RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • Tuesday Tips: Finding New Repertoire — Finding Music to Play by Oliver Molina

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 11, 2022

    As the new year is upon us, many of us are in search of new repertoire. One of my favorite things is finding music to program. I love listening to the musicianship, compositional ideas, musical development, and interesting sounds of various works for percussion as well as watching the incredible technique and artistry of performers. This includes any of my research for solo works, chamber pieces to perform with colleagues, or pieces to program with my percussion ensemble, steel band, or concert band. 

    Recently, I had the monumental task of choosing repertoire for the Northwestern State University Percussion Ensemble to present on the PASIC 2021 New Literature Showcase Concert. This 90-minute session highlighted percussion ensemble works published within the past five years. I gathered a list of more than 100 pieces that included different instrumentation, ensemble size, difficulty, publishers, style/genre, and diverse composers. After reviewing and combing through the plethora of pieces, the final program included 16 pieces. In this article I will share different ways I explored and found pieces to program for this concert and many others.

    ONLINE SEARCHES
    The easiest and most common way to find music is to search online, especially using platforms such as YouTube. There is an endless supply of content on YouTube, with an average of 300 videos uploaded every minute. With a recent rise of affordable technology, DIY recording projects have exploded in number in recent years. Typing in a particular search such as “marimba solo” may unlock an endless list of videos, including recommendations on what to watch next, related videos, and what others have watched. 

    If you find a content creator you enjoy, you can subscribe to their channel to stay up to date with their content and also find creators who may be similar. You can see who they are subscribed to, what playlists they may have created, or which videos they have liked. Another tip that often gets overlooked is the use search filters. For example, you can sort by the most recent or the most viewed recordings. In addition to YouTube, try searching on audio streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music and listen to percussion-related podcasts such as the @percussion podcast, where the hosts or guests may mention repertoire you may not yet be aware of. 

    MUSIC CATALOGS
    The next tip is to visit online music stores and check out their music catalogs. Like YouTube, you can search and filter by popularity to see what pieces are trending right now. You can also visit various music publisher websites. Publishers are a hub of numerous composers who may share a common interest, whether that may be ensemble genre or style. A great advantage of publisher sites is that they often provide recordings and score samples of the pieces they are selling. I also recommend perusing the different publisher booths at PASIC where you can browse the bins and towers of sheet music, talk to the representatives, or even snap a picture with your favorite composer. Be aware that some composers self-publish, so remember to visit their personal websites as well.

    In addition to the music publishers, PAS has a vast database of compositions. A dedicated section of Percussive Notes features reviews of sheet music, books, and recordings. On the PAS website you can search submitted programs to view what others have performed at their concerts. Lastly, one of the most important percussion research sources of all time, the Siwe Guide to Solo and Ensemble Percussion Literature, is also available at pas.org. This guide includes information and annotations to thousands of percussion works. 

    ATTEND CONCERTS
    I strongly encourage hearing music live. When you are enjoying a live performance, you avoid interruptions and distractions like YouTube advertisements or the urge to click “watch next” for another video. There is something special about being in the hall, hearing the sound reverberate around the room, and feeling the intensity of the performance. Attending an evening of music may also enable you to hear a wide array different works. A highlight of mine each year is attending the amazing live concerts at PASIC. You can also get your fill of live music at a local percussion festival, new music concerts, student or faculty recitals, nearby school performances, and other venues within your area. 

    FIND COMPOSERS
    Expand your composer list by being aware of instrumentation, style, and genre. A composer of your favorite ensemble piece may also have a work for percussion. John Mackey, known for his band compositions, has written a percussion ensemble for nine players. Conversely, your favorite marimba solo may be a written by a composer who has written several works for percussion ensemble or band. David Maslanka composed “Variations on a Lost Love” for solo marimba, “Crown of Thorns” for percussion ensemble, and several symphonies for concert band.

    Also be aware of the composer family tree. A composer you are fond of was influenced by or even studied with another composer. Composer Joe W. Moore III was a student of composer Brett Dietz and also is heavily influenced by his affinity to hip-hop and rap music. Additionally, composer contemporaries may open a network of other works and genres. Composers have a circle of friends who support one another and perform each other’s works. Andrea Venet and Ivan Treviño share similar styles, coming from similar backgrounds studying at Eastman. 

    COMPOSE OR COMMISSION
    If you are looking for something specific due to playing ability, personnel, or instrumentation, consider moving the percussion artform forward by composing your own work or commissioning composers. Composing gives you the freedom to share your thoughts with the world musically. If you have friends who are composers or if your school has composition lessons or classes, the opportunity to create new music is at your fingertips. This may allow for more collaboration and performances of the work. 

    As part of our PASIC Showcase Concert, NSU commissioned and premiered four new works for percussion ensemble. Furthermore, within the last decade there has been a significant increase in commissioning consortiums where anyone can join. These consortiums usually allow for a window of exclusivity where the members may perform the piece before it is released to the general public.

    ASK AROUND
    Lastly, get recommendations from others; the knowledge of the collective hivemind is greater than you can imagine. You can get ideas for repertoire by asking your teacher, colleagues, friends, or on various online forums such as Facebook groups, blogs, or magazines. Use social media to your advantage by following and subscribing to different percussion accounts. Find out what others are playing by viewing their recital programs or watching performances on social media. There seems to be a database or an expert in any genre or style of music out there. Seek them out and find more music to play!

    Oliver MolinaDr. Oliver Molina is an Associate Professor of Music and Assistant Director of Bands at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. As an active percussion performer, educator, arranger, adjudicator, and clinician, Dr. Molina has presented and performed at various state Day of Percussion events, PASIC, NCPP, and other music conferences and festivals. He earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Percussion Performance and Pedagogy at the University of Iowa under Dr. Dan Moore. Additionally, he has is a founding member of the Omojo Percussion Duo and the Ninkasi Percussion Group. Dr. Molina serves as Chair for PAS Education Committee and as Vice President of the Louisiana PAS Chapter.

  • Tuesday Tips: POGO by Josh Gottry

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Dec 14, 2021

    Everyone is familiar with a BOGO — a buy-one-get-one-free deal. It’s one of the most straight-forward sales a store can offer, and it instantly increases movement of product off the shelf. So, what’s a POGO? According to a band director colleague of mine, it’s a practice-one-get-one-free deal that applies to most music we encounter. Let me explain.

    Most music is repetitive. A 12-bar blues is the same 12 measures over and over again. The AABA song form repeats the same A section three times. Rondo form is ABACA…, repeating the primary theme between each contrasting episode. Sonata form has a section that is called the recapitulation, which is, not surprisingly, a repetition of the opening exposition section. We could go on and on with this, but the point is pretty well made: music is generally repetitive.

    Since music is repetitive, any section of music that repeats should only need to be learned once, and that learning can then be applied each time the section returns. This might be a single pattern, a few measures, a phrase, a couple of phrases, or an entire form; either way, the repetition allows you to play more music with less practice.

    Application is pretty simple as well. When learning a new piece, look for repetition. As you practice and learn the piece, don’t spend time on content that is repetitive, since you’ve already learned it. Use your time as efficiently as possible to practice unfamiliar content as much as needed. Once it’s familiar and you encounter one of those repetitions, either play through the phrase or passage as a quick review or feel free to skip ahead, knowing that you’ve already got that portion of the music ready to go.

    Enjoy the good deal and make the most of your POGO opportunities.

  • Tuesday Tips: Practice, Rehearse, Review by Josh Gottry

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Nov 16, 2021

    In today’s music ensembles, particularly at the high school level, students are often expected to be present for a significant amount of ensemble rehearsal time each week, leaving less time than would be ideal for individual practice. This reduction in individual practice and preparation, and in some cases, insufficient time to allow students to pursue private lessons, is not necessarily impacting the quality of ensemble performances on the field or in the concert hall. However, it is limiting potential for individual musical growth and creating a paradigm where students may not be taught the proper sequence of ensemble participation: practice, rehearse, review.

    PRACTICE
    Ensemble rehearsals should not start from square one. Quality ensembles, especially at the college and professional level, expect that all players are at least proficient and at best performance ready on their part when they walk in for the first rehearsal. The reason for this is that individual parts are most efficiently prepared by individuals. 

    Except potentially for very beginners, it is rarely best for individual players to learn their notes and rhythms for a particular piece within the ensemble rehearsal. The group environment does not allow for sufficient repetitions of a problematic spot for each player, and any attention given to an individual player wastes time, at least to some extent, for every other player in the room. An ensemble rehearsal is more effective when the players come prepared to rehearse, having individually practiced their part.

    REHEARSE
    Musical elements such as balance, blend, ensemble shaping, etc. are most effectively addressed within the full ensemble rehearsal. While reference recordings can be helpful to an individual’s personal preparation, only when rehearsing with others with whom you intend to perform, can you fully recognize and corporately adjust to each other’s sound and role within the ensemble such as will result in an exceptional performance.

    REVIEW
    The rehearsal inevitably will point out shortcomings in one’s individual practice and preparation. It should also ideally codify how each individual should approach his or her parts in future rehearsals. These issues need to be addressed, and approaches need to be solidified through follow-up individual practice. After any rehearsal, the ensemble is best served if its individual members take time to note areas for potential personal improvement, make adjustments necessary in their own playing that improve the ensemble sound, and repeat things as were or will be done in rehearsal in their own individual practice time. That time to review, correct, and reinforce is critically valuable to ensuring the next rehearsal will be even more effective.

    CONCLUSION
    The best ensembles are a byproduct of excellent rehearsals, but also excellent individual preparation. The cycle of practice, rehearse, review instituted by ensemble directors and members will facilitate effective and efficient rehearsals and provide time and opportunity for individual musical growth.

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