Choosing Repertoire - Four Criteria

A lecture given at the MidWest Clinic, the International Band and Orchestra Conference

Demonstration Group: Winter Park High School Wind Ensemble, Winter Park, Florida

Clinic Available On Cd From Mark Custom Records (6787-Mcd)

For quarter of a century we in Britain have been commissioning band music at every level. This session will investigate the artistic development of the School Band through careful selection of British repertoire, and will introduce some little-known European catalogues.

The Music We Choose Today Can Affect Students For Ever

We must learn to teach music - not band, not orchestra, not chorus, but music itself...Choosing music is the single most important thing a band director can do, and is the only thing a band director can do alone... Frederick Fennell

Music A Universal Language

I firmly believe that music will someday become a 'universal language'. But it will not become so as long as our musical vision is limited to the output of four European countries between 1700 and 1900. The first step in the right direction is to view the music of all peoples and periods without prejudice of any kind, and strive to put the world's known and available best music into circulation. Only then shall we be justified in calling music a 'universal language. Percy Grainger

Symphony or chamber orchestras, opera companies, choirs and chamber groups draw on three centuries and five continents for their programmes. Musicians working in jazz, rock, folk or world music know no boundaries when planning what to play. We in the wind band world sometimes tend to be more chauvinistic, and to limit our programming to what we can easily purchase and easily play. Often we do not have time to look outside the box for new repertoire ideas. The big challenge for all of us is time; we owe it to our students to view time and its challenges in a different way.

The Challenges of T I M E

  • - Technical
  • - Intellectual
  • - Musical
  • - Emotional

Music Must Be Emotional First, Intellectual Second

Although the clinic began on a technical level, I actually would prefer my acronym to be in reverse, EMIT, since for me the most important element in the arts, and especially in music, is emotion.  Sharing repertoire is one invaluable advantage of the world wide web, though lists usually show prejudices and go out of date very quickly. American colleagues still recommend a "core" repertoire list from a study dated 1992, A List of Compositions for Wind-Band which meet the Criteria for Serious Artistic Merit on the website

There are ten criteria, but the most important to me in any art, emotion, is not listed here. It was Maurice Ravel who said Music, I feel, must be emotional first and intellectual second.

Technical Challenges From Adam Gorb

Philip Sparke in a recent interview in the Instrumentalist said When guest conducting, I have noticed that band directors underestimate the ability level of the ensemble; a bit of pushing never goes amiss.

I would agree entirely with Philip; excellent players will drag along the less experienced, and as long as you follow with a work which is in everyone's comfort zone, challenge the group's technical expertise. However, technical challenges might also be challenges of unexpected phrase lengths, of unusual harmonies, of unlikely solo instruments - Adam Gorb is in my view a composer who writes light music with good tunes which never descends into cliché, which entertains without patronising, and which is at all levels of difficulty. Some time ago at a CBDNA Conference, a director of a High School band came up delighted to meet me, the commissioner of Adam Gorb's Awayday. He had heard it played by the US Marines, had purchased it, tried it out and found it too difficult. A year later he tried it out, too difficult, the next year he was retiring so he had to play it, the kids loved it and it was a huge success. I asked him if he had tried any of Adam's easier music. "Has he written any?" was the reply.

I began the clinic with a few bars of Awayday and then explored four excerpts from his Bridgewater Breeze.

Further Works To Explore By Adam Gorb

Level Work Publisher
EasyCandlight ProcessionG&M Brand
EasyEine Kleine Yiddische RagmusicG&M Brand
EasyMarch of the Wooden WarriorsG&M Brand
EasySunrise and SafariMaecenas
ModerateYiddish DancesMaecenas
ModerateDances from CreteMaecenas

Intellectual Challenges From Derek Bourgeois

Derek Bourgeois undoubtedly has one of the finest compositional techniques of any composer. He moves effortlessly through a wide variety of styles and teasing metrical changes, and like Gorb's his music speaks directly to the player and audience. Undoubtedly his best-known work is the Serenade, a teasing piece in a mix of 11/8 and 13/8 written as a wedding march. I introduced the rest of his music and the HaFaBra catalogue with an excerpt from Metro Gnome, an equally charming tune in 7/8 which alternates 3+2+2 with 2+2+3. The HaFaBra catalogue has a wide library of musical excerpts from his music and is well worth  exploring.

Further Works To Explore By Derek Bourgeois

Level Work Publisher
EasyMolesworth's Melody HaFaBra
EasyBiffo's MarchHaFaBra
ModerateNorthern LamentG&M Brand
DifficultSymphony of WindsHaFaBra
DifficultRoller CoasterHaFaBra
DifficultMorey from Mountains of MallorcaHaFaBra

Musical Challenges From Guy Woolfenden & Fergal Carroll

Music - the art of expression in sound

Chamber's Dictionary

Andrew Mather, conductor of the Melbourne Youth Symphonic Band, Australia , sums up what we need to be able to teach in through band music:

  • Ensemble precision
  • Musical phrasing
  • Wide range of dynamic control
  • Increase in individual member technique and tone production
  • High level awareness of intonation
  • Awareness of instrumental balance and subtlety within sections & the band
  • The ability to follow sophisticated conducting gestures
  • Performing a variety of band repertoire
  • Leadership experience for sectional leaders
  • Accompanying experience

To exploit these musical teaching tools, to conduct musically, we need to choose "musical" music. We cannot choose Mozart of Haydn, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky or Elgar, but we can seek out works which lend themselves to musical interpretation, which has sentiment without being sentimental. For me, the first composer BASBWE commissioned back in the early eighties, Guy Woolfenden, writes wind music which captures so many of the elements I look for in teaching and performing. In the clinic we played an excerpt from Gallimaufry, his first work for wind band.

Further Works To Explore By Guy Woolfenden

Level Work Publisher
ModerateIllyrian DancesAriel
ModerateMockbeggar Variations Ariel

I find these musical elements in so much British music, in composers represented in my Chicago clinic, in the music of Martin Ellerby and Stephen McNeff, and in the music by a newcomer to the Maecenas catalogue, Fergal Carroll. We played his Song of Lir which together with Blackwater and Winter Dances I would certainly recommend for a school band at about Grade 3.

The Challenge Of Finding Music For The Less Experienced Band

While it is relatively easy to find "good" music for groups which enjoy more challenging repertoire, discovering similar repertoire for the less experienced school band at Grade 1-2-3 level is extremely difficult. In 2006 Maecenas Music launched a new series aimed at this level.

Genesis series

New wind music for beginner bands and ensembles, Genesis provides original music by quality composers in a variety of styles for beginner bands, which even the least experienced or technically accomplished can perform. Nothing is above grade 3; much is considerably easier and scored so that novices can make a valuable contribution. No arrangements, no transcriptions, no excerpts, only complete original compositions with genuine musical content are written specially for the series.

The emphasis is on practicality and flexibility. Extensive cross cueing, musically sensitive doubling of instrumental lines and generous quantities of parts in sets will allow players in almost any combination, numbers and ability range to share a real musical experience, both in rehearsal and in concert.

We played excerpts from four works in the series:

  • The Piper of Brafferton - Fergal Carroll
  • Dance of the Fir Darrig - Fergal Carroll
  • Nancy's Lament - Malcolm Binney
  • Shaftoe's Hoe-Down - Malcolm Binney

Warren Benson always used to counsel against making lists. In the early days of WASBE we wasted a lot of time seeking out a "Core" repertoire.  One of my favortie works which I would include in any Christmas Concert, and in fact have conducted on Christmas Day in Jerusalem , is Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson, but I have never seen it in any listing of core repertoire. (I wonder what his Piano Concerto is like). Below is a list of Not Core Repertoire but is of music which I am happy to programme in any situation and which, I think, speaks to the players and the audience. Other works which I enjoy listening to, programming and conducting, can be discovered the site, in the repertoire, conducting and news archive sections. Most of these works would be American Grade 4-5

Recommended European Repertoire

Michael BallSaxophone ConcertoMaecenas
John BrakstadThe Old Railway StationWarner/Norway
Nigel ClarkeSamuraiMaecenas
Martin EllerbyParis SketchesMaecenas
Martin EllerbyNew World DancesStudio
Kenneth HeskethMasqueFaber
Kenneth HeskethDanceriesFaber
Kenneth HeskethDiaghilev DancesFaber
Kenneth HeskethVranjankaFaber
Andreas MakrisImprovisations; RhythmsBallerbach
Christopher MarshallAueMaecenas
Stephen McNeffGhostsMaecenas
Stephen McNeffGhostsMaecenas
Edwin RoxburghTime's HarvestMaecenas
David SmithFracturesMaecenas
Philip SparkeFour Norfolk DancesAnglo Music
Philip WilbyConcertino Pastorale (solo flute)Anglo Music
Philip WilbyCatcher of ShadowsNovello

European Composers & Publishers

Alexander ComitasA Night on Culbin SandsOpus 33 Music
David BedfordSun Paints Rainbows over the Vast WavesNovello
Martin DalbyA Plain Man's HammerNovello
Edward GregsonThe Sword and the CrownStudio
Edward GregsonThe Kings go ForthStudio
Christopher MarshallL'Homme ArméMaecenas
Christopher MarshallResonanceMaecenas
Buxton OrrJohn Gay SuiteNovello
Marco PützMeltdownBronsheim
Marco PützPraemonitioBronsheim
Joaquin RodrigoPer la Flor del Lliri BlauPiles
Aulis SallinenThe Palace RhapsodyNovello
Philip SparkeLindisfarne RhapsodyStudio
Philip SparkeLindisfarne RhapsodyStudio
Jules StrensDanse FunambulesqueCeBeDeM
Piet SwertsCyranoDe Haske

Emotional Challenges

What are human emotions? Not only lyricism, sadness, tragedy, but laughter.

 Dmitri Shostakovich

Finding music which plumbs the depths of tragedy is relatively easy, but so much of our repertoire is just bright and breezy, often good fun without being funny. I remember a Mid-West clinic where I discovered a genuinely funny piece for school band by David Maslanka, Rollo Takes a Walk.  Adam Gorb writes fun and funny music, Yiddish Dances is a great example of this as is his Bermuda Triangle. Another composer who is often funny in his music is Derek Bourgeois.

The March which is the basis for Marcel Wengler's Versuche uber einem Marsch is hilarious with its misplaced strong beats and false entries, hard to con duct even though it is in 2/4 apart from one bar of 3. At the clinic we did not have time to introduce another Luxembourg composer, Marco Pütz. Many of his works carry serious political statements, Meltdown  on the subject of disaster at a nuclear powerstation,  Praemonitio  about ecology, but he has a wry quirky sense of humour, and his WASBE Schools commission Dance Sequence has a rare emotional variety.

With Sentiment But Not Sentimental

All too often I hear a new piece of music which grabs the attention by its energy, freshness and vitality, and then when it reaches a second more lyrical section it descends into cliché. I was once challenged by Martin Ellerby to define a cliché which of course I failed to do. However, an harmonic or melodic sequence which sounds completely natural in a Schubert song or a Rakhmaninov Symphony grates for me in a contemporary wind band piece, because it is not of its time. The problem is to find music which carries sentiment without being sentimental. Again, I find that Adam Gorb can write wonderfully heartfelt slow music which is intense but never cloying. Another British composer who achieves this in this music is Bill Connor. Like Alec Wilder, Bill is completely lacking in any ego, hardly any of his music is published, and it all needs exploration and publishing. His Tails aus dem Vood Viennoise (from which we played two excerpts)  represents for me the closest we can take Grade 3 players to the experience of a Mahler Symphony. Your players will be baffled for the first rehearsals, but I remember being completely bemused when in the City of Bimringham we first tackled Mahler 5 with Antal Dorati.

Finally we ended with a performance of the slow movement of the Richard Rodney Bennett Trumpet Concerto, a serial piece, which contradicts those prophets of doom who reckon that there is no future in writing twelve-note music.

Music Featured In This Clinic Is Available

In USA - Shattinger
In UK - Just Music

Composers Featured In This Clinic

Publishers Featured In This Clinic