Grade 1 Band

A comparison of the most performed pieces from the Texas Prescribed Music List

Education   •   April 30, 2018

As a follow-up to the blog I wrote last month, entitled My Texas PML Project, this article will discuss fourteen of the most played works in the Grade 1 Band category of the Texas Prescribed Music List (PML). I am currently hard at work this Spring creating three new band pieces, and have been intensively studying scores to find patterns as to what the most popular pieces have in common, as well as what makes each piece unique. (for an update on my compositional progress, jump to the end of this article under the heading “A New Day”) This part 1 article will discuss the patterns I have discovered in comparing the pieces in terms of key, meter, tempo, difficulty level, theme, length, ranges, melody and harmony. But before we jump into my findings, first we’ll do a quick peek into the world of how music is selected to the PML in the first place!

Texas Music Forms

At the following link, you can actually look at what pieces are played the most every year at Texas’ state performance evaluations, which are regulated by the University Interscholastic League (UIL): 

UIL is an organization that assists in providing extracurricular activities in K-12 educational settings in Texas, and is reported to be the largest organization of its kind in the world. So, these annual state performance evaluations that just about every public school band program must participate are – well, kind of a big deal. The results of these contests can be found at the same link above dating as far back as fifteen years, and although they do not give the whole picture of the health of a program, they are held in high regard in the music education community. These contests take place every Spring in most states, and afterwards there are quite a few band directors at the local Applebees for happy hour!

Prescribed Music List

As a part of UIL regulations, a Prescribed Music List (PML) is determined that directors must select music from for the performance (with the exception of the march). Each year, the PML committee meets and determines which new pieces will be added to this list, as well as what pieces may need adjustments on the level of difficulty rating (referred to as “grade leveling”), and which pieces may need to be removed altogether. Pieces will be determined from easiest to hardest as a Grade 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, and different classes of bands will be required to play certain grade levels. 6A varsity groups (6A is currently the largest class of high school) are the only class required to play a Grade 5 selection, and by a contrast a 1A varsity group is not required to play anything more difficult than a Grade 1. Middle school programs also have a set list of requirements, and the information for all groups can be found at this link:

Here in Texas, we have dubbed the whole event simply as “UIL”, and with a quick glance at my Facebook connections, you can see the pomp and circumstance that goes into these things!

Score Study

There is lot of effort and energy put into preparing pieces for state performance evaluations, and a life goal of mine is to have a piece selected on the Texas PML. As a matter of fact, I may or may not have already pinpointed a location for a party in San Antonio (where the Texas Music Educators Association Conference is held) to celebrate when the day comes!

But for now, to achieve the goal of having a piece selected, I am focused on creating music that successfully serves students and educators by being well-crafted and strategically put together, with the ability level of the performers on the forefront of my considerations. I am sincerely giving as much respect and thought into my current Grade 1 piece as I would a work for professional orchestra. Jonathan (my band director husband) pointed out that successful pieces on State music lists are given as much attention, rehearsal time, performances and effort as any instrumental concert work, and impact literally thousands of young musicians and their directors. With this extreme potential responsibility in mind, to begin my score study I first targeted the current most performed selections in the Grade 1 category of the PML. A simple search in the website yielded this result, showing the top fourteen Grade 1 selections played at for the 2017 UIL contest. Here is the list of works in order of the most played:

  • Armory by Randall Standridge

  • Dance Celebration by Robert W. Smith

  • Fortis by Gary Gazlay

  • Atlantis by Anne McGinty

  • Nottingham Castle by Larry Daehn

  • Sakura by Michael Story

  • Serengeti Dreams by Robert W. Smith

  • Egyptique by William Owens

  • Pinnacle by Rob Grice

  • Conviction by Larry Clark

  • Crusade by Vince Gassi

  • Big Sky Round-Up by Robert Sheldon

  • Summit Fanfare by William Owens

  • Coutlandt County Festival by William Owens

Key, Theme, Length, Tempo, Meter and Difficulty Level

I have to say, I’m pretty proud of my evolving skills with Microsoft PowerPoint for Mac. Here’s some nifty graphs I made to demonstrate some of the research:


As a baseline for range, let’s use the rubric from FJH music company:

And as a side note, these range guides help me with creating my famous keyboard map. I use the colors to place the ranges – blue is for tuba, baritone saxophone, bassoon, bass clarinet, trombone and euphonium. Purple is for alto and tenor saxophones as well as french horn. Clarinet is yellow, and flute and oboe are pink. I am a trumpet player, so although the trumpets are blue, this color is arbitrary for me as I’m intimately familiar with the range!

Since five of the pieces very possibly fall into the Grade 1.5 category, this allows for a slightly wider range from nearly all of the instruments. The most common deviance I encountered from the FJH range guide were Ab’s in the first octave for tuba, and optional notes above the fifth octave Bb for flute. A significant exception to the usual range of french horn (shown with the purple stickies from Eb3 to Eb4 in the picture), is Fortis by Gary Gazlay. Gazlay utilizes the horns up to the concert Ab in the fourth octave, so if you have a particularly strong horn section, this would be at least one reason Fortis would make an excellent choice!

Rob Grice’s Pinnacle uses the widest ranges of all the pieces with nearly every instrument significantly outside of the Grade 1/Grade 1.5 ranges. But, as you saw in the slide on Difficulty Level – Grice labels this work as a Grade 2, so this work might fit your band well if your students are comfortable with a wide range and are looking for a challenge! One unique characteristic of Pinnacle is the the melodic development – utilizing a wider range allows for the melody to first be presented in the saxophones, clarinets and horn. It is then repeated in the flute and trumpet with a few modifications that are still melodically pleasing, but also accommodates the ranges well. Check it out in the video below in the Melody and Harmony section of the blog.

Here is a look at the melodic range of each of the fourteen selections:

Melody and Harmony

I have a lot to say about both these subjects with so many selections to consider, and here are few highlights.

Melodic phrasing is a huge consideration with young players. Most melodies are phrased in four bar phrases, with frequent two or four bar extensions at the end of phrases. Fortis makes good use of this in between sections of the work. Operating within four bar phrases, in wonderfully creative fashion, William Owens amazes me at the way he habitually combines lines in a way that are playable AND interesting. However, some genres do not lend themselves well to four bar phrasing, like folk music, for instance. Michael Story’s Sakura demonstrates well-constructed asymmetrical phrasing for young band. Vince Gassi also does something interesting in his work Crusade, where he approaches his melodic content mainly as motifs. Check out a short clip of all four of these pieces to see the music in action:

Although there is some variance, but not a huge variance in the length, phrasing and structure of melodies in this group of works, there is a very large variance in the use of harmony. Parallel chords in minor make a strong statement in Randall Standridge’s Armory. Robert W. Smith’s Serengeti Dreams also features a minor key, but with a more modal approach, take or leave an accidental here and there. William Owens’ Egyptique utilizes borrowed chords and interesting harmonies, thanks to his use of the fifth mode of the Ab harmonic minor scale. Robert Sheldon uses rapidly changing chords as the bass walks up in Big Sky Round-Up. Anne McGinty’s popular work, Atlantis highlights extended chords and borrowed chords. In Conviction, by Larry Clark, there is a pleasant oscillating between suspended and major chords. Finally, take a look at Nottingham Castle by Larry Daehn, which pivots back and forth from the relative minor and major keys. Check out this, video which includes a harmonic analysis of the seven mentioned in this paragraph, as well as Pinnacle by Rob Grice:

A New Day

Here’s a preview of the first draft of my Grade 1 work, entitled “A New Day”, which is the first work I’ve completed for my super awesome consortium of band directors and programs this Spring 2018.

Writing music is seriously fun! A thank you to the seven programs currently in my consortium, which are listed at the end of my article, My Texas PML Project I have two spots left as of now, which will receive all three works I’m writing – a Grade 1, Grade 1.5 and Grade 2.5 by August 1st. My hope is that programs with multiple bands can allow all their students to participate in a premiere next year! Plus, each program can also schedule a Skype session with me anytime during the 2018-2019 school year, and I have a closed Facebook group where I’m posting sketches and updates as we go. Speaking of which, I better get back to my composer cave…