Exciting and Diverse Music for Marching Bands

Mike Lawson • Archives • May 19, 2011

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Band directors are always on the hunt for new and refreshing music to add spice and excitement to their programs. This article highlights pieces for marching band that will add flare and diversity to performances and field shows. Included are both new music and some integrated concept field shows. Performances for most of these pieces can be found by searching YouTube.

Part 1: New Music for Marching Band

“Hip to be Square” (Music by Huey Lewis and the News, arr. by Roland Barrett – Alfred Music Publishing)

This energetic rock piece at quarter note=148 in B? major is part of Alfred’s Mega Sounds Series, (grade level 2 1/2-3). This series is scored for two trumpet parts, low brass, and woodwind parts 1 and 2 in both bass and treble clef. An optional alto saxophone part is provided that doubles the low brass and woodwind part 1. This is the perfect series for smaller bands that still want technically challenging arrangements.

This is a stirring new treatment with lots of rhythmic drive and is solidly scored. It has six very active percussion parts with interesting rhythmic fills, and this arrangement displays a lot of unison/octave writing for the band. The strong unison/octave sound adds to maximum projection and ease of performance.

The technical demands are modest for most instruments and the dynamic compass extends from piano to fortissimo. The tuba part is doubled only by the bass drum and requires confident players to bring out this independent part. This vigorous, full-sounding piece has one part written for every instrument except the trumpets, which are written in two parts. An effective middle section provides contrast and relief when the theme is given to the low brass and woodwinds in octaves.

This is a flashy, high-energy piece can be easily learned and will make an effective piece for the field show or in the stands.

“Cuban Coffee” (Music and Arr. by Victor Lopez – Alfred Music Publishing)

Also a part of Alfred’s Mega Sounds Series (grade level 3), “Cuban Coffee” is fiery Latin original at quarter note=120, in C minor.

This tune starts out big and bold and is written in a solid Latin groove with strong, vibrant harmonies. The active “montuno” vamp in the middle section generates tremendous energy and excitement, which allows the low brass and woodwinds to shine forth. The momentum builds in intensity with crisp percussion fills that lead to an uplifting modulation. “Tequila”-type rhythmic figures accompanied by solid moving melodic lines in the horns and alto saxophones lead to this effective modulation. The six percussion parts burst forth during the sudden intermittent breaks in tempo. The instrument ranges are comfortable coupled with ample contrast in scoring as the dynamics range from piano to fortissimo. A melody for two part trumpets, reminiscent of Mariachi-style music, leads back to a full rhythmic ending.

“Cuban Coffee” is an outstanding Latin piece that is both fun to play and exciting to listen to.

“Jump” (Music by Van Halen, arr. by Jay Bocook and Will Rapp – Hal Leonard)

This level 4 piece was recorded by Van Halen in 1984 and made popular again by the TV Series “Glee.”

A pulsating groove – quarter note=120, in the key of B? major – permeates this driving rock piece as the upper brass and woodwinds play short syncopated figures throughout. Continuous eighth notes, occurring in the percussion, baritone horn, tenor sax and upper woodwinds, saturate this piece and keep the music moving steadily forward. Flutes extend to F above the staff, horns to F on the fifth line, and the first trumpet is written to A above the staff. Most parts are in a comfortable range.

This is a solidly scored, stirring piece that will enhance a field show.

Part 2: Integrated Concept Field Shows

“The Rise and Fall of Rome” (Music by Key Paulin, percussion by Leonard Bedoian. www.keypaulin.com)

This grade level-4 production ranges for the trumpet solo up to the D above staff, and for the horns written G above staff. It is divided into three movements:

I.   Chisels and Stone

II.   Catacombs

III.  Pagan Dance and the Great Fire

The piece opens dramatically and forcefully with the sound of workers yelling as they toil on the objects of stone. Short rhythmic hits in the winds combine with energetic percussion that dramatically brings forth a mood of backbreaking work. This movement is loaded with special effects and dissonant textures. The dynamic shadings are very effective and boldly lead to the full and resonant fortisimo section.

“Catacombs” opens in a foreboding and somber mood leading to a mournful solo by the alto saxophone. A fortissimo section fades into a pianissimo to end the movement; as though the exhausted workers completed work for the day.

“Pagan Dance” begins with active percussion in 6/8 meter that leads to a lively melody played by the winds. There is a highly energetic, angular-sounding dance that is reminiscent of Khatchaturian’s “Sabre Dance.” The final section brings forth vocal “yelling” from the band to emulate crowd noises and brings this exciting and crowd-pleasing piece to a close.

“Scenes of Simple Gifts” (Music by Key Paulin, percussion by Jim Casella)

This is another three-movement production for level 4. With variations on the famous Shaker tune, “It’s a Gift to Be Simple,” it ranges for the trumpet up to the C above staff and option G below, and horns written A above staff.

“Purpose” opens with the main theme stated by the woodwinds, and is immediately followed in imitation and diminution, leading to a broad fortissimo section. A pulsating rhythmic section follows leads to a new key a minor third higher. This gives a needed lift to the melody. The movement ends on a sustained, resonant fortissimo chord.

“Passion” now presents the theme in a minor key and again makes use of imitative entrances. The compositional technique of melodic augmentation is effective. After leading to a dramatic fortissimo, the section ends quietly.

“Promise” brings forth active percussion in a 23-measure feature. This is followed by a fanfare leading back to the familiar melody. A grandioso at a fortissimo level concludes this dramatic and colorful piece.

“Bound” (By Ian Groom and John Mapes –pub. Box 6 Productions, box-six.com)

This complete show for levels 5-6 includes full ensemble integration of music, drill and color guard. The piece is in three movements and includes 22 percussion parts and 14 band parts.

Box X Productions’ show includes the following:

PDF files for all movements including full scores, drill scores, battery scores and all individual parts.

High quality MP3 recordings that can be burned to CD for full ensemble as well as percussion only.

MP3 file of all narration and sound effects that can be entered into a sampler.

Personal web page with a username and password to access all the unit’s information.

This piece ranges from C above staff with optional A below for trumpet, B? two octaves above staff for flutes, and written F fifth line on staff for horns. The mallet percussion parts are particularly challenging.

From the physical bonds in the first movement, the emotional bonds of the second movement, and the common bonds of the third, “Bound” is a production that hits many tiers of the intellectual scale. The verve and precision of the large percussion section must be maintained throughout.

A superbly executed performance of “Bound” by the Chino Hills High School Marching Band is available on YouTube.

The numerous variations in moods are striking and the rhythmic figures are reminiscent of “West Side Story.” This impressive field show sets a mood, follows a theme, and integrates all of these into a well-produced field spectacle. This impressive production will be challenging for many bands, but it will add a new dimension and a contemporary visual impact to one’s marching band shows.

“Beyond the Forest’s Edge” (by John Fannin, www.johnfanninmusic.com)

This is a modern version of “Little Red Riding Hood” suitable for grade levels 3-5. Little Red Riding Hood is depicted by the woodwinds and melodic percussion; the wolf and the hunter are represented by the brass and battery percussion. Sound effects are an integral part of this production and are available. Included are a narration, ideas for props, guard ideas as well as other visual suggestions. Trumpet ranges up to the written C above staff with optional G below, horns to the written F on the top line.

Movement I begins in a light, airy, and playful mood – not knowing what lies ahead. This tension is reinforced by antiphonal effects between the soloists and the band. Numerous pedal-points are used underneath to enhance the suspenseful moods.

Movement II brings forth the beauty of the forest, as Red explores all the new and unusual sights. Bold, dramatic scoring leads to a warm, mellow texture that is layered with sound effects. The composer cleverly quotes “Over the River and Through the Woods” throughout the piece, presenting the theme in augmentation, diminution, and truncated forms.

Movement III is entitled “Good vs Evil and the Lessons Learned.” Dissonant textures depicting danger and anticipation of trouble ahead are used antiphonally between the Wolf and Red. The dramatic intensity continues as the plot unfolds. Again the “Over the River” is reintroduced, this time in three-quarter time. This adds a pleasant touch and a needed change of pace. A very full and pulsating dark section builds in intensity and brings this exciting production to a close. This piece has considerable theatrical and musical appeal and will bring a crowd to its feet!

“Phobias” (by John Fannin)

This concept show for grade level 3 or 4 has a dark, evil edge. The production explores the many common phobias that most humans have. The music addresses the following fears: spiders, snakes, water, being alone, public places, performance, loud noises, fire, and heights. Optional vocals add a tinge of haunting color to the piece. Pedal-points are used with regularity to anchor the sound and increase the tension as the production unfolds.

This piece begins with a dramatic section where the band shouts in unison. Each phobia is presented with its own special melody, and harmonic and rhythmic underpinning. The dynamic shadings add just the correct amount of color to the spicy dissonances.

In an unusual touch, in the middle of Movement I, the trumpet and piano play a melody that is reminiscent of a Jewish Hora. The numerous mood changes from one phobia to another are skillfully handled, and the xylophone player must be able to execute scales with skillful accuracy.

The third movement brings forth a funky bass line with a Latin feel. Rhythmic excitement builds as the “fear of notes” (performance) continues and the piece ends on a thunderous fortissimo. This is a very interesting show that has the potential to delight an audience.

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