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A sound investment: four steps to quality wind repertoire selection.

Every music educator embarks on a unique musical journey that includes lifelong professional learning and evolving expertise. Each of us possesses a distinctive set of musical skills and experiences and every teaching situation includes a range of challenges that are often unparalleled. Consequently, there will never be one perfect answer to creating the ideal music program. However, it is our hope that our combined sixty years of practical hands-on experience with wind band pedagogy, conducting and the ongoing search for quality meaningful repertoire will offer some practical suggestions for repertoire selection for instrumental band teachers within their first five years of teaching or those educators who are new to the genre or are beginning to work with a different level of instrumental musicians.

I Diagnosis: Under the Magnifying Glass

To select repertoire for your class or ensemble successfully, some quick informal diagnostic testing is essential, as it will guide you in making appropriate choices when matching the level of musical development to selections that will build upon their skills. You may be a new instrumental teacher in a school with a history of music making and traditions of which you should be aware. It would be helpful to find out about the history of the ensemble's past. What kind of music did the previous teacher select for this ensemble? How many concerts did they play through the school year? Did they participate in various music festivals (i.e. Kiwanis, MusicFest, Wonderland) or Honour ensembles? Also, is there is a network of music teachers in your school board who might offer some perspective on what musical activities have happened in the past? You may have other goals for the music program but having this understanding will help build upon the strengths of the past and carefully transition toward the future.

As well, you may have students in the class who have been drawn from many different feeder programs and have developed a wide range of playing abilities in their first few years of performance. Finding out about their musical experiences at their previous schools will also help develop an understanding of their level of musical confidence in performance. Did the feeder schools produce musicals, participate in festivals, and/or perform in the community?

Clearly, diagnostic assessment needs to happen very quickly and in an inviting atmosphere so students will be uninhibited and able to perform in a way that allows you to make informed decisions. Playbacks where the teacher performs a short excerpt and the students play back as a large group, a small group and then individually, can quickly indicate tone quality, pitch, articulation and rhythmic accuracy. You will also soon discover faulty embouchures, poor posture or questionable hand and arm positions. This will lead you to identify not only specific ensemble strengths and weaknesses, but also the abilities of various instrument groupings (upper woodwinds, lower woodwinds or trumpets, low brass, percussion). You may also choose to have the students perform a few selections they have prepared in the past to further inform your diagnostic assessment of their levels of technical and musical ability. You may have a strong group of clarinets that are ready for more challenging music but have trumpets that cannot play above a treble c!

As you become more familiar with your new ensemble, other characteristics should be apparent. How quickly does the group absorb new concepts? What is their energy level? What community culture do you see in the ensemble (i.e., collaborative, competitive, confident, tentative)? Are you able to push their performance standard or do they require repertoire that takes more time, to build their confidence and reinforce their level of playing? Do you need to maintain a quick pace to keep them engaged? Finally, what are the instrumental numbers in the various sections and is the ensemble balanced? Only in an auditioned group might you have the luxury of a balanced ensemble. So many of us have dealt with huge numbers of saxophones and flutes, few trumpets and no tuba, but somehow you are charged with making this work!

II Goal Setting: Planning with the End in Mind

With an informed diagnostic assessment of your ensemble, setting realistic individual and ensemble musical goals will help formulate both short and long range plans to further develop your students' musicianship and playing technique (assessment for learning). A literacy strategy that we have found useful is the exercise of creating a Venn diagram. On one side you guide your students to brainstorm realistic year-end musical goals for the ensemble and on the other side, brainstorm for possible individual year-end musical goals. Teacher input is also needed to temper the ensemble's desires with reality. This would be followed by a collaborative selection of realistic musical goals for both the ensemble and the individual, and what commonalities they share. The student-created (and teacher-guided) list needs to be easily visible in the classroom for easy reference. This activity will help keep students focused on mutual goals and will ensure both student and ensemble ownership (assessment for, and as learning).

Balancing the schedule of school events, concerts, festivals and possible trips, requires the thoughtful selection of repertoire that will ensure opportunities for musical growth. Furthermore, you want to find music that will keep your students engaged and motivated, while always being mindful of the specific elements with which you want to challenge them. Developing an understanding of characteristic tone quality, mixed meters, various keys, modes, dynamic range, interesting harmonies and textures, and increasing knowledge of important wind band composers are all considerations for a current school year, spiraling into a possible three or four year long-term plan.

There may be selections that demand more time to refine and "polish". Perhaps it will be a challenging piece for a festival that needs a live performance to give the players an opportunity to assess and reflect how they need to improve various elements of their own performance skills. Creating this opportunity empowers the students to begin setting goals for improving elements in their own playing.

Ensuring a sense of ongoing success helps to maintain the students' ability to continue their musical journey and to improve their playing skills. Balancing challenging works with shorter pieces containing beautiful melodies, interesting rhythms, and harmonies will give a sense of accomplishment by keeping young musicians motivated.

III Repertoire Search: For discriminating eyes, ears, minds and hearts

"Music of high quality need not be music of high complexity" Bennett Reimer

When searching for quality concert band and wind repertoire, it is important to understand that musical works do not always need to be the most complex ones in order to be meaningful or challenging. As music educators, we must discriminate with our eyes, ears, minds and hearts. Eric Whitacre's band transcription of his poignant choral work, Lux Aurumque, was one of our respective wind ensembles' favourite work, simply because of its beauty and depth--the harmonic suspensions and resolutions, the timbres and textures that were created and experienced, and the mood that can be invoked by the music. Rhythmically challenging? No. Musically challenging? Yes. Emotionally rich and charged? Absolutely! It spoke to the students' intuitive sense of beauty and it touched their hearts. "It is the professional and artistic responsibility of the music director to carefully study, assess and select appropriate quality repertoire for their band program." (Jagow, 2007, p. 192)

The authors suggest taking time to listen to repertoire and to read numerous scores. The effort it takes to select quality repertoire for the upcoming school year is well worth it. Of course there are some standard 'gems' that have stood the test of time (for all Levels B100 - B600) that should be included in your long-range repertoire planning, but do consider the following in your search:

a) Musical skills needed

* Is the music somewhat 'sight-readable'? (If it's incredibly difficult at the outset, your ensemble will get very discouraged.)

* Do most (if not all) instruments have interesting parts to play (rhythmically, melodically, musically), or is one particular section in the concert band featured?

* Is the range for each instrument in your ensemble appropriate at this time in their musical development (i.e. clarinet crossing the break, range of trumpet 1)?

* Are the percussion parts interesting and suitable for the number of ensemble members in the section?

* Do the individual parts sound a little harder than they actually are? (This scenario can be a good thing.) Is the music in a suitable key?

* Do you predict that the harmonic progressions in the work might pose intonation challenges for the ensemble? (many P4ths, 5ths, +7ths, chord complexity)

* Are there solo opportunities in the work that could feature some of your more advanced musicians? (Differentiated instruction through content)

* Are parts doubled effectively? Are the levels of the parts differentiated? (i.e. Clarinet 1,2,3)

* Is the ensemble emotionally ready for the spirit of the work?

b) Compositional depth and interest

* Are there rich melodic, rhythmic, harmonic or textural concepts present in the work to capture the interest of your ensemble?

* Does the orchestration create interesting timbres and textures that can be explored?

* Is the form and structure of the work interesting in its design and shape? Does it balance contrast and repetition?

* Is there an element of humour or unpredictability in the work?

* Are there opportunities for expressive playing?

* Could you explore the use of harmony and harmonic progressions in the music?

c) Teaching concepts explored

* Is the work rich in musical concepts that you can teach (i.e. time signatures, rhythms, form, melodic writing) and does it have strong educational value?

* Could you explore the characteristics of music of another culture in your selection?

* Does the work enable you to work on musicality (i.e. dynamics, phrasing) or to refine intonation in its study?

* Does it enable you to explore wind music of different genres and historical periods (i.e. military band music, Broadway musicals, orchestral transcriptions, original wind literature, jazz, 21st century techniques)

* Does the selection provide your instrumentalists with musical techniques that are new and interesting? (chance music, serialism, graphic notation interpretation)

* Can you address various overall and specific music expectations in the learning of this repertoire?

d) Practical applications

* How much rehearsal time can be devoted to the learning of this piece? Is it an adequate amount of time for peak performance?

* Can you provide the opportunity for scaffolding or chunking the learning so that your musicians feel an ongoing sense of accomplishment?

* Will this work be performed on a specific occasion? Is it suitable for Remembrance Day, a specific cultural event, a celebration, a festival or a seasonal concert, or is it solely a teaching selection?

* Could this repertoire choice fill a programmatic need and does it have possible audience appeal?

* Will it peak your ensemble's interest?

* Would your students be offered some choice (differentiation in product) in the selection of the particular work (i.e. pre-select two or three selections, and have them choose from them)

* Does this piece offer variety in your programming? Have you asked for recommendations from master music educators who you respect?

IV Useful Resources: Surrounding yourself with quality music educators, musicians, composers and publishers

A wealth of resources is available in our music stores, on the Internet and in our concert halls. Just as we carefully plan our classroom lessons, we must also do some longrange planning and researching of suitable repertoire for our various ensembles. Below is a list of resources we have both found helpful to guide our decision-making.

Print Resources

* Teaching Music through Performance in Band (Miles, Richard) Volumes 1-9 (GIA Music, Chicago)

* The Best Music for Beginning Band, Young Band, High School Band, and Chorus and Winds series (Manhattan Beach)

* Various music journals: The Recorder (OMEA), Canadian Music Educator (CME), Canadian Winds, Music Educators' Journal (National Association for Music Education, USA), The Instrumentalist

* Various provincial band association websites

Festival Lists

* OBA - Ontario Band Association - Festival Lists

* MusicFest Canada Festival Lists that document participating schools' repertoire selection by grade level

* State (USA) Festival Lists

Music Retailers and Publishers

* There are vast arrays of promotional materials from various publishers available in many music stores such as:

Harknett Music, St. John's Music, Cosmo Music, Long and McQuade

* There are also many concert band reading sessions offered usually scheduled during the month of August (check the websites of various Ontario music industry retailers). These retailers often employ concert band specialists who can help guide you to quality repertoire.

* Place your name on various wind publishers mailing lists.

* Familiarize yourself with publishers and their respective composers.

* Take the time to look at publishers and music outside of Canada and the USA (DeHaske Music, Amstel Music, Gramercy Music, Anglo Music)

* Take time to peruse and listen to selections from various publishing sites:


Ontario Band Association - Canadian Band College Band Directors National Association (USA) British Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles (U.K.) World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles


* Listen to recordings of Professional Wind Ensembles (i.e. Tokyo Kosei Wind Ensemble, Eastman Wind Ensemble, Cleveland Symphonic Winds) and prominent Military Bands

* Attend University Concert Band or Wind Ensemble performances (i.e. U of T, York, Queens, Western, McMaster, Wilfrid Laurier)

* Community Concert Band concert series (i.e. Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra, Toronto Wind Orchestra, Mississauga Pops, Northdale Concert Band)

* University and College Workshops

* Provincial workshops (i.e. OBA - Beginning Band, Jazz, Wind Conducting)

* Provincial, National or International Conferences (OMEA, Midwest Band Clinic, MENC)

* Wind conductors in neighbouring schools and boards

* Various Board music teachers' associations and workshops

The time you spend in your quest for quality wind repertoire that meets the unique needs of your students will be truly rewarding! Not only will your instrumental program and music curriculum be enriched, it will also provide deeper and lasting musical experiences for your students (and you). Furthermore, your own enthusiasm and passion for the selections you make will truly resonate with your students. Over time, you will not only have built a quality library which will be a great resource for the future, but you will have made a 'sound investment' in your students' musical futures and lifelong appreciation and passion for music.


Jagow, S. (2007). Teaching Instrumental Music: Developing the Complete Band Program. Maryland: Meredith Music Publications

Pearson, B. & Nowlin, P. (2011). Teaching Band with Excellence: A Comprehensive Curricular Pedagogical Administrative Resource. California: Kjos Music Press

Rush, S. (2006). Habits of a Successful Band Director: Pitfalls and Solutions (Revised Edition). Illinois: GIA Publication
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Author:Kahro, Susan Barber; Fratia, Mary Ann
Publication:The Recorder (OMEA)
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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