Although the weather man may tell us that fall has officially just begun, for most community ensembles the fall season is well under way. If the fall concert isn’t scheduled for October, it will be in early November at the latest. Before we know it the Christmas concert will be on the horizon. It may even be time to plan and select the repertoire for the spring.
Ah, the repertoire, what is it? That very academic sounding word conjures up many different images for many of us. Is it the next concert program, the music that’s in the rehearsal folder, what’s in the band’s library or ...? The Oxford dictionary defines repertoire as a stock of works that a performer knows or is prepared to perform. Webster defines it similarly. In other words, it isn’t all of that material in the band library that hasn’t seen the light of day for years. It’s the music that the band would be capable of performing with some reasonable rehearsal time.
For most bands, the die is cast for any performances bwetween now and the new year. What about music for 2013? Will it be the same old reliable chestnuts that are rotated regularly between the library and the rehearsal folder, or will there be some new material? For me, this triggers two potentially controversial questions. Who decides what should be in the library, what should be in the rehearsal folder and who plans the programs? My experience is that band members rarely have much say in concert programming. More about that later. Let’s start with the library and then the rehearsal folder.
What should be in a band library? Just about every band has its stock of hackneyed or over performed works, the names of which don’t warrant repeating here; we all know which ones fall into that category. Give them a rest. Put them in retirement for a year or more.
So, here’s where we are asking for reader participation. We are asking you to tell us what you would like to have in your band’s library. We hope to put on The WholeNote website a suggested possible basic library. As a starter, I have come up with 16 categories, with one or two examples of what I consider to be worthwhile repertoire in each category. (Feel free to disagree!) In any case, I invite you to send me your suggestions for what (else) you think should be included in a basic band library. If you have any new categories to suggest, please do so.
Here’s my “Better Band Library” starter kit:
- Suites for concert band: Holst Suite in E-Flat, Vaughan Williams Folk Song Suite.
- Concert overtures: Egmont Overture.
- Overtures to operas and operettas: Poet and Peasant, Light Cavalry.
- Broadway and London musicals: Oliver, Annie.
- Parade marches: The Middy, Invercargill.
- Concert marches: Pentland Hills, Colonel Bogey on Parade.
- Big band era arrangements: Big Band Favorites, Swinging Songs of Yesterday.
- Canadian:Calvert’s Suite on Canadian Folk Songs.
- Traditional: Grundman’s An Irish Rhapsody, Nestico’s All Through the Night.
- Arrangements of operatic solos: Nessun Dorma.
- Latin: Cha Cha for Band, Blue Tango.
- Gentle calming: Ashokan Farewell, Frank Ericson’s Air for Band.
- Arrangements associated with particular performers: As Performed by Sinatra or Eubie.
- Film scores: Titanic.
- TV scores:Mission Impossible.
- Novelty numbers: Lassus Trombone, Bugler’s Holiday.
While many bands perform concerts with choirs and/or vocal soloists, there really is no significant recognized repertoire for such combinations. For now we will not include such categories in our basic library.
The rehearsal folder: So, now that we have our basic library, what should be in our rehearsal folder? Should the rehearsal folder only contain music that is being prepared for performance, or should there be some good rigorous material for the sole purpose of challenging the band members? Each such number could remain in the folder for a few weeks and then be replaced with something new. For some years, I have been playing regularly in a smaller group with a very extensive library. The contents of the rehearsal folder are constantly changing. At any time it contains about half old material and half new. Not a rehearsal goes by without at least one number never seen before and others that haven’t been looked at for a long time. The result is that everyone’s sight reading skills remain well honed. Certainly, some of the material may never be performed for an audience, but it serves a good purpose. I would suggest that it would be worthwhile for a band to have in its rehearsal folder at least one such number at all times with some regular rotation, say once a month. This should help to keep everyone’s reading skills at a consistently good level. Most of us don’t aspire to be renowned virtuosos, but we all enjoy the satisfaction of having played our part of that good music well.
Program selection: Who should have a say in program selection? In most cases this is the sole prerogative of the conductor with some input from the librarian. Who are the other parties whose preferences could, and perhaps should, be considered? Put another way, we might ask for whom is the concert planned? Is it primarily to please the audience, band members, the conductor or, even possibly, sponsors? I would like to suggest that band members should have a greater voice in programming. For most, they play in a band for the personal satisfaction of making music with other like-minded individuals. I would like to see a movement to campaign for band members to have a greater say in the planning of programs. Without their regular participation and devotion, the band would cease to exist. Get band members involved in programming. Even before that, start with the decision of what should go into a rehearsal folder.
Now that we have a library and a rehearsal folder, how about selecting a program. What are the capabilities of the band members who have to perform the material? If your band doesn’t have a hot shot bassoonist at the present time, obviously you don’t include anything with an important bassoon part. If it’s a minor part, some other instrument can play the cues to ensure that the part isn’t missing completely. As for solo parts within selections, who gets to play them? In many bands, the longest serving member in the section automatically gets the nod even though other members of the section may be equally capable, if not more so. Seniority of membership is not necessarily synonymous with level of musicianship. In some bands of my acquaintance, solo excerpts are shared by all section members unless some do not wish to be included. That’s another way to foster proficiency and build confidence.
In recent years many bands have taken to producing concerts with a “theme.” Perhaps it was all music of the movies, disasters, space exploration or something else? Is this what your audiences enjoy? Why not ask them to complete a survey form at intermission?
Do your audiences really enjoy such additions as video excerpts and slide shows or do they feel that this detracts from the musical performance? Put another way, is your band staging a multimedia presentation or a musical concert? What would the band members prefer?
With all of that, who gets to make the decision of what to include in a program? Why not prepare a questionnaire for members to complete? Certainly, some just want to come to the rehearsal and then go home, but others might just have some ideas with merit. I might even suggest a programming committee from within the band. Naturally, in the end, the final decision must rest with the conductor, but let band members provide some creative input.
That’s my two cents worth: Let’s have your comments along with selections to be included in The WholeNote basic library.
This month’s lesser known musical term is Vibratto: child prodigy son of the concertmaster. We invite submissions from readers. Let’s hear your daffynitions.
Coming events: Please see the listings section for full details.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.