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 texasmusicforms.com 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
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…