By Elizabeth Jackson

What makes “good music” good?

This is a very complex question. I don’t know if I believe in an “absolute” definition of good music. It depends on so many factors. In a pure sense, I believe that good music is music that provides students with a large palate of expressive options. Kids are more emotionally sophisticated than we sometimes give them credit for; the most successful music is that which taps into their humanity. I try to avoid music that is formulaic, or too easily accessible. I like to challenge my students with music that they have to live with a while before they may fully accept it!

What about transcriptions versus original music for band? How do you program a mix for your ensembles?

The wind band has such a brief past compared to the orchestra, that we have no choice but to consider literature that was originally written for other mediums. Some transcriptions work well for winds, others do not. For example, I believe that every band should program Bach as much as possible, and that we would be doing our students a great disservice if we did not allow them to explore the masters like Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Berlioz, Wagner, Brahms, or Mussorgsky. However, we have a tremendous repertoire of compositions written for winds and percussion that is growing every day, and it is becoming increasingly less difficult to program all original works. At Eden Prairie we have a listening curriculum that we incorporate into rehearsals which allows kids to hear great works written for voice, strings, and winds. We try to program as much original wind repertoire as possible.

What is some good literature for top level, experienced bands? What do you find valuable about each piece?

(I hate making lists because they can never be complete!)

Great for developing espressivity, tone, line:

  • Allerseelen — Richard Strauss Trauersinfonie — Richard Wagner
  • Funeral March — Edvard Grieg
  • October — Eric Whitacre
  • Amazing Grace — John Himes/Maldenado

Challenging and fun multi-movement works:

  • Divertimento for Winds & Percussion — Roger Cichy
  • First Suite in F — Thom Ritter George
  • Galactic Empires — David Gillingham

Explores the vast spectrum of timbre available in winds and percussion:

  • The Dream of Oenghus — Rolf Rudin
  • Endurance — Timothy Mahr
  • The Speech of Angels — Stephen Mellilo

Contemporary, fun, technically tough!:

  • Dreadnought — Jeffrey Brooks
  • Chester Leaps In — Steven Bryant
  • Pastime — Jack Stamp

What is some good literature for younger or less experienced bands? What do you find valuable about each piece?

Each piece listed is first of all playable–which is key to the success of younger groups. It is imperative to avoid frustrating them with music that is too difficult technically, but it is also important to constantly raise their level of expectation.

  • Air for Band — Frank Erickson
  • Flourish for Wind Band — Ralph Vaughn Williams
  • Fanfare, Ode and Festival — Margolis
  • Polly Oliver — Thomas Root
  • Snakes — Thomas Duffy
  • Hambone — Libby Larson
  • A+ — Thomas Duffy
  • Almost anything from the Teaching Music through Performance in Band series (North Texas Wind Symphony)
  • New literature in the American Composers Forum New Band Horizons project

What literature would you recommend to a first year director at a school with struggling students?

I would recommend to the first year director that in order to pick appropriate music, one must know the ensemble. What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses? What are the areas in which it needs to grow? Beware of frustrating the ensemble with music that is too difficult. Help them to find success quickly, and they will trust you with more challenging repertoire later on.

What do you consider in programming concerts for your top level ensemble? Your other ensembles?

Strengths, weaknesses, and growth areas! It’s no different. I have two main goals with my wind ensemble. How can I challenge my students both musically and technically? How can I incorporate the classics of wind literature like Holst, Grainger, Vaughan Williams, Persichetti, etc., into the concert sequence before the kids graduate? I can’t rely on a formula because my students are always changing. I program concerts based on the best interest of the individuals involved.

In the younger groups I ask myself what can I present to them that will keep them interested, fire them up, make them want more? I am trying to set the stage for these students to continue developing their musical skills and to extend their musical careers.

The bottom line for all of us: Ask for help! No one has all the answers, but there are tremendous resources out there (e.g., Best Music for High School Band, Tom Dvorak; or Music for Concert Band, Joseph Kreines; or call Jim Cochran at Shattinger Music!) if we just look around. Go to conferences, save programs, listen to as much music as you can, talk to colleagues! Ours is a SHARING profession.

What were your (and Rich Berggren, director of the Eden Prairie Symphonic Band) considerations in programming your two ensembles’ concerts at the National Concert Band Festival?

BOA gave us an opportunity to “raise the bar.” We knew we would hear outstanding groups from across the country, and we wanted to represent our state the best we could. The beauty of BOA is that it encourages a group to compete with itself as opposed to compete with some arbitrary standard. We chose music that stretched us both musically and technically. We took a chance on repertoire this year that we may not have taken without the encouragement of the Festival.

Given that BOA strives to not have repetitive programming, were there pieces you wanted very much to play that you couldn’t because they were on someone else’s program?

Yes . . . but it gave me an opportunity to find wonderful alternatives. I like the philosophy of avoiding repetition.

What’s your philosophy of teaching music?

My philosophy is that every human being has the capacity to experience, appreciate, and benefit from music. Talent is everywhere; it is up to us as educators to nurture and refine it. I’m sure my story is similar to many others–I had wonderful teachers as a kid in high school and college. My life changed dramatically because those teachers opened doors for me and helped me to understand how to deal with the complexities of existence through music. I simply want to do the same for my students.

Given the topic of your doctoral research (Ed. See Dr. Jackson’s vitae below), do you have your students participate in any score study exercises that you find improve their playing and musicality?

I do use ideas from my research in rehearsals. I stress that all music must exist within us before we bring it to life in the outside world. We often sing together, and we spend time doing a lot of aural imagery (or audiation) before we open our mouths. We practice developing relative pitch, perfecting intonation, and establishing inner pulse by silently focusing on the sounds we create in our minds. It has worked quite well.