.  They should also be changing strings every 6 months or so. Plan for $50.00-$60.00 each time they change strings.  D’Addario sets range from around $20.00 for their Pro Arte sets to around $50.00 for the Helicore or Zyex sets.  I play D’Addario Helicore strings on my acoustic violin and D’Addario Zyex or NS Design Electric Strings on my electric violins.


Bows

Many folks also don’t understand the importance of a good bow to the string players’ tone.  Bows also come in a wide variety of compositions, qualities, and price ranges.  A bow can greatly impact the tone of a violin and a sub-par bow can really hinder a young player’s development.   Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I play Coda carbon fiber bows exclusively and have a relationship with the company.  I find that in the price range up to $1000.00, Carbon fiber really gives the player the best “band for the buck.”  There will be others that disagree with me and really advocate for wooden bows at all price points.  Pernambuco bows are certainly the most sought-after, particularly in the over $1000.00 price range.  You will also find bows made of Brazilwood in the lower price range.  Many folks go right to the bounce strokes when trying out new bows, but there really is more to the bow decision.  I am always thinking about an even tone from frog to tip when trying bows.  I play long tones and listen for power and evenness at the tip and lightness and control toward the frog.  Of course, balance and lightness are also very important when it comes to spiccato or sautill√© strokes.  In the end, a better bow allows for a broader range of subtleties on the instrument.   I do not advocate for the under $50.00 fiberglass bow, even for beginning students.  Spending a couple hundred dollars on a carbon fiber bow, even for younger students, should pay huge dividends.  The bow will impact the tone and ultimately, students will want to play/practice more! The Coda Bow Company is on the forefront of research and design in all categories.  I recommend them highly and play their sticks. In the end, like everything, it comes down to budget and getting the best product for your hard-earned money.  Your local luthier can probably really enlighten you on this subject.   I use a Coda Joule Carbon Fiber bow for my improvisatory work and a Coda Custom carbon fiber bow for my classical work.  I also have a Richter Pernambuco stick in my case that I have had for many years and still use it quite often for classical performances.

Rosin

Yes – even the rosin they use makes a difference.  Rosin is the material that affects the feel of contact and friction of the bow to strings.  I did a quick bit of web research and, wow, there is a bunch of information out there!  I tend to like darker rosin.  I am not sure why. It just feels better to me.  I started using it when I was 12 years old or so and have loved the feel of it ever since.  Rosin comes in two basic colors, amber or light and dark.  There are many brands and manufacturing processes associated with rosin.  But, again, it has a huge impact on the way the bow feels against the string.  So, I recommend trying several out over a period of time.  Amber rosin, for me, just doesn’t give me the same touch that dark rosin gives.  The good news is that rosin isn’t that expensive.  It ranges from $2.00-$10.00 or more at the top end.  I use D’Addario Kaplan Dark Rosin exclusively.   I recommend giving your child a new /different rosin for every birthday and Christmas (or other gift-giving holiday) until they find one that really makes them happy.  Then “stick” with that brand. (Please excuse my pun.)

I am sure that there are other accessories that will come up as a result of this post so don’t hesitate to ask me to add to this if you have further or related questions.  I hope that all of this is helpful at some level. 

Peace.


Scott

ICO 2014, Concert 3

Hi friends.   

Here is a quick rundown of the repertoire that I will be conducting tomorrow at Interlochen for ICO’s third performance of the summer of 2014. 

We will begin with Fantasy on a Chinese Theme, by Francis Osentowski  (published by FJH).  This work is in two movements and is listed as a Grade 4.  I stumbled onto this work at a reading session at the Florida Music Educators’ state conference back in November.  I am always looking for works at this level that fit into a multi-cultural setting.    There are also two percussion parts for this work, including suspended cymbals and tom toms.  This work has two movements:  I. The Golden Thread and II. Waking the Dragon.    The Golden Thread is in a moderate tempo with a very relaxed feel.   It is great for teaching syncopated rhythms and laying back on the beat, rather than on the front edge.  It is not difficult and is also great for getting your violins into upper positions on the A and D strings for reasons of tone quality rather than high pitches.   Movement II, Waking the Dragon, is a fun allegro that toggles between several time signatures.  It is somewhat percussive in nature and comes together quite quickly.  There are nice contrasts between rhythmic passages in the low strings and legato passages in the violins.  It has a big, exciting ending as well.  I think my students have really enjoyed this piece.

Next, we are doing Lyric Metal, by Brian Balmages (published by FJH).  This piece is in the style of Apocalyptica and was commissioned as a tribute to a young man that passed away after a tragic accident.  The piece if rhythmically driven and requires great attention to dynamics.  There is divisi in many of the passages in the celli and violins, so a large section is fairly important.  I have 14 celli in this group, so it was a great year to program this work!  There are lots of high, lyrical sections for the first violins, so they really get to play up in the top part of the range.   We have discussed the direction of a melodic line and passage at great length and this work provides many teaching opportunities that translate nicely to other repertoire.  There are some really cool dynamic surprises in the work and students really need to listen across the orchestra to pull it off rhythmically.  It is listed as a grade V and is a nice challenge for the group.  I think this will be a show-stopper. 

Finally, we are doing the first and fourth movements of the William Grant Still’s Danzas de Panama (published by Peer Music).  This string orchestra work with a Latin feel is our technical stretch for this concert!  There are several “2 against 3” and “3 against 4” rhythms throughout the work.  It is also fairly thinly scored, so everyone has to hold down their own rhythmic and melodic part completely.  This has provided many great rehearsals opportunities and I think the group has learned a great deal.  We have also spent a great deal of time dealing with the subtleties of dynamic markings and the differences between and accompaniment forte (for example) and a melodic forte.  Students have really been stretched to listen for key parts and to adjust their dynamics throughout.  The Cumbia e Congo, movement IV, is fast and rhythmic.  It includes knocking on instruments for percussion parts and ends with a bang!  This will be our concert finale. 


The performance is Wednesday, July 23, at 6:30 in Corson Auditorium on the Interlochen Campus.

Peace.

Scott

Friday, July 18, 2014

Baseball and Orchestra


Yesterday, I had a great time watching 2 of my sons have a baseball coaching session.  While in Michigan, we connected with a former pro ballplayer and he offered to give the guys some hitting lessons and general coaching. We spent a couple of hours out at a local baseball diamond and the kids were given some great lesson on hitting stance and theory. 

As I watched, taking copious mental notes, I couldn’t help but to think how many similarities there are between playing a string instrument and hitting a baseball.   Coach walked the boys through all of the angles and theories of a good set up.  I do that with my orchestras.  He emphasized the importance of always returning to the fundamentals.  I do that with my orchestras.  He emphasized the importance of balance at all times.  I emphasized that with my orchestra.  The list goes on.  I will give a few examples here and I will probably add to this as time goes on. 

I will also mention that I have always been a little careful about using too many sports analogies and metaphors in the orchestra.  They resonate with some students and just don’t with others.  But, in the end, there are too many similarities to ignore.  We can find parallels in practice theory, performance under pressure theory (see previous post, Choke) ,  theories surrounding habits and attitude,  theory of set up and tone production, teamwork and communication, among others.  I realize that I am very open to these analogies and that others may be less interested in sports, so I try to be measured in when and how I use these ideas. 

Fundamentals

Let’s begin with fundamentals.  Ballplayers must continually go back to basics when dealing with hitting and batting.  When little quirks show up in a swing or throwing motion, coaches break down the motion and the player “starts over” in creating that repeatable motion.  This happens in golf a great deal too.  We have to be willing to do this in the world of music as well.  How many times do you hear of a musician re-learning a bow hold or breaking down their vibrato to a very basic level?  I heard it said many years ago that the most important violin lesson that you ever have is your first one.  Isn’t it true that good intonation, vibrato, shifting, tone quality, and bow technique all grow from a good set up in the way one holds the instrument?  As a conductor, I (we) must be willing to go back to the fundamentals with even the most advanced student group.  Like the Coach did with my boys, we must know those fundamentals and be able to assess playing technique and articulate expectations clearly and accurately.

Balance and Set-up

Let’s now look at a good set up.  For a hitter in baseball, balance is everything.  Coach suggested that the hitter’s stance must be wide enough that weight is evenly distributed to BOTH feet and that the hitter is firmly anchored to the ground in a balanced fashion.  (My kids’ stances were way to close together and weight was on the back foot or shifting.) Coach stressed that with a balanced, rooted position, they could not be “pushed over” or moved against their will.  Now, for string players, I think there are a couple of points to make.  First, I think that many violinists and violists have a balanced set up when standing (playing solo repertoire.  But, I am an orchestra conductor and the vast majority of my work with musicians is in the seated position.  It is in the seated position that the idea of a balanced, rooted set up goes out the window.  All too often, the player sits back in the chair, with their back against the chair-back and proceeds to play.  This simply is not balanced or rooted in any way.  The upper string player must have two feed rooted to the floor and almost be “standing” while in the seated position.  They must to be able to move in any direction with their feet as the anchor to the set up.  I would suggest, also, that the feed must be wide enough apart to promote seated balance.  For cellists, that width is pre-prescribed by the width of the cello.  For violins and violas, however, it is a bit more nebulous.  I believe that their left foot should be in front of the chair and their right foot should be behind the front right leg of the chair, creating a 45 degree angle between the player’s shoulders and the front of the chair.  In other words, it on the front, right corner of the chair, with the shoulders turned gently to the right and feet spread apart firmly on the floor.  In this set-up, the player is free to move, look in all directions, breathe in to and out of passages and, essentially stand in a seated position. 

 
The Power Triangle and Geometry in Set-up

When Coach was looking at my kids’ batting stances, he gave them a series of angles to pay attention to.  The Power Triangle is a 60o angle that the forearms create when setting up.  The bat then creates a 45o angle with the ground as it lies on the shoulder.  This power triangle stays intact throughout much of the swing and it allows the hitter to generate maximum power on contact with the ball.  This, to me, is very similar to a violin set up where, at the middle of the bow, the bow, strings, upper arm, and forearm form a square.  Each angle is 90o and the student can look in the mirror to really create this beautiful set up.  Then, as the bow moves toward the tip, the angles all must change in order to keep a 90o relationship between the bow and strings.  The upper arm moves forward at this point, all in an effort to maintain the 90o string to bow angle.  Similarly, as the bow moves to the frog, the upper arm also moves forward changing these relative angles.  The key here is to understand those mechanics, identify them quickly, and to articulate the fundamentals in an effort to correct inconsistencies.  If these angles are intact, the player can generate maximum tone, beautiful sound, and appropriate bow techniques.  It all comes back to the fundamentals!

Compact Motion

I was struck in the hitting lesson by the compact nature of the hitting motion when executed correctly.  The power triangle and subsequent contact with the ball keep the hitters motion very succinct and quick.  This reminded me of one of my childhood lessons on a Mozart concerto.  I had just finished a big Romantic piece (possibly Adoration by Borowski) where I used every inch of the bow and really learned to generate a big, romantic sound.  In beginning the Mozart, my teacher stressed that now everything had to be “shrunk” to a much more compact motion.  The tone had to be generated in a much smaller area of the bow and the energy was much more compact.  This lesson comes to mind in almost every orchestral situation that I encounter.  Young musicians must be reminded that lots of bow is not always the answer.  Sometimes the energy comes from very little bow.  And the placement of the bow (upper, middle, lower) is absolutely key to accurate and clean ensemble playing.

Controlled Violence

I know.  That is an odd subtitle for an article on playing in an orchestra.  This is actually related to the previous paragraph.  The baseball hitter must learn to put a great deal of compact, controlled force into the point of contact of the swing.  It really comes from the core of the body and has much less to do with arm strength than it does with lower body and the core.  Similarly, there are times in the literature when the bow must meet the string with controlled aggression.  In reality, if the bow is moving quickly, a great deal of controlled force can be used at the point of contact.  This can provide necessary articulation and even excitement when used in the correct way, in appropriate passages.  I find that so often students don’t really believe me when I ask for this type of bow stroke or commitment to a passage.  It all comes back to control and understanding the physics of tone production.  Fundamentals truly come into play at every step.  I find that in rehearsal, I have to work to convince many students that I really mean what I am saying about this controlled energy. 

These are just some initial thoughts on this topic today.  I am sure that I will develop these more in coming weeks and months.  But, it was all on my mind today and I wanted to get a bit into writing.  I welcome your thoughts, reactions, and responses.  For now, I would encourage us all to have the patience and commitment to always return to the fundamentals.  Our student musicians will always be the better for it.

Peace.

Scott

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Strings, Students, and D’Addario

Most of you know that I have a long standing relationship with the D’Addario Company.  I have played their Zyex and Helicore strings exclusively for the past 12 year or so and I really love them.   I think the strings sound great and last forever.   D’Addario puts a tremendous amount of research and development into their product, and their plant is one of the coolest, most impressive places I have ever been.   It is a great American company where the folks they employ all seem to love coming to work each day.  D’Addario sponsors so many events and clinics that are great for students and educators.  They believe in string education and in the importance of quality music educators.  D’Addario has generously supported much of my scholarship over the years, sponsoring many of my appearances around the United States and encouraging me in many ways.  For those that don’t know, Daddario’s brands include D’Addario Strings (guitar and bass strings), D’Addario Bowed, Evans (percussion), Rico (reeds), Promark (percussion), and Planet Waves (electronics).

Over the years, D’Addario has provided a variety of small gifts for me to use in my teaching and conducting appearances as motivational tools for students and teachers.  A student makes great eye contact: they get a cool sticker.  A student takes a chance by playing a passage alone for the group: they get a D’Addario lanyard.  A teacher gives a great answer at a seminar: they get a classroom poster.  You get the idea.  This type of extrinsic motivation works when used in the right way.  People love to get free stuff and will usually step out of their comfort zone to get it!

Lately, I have been keeping a couple extra sets of strings in my bag to give away for just that special situation.  Two such situations have occurred in the past few weeks and wanted to share them with you. 

At a rehearsal a few weeks ago, a cellist broke an A string on her cello.  She was shocked and upset.  She didn’t have another string in her bag and I don’t think this had ever happened to her before.  I asked if anyone in the section had an extra strong.  The young man that was sitting in the Associate Principal position of the section quickly volunteered one of his new spare A strings.  One of my assistants was putting the string on the cello and that new string broke!!  The assistant, a college student, felt horrible and volunteered to buy a replacement string.  I was able to quickly tell her that I would take care of it and the next day was able to give a brand new set of D’Addario Kaplan Cello Strings to the young man.  I explained that it was compliments of the D’Addario Company and that I knew they would want him to have the set.  I also was able to compliment him on his selflessness and willingness to provide a string for his colleague.   In the end, that sense of caring for others and helping out is really what I wanted to reinforce.  D’Addario helped me to do just that. 

I had another situation just a few days after that with a student that was seated at the back of my 2nd violin section.  She was playing on a standard student quality violin and had a set of very low grade strings on the instrument.  She came to me with concerns about the tone quality of her D string.  I played it and it was very false in tone.  I asked her how old the strings were and she replied that they were new within the past few days.  This was clearly a defective string and it really sounded bad.  I was able to offer her a new set of D’Addario Zyex strings for her instrument and put them on the violin during our next break.  They totally changed the sound of her instrument for the better and she was absolutely thrilled.  Again, this was a great kid, an interested aspiring musician the just got ahold of a subpar set of strings.  Having that great sound under her ear could completely change her musical experience in the future.  I am honored to have this opportunity to share quality strings with students as a result of my relationship with the D’Addario Company and the D’Addario Orchestral product line. 

Thanks to D’Addario for their unwavering support.  The opportunities that they have provided me and others have been huge. They are changing lives every day.

Peace.

Scott

Side by Side

Hi all -
It is a cold morning in Northern MI today, so I am inside the library at Interlochen, catching up on e-mails and on organizing my thoughts for this next set of concerts.

We have a new initiative here at Interlochen that I thought I would share with you today.

During the summer, we have an amazing faculty of artist/teachers that come to Interlochen to teach for the summer.  Each 3 week session, I have 5 of these folks assigned to my orchestra to lead sectional rehearsals and help with the preparation for upcoming concerts.  During our first 3 weeks of concerts, a decision was made to convert some of these sectional rehearsal meetings to "side-by-side" experiences within the context of the orchestra rehearsals.  During a side-by-side, the instructors came to rehearsal and sat within the section, offering tips on bowing, style, fingerings, technique, etc.

I was pleased to hear of this opportunity for our students.  I know that as an undergrad at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to sit beside my violin teacher, Mrs. Delight Malitsky, in almost every orchestra rehearsal for three years.  She sat at the Concertmaster position in the university orchestra and I sat in the Assistant Concertmaster position.  In every rehearsal, she would model all of the best of orchestral practice and give me and the other players tips throughout our time together.  I can't begin to describe how very much I learned from her in that setting.

I was really pleased with the results of the side-by-sides during our first two concerts. During the first and second meeting, the faculty were able to sight-read the repertoire that I had selected for the upcoming concert, discuss the various sight-reading techniques, and offer an aural image to the students for their upcoming work.  For these early rehearsals, they sat at the Principal positions in the section and were able to interact with each other both verbally and musically for the students in the section.  In my opinion, it was magical.  I did my best to make those meetings significantly less "conductor-centric" that my standard rehearsals and simply give them the framework in which to teach and lead.

Later in our concert preparation, the teachers sat in the middle and back of the sections, where they could look over the section for problem spots with bowing, technique, physical interaction, etc. and give thoughtful tips and tricks for cleaner, more expressive and unified performance.  Sectional rehearsals were not completely abandoned and they were able to give more specific advice to their respective sections in those meetings.  I also think that the ensemble meetings gave the faculty members a really good idea of the composers' vision and a better feel for the specific needs that could be addressed in the sectional rehearsals.

Those of you that know me, know that I am all about collaboration.  I loved having the opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues in these "side-by-side" experiences and was thrilled with the results.  I feel like I know them so much better at this point and really value their expertise and musicianship in new ways.  Perhaps they feel the same after working with me in this way.

I do this think this requires balance.  There is definitely a need for the sectional rehearsal in this environment.   But  there is so much that a young musician can learn by watching a true pro in the rehearsal environment. The real key is that the conductor stay out of the way.  (Not one of our strong characteristics - by the way!)

Both concerts that were performed at the end of this experiment were outstanding and I think the students experienced a real benefit from the opportunity.  We will see how it goes for the next two concerts with a new group of kids!

For now, stay warm.

Peace.

Scott

Thursday, July 10, 2014

ICO 2014 Concert 2

Hi friends!

Here are some more thoughts on summer repertoire for ICO.  The second concert will be in 3 short days and perhaps many of the parents that read this will be in attendance for the concert.  We had a great rehearsal today and will certainly be ready to give a great performance on Friday.

We will open our performance with the Overture to the Messiah by Handel.  This is the original Messiah Overture and we are using the Schirmer edition.  I like that edition because the Grave section is written with the appropriate double dotted rhythms and it is otherwise very predictable for those of us that have played this work in any variety of settings.  In the Grave section students learn hooked bowing and really have to listen to the ensemble along with subdividing to keep the passage rhythmically clean.  The Allegro is a fugue and each section must count independently and demonstrate a marcato style throughout.  This is a great piece and teaching tool for young orchestras.

Next, we are doing Fantasy on American Sailing Songs, by Clare Grundman, Arr Longfield.  This is a medley of popular sailing songs that is very accessible for young orchestras.  Students play in a variety of keys and time signatures and there are plenty of opportunities for teaching ensemble, rhythm, and interaction between sections.

Our reall challenge piece for this concert is the Minuet from Petite Suite, by Debussy/Arr. Osentowski (Pub FJH).  This is a grade V adaptation of the famous work for 4 hands piano.  This is a real contrast to much of the repertoire that I have programmed over the years for this type of group.  It is very lyrical, requires extremely close listening across the ensemble, and includes of very tricky violin parts.  The key to this one working well is every section having full awareness of their respective roll in the work from measure to measure, phrase to phrase.  (Isn’t that always the case?!) But, really, this one is a challenge and it is a new piece for me as well.  I am looking forward to using this as the centerpiece to our program. 

We will finish our program with a bang with Choreograpy, by Norman Dello Joio, Mvt 3.  This is a classic and oft-used string orchestra piece that was commissioned and written in the 1970’2 by the American String Teachers Association.  This is a fast and furious finale to the work.  I asked the kids what emotions come to mind as they play it and received answers including: angry, determined, important, and anxious, among others.  This will be a fun and exciting way to end our program.

We look forward to performing this program on July 11 at 7:00 in Corson Auditorium on the Interlochen campus!

Peace.
Scott


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

ICO 2014 Concert 1

Hi friends!

I wanted to take a quick minute today to run through the repertoire that I programmed for my first two concerts with the Intermediate Concert Orchestra here at Interlochen this summer.  My hope is that this post will give parents of ICO students some insight into what their children have done this summer and some of my values as a conductor.  I am also hopeful that perhaps colleagues will find some of this to be helpful as they plan their repertoire for the upcoming year with similar ensembles at their schools or youth orchestras. 

The ensemble that I conduct is a string orchestra with students ranging from 12 to 15 years old.  The playing level is quite diverse with the top students auditioning on intermediate repertoire such as Mozart Concerti, Accolay Violin Concerto, and other similar appropriate solos and possessing a good deal of range and musical background.  Other students are significantly less experienced and it is always a challenge to bring the group together in a way that challenges and inspires all students, without leaving the less experienced folks in the dust.  This concert cycle, the group is quite evenly matched and that has been less of an issue that some other years. 

For each concert, I always try to select a diverse program that includes something traditional and something more contemporary; something very technically challenging and something that doesn’t take as long to learn the notes and rhythms, something lyrical and something fast and rhythmic; and something that features a guest artist or extended instrumentation.  I think that we achieved all of those goals for this concert cycle.

Concert 1

We began our first concert with Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla, by Glinka, Arr. McCashin (Pub FJH).  This is a wonderful arrangement of the original for string orchestra that really challenges a young orchestra.  We were able to work this up to tempo and do some really great things with ensemble and listening across the orchestra.  The celli and violas get a beautiful lyrical section in the middle and everyone gets the opportunity to play “high, fast, and loud” as part of the fun.  It was a great concert opener and I think it really surprised our audience.  I always like Bob McCashin’s arrangements because he keeps the pieces very true to the original and always challenges the player.  This is listed as a Grade V piece.

Next we did Serenade for Strings, Mvts I, II, IV, by Robert Washburn.  This gem has been around for many years and I hadn’t conducted it for at least 13 years or so.  Dr. Washburn was Professor of Music at The State University of New York in Potsdam for many years and just passed away in November, 2013, at the age of 85.  I had conducted this piece in 1997 with the Maryland Junior All State Orchestra and Dr. Washburn stopped in to hear about two hours of my rehearsal.  He took some time to speak with the students and with me afterwards and it was really the thrill of a lifetime.  His affirmation of my work and encouragement went a long way for me in the early part of my career.  The first movement is in ABA form and is very lyrical, requiring all players to listen carefully to the inner rhythm of the work.  The second movement is in “3” and reminds me of a lullaby.  Again in ABA form, the B section is very warm and “orchestral” in nature.  It is simply gorgeous.  The forth movement is more rhythmic and driving.  To my ear, there is a Native American flavor to it.   Each section gets a feature in this movement and it ends the Serenade with a bang!  This piece is usually listed as a Grade IV work.

We ended our first concert with Cascade, by Bert Ligon.  The piece is in a pop style and calls for a piano and drum set in addition to the string orchestra.  I thought it needed guitar as well, so I called Bert up and asked if he might be able to help us out with a guitar chart.  He graciously agreed and I had guitar charts for the piece within about 48 hours!! (Thanks, Bert!!) This piece is great for teaching a pop style and the importance of syncopation in contrast with non-syncopated figures.  It is also fantastic for teaching and reinforcing dynamics and direction of line.  Every section gets a feature in this piece.  It is listed as a Grade 3.5, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it with a much more advanced group.  Bert’s music is always so well-written and it feels good to play.  I intend to do with my NCSSM group this fall.

So that was our first concert.  I will write about our 2nd concert in the next post.  I hope this was helpful!!

Peace.


Scott