Posts Tagged 'Band'

Alex Shapiro: Making Her Own Rules

AlexShapiro

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).

LightsOut

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.

AlexShapiro2.jpg

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.

Series Spotlight: Teaching Music through Performance

Teaching Music through Performance is a best-selling series of books and CDs that are theoretical, practical, and analytical. Written, researched, and compiled by scholars with a wealth of teaching and conducting experience, this series enables conductors,  educators, and students to move beyond the printed page toward full musical awareness. Sheet Music Plus had the opportunity to learn from the publisher what inspired the creation of the series.

1. When was the Teaching Music through Performance series developed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first edition of Volume 1 was for band and was released at the Midwest Clinic in 1997. This year, 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the series.  The Teaching Music through Performance series now includes 26 volumes, 16 for band, three for jazz, three for orchestra, and four for choir. In addition, each volume has accompanying CDs.

Continue reading ‘Series Spotlight: Teaching Music through Performance’

Why Supporting Local Music Matters

Not only is it back to school season, it’s also the time of year when local symphonies and bands, both professional and community, begin their new seasons. Orchestras and bands exist in all 50 states and nearly every community. The Performing Arts Alliance estimates that there are approximately 1800 orchestras alone in the United States, including professional, paid orchestras, volunteer orchestras, collegiate orchestras, and youth orchestras. Do you have an orchestra or band in your community? If you don’t know, it is very likely that there is at least one in your town or county. During the 2014-2015 performance season, we challenge you to go to at least one concert of a local community group, and here’s why:

Community music groups are great for local economies. How many times have you and your friends or family gone out for dinner before or after a sports game or important school function? Musical performances encourage spending at local restaurants, parking facilities, shops and more.

Music organizations create jobs – and not just for the musicians. Depending on the size of the group, it may have an executive director, a marketing team, a personnel manager and music librarian, just to name a few. Even small community groups will require stage crew at venues, box office attendants, and ushers to distribute programs.

Orchestras and bands play an important role in music education and community engagement. Musicians from these groups will often visit local schools and provide educational assemblies, instrument petting zoos, and even coachings on their instruments to students in the music program. Some groups give free performances or open rehearsals in senior living centers, or free, family friendly concerts in local parks. Even the country’s most esteemed musical organizations perform special concerts for children and families. For example, the San Francisco Symphony recently performed live music from several Pixar movies with clips and memorable scenes playing in the background.

To reach a wider audience, orchestras and bands have expanded their musical selections beyond the traditional repertoire. Not everyone finds the standard Bach, Beethoven or Brahms appealing, and there is a lot of great music for orchestra and band from the movies and even video games. So, if you aren’t a particular fan of classical music, look up your local group’s programming for the season and select a concert to attend that will interest you.

This only scratches the surface of the many reasons it is important and FUN to support local music. If we are preaching to the choir and you already do support local music, share this with your friends! Invite them to a concert. Ask them to attend one of your performances. Attend a concert with them – make it an event and go out to dinner before or dessert after. We want everyone to attend one local music concert this season! Lastly, please chime in with reasons why and how you support music in your community.

The Ultimate Guide to Concert Band Repertoire 1.0

By Zachariah Friesen

Behold, the school year approaches! If you haven’t already picked your music here are some suggestions that should help you find the right mixes of challenging and fun music, as well as old and new music, to fill out your concert programs for the upcoming school year and strengthen your library. To help guide you through the suggestions, publisher names are in parenthesis and the “(y)“ signifies titles appropriate for young bands.

An American Elegy - Frank Ticheli

An American Elegy – Frank Ticheli

Michael Colgrass - Winds of Nagual

Michael Colgrass – Winds of Nagual

Michael Daugherty - Lost Vegas

Michael Daugherty – Lost Vegas

Astor Piazolla - Oblivion

Astor Piazolla – Oblivion

Persichetti - Symphony for Band

Persichetti – Symphony for Band

Huntsberger - Tocatta & Fugue in D Minor

Hunsberger – Tocatta & Fugue in D Minor

If you didn’t already know, select concert band full sets and method books are currently on sale at Sheet Music Plus – 20% off. Shop the sale →

Onward with The Ultimate Guide to Concert Band Repertoire 1.0!

Here are our recommendations of composers/arrangers you should know. All of the recommendations below present a wide range of material that is very suitable for any band:

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Frank Ticheli  (Manhattan Beach Music) Frank Ticheli has been at the top of his game for a long time now. There’s always a good story behind his pieces and playing his music is just really fun. SMP recommends: Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Guide to Concert Band Repertoire 1.0’


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Thought-provoking articles by musicians for musicians, music lovers or those that want to learn more about it!

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