Pop Tunes with Staying Power – Choosing the Right “Fluff” for Your Library Long Term

Lesley Schultz • April 2022String Section • April 20, 2022

Ah spring. The season when testing hits full force, the students are distracted and looking toward summer, and you are also probably distracted and looking toward summer. Depending on how your building runs testing schedules, you might see your students every day, or only twice in a month. Spring concerts are a time where a lot of directors plan “lighter fare” but what makes a new pop piece worth the limited library budget you have? What should you spend money on?

I have found over the years if you use the following criteria you end up with something with some staying power and has techniques you can teach or reinforce while performing it.

First Criteria– How popular is it currently? Has it won awards like an Oscar or a Tony? If it is the number one song for only a week, it’s not such an excellent investment. If it is viral on TikTok AND on the Billboard charts for several weeks, you probably have something. Bonus points if the primary songwriter is BiPOC and/or the song comes from a diverse movie. Right now, we are all anxiously awaiting the Encanto arrangements, as we know that will have some staying power. In the meantime, pick up something from Coco or Moana. The key with Disney/Pixar is to pick it up quickly, as they often go permanently out of print.

Second Criteria– How popular is it now compared to the past? I am forever thankful for past directors at my school because our library contains very good pops arrangements of several levels of many classic Broadway and movie pops selections. Selections like Les Misérables, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Sound of Music will always have a place in all libraries. We also have some of the original Star Wars arrangements, and other John Williams goodies that are not readily available these days. I don’t expect those falling out of favor soon. Today, I would pick up any Marvel music in a heartbeat, along with anything from Hamilton or In the Heights. Also, with the revamp of West Side Story, this is the year to bring those arrangements out again, and hopefully there might be new ones!

Third Criteria– Does it fit a heritage month or other celebration at your school or district? Could it fit a theme for a “Festival of the Arts” type celebration? Filling in a popular tune with a classical concert with the pop as a closer helps with audience engagement. Many of the pieces/shows I have mentioned so far can work for most concert celebrations. If you have something easier in the library, it can be pulled out for a chamber group or your high school group for a last-minute performance.  

Last Criteria– Do you like the arrangement? It will sit gathering dust in your library if you dislike it. You are the director of your orchestra, and you decide on the programming. Of course, you can welcome student input, but you can, of course, lead them in certain directions. I don’t advocate a diet of all pop tunes, but especially in the spring, it can be a time for great student involvement and engagement to keep them excited for orchestra.

Choosing pop tunes can be tricky, but if you think through it using the criteria above, you can build your library with pop tunes that have staying power for many years.

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree from West Virginia University and her Master of Music Education degree from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Schultz keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves as the Ohio Chapter President and on the National Conference Committee. Lesley is a columnist for SBO Magazine. Currently she is relearning how to walk! In her copious amounts of spare time, she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports, and spending time with her family and making TikToks about her cats.

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