• Upfront: Writing & Arranging:

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006


    A good-sounding musical arrangement possesses many characteristics. However, the three most important characteristics include transparency of texture, variety of tone color, and moving contrapuntal lines that build to a satisfying climax. All of the musical arrangements that positively influenced me had these characteristics.

    Before 1600, any medium of performance for a given composition was considered satisfactory, and there was little uniformity of instrumentation in ensemble music. Practically any combination of instruments seems to have been acceptable during this period, since the emphasis was on the musical line and not on tone color or blend. Sharp contrastsof tone color are not very apparent in scores of this period. Composers did not suggest the choice of parts to be played by certain instruments, but the decision was left to the performers.

    This example by Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612) is arranged for two trumpets and two trombones and illustratesa powerful technique for effectively mixing textures within a composition. We notice immediately that the musical fabric changes constantly, alternating between two, three, and four voice parts. Gabrieli employs rests toventilate the texture and lighten the sound, to highlight phrase endings, and to clear the way for the next entrance. Noteworthy is the fact that Gabrieli introduces the theme five times, delaying the third answer of the theme until m. 3 to avoid the monotony of phrasing that is too regular and predictable. Most of Bach's contrapuntal writing reflects this compositional principle.

    An instrument or section that has been silent for a periodof time attracts new interest when it reenters.

  • David Carbone

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    A successful high school Marching Band program can outstrip the traditional scope of most other “academic programs.” Particularly in smaller or rural areas, a good Marching Band can galvanize the community and strengthen a town’s sense of identity and pride.

    The music educators and student performers of Bellbrook High School’s Marching Band are no strangers to this phenomenon, as the Marching Eagles have helped put Bellbrook, Ohio on the national radar. Winners of six BOA Grand Nationals Class A championships, last year the Marching Eagles were named the 2004 BOA Grand National Class AA champion, the first national championship since the program moved up a class in 2002.

    David Carbone, director of bands and music at Bellbrook since 2001, recently spoke with SBO about maintaining and strengthening a winning Marching Band tradition.

  • Reaching for Higher Standards

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    By Christian Wissmuller

    A respected percussionist who has performed with top-notch jazz ensembles and the Binghamton (N.Y.) Philharmonic, Joel Smales has also authored ensemble, percussion, and method books published by Phantom Publications and his articles on music education and percussion have appeared in nationally distributed periodicals, including School Band & Orchestra.

    Mr. Smales currently holds the titles of vice president, NYS Percussive Arts Society and Percussion chair, NYSSMA, and has been director of Bands at Binghamton High School's Rod Serling School of Fine Arts for the past six years.

  • Go East, Young Band!

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    Band and orchestra directors interested in a unique travel opportunity that incorporates musical, social, cultural, and educational experiences should consider Asia.

    Many schools and communities in Japan, China, and other Asian nations are seeking sister-school relationships in the United States.

    Forging a connection with such a school can lead to experiences for students that will have both greater depth and less cost than many so-called “educational” tours organized by travel agencies. The key is to create a dream and to implement it with directors and their colleagues doing the legwork. Yes, the process is labor intensive, but it results in a long-term relationship with the sister school or community that continues for decades. Our experiences will, I hope, inspire and give direction.

  • Solo Success in Middle School

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    By Mike Pearce

    The middle school band is playing flawlessly, then a couple of solos have you wincing. Can you remember a concert where the band excelled but the soloists didn't? Was it your band? If you've had a problem with solos, there are four areas you may want to consider.

    Selecting Soloists

    How do you pick soloists? If your first chair players study privately and automatically get the solos, stay with that plan if it's working well. On the other hand, if you encounter resistance from your first chairs about taking solos - or worse, if nobody in the section wants them - have the entire section rehearse them as solis until a week or two before the concert, then have tryouts and designate solo players.

  • Excerpts from the Winning Essays

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    In our June issue, School Band and Orchestra announced the winners of the 2004 Scholarship Essay Contest. Each of the 10 winners - five in grades four through eight, and five in grades nine through 12 - received a $1,000 scholarship for writing an essay about their favorite composer. Each winning student's music program received a matching prize of $1,000 in musical merchandise from the contest's co-sponsors: Alfred Publishing Co., C.G. Conn, Yamaha Corporation of America, Avedis Zildjian Company, and Hershey's Fundraising.

    Included here are excerpts from the 10 winning student essays. The essays in their entirety are posted on SBO's Web site, The 2005 Scholarship Essay Contest topic and deadline will be announced this fall in both the magazine and on the Web site.

    Kurt Rever
    Grade 12, Age 17
    Pinkerton Academy
    Derry, N.H.
    Instrument: Percussion
    Director: Leighanne Cullen
    Favorite Composer: John Williams

  • Festivals and Travel: 20 Destinations for Bands and Orchestras

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    Every year, your mailbox teems with brochures for music tours and festivals offering the most exciting experiences of your students' lives: unique performance opportunities, educational clinics, high-stakes competitions, spectacular attractions and entertainment. But which is the right destination for your ensemble?

    Well, SBO cannot answer that question for you, but we can offer a peek at some of the top tried-and-true options throughout the travel and festival industry. These destinations offer both educationally valuable aspects as well as the all-important "fun factors" that both students and directors are looking for.


  • Instrument Crossovers: Seasons of Change

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    By Krysten Ogrizovich

    The auditorium lights are slowly turned back on, as the thunderous applause of proud parents, family, and friends dies down. The students, after taking their final bow at the end-of-the year spring concert, quietly shuffle off the stage. This day marks the end of the concert season.

    The natural progression of the school music program takes its next step. Almost as smoothly as the seasons change from spring into summer, the mellow classics that are played in the concert season change to the bold, uplifting sounds that are suitable for a summer afternoon parade or a fall field show. Many students look forward to the freedom of marching season. Being outside, and not confined to the band room, is a nice and much welcomed change from the wintertime concert season.

    For some, this transformation does not go as smoothly as the students or the conductor would like. Not all students just move their instruments outside to practice. There are a few small setbacks in the form of new instruments and new sounds. Marching band does not just mean learning to keep a straight line, or practicing a new formation. For a few student musicians, marching band could mean learning new fingerings, or having to learn how to read a new key signature, as well as learning how to march.

  • UpClose: Ohio State University’s Dr. Jon R. Woods

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

  • Upfront: Winter Guard International

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2005


    I must admit, when I decided to enter my unit into indoor competition with Winter Guard International (WGI), I wasn't quite sure what to expect: "Would this be too much of a time commitment?"; "Would my students enjoy competing?"; "Would the parents be supportive?" "How would other band staff members feel about this activity?"

    These were just a few of the questions bouncing around in my mind. Though I had something of an idea about the time commitment and some of the problems involved in competing (through observing other indoor competition activities), I did not foresee how the positive benefits would impact my percussion program.


    Mike Lawson | December 1, 2003

    Are you starting substantial numbers of students, then having them move away? Are you recruiting promising tuba, oboe, or French horn players, but finding few of them still around in the eighth grade? If you're serving a mobile population, there may be things you need to do to produce bands that play well, and also maintain your emotional equilibrium and sense of humor.

    Focus Your Efforts

    While a bigger band may be one of your goals, think which specific add-on instruments would make the biggest impact in your ensemble sound, then concentrate on finding students to fill those spots. If two more trombones or a couple of French horns and a tuba would make the greatest difference, sell prospective players on the idea of playing those instruments and let them know that you have those horns available, waiting for someone to play them.

  • How to Build a Percussion Ensemble

    Mike Lawson | November 1, 2003

    Involving your school percussionists in band and orchestra can sometimes be a difficult task. Certainly there is a great deal of literature that utilizes a lot of percussion, and that music should be performed both for the sake of artistic integrity and for your percussionists to be involved with playing some meaty parts. But at times, the percussion section is often neglected due to the style of music being performed (i.e., a Bach chorale, symphonic music that does not involve a lot of percussion, etc.).

    There are ways around this dilemma and it is possible to include your percussion section in these pieces. But so many times, and at all levels, the percussion section is left out, so to speak. While conductors are working on clarinet intonation, a difficult technical passage for the saxophones, balance in the low brass, etc., the percussionists are idle and often bored.

    Those pieces that do involve a lot of percussion keep them happy and audiences enjoy watching your percussionists run around playing everything under the sun. But let’s face it: there is a lot of time in rehearsals where percussionists just sit around doing nothing.

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