'tis the season
most public school band programs in these parts follow the same floor plan. hit the football field early and often with your marching band, try to mix in some seated band time, whip your kids into all-state shape, transition to pep band, throw together some holiday tunes for a christmas show and, once the weather turns bad, start pounding away at the jazz band set list. festivals and contests abound early in the calendar year, and requests for clinics and guest solo spots nip at an educator's heels. the art of judging has a relatively simple balance - constructive comments with a positive spin, easy solutions for common issues, suggestions for improvement in the rhythm section and improvisations - all while monitoring your caffeine intake so you can stay energized and alert while not coming off as psychotic. a friend of mine referenced these gatherings as the "jazz wars".
i had the tv on in the hotel room while i got dressed for yet another day of adjudicating. as i made repeated attempts to find the right length for my tie, i watched a news blip about some famous couple that recently acquired a newborn baby. the breaking scandal was about their declaration to put their marriage first, and then deal with the baby second. the expected immediate outrage was met with justifications of providing a comfortable home environment for the baby. i suppose both sides of this argument hold water, but the answer is probably found in a balance of the two ideals.
the tanned couple and their airborne kid were on my mind while i weighed in on the 4A bands that took the stage. the age old dilemma of programming sat in the front of my brain while i muttered into a voice recorder and juggled numbers. what type of repertoire should these bands be playing? how heavily should i consider that when listening to them? on the judge sheet, only 10 of the 100 points allotted dealt with tune selection. did i like the material, believe the program to be varied enough, and did the music suit the ensemble? these seem like big questions, so why are they only worth 10%?
as a large ensemble director, i know that there are several factors that go into choosing tunes. you gotta have personnel that can handle the charts, including rhythm section players and soloists that can make something happen. you want to play songs that are historically relevant but also expose the kids to modern developments in this medium. you need to address the ever-present politics in the band; working with graduating seniors and promising freshmen and kids that are busy with other conflicting activities. none of this goes in the written program per se, but every director knows the score.
if you play all classic tunes, you aren't turning the kids onto new stuff. if you play only contemporary works, you are denying them the opportunity to learn the standard repertoire. if you decide to split it 50/50, you risk arbitrarily conceding with the real possibility of pleasing nobody. you could do a themed concert (the music of so-and-so), but that might not fly at a competition. and if you don't succeed at competitions, the perception may become that you lead a mediocre program. this becomes a ridiculous juggling act...
i've picked four tunes for the next jazz band concert. we are lucky to have percussionist arthur lipner joining us, so i've tried to select material that will work harmoniously (see what i did there?) we are playing down by the riverside, a cool oliver nelson arrangement from the jimmy smith/wes montgomery "dynamic duo" album. we'll do the basie classic moten swing up against lipner's calypso arrangement of st. thomas, and finish things off with bob curnow's popular treatment of the metheny tune minuano. my soloists can fit into these tunes, i can include two drummers, have enough face in the brass sections to make this work, introduce doubling to the saxophones, and expose my kids to important material.
we cover a wide range of music in my bands. i'm committed to playing stuff that reinforces the principals of good music, acknowledges the past and future of jazz, and hits the trifecta - an important song, a reputable arranger, and/or an outstanding composer. which of these three is most valuable? i'll follow the sage parenting advice of stephen colbert. inform your kids that you've picked a favorite amongst them, but never tell them who it is. let them fight for your favor.
Posted by mg at 6:20 AM