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shown in figure 1 connects the two. While the people playing the melody take a breath, the oboe connects the two sections at measure 4. There are two points of relaxation: measures 4 and 8. If these points are ignored through the elimination of the breath, the musical structure is obscured. There are multiple smaller structural elements within the phrase, including several arrival points, which are labeled 1-6 in the example. These indicate structural contours of the melody, parallel to clauses in a written sentence. All of the notes are connected and rise and fall in intensity as the music dictates. Some conflict some- what with the marked dynamics. Each half of the phrase has the same relative melodic contour:

an arch with an E-flat as its highest note. Almost naturally, these two E-flats (#2 & 4) are arrival points; number 4 represents the most important part of the entire phrase. It must be emphasized that the highest note of the phrase does not always receive the greatest stress, although it does here.

The dotted lines in figure 1 approximate the proposed sense of

direction for the phrase. However, it is absolutely vital that a sense of the whole be maintained. With the six arrival points indicated, it might appear that the line should be broken into many different parts with swooping crescendos and decrescendos. This is absolutely not the case. These points are intended to be part of a whole with swells, perhaps like gentle waves on a lake. They are not units of singular importance but part of the larger whole; the listener should not become seasick. Many motives need to be connected to show the sense of line. For those interested in more detail, The Art of Interpretation of

Band Music provides a more thorough discussion about both phras- ing in general and interpreting Elsa’s Procession specifically.2

Musical Meaning = Understanding Structure As I have written several times in previous articles for TEMPO,

interpretation is not just about producing a technically accurate and clean performance. This does not mean that accuracy is unimport- ant. However, some band directors work almost entirely on technical purity and ignore musical meaning. Likewise, fashioning one’s interpretation is more than simply

feeling the music. Understanding structure is of vital importance in discovering and conveying the musical meaning of a given composition.

In preparing a work for performance, one should be able to identify the function of each note (appoggiatura, passing tone, neighbor tone, etc.). This is the first step to- ward revealing the music’s grammatical structure. Once one knows the function of a note, it will never change. The grammatical functions of the individual notes having been determined, identifying the skeletal structure of the music, often obscured beneath hordes of ornamental notes, is the next step. When this underlying framework is understood, then the phrasing and articulation of music become clear in almost every instance. Defining this grammatical structure lead one to communicate the music’s true meaning.3

OCTOBER 2013 51

There are many parallels between language and music in terms

of form. These can be very helpful in teaching about structure and phrasing.

Language Syllable Word Clause

Sentence Paragraph Chapter


Music Note

Motive or notes

Motive or sub-phrase Phrase

Small section (period, etc.)

Section (exposition, development, recapitulation, movement, etc.) Composition

When we speak or write, we do not normally think about syl-

lables or words. We think about a given idea and then convey it in language. When young children learn how to read, they first learn letters and then short words. When they read an early sentence, “See Jane Run” they are decoding words and probably do not have a men- tal image of a young girl running, which is the message of the sen- tence. Language is intended to convey meaning. Just as we don’t speak in separate syllables and words, we should not play notes. Instead we should play in phrases. Notes are grouped together to form motives that are further connected to form larger units and phrases, just as syllables, words, and clauses are brought together to form a sentence. All sentences have punctuation: commas, semi-colons, colons, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, and periods. Without these markers, the meaning of language is blurred. They give shape to the writing or speech. The same is true for music. Musical punctuation gives shape

to work. In the Elsa’s Procession example (figure 1), one might see a comma at measure 4 and a period or semi-colon at measure 8. More conclusive phrases could end with an exclamation point or a ques- tion mark. Eliminating punctuation obscures musicality. This brings us back to the original point of obscuring the phrase to avoid poor precision. Obviously the phrases in some works need to be blurred how-

ever to develop a universal policy to never breath in order to obscure possible performance errors seems to be wrong to deliberately go against basic musical principles does not help to foster the musical education of young students music needs punctuation it is a primary element to show musical content Oops—I forgot the periods! Don’t forget to phrase. It’s the mu- sical thing to do.


1. William Berz. “Considering the Importance of Structure.” TEMPO, 67, no. 4, (May 2013), p. 54.

2. William Berz. “The Art of Interpretation of Band Music.” The Art of Interpretation of Band Music, ed. M. Walker. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2013, pp. 81-102.

3. David McGill. “Sound in Motion: A Performer’s Guide to Greater Musical Expression”. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007, p. 26.


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