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Bring the Ring!

By Sondra Tucker

I am not by any means a master gardener.  But every spring, I get excited when my local nursery begins to display their colorful annuals and perennials for sale. I shop for old favorites like geraniums and sweet-smelling marigolds, and add new varieties that are different and beautiful.  I fill my car with what I hope will be hardy plants that will grow and blossom, making my yard more beautiful, and I carefully plant, fertilize and water them throughout the summer.

Handbell choirs can be like that, too.  Each new season brings an opportunity to greet old friends and integrate new ringers into your ministry.  Providing the right mix of instruction, inspiration, and music can make your handbell ministry flourish and become an integral part of your church’s music ministry, both within your congregation and out in the community.

What are some essential steps to grow a handbell ministry?

  1. Honor the time and gifts of your volunteers in music ministry by being prepared, punctual, enthusiastic, and on task as their director. Create a rehearsal plan and know what you want to accomplish for each piece you rehearse.  Communicate your goals clearly to the ensemble.  Expect regular attendance, punctuality, attention, and willingness to work on details from each of your ringers. Walk that tightrope between worship needs and ringer availability to schedule ringing in worship.  Since it is so difficult to rehearse with missing personnel, I highly recommend maintaining a sub list, so that occasional absences are less of a problem.
  2. Meet your ringers where they are, not where you want them to be. This means selecting music that is within your ensemble’s ability to prepare and ring successfully. Music that is too easy can be boring.  Music that is too difficult can be frustrating. Just as important is allowing enough rehearsal time to adequately prepare the music you have selected.  Within the range of music in your folder, make sure to provide a variety of styles, with enough ease for working on nuance or specialized techniques, and enough challenges to provide opportunities for growth.
  3. Find plentiful opportunities in worship for ringers to be successful and which complement and enhance the worship service. Since for most groups, handbells have to be moved and set up within the worship space each time they ring in church, it makes sense to play more than just a prelude or offertory.  Resources abound for processionals, peals, and accompaniments to enhance the entire service.
  4. Find opportunities for children and youth to use handbells, both in worship and in Sunday school. Music for children is usually graded Level 1, and is for two or three octaves of handbells.  Remember: a C4 in the hands of a 9 year old is proportionally the same as a C3 to an adult!
  5. Provide good music –
    • which is at an appropriate difficulty level
    •  which is written for the size bell choir you have (2 octaves to 6 or more octaves).
      • Most published music is written in 2-3 octave or 3-5+ octave versions. It takes 7 people to ring two octaves, 11 to ring 3 octaves, 12 to ring 4 octaves, and 13 to ring 5 octaves, although experienced ensembles can sometimes get by with fewer folks.
    • which is well crafted and interesting, with creative and emotional impact. I am quite proud of our Alfred Handbell catalog, which contains music written by leading composers and arrangers in our art form, and which ranges from very easy to quite difficult, and for all sizes of ensembles.
    • which fits the worship style of your congregation. Our reproducible handbell collection Bells & Chimes for Special Times provides wonderful music for each season of the church year.
    • which combines music for bells and choir, and bells with other instruments.
      • Many possibilities abound! For example, Joe Martin and Tina English’s Ring the Christmas Bells  is written for SATB with a part for 2 octave handbells.
      • Many of our handbell anthems contain parts for other instruments. One example is All Praise and Glory which is a majestic upper level handbell anthem with an optional part for organ.
  6. Offer opportunities to grow skills. Attend your local or area festivals, director’s seminars, and national events. Handbell Musicians of America is an active organization, and provides a national event each year (the next one will be in July 2019 in St. Louis!), opportunities for advanced ringers to come together, and events in each of 12 regional areas. Find them at http://www.handbellmusicians.org and join!  HMA offers affordable Ringer Memberships as well! Watch fabulous groups from around the world on YouTube. Support your local community handbell ensemble, and attend live concerts whenever possible.
  7. Remember that musical ministries in the church exist to support the worship of the larger congregation, but also exist as small groups, and the bonds between members of a bell choir can become precious and long-lasting. Empower everyone in your group to minister to one another.

If you “plant” your handbell ministry in the right soil, with the tender care and encouragement, you will reap the rewards of a vibrant musical garden. Enjoy!

 

1437683702Sondra Tucker, BSE, MMus is Handbell Editor for Alfred Handbell, a division of Jubilate Music Group. She is a retired Organist/Choirmaster and Chair of Area 6 of Handbell Musicians of America, and teaches composition at the Master Series of classes sponsored by the Guild. She is in demand as a conductor and clinician for denominational and Guild events. Sondra is an accomplished organist and flutist, and her published works include music for choir, organ, and instrumental ensembles in addition to handbells. She lives in Memphis with her husband, and has two children and two granddaughters.

Discovering Mårten Jansson & Bärenreiter’s Jansson Choral Competition

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Mårten Jansson

Every time we listen to Swedish composer Mårten Jansson we can’t help but get swept up in the whirlwind of emotions he creates. His music is full of all of the compositional elements that choristers love to sing: sweeping melodic lines, open chords and expressive dissonance.

Ultimately, though, performers and audiences alike fall in love with his music because they are drawn to the fundamental honesty at its core. Jansson approaches traditional sacred texts with humility, and he openly shares his experience of it through his music in a way that amplifies the text without pretense or contradiction.

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This honesty should not, however, be confused with simplicity or naïveté. Jansson’s stunning Missa Popularis, for instance, manages to connect us to a profound range of emotions, while uniting many layers of thought and tradition into the microcosm of a single piece of music. In addition to all of Jansson’s neoromantic tendencies, the Missa sits atop a foundation of Swedish folk dances and simultaneously also sounds strikingly Medieval. This is perhaps most obvious in the opening of the “Kyrie” and the “Agnus Dei,” but the feeling of the chant is present throughout the entire Mass.

By uniting modern constructions with ancient ones, Jansson not only brings his Mass into the long tradition of the sacred ritual, but also brings the listener into communion with that tradition and with those who have celebrated it for centuries. The past shines through to the present, and the present holds its hand out to the past. Time becomes circular in celebration of the ritual, and Janssons’s Missa Popularis allows the audience to experience that in the music itself.

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A similar combination of modern and ancient also underpins Jansson’s “Maria (IV),” which simultaneously elicits a deep-seated sympathy for the universal, fundamental suffering of motherhood and brings to life Mary’s individual sorrow as the mother of a child who belongs not to her, but to all mankind. Commissioned by the Royal Swedish Court for the Feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary in 2013, this piece served as the focal point of Bärenreiter’s Mårten Jansson Choral Competition.

Ten choirs from around the world entered videos of their performances of “Maria (IV)” in the competition, and those videos were judged by an international panel of choral experts. The top three choirs all received vouchers for Bärenreiter choral publications, and the winning choir also received a commission for a new Jansson piece to suit their particular needs.

Here is the video submitted by the winning choir, the Jugendkonzertchor Dortmund from Dortmund, Germany directed by Felix Heitmann. This performance was praised by judges as “an absolutely perfect performance” and one that “really felt like the ensemble wanted to tell you something they feel is important.”

The University of Denver Lamont Chorale from Denver, Colorado, USA, directed by Catherine Sailer, came in second place with a video of a live performance of the piece that judges praised for “a nicely balanced full warm sound” and “an equally great interpretation,” as well as “excellent and well-structured dynamics and agogics.”

Rounding out the top three was Warsaw’s Vocore, a much smaller ensemble of eight singers founded only in 2017. Praised for being “the most ‘together’ performance among the entries,” the judges appreciated the choir’s warm tone and clear and present middle voices.

ABRSM Exams: Inspiring Musical Achievement

ABRSM’s graded music exams are recognised and respected around the world.  Find out more about what’s involved and how these assessments can support your music teaching or learning.

ABRSM’s mission is to inspire musical achievement and our graded music exams are a big part of that. These world-leading assessments have the authority of four Royal Schools of Music in the UK, and have been supporting and motivating students around the world since 1889.

Our graded music exams are available at eight levels – Grades 1 to 8 – for a wide range of classical instruments and for singers. You can also do exams in Jazz, Music Theory and Practical Musicianship.  Students of any age can take these exams and you can start with any grade or skip grades if you want to.

What happens in an ABRSM exam? Continue reading ‘ABRSM Exams: Inspiring Musical Achievement’

Spring School Choral Concert Winning Programs!

This spring, Sheet Music Plus held a school choral program contest, in which choir directors at the elementary, middle, high school and college levels were encouraged to submit the repertoire list for their schools’ spring choral concerts. The choral programs were judged based on originality, thematic content and age appropriateness. The winners received a $200 gift certificate to Sheet Music Plus. They shared the inspiration behind their creative programming with us. Congratulations, winners!

Elementary Winner
DeLeigh
Iron Forge Elementary School
Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania
Theme: “The Iron Forge Construction . . . Through Music of Course!”

“I was working down the hall one day last spring when I heard a very loud “bang, bang” Continue reading ‘Spring School Choral Concert Winning Programs!’

Alex Shapiro: Making Her Own Rules

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Alex Shapiro

If a composer just so happens to also be a photographer, an essayist, and an activist both within the musical arena and outside of it, it seems fitting that she would describe her own work as “pan-genre and diverse – sometimes within the same piece!” Alex Shapiro’s extensive catalog encompasses film scores, chamber music and choral works, but it is in concert band music that Alex has been leaving her strongest mark as a composer.

Alex’s first foray into the concert band world came in 2007, when Major Tod A. Addison, Commander and conductor of the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Band, contacted her via MySpace to commission a piece. At the time Alex had never composed for, participated in or even attended a performance of a wind band in her life, but was encouraged by Major Addison’s openness to her ideas and decided to jump right in.

HomecomingThe final piece, titled “Homecoming,” folds Alex’s sophisticated take on symphonic and jazz-pop music into traditional wind band sounds, while also taking a nuanced, multi-dimensional approach to the concept of a “military theme.” The result isn’t a collection of recognizable layers of elements, but rather something entirely new.

This impulse toward synthesis is, in fact, a defining characteristic of Alex’s work. She takes various components that excite and inspire her, and she fuses them together into new structures in which the building blocks are inseparable and at times even unrecognizable. Alex is not the puppet master who brings together characters to watch them interact, but rather the pastry chef baking a cake, where the raw materials combine at the molecular level with constructive precision to achieve the baker’s grand vision.

RockMusicWhatever Alex’s vision for a piece may be, her music always seems to follow a distinct narrative arc. Whether her work is advocating for a cause she cares about, like climate change, marine life, or gender equality, or her music is simply music, she is always telling a story and taking us on a journey. This is as true for her new choral work, “O Death Rock Me Asleep,” a setting of a text by Anne Boleyn that follows the queen from imprisonment through beheading, as for wind band pieces like “Rock Music,” which incorporates the sounds of a non-traditional musical material – literally rocks – to tangibly connect the music to the earth and to the climate that is changing before our very eyes.

It is not just “Rock Music” that veers from the tried and true wind band course, though. Much of Alex’s wind band oeuvre is what she has dubbed “electroacoustic,” meaning that it incorporates pre-recorded electronic tracks into performance. In many cases, such as with “Lights Out” and “Paper Cut,” it can be difficult to tell which sounds are coming from the electronic track and which are coming from the live instrumentalists. This is especially true when the pieces are performed in black light, which is part of the recommended presentation of “Lights Out,” and which has seemed to have caught on for about one-third of the performances of “Paper Cut.” With the electronic and the acoustic melding together and becoming indistinguishable, these pieces echo the increasing parity we’re seeing between human and artificial intelligence in other parts of our lives. It’s like the core theme of “Westworld” embodied in music (but, well, a lot less menacing).

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PaperCut

Even when not done in black light, “Paper Cut,” perhaps Alex’s most widely known band piece, is a visual and aural spectacle as band members manipulate pieces of paper to make a range of percussive sounds and execute basic choreography with the paper to give the audience a full show. Commissioned by the American Composers Forum, “Paper Cut” was originally composed for middle school band, but it continues to be popular with bands of all ages and levels because it’s just so fun. Here are the Jackson Middle School Symphonic Winds of Grove City, OH performing the piece at Capital University in February 2018:

Whether it’s these sorts of novelty elements, accompanying videos or photograph reels, or basic choreographed moves or staging, Alex doesn’t simply compose music, but exploits an audience’s heavy reliance on visuals to construct entire performance pieces with music at their core. In the band world, she says, “there are no limits” – and she revels in the stream of endless possibilities.

At the same time, however, it’s worth noting that her music is remarkably direct and succinct. It makes sense, then, that she cites Beethoven as her “goalpost” for economy of motivic development and usage and speaks in amazement that he could build an entire symphonic movement from just four notes – three of which are identical. Perhaps it is that economy that has allowed those four notes that open Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to connect with audiences so strongly that they have become one of the most recognizable themes in all of music history. This is precisely the sort of emotional chord that Alex aims to strike in her music, and like Beethoven, she also lets a strong voice shine through to confidently guide the audience on their emotional journey.

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Alex Shapiro

Human connection is central not only to Alex’s work, but also to her career as a composer. She uses Skype to get into rehearsal rooms with groups performing her pieces. In addition to her many works for professional ensembles, she writes music meant for the educational system so that she can make sure that more women are represented in the music that young learners are playing – and so that children of all genders, races and creeds can understand that there is a place for them in the music world. She is a mainstay at conferences and in the leadership of various professional organizations so that she can encourage her peers in developing their own sense of self-worth and help guide them as business operators. And these connections that she builds in turn make her a strong advocate, a happy and fulfilled human being, and a vital part of the music community.

“Everything is interconnected,” she says. And so she writes. And so she lives.

How to Get More Piano Students

Guest post by Kristin Jensen of MyFunPianoStudio.com. View the original on Kristin’s blog HERE.

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Everything I’d done to try to get more piano students was a waste of time with little or no results.

We’d moved to a new town and I was determined to fill my studio quickly. I worked hard to get the word out — in fact I even strapped my 4 month old into a baby carrier and handed out over 150 fliers at a grocery store on Coupon Tuesday.

Guess how many phone calls I got from those fliers? Zero.

I’ve since learned that there are much more effective ways to advertise a piano studio.

Effective advertising means a full studio so that you reach your full income potential. It will also help you build a waiting list, so that when one student leaves, a new one can fill the vacancy without missing a beat.

Read on to learn the most effective strategies used by expert teachers to get more piano students. Empowered with this info, you can focus on what works and stop wasting money and energy on ineffective marketing strategies.

Incentivize and Encourage Word of Mouth

By far the best way to get new students is by word of mouth. Once you’ve got yourself established, some word of mouth advertising will happen naturally for you if you’re a great teacher, so make sure you’re doing everything you can to offer high quality instruction.

But there are some things you can do to initiate word of mouth while you’re still establishing your studio and your reputation, and to incentivize more word of mouth once you are established.

Here’s how to get people talking about you:

Incentivize your current students to give you referrals

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Offer a tuition credit for every student that they get to sign up. And the credit should really ought to be more than five bucks. Five dollars really isn’t that motivating.

When determining what your credit will be, keep two things in mind: First, inviting others to sign up for piano lessons may require your clients to get out of their comfort zone. Second, your clients are busy living their own lives and ensuring that your studio is full isn’t anywhere on their list of top priorities.

Your current students can be your very best source of new clients, so be sure to give them an incentive that will get them excited. You could even change up your incentive from semester to semester and offer things like a restaurant gift card, movie tickets, or a fee month of lessons. The cost of these incentives is small when compared with the lifetime value of a new client.

What if you don’t have any students yet?

If you’ve recently moved or are just starting out there are ways to get people talking about you and your lessons.

First of all, open your mouth and let people know that you teach lessons. When you introduce yourself, mention that you are a piano teacher. Often just a simple mention will lead people to ask more.

You can also offer to play at community events and during church services. If there is already a regular church accompanist let them know you’d be happy to fill in whenever you’re needed.

Although these strategies won’t get you new students as quickly as some of the other ideas discussed in the article, they will help the people in your community know that you teach and the effect over time can be enormous. Then when a mother asks around for a piano teacher, people will immediately respond with your name.

Use Social Media

SocialIconsPhoneDo you know how to get more piano students by leveraging the power of social media? This avenue is HUGE. When I advertise my studio, I spend most of my efforts on social media.

Advertise on Facebook

I have been impressed by how effectively Facebook ads have helped me get more students. And running ads sure beats walking around a grocery store parking lot on a hot Coupon Tuesday with my kids! You just set up the ad and then let it run.

Facebook has info about advertising on their platform here. The one thing I would warn you about is that Facebook can burn through your budget quickly if don’t you manage the ads carefully. But once you figure it out, this is a great source of new students.

Share student accomplishments on social media

Girl standing beside a pianoWhenever your piano students accomplish something noteworthy, share it via social media. Did a student just finish a level in their method books? Praise them on your Facebook page. Did a student earn a special certificate? Snap a picture and upload it to Instagram along with your congratulations. Are you hosting a fun contest or practice incentive for your students? Share it — you’ll quickly be known for your fun lessons. Do you have a recital coming up? Share it and invite your community to attend. Did your student love one of the improv activities you found on this site and create an awesome sounding song? Record them playing and then share it — this REALLY impresses people!

If you’d like to post photos or videos of your students, be sure to get written permission from the parents first, and it’s good practice to not include the students’ names for safety reasons. Pictures of smiling students are definitely the best when potential new clients are learning about your studio, but even if you opt not to post student photos, you can post other images or just text descriptions of the fun things you do and your students’ accomplishments.

Anything worth sharing should be shared and will help others become familiar with you and the high quality piano instruction you offer. Giving interested people a real look at what you do is a great way to get more piano students to sign up.

Join online neighborhood communities and city “yard sale” pages

My neighborhood has a Facebook group and it’s wonderful. Through this page, neighbors post things they’re giving away for free, warn each other about an aggressive door-to-door salesman, ask each other questions and share ideas. They also share what’s going on in their lives. You don’t want to be annoyingly self-promoting in these groups, but it’s a good place to at least let people know that you teach lessons and get connected with anyone who’s interested.

I was skeptical about the yard sale page. I didn’t even know there were city yard sale pages until a few months before I was going to be teaching a class for preschoolers at a music store in a neighboring town. I had no connections in the town, so I found the number for a piano teacher from the area to ask her if she had any students with younger siblings who might be interested. She said she’d be happy to help spread the word and also told me that she got several of her students through the town’s yard sale page. I decided to give it a try and post info about my new class. It worked and I got several students just from that simple post. It’s free and quick, so definitely worth a try!

Get More Piano Students through Your Website

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Nowadays when someone has a question, what is the first thing they do? Google it.

Build a website so that when someone searches “piano teachers in [insert your city]” they will be able to find you. On my new student registration form, I include the question, “How did you find out about my studio?” About 25% say that they did a Google search for piano teachers in our city.

You can hire out a professional website or create a simple website yourself. If you opt to create your own website, sites like WordPress and Weebly are easy to work with and even have free options. Keep in mind that the design of your website should match the type of lessons you offer. So if you’re offering high-end instruction, you would likely want to hire out a professional design. If you offer more casual lessons then you can probably create a free site yourself.

Create a “My Business” Listing with Google

An even easier way to be found through a Google search is to create a Google “My Business” listing. It’s super simple to create your studio listing and you can find instructions on Google’s “My Business” page here. Listing your studio is free and Google claims that you can get it going in just 10 minutes.

You don’t even need a website to create a business listing with Google. This is the easy shortcut to being found through online searches. If you don’t have a My Business listing yet, I encourage you to set one up today!

Get New Piano Student Referrals through Your Local Music Store

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Most music stores receive a steady stream of inquiries about music lessons. And for this reason, many stores keep a running list of local teachers.

One of the stores near me just asks for the teacher’s name and number and then adds them to their list. Another store near me asks that I bring in a flier with tear-off strips. I write about my studio in the upper portion of the flier and then print my name and phone number on the tear-off strips.

You can also inquire about becoming an in-house piano teacher. Some music stores have space available where you can teach. In most cases, there will be room rental or referral fees, but they’re often worth it because the music store will promote you and keep your studio full. And in many cases, the rates for piano lessons offered inside a music store are higher. They are higher to compensate for the room rental fees and because clients assume that there’s a high level of quality if the instructor is promoted by the music store. Be sure to deliver on this assumption of high quality, and you’ll be in a great situation.

Offer an Introductory Music Class for Preschoolers

Preschool age children in music class

This approach is golden. When you offer a class for preschoolers, some of these students will, without any effort on your part, want to advance into your private piano instruction. But before they ever become private students, you will be teaching them all the music fundamentals.

Can you just imagine what it would be like if your students had great rhythm and knew some basic note reading BEFORE they ever had their first piano lesson? It’s terrific! Students are more confident from the get-go and advance more rapidly. They are able to focus more on piano playing because they already know quite a bit about music reading.

And preschoolers are very capable of learning basic rhythm and music reading concepts. Plus teaching these little tykes is a ton of fun!

The other reason why this method is golden is because you get some insight into the student (and the parent). You’ll get a feel for the student’s temperament and if the two of you would likely work well together. You’ll also learn if the parent pays tuition on time and can get the student to class on time every week. You’ll know all this about the student before you invite them into your private lessons! If you begin offering a music class for preschoolers, within a few years you will have the best students you could imagine.

Use a Multi-Pronged Approach

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket — use as many of these strategies as you can. When you get all these client-getting systems running, you’ll have a steady flow of inquiries about your piano lessons. With time, you’ll find which strategies work best in your area and can then focus most of your attention on those avenues. Be sure to always ask how a new student found out about you and keep a record of their responses.

 


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Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher, curriculum developer and author of the widely popular Piano Magic system. She loves helping piano teachers enhance their teaching skills and optimize their studios so they can use time efficiently, maximize profit and live a life they love. For more tips from Kristin on running a successful private music studio, as well as teaching resources and tutorials on composition and improvisation, visit MyFunPianoStudio.com.

Dark Is the New Bright

Guest post by Mark Cabaniss

Just 30 or 40 years ago, the Tenebrae service was foreign to many a church, despite the service’s ancient roots. The Roman Catholic Church embraced it early, but it has only become popular and more regularly practiced in Mainline Protestant churches (and even some traditional evangelical churches) in recent decades.

These “services of darkness,” as they are often called, have become a “bright spot,” one could say, for churches around the world that are looking for fresh and creative ways to impart the Holy Week journey.

Sacred music publishers have responded to the heightened awareness of Tenebrae with a variety of publications that are ready to prepare and present as complete Tenebrae services with appropriate music and narration.

Tenebrae is a special service for Holy Week that can be conducted on Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, or any day of Holy Week when a church has a regular or additional special service.

The name “Tenebrae” comes from the Latin for “shadows” or “darkness,” and denotes a service of shadows. The Tenebrae service makes use of gradually diminishing light as candles are extinguished one-by-one to guide the congregation through the events of Holy Week from the triumphant Palm Sunday entry through Jesus’s burial. This increasing darkness symbolizes the approaching darkness of Jesus’s death of hopelessness in the world without God. The service concludes in darkness, sometimes with a final candle, the Christ candle, being extinguished or carried out of the sanctuary to represent the death of Jesus. A loud noise may also sound, echoing the closing of Jesus’s tomb. The worshipers then leave in silence to ponder the impact of Christ’s death and await the coming Resurrection.

Tenebrae services generally should begin in a dark sanctuary lit only by five candles at the front, along with a sixth candle, the Christ candle. Each candle is extinguished as directed by the worship leader(s) during the service, with the Christ candle being extinguished near the end of the final piece of the work. Some churches desire the Christ candle not be extinguished, but taken from the sanctuary in front of a silent procession with the choir as they exit. Regardless of the approach you choose for the Christ candle, the congregation should part in silence. (This direction should be given in the program so that everyone in attendance can be fully informed.)

During a prelude, you may choose to have the choir process led by chosen choir members or laypersons carrying the six lit candles. Those candles are then placed in holders in front of the sanctuary.

The narration may be read by one reader or by several readers. If you choose to have more than one reader, the readings can be divided among lines and paragraphs as desired.

ItIsFinishedA new Tenebrae service for 2019, Mary McDonald’s It Is Finished, offers PowerPoint images that correspond to the mood of each piece being sung. These can be projected during the service to enhance the overall impact of the work and help bring to life the events depicted during Holy Week. The images change with the beginning of each anthem sung during the 30-minute presentation.

Another service option for Tenebrae is to serve communion during the work if so desired. This option further enhances and deepens the overall experience of the service, while engaging the congregants in the act of communion as Jesus did with his disciples during Holy Week.

In whatever manner you may choose to carry out Tenebrae, you’ll find this ancient service still speaks beautifully to today’s worshipers, especially when utilizing one of the newest or more recent published services that help guide and provide a compelling experience for all participants.

 


MarkCabanissMark Cabaniss is a music publisher, producer, writer and educator. He is President/CEO of Jubilate Music Group, based in Nashville, Tennessee. http://www.markcabaniss.com

Christmas Music History: Bach’s Baroque Shepherds & Folk Tradition

Close your eyes and picture the Christmas nativity scene. Are there shepherds? What do they look like? What are they doing?

Since St. Francis presented the first recreation of Jesus’s birth in a cave in Greccio, Italy in 1223, countless renditions of the nativity scene have been drawn, carved and staged, and nearly all of these feature shepherds in the supporting cast, very often with flutes and horns in tow. The 1389 Trés Belles Heures de Notre-Dame, for instance, depicts a nativity scene with three shepherds, one with a primitive bagpipe and the other two with alpenhorns. Even St. Joseph himself carries an alpenhorn in the Bedford Hours (c. 1410-1430, France).

The musical shepherd’s lasting presence in the nativity scene is probably less a result of biblical influence — after all, the shepherds are mentioned only briefly in only one of the four Gospels (Luke), and nothing is said about their music — than of contemporaneous familiarity and local folk traditions. While shepherds mostly used horns in various occupational and communicative capacities, some also became quite skilled musicians. In addition to performing at weddings and other celebrations, small bands of shepherds would come down from the mountains at Christmastime to play carols for townspeople. Berlioz describes the pifferari, as they were known in Rome, and surmises that the tradition must have survived from antiquity:

“Equipped with bagpipes and pifferi (a kind of oboe), they come to perform devout concerts in front of images of the Madonna. They usually wear broad coats of brown cloth, and the same pointed hats worn by brigands; their appearance has a kind of wild mysticism which is full of originality….The bagpipe, supported by a large piffero which sounds the bass, plays a harmony of two or three notes, over which a medium length piffero performs the melody. Then on top of it all two small and very short pifferi, played by children of 12 to 15 years, rain down trills and cadences and bathe the rustic melody with a cascade of exotic ornaments. After cheerful and jolly tunes which are repeated at great length, a slow and solemn prayer, full of patriarchal warmth, brings the naive symphony to a worthy conclusion…”

Bach immortalizes this folk tradition in the opening “Sinfonia” of Part II of his 1734/35 Weihnachts-Oratorium (Christmas Oratorio). This serene tone painting is written in the form of a “concerto a due cori,” utilizing the lilting, dotted 12/8 rhythm of the pastoral Siciliana. Violins and flutes set the scene of a starry night in the hills around Bethlehem, while the shepherds and their flocks are depicted by a chorus of low-pitched Baroque oboes: two oboes d’amore pitched a minor third lower than the soprano oboe, and two oboes da caccia pitched a fifth lower.

Though the oboe d’amore, a slightly larger version of the modern oboe with a more tranquil sound, saw a minor resurgence in compositional interest in the early 20th century, the oboe da caccia fell so quickly and so greatly into disuse after the Baroque era that even modern musical scholars didn’t really know what the instrument looked or sounded like until 1973, when two original Baroque instruments were discovered in Scandinavian museums.

Seen in the photo here, the oboe da caccia (played here by Alan Paul of San Francisco) features a leather-covered, curved wooden body with a flaring brass bell at the end, combining the two specialties of famed Leipzig instrument maker Johann H. Eichentopf, who is credited with the instrument’s invention. It is believed that the brass bell, which makes the instrument sound like a hunting horn, inspired its name (literally “hunting oboe” in Italian). It was, however, never used to hunt, and unlike other wind and brass instruments, had no real folk, military or court predecessor.

Alan_Paul_Oboe_da_Caccia

The oboes da caccia crafted today are all copies of the two that survived from the 18th century, both made by Eichentopf, and its usage is limited almost entirely to the repertoire of the great Baroque composers of Leipzig, such as Bach and Telemann.

For a special treat, listen to Baroque oboist and oboe maker Sand Dalton play the instrument solo:

Christmas Presence by Pepper Choplin

Thank you for listening to my new cantata. I devote so many hours to projects like this, but it’s all worth it to know that you are singing and sharing my music with your people.

We’ve all experienced someone’s presence. We’ve all felt their absence. Being present is very powerful. Being absent is just as powerful.

Christmas Presence explores this power as it impacts this season. Here is how each piece contributes to the message:

  • “The World Awaits Your Coming” — As the people of the earth feel the power of hate and war, we long for the Lord to live among us and bring a new Kingdom of peace and love. Here, we sing of the expectation and joy of the Lord’s presence.
  • “We Are Here, God is Here” — We experience the miracle of worship as we become aware of “God With Us.” The piece is meant to express a sense of power and mystery.
  • “Tiny Miracle” — Everyone gets excited about welcoming a new baby into the world. With energy and delight, we celebrate the coming of the holy Child.
  • “Angels Came to Earth One Night” — In the peacefulness of the fields, the shepherds are suddenly visited by a heavenly presence. Imagine their new sense of hope as the angels come to them. The music suggests the comfort and the celebration of the angels’ message.
  • “Call of the Magi” — The Magi could have seen the star and simply recorded the event. Instead, they made a difficult journey to simply BE in the presence of the newborn King. Here, I borrowed a tune usually meant for the angels to help us follow the Magi to the holy Child.
  • “Still They Are Here” — Presence and absence are felt most powerfully when we think of our loved ones. I wanted to help you acknowledge and minister to hearts who need comfort during the season. Later in the piece, the text says, “When we share with others all the love they showed us, still they are here.”
  • “Hope, Love, and Joy to the World (Be a Christmas Presence)” — My wife Heather said, “Yes, this is all great, but then we need to become the Christmas presence in the world. We need to BE the presence of hope, love, and joy where they are absent.” I used a lesser-known traditional tune to send our people forth with a fresh desire to share the presence of the Lord.
  • “Go Tell It Where I Send Thee” — And then comes a final “sending out” song. You may choose to sing it after your benediction. Question: “Where shall I send thee?” Answer: “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere!”

 

by Pepper Choplin

Choplin Pepper_CMYK 300dpi

About Pepper Choplin

Pepper Chopin currently has over two hundred anthems in addition to seven choral musicals. His musical experiences range from church musician to theme park entertainer. He has performed musical styles from rock to classical to bluegrass. Pepper leads events throughout the country as composer, clinician, conductor and entertainer. Audiences respond with laughter and with tears as he conducts and sings his unique mix of inspirational and humorous music in churches and conferences.

Behold, A Savior by Jay Rouse and Rose Aspinall

We are delighted to bring Behold, A Savior! to you—delighted. We are storytellers; Jay with his piano, Rose with her pen. Our hope is that what we set down on paper, be it words or musical notations, will have a life beyond our vision.

 

We always strive to be servants of the work. This creative act is our annunciation. In this way, we keep Jesus alive in our hearts. But once we send it out into the world, it’s yours. It no longer depends on our piano and pen. It depends on you. We give this to you with a prayer. May He be born in you. May you become ever more alive in Him. And then, tell the story, His story and your story. Tell it in your own way. Tell it again and again and again.

 

Creating a new work has its own journey. This one is no different. As we talked through our thoughts for Behold, A Savior!, our desire was to create a collection that would serve you in multiple ways. We wanted to provide fresh arrangements of your favorite Christmas songs, as well as give you some beautiful, new original songs.

 

We wanted a work that offered you the option of meaningful and accessible dramatic moments without making them intrinsic to its performance. We realized that this could be a bit of a challenge. We’re happy with what developed, and we hope you will be too. So, in that light…

 

Need music to carry you over the Advent season? You’ll find it in this work.

It’s the first Sunday of Advent and you need a moment for the Prophesy candle during the lighting of your Advent wreath. You can easily present “O Come, Emmanuel, Rejoice!” along with the short Zechariah monologue either as a dramatic reading or with an actor in costume. There are equally appropriate moments for the Bethlehem candle, the Shepherd candle, and the Angel candle too.

Maybe your time is limited and you only want to read the scripture that ties to the song. That’s there for you too. You choose.

 

Need a whole piece to present for a special event?

This collection covers the broad sweep of the Christmas story with all its glory, as well as its most tender and intimate moments. We have provided an optional opening and closing narration for your pastor or lay person that will create a space for an altar call if you should choose to offer one.

 

Do you have a few good actors that would love to present a short monologue?

Adding dramatic moments without committing to a full-fledged production is easy with this work and can add another layer to your production. Monologues can be presented in Reader’s Theatre fashion if you want to forego costumes and memorization.

No matter how you choose to present Behold, A Savior!, if Christ is glorified, we will have accomplished our goal.

-Jay Rouse and Rose Aspinall

 

Rouse Jay_300 cmykAbout Jay Rouse

Jay Rouse is one of the premier choral arrangers in Christian music. He has over three hundred and fifty compositions and arrangements published, including over thirty major sacred choral works and fifty best-selling a cappella arrangements. Rouse is a Dove Award winning producer and has logged many hours on the road traveling in the music ministry. He spent over ten years as musical director and accompanist for Sandi Patty. Rouse continues to make a major impact on music for the church musician across the nation.

 

 

Rose-Aspinall 300dpi CMYKAbout Rose Aspinall:

Rose M. Aspinall is a writer living in small town, USA, Alexandria, Indiana, better known as the home of Bill and Gloria Gaither. At the end of 1983, she and her husband and children moved from Ohio to join the Gaither organization. She has now been part of the music industry for more than three decades. Twenty of those years she headed up the print-on-demand division of PraiseGathering Music Group.
Moving over to the creative side of the business in 2009, she now works as a freelance writer, lending her talents as a lyricist for top industry arrangers and publishing companies while continuing to serve as writer and associate producer for original PraiseGathering publications. She is also responsible for all dramatic scripts, producing and editing blog content, social media, and copy.
Active both on and off the stage in local community and church theater productions, Rose is an accomplished actress and gifted communicator. She often brings her written scripts to life on the conference stage. Her deep interest in the arts as it relates to the church is abundantly evident in her writing. Her great passion is redemption and restoration through storytelling.

She and her husband, Mark, are the parents of two grown daughters and the grandparents of six!

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