Saturday, September 29, 2007

Twentieth-Annual Stonewall Showcase of Bands is history.

The Twentieth-Annual Stonewall Showcase of Bands is now history.

Of all the Showcases we have had, this has to be the smoothest
ever! The kitchen crew, the press box crew, and the cleanup crew
had almost finished by the time the last bus pulled off the lot. The
weather was beautiful, and the event ran on time all day, with the
exception of a five-minute delay in the start of one class, which was
made up during the next break.

Scores are all available at 

along with a press release.

It is very notable that the top winning bands are all on a seven-
period day or an even-odd (alternating) block scheduling system in
their schools, and the lowest scoring bands are all on the four-by-
four block system. On a four-by-four block system the band members
get to be in band class three months out of the year and are off from
band for nine months of the year except for after-school rehearsals,
which have to compete with athletics for time and student
participation. The seven-period day and alternating block schools
allow band members to be in band class for nine months out of the
year, with obvious improvements in the tone quality, endurance, and
stage presence of the bands.

Special congratulations go out to Bath County High School Band.
They had fourth highest overall band score and the highest percussion
score of the day. This is an enormous accomplishment for a school
that includes only 333 students (according to Virginia Department of
Education Fall 2006 statistics) in grades 8-12 in a rural county
divided by mountains. They were the fifth-largest band at the
Showcase, eclipsing many schools with far greater enrollment. With
one band director teaching band in grades 5-12 in the two elementary
schools and one high school, this accomplished group of musicians and
their director deserve special accolades.

Additional congratulations, on top of years of accomplishment, go to
Charlottesville High School Band. Charlottesville has had only two
band directors since 1942! The band is a 26-time Virginia Honor
Band, and has appeared in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the
Rose Bowl Parade. This is truly a class act. Brothers Vince and
Joe Tornello direct the band.

Thanks to all the members of The Stonewall Brigade Band and the
Staunton Recreation Department for an excellent job running the

Monday, September 3, 2007

Time counting trick for non-wind players and other cool stuff

This works for piano, organ, percussion, and strings while actually
playing. It can also work for winds when they are resting but not
when they are playing, as you will see from the method.

I developed this little system for myself, because as an organist, I
have to be very careful of how long to hold whole notes when playing
hymns for a congregation. There is a great tendency toward church
pianists and organists to "jump the gun" after a long note.
Sometimes this is caused because the congregation is mostly non-music-
readers and just guess at the rhythm rather than feeling the pulse
and reading note values. Then the pianist or organist "goes with the
flow" and you get a sort of random, vague tempo that leads to lack of
participation. An organist that wrote an article in "The American
Organist" magazine took Duke Ellington's "it don't mean a thing if
it don't swing" and made it "it don't mean a thing if they won't
sing." This can be a mind-altering thought for someone like me that
has been playing the organ for 50 years. A firm, strong pulse leads
to great group singing.

Here's the technique: With your mouth shut, put your tongue against
the roof of your mouth and then pull it away (but keep the tip of the
tongue against the roof of your mouth and only pull down the back of
your tongue) , like pronouncing the sound "ch." You'll hear a
clicking sort of sound in your own ears. This make a great "ersatz"
metronome that you always have with you. You can "tick tock" to your
heart's content and nobody will know. You can also use this
technique to practice subtle changes in tempo while looking at a
piece of music. That way you can learn just the tempo change on a
ritard or accelerando without having the actual manipulation of the
instrument as a distraction. It is also a good technique for "finger
practice" when you are looking at the music, doing the "fingers" on
your horn, but not actually playing. Adding the "tick tock" to
finger practice can reveal rhythmic irregularities or inaccuracies.
Think about the difference between an irregularity (pulse) and an
inaccuracy (note value). It is also good for figuring out when to
use an agogic accent. (Go look that one up.) (Here's a good
reference--piano based but also general:

One of the most disconcerting and jarring things you can do to an
audience is to rush. Have you ever climbed a staircase and found
that the top step was a little shallower (or taller) than all the
rest? Jars your teeth doesn't it... because it disrupts the rhythm
of stair climbing that you established on the first two or three
steps. Rushing a whole note is just as jarring.... or actually
rushing the note that follows a whole note. This applies to any
sort of music.

The "ch ch" technique I described above is also great for wind
players who are sitting there counting rests. It helps you keep your
count with the conductor's tempo. Of course, you have to pay
attention to three things... your own counting speed, the tempo set
by the conductor, and keeping track of where you are..and hold your
attention on all three. Frankly, I count on my fingers. Just press
one finger a little harder into your palm or onto your leg and you
can count on your fingers without anyone knowing you are doing so.
I start with the "pinkie" as one. The thumb alone is 6. That allows
you to get to 10 on one hand.

The "moral to this story" is to figure out what you want to be able
to do on a consistent basis and then develop a system for doing it
the same way every time... or adopt someone else's system after
trying it and finding that it works.

2007 Concert Season is now history

Our 2007 Concert season concluded on August 27 with the People's
Choice Concert. Overall the season was a great success and was
enjoyed by band members and audience alike.

Doing a dozen concerts in a row with all different music (except the
People's Choice Concert) is quite a challenge for an all-volunteer
group, especially since we do all the rehearsals in the Spring and
none during the concert season.

As director, it is my job to know all the music--tempi, entrances,
trouble spots, and things to say in 10 words or less to remind the
members of things to watch. One technique that I had forgotten and
then remembered and put to good use is the idea that correcting the
balance between parts in the band can go a long way toward improving
pitch (which is already very good) and rhythmic precision (which is
sometimes a problem with a large band when everyone is busy reading
the page.) There was a book and set of band exercises published by
W. Francis McBeth about 30 years ago that came to mind in August.
The quick fix was to have the band play a simple Bb concert scale
slowly while I listened from the podium. Then I explained which
sections needed to be a little louder, which a little softer, and
which were ok for the dynamic level. This was done first at forte
and then at mezzo forte. The results were dramatic! Balance,
tuning, and rhythmic precision all improved from good to great.

Another thing that really helped rhythmic precision was to add a live
monitor behind the band. We put one of my Peavey KB-100 keyboard
amplifiers behind the band and ran a mike line up front with the mike
at about eye level with the front row and just behind me. This
allowed the back of the band to hear the front of the band. The
chordal intonation locked in much better, and rhythmic precision
improved, plus we heard the woodwind sections better when they had
the melody and the brass were accompanying. Being able to hear the
front of the band helped the back of the band know when to adjust
their dynamic level from "lead" to "background".

We are now off for a month and will resume rehearsals on October 1,
when we prepare for our October 6th appearance playing "oompah" music
at the Frontier Culture Museum's "Oktoberfest."