Tasting New Music

Mike Lawson • Archives • December 18, 2007

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I am sure we can all remember our parents urging us to try new foods. For most of us, there was always resistance often we would take a bite of the food and not really give it a chance to be truly tasted before rejecting it.

In the musical world, students often become similarly narrow-minded in their choices of music. Syndicated radio programs, along with stations owned by mega-corporations, tend to choose their music based upon statistics and demographics, and therefore only serve up an extremely limited spectrum within just a few genres, including top 40, classic rock, oldies, and not much else. Even some of the few remaining classical music radio stations stay within the boundaries of a limited selection of well-traveled repertoire. As we browse the vast aisles of CDs and iTunes for music, we tend to stay within the comfort zone of what we know. So how are we to expose our students to new and interesting musical experiences to help them broaden their interests?

Within this issue, Joel Smales provides a practical recipe for letting students “taste” the music they are learning as they are filtering into the classroom. The kids will hear the balance of the ensemble, dynamics, articulation, and rhythmic accuracy, which may help them internalize the sound and perhaps strive for a higher standard in their own playing. His suggestion is that students also should have listening assignments that go along with the repertoire that is currently being performed. Additionally, a good case could be made for exposing students to a wide variety of music as they are entering the band room, which could range from Coltrane and Copland to Corelli and Chopin.

Having a small library of music that students can sign out also could pique their interest in a certain style or composer which may lead to more in-depth study. We have all heard songs or pieces that we enjoyed, which led us to research more pieces from that same composer. This exposure can only be beneficial to students.

Also in this issue, we visit one of the world’s great tuba players, Sam Pilafian, who, among many other accomplishments, is rumored to have played for Leonard Bernstein while standing on his head! Whether this story is true or not, Sam certainly is a vibrant personality, a brilliant musician, a great showman, and a staunch advocate of the tuba. Check out the whole story on Sam and his colleague Patrick Sheridan in a very intriguing interview.

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