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You Are What You Eat: Repertoire Resolutions for the New Year by C. David Ragsdale


The musical diet we provide our students through repertoire must be just as intentional, healthy, and well-balanced as the food choices parents make for their growing children.


As our students’ musical


caretakers, ensuring their health and nutrition through an appropriate musical “diet” is among our most important responsibilities. Yet, as with food, we often reach for the most accessible and convenient option with little regard for the long-term consequences. Let’s begin the new year with a renewed commitment to intentional, balanced, and healthy repertoire choices for the students under our musical care.


INTENTIONAL repertoire planning is possible only through active - not passive - repertoire selection. Passive repertoire selection is usually the simple, well- intended, yet careless result of thoughtless convenience. Like choosing a snack from the vending machine, passive repertoire selection relies on the most attainable - but perhaps not the most conscionable - choices for our music curriculum. Examples of passive repertoire selection might include indifferent reliance upon titles already on the ABA Cumulative List, easy-to-grab titles already in our music library, dependence upon Editor’s Choice Lists and other such marketing ploys, or upon previous experiences as a player or conductor with former ensembles. All of the foregoing “easy-reach” solutions to planning your ensemble’s repertoire can spell disaster for your ensemble, your program, and, eventually, the profession.


On the other hand, active repertoire planning can actually make your ensemble better before the music is even on the stand. Active, intentional selection seeks music which fits your instrumentation and strengths, is appropriately difficult, and is engaging for the students and audience. Active planning, above all, is thoughtful - even strategic. Implementing such strategy in the repertoire selection process ensures increased suitability, and therefore increased opportunities, for success. Active repertoire research involves getting to know composers as well as their compositional style and body of work, attending


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conferences and events which feature live performances of both old and new repertoire, replacing music catalogs with professional journals that feature music reviews and articles, and immersing oneself in the language of the profession - staying current in trends of composition and pedagogy.


Finding BALANCE in repertoire selections is another important component of an ensemble’s musical diet. As with food, one must not dine predominantly on one type of music. We must design our programs with a commitment to expose students to a variety of styles, keys, meters, tempi, and composers. It is easy to find ourselves, often unintentionally, in a musical rut where our selections tend to be of one style, key, or composer. Intentional programming, executed through thoughtful planning, can ensure that we are exploring a variety of musical choices.


Also, selecting


complementary works can be a smart programming solution for finding balance on our programs. For instance, featuring a new gem alongside an old chestnut can be a smart pairing, or a slow, lyrical work set in a remote or underutilized key area can be a rewarding combination, allowing students to hear and adjust to new key, finger, and intonation challenges while learning to be expressive.


Finally, finding HEALTHY music is a touchy if not contentious subject but is a necessary discussion point for these “Repertoire Resolutions” nonetheless. In short, we must maintain some standard for our musical programming if we wish, as a profession, to ever stop rationalizing the importance of music in our schools. Therefore, it is important to recognize that repertoire selection is equal parts knowing what to play and knowing what NOT to play. We must not pander to our audience by performing novelty works which, for instance, involve small kitchen appliances - not if we are to be taken seriously. Is there room for novelty on our programs? Yes, with as much moderation as we might responsibly eat candied bacon roll-ups: once a year, for a special occasion, and never more than two bites! It is possible to


program lighter fare without betraying our educational mission and without being disingenuous to our students and administrators about the value of music in our lives and our schools. We must commit as individuals and as a profession to rehearsing and performing the very best repertoire we can find. And it’s not a zero- sum game. For instance, seeking new music for our Cumulative List does not devalue the music already there. Rather, it enhances, broadens, and deepens our “vetted” literature choices, allowing for rich teaching opportunities and refreshing programs which will prove crucial to our survival in the public schools of the 21st century.


Keeping in mind these “repertoire resolutions” for intentional, well-balanced, and healthy programming in 2015, below are three works of varying difficulty which may help expand our programming palette. NONE of these works appear on our ABA Cumulative List, yet ALL of the composers DO. Each of these works has artistic merit, rich teaching opportunities, and is rewarding to rehearse and perform.


Evocatio, Brian Balmages


Brian Balmages’ star rose quickly as a composer for young bands, so this exciting new (2014) work at the Grade 5 level is particularly noteworthy. Also noteworthy is the description Mr. Balmages himself attributes to this piece, calling it “Incantation and Dance [Chance] meets Pines of Rome [Respighi].” That set-up alone makes it worth exploring and, indeed, the analogy holds true section by section: first the Incantation, then the Dance, concluding with a Pines-worthy finale.


Evocatio begins similarly to John Barnes Chance’s Incantation and Dance, complete with pulseless, thin scoring, mysterious flute, complex harmonies and all. After thirty bars of summoning spirits, the work gives way to a relentless, deviant dance which, set off by by the percussion in an off- kilter groove, dominates the center section. The third and final section begins a long, gradual, triplet-laden crescendo heavily


February/March 2015


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