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The Sounds of Summer

by Johanna Beth Sennett

It is hard to believe May is here and the school year is rapidly coming to a close. As I was brainstorming for a topic that would serve band directors well at this point in the year, a Mozart Horn Concerto was playing on my car radio. It became clear to me that the summer was full of opportunities for great listening!

Summertime can often be as “over-scheduled” as the school year for children. Rather than handing them a packet of exercises or routines to practice, albeit those are important, take some time before they head off and encourage your students to become avid concertgoers and listeners.

Listening to other musicians has always been integral to becoming a musician. Students are often caught up in the “playing” of their instrument and forget that some of their most important learning comes from listening to live performances, rehearsals and recordings. In our fast paced, activity-filled world, taking the time to listen to recordings and regularly attend live performances is becoming a lost pleasure. If you ask a musician why they became one, they will often cite a particular concert, recording, or demonstration as igniting that desire.

I can remember putting a certain LP on my portable one-piece record player at night when I was about 10 years old. Every night I listened to that record of “Horowitz at the Met” which concluded with his astounding rendition of the Stars and Stripes Forever. It sounds like an odd way for a 10 year old to go to sleep, but I was so enthralled by the recording of that live concert. I was addicted to it. I can remember attending my first Detroit Symphony concerts conducted by Antal Dorati and being fascinated by how the orchestra looked and sounded.

I remember my first records of Rampal and Galway playing unusual Japanese folk melodies, Irish folk tunes and classical/jazz combinations. I remember sitting with my Mom and Dad and watching old broadcasts of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington…and all the big bands. I remember my first live musical, “Pippin”. I remember the first time I saw a student performance of “The Nutcracker” Ballet and being fascinated by the music, dancing and costumes. I remember my mother’s piano student recitals. We can all bring back those musical memories.

Help your students to search for and find those moments this summer. The importance of teaching them to create listening time cannot be overestimated. Knowledge enhances one’s enjoyment. As the students gain more knowledge and experience over the years, their listening pleasure will grow and expand. They will become ACTIVE listeners. The organization of sounds, the intellectual and emotional appeal in music will continue to unfold on many levels for them.

This generation of students is so technologically savvy! With IPODS and downloading music and the availability of CDs/DVDs at the library, they can creatively finding inexpensive ways to access music. Encourage them to design their own “hit lists” of recordings, musicians, ensembles, solos, composers, styles, local concert venues…Make a little project out of gathering information from local papers and other sources to develop a listing of available summer music performances.

Don’t forget to check out the libraries, museums, churches, coffee houses, local parks, local schools and colleges for free concerts, shows and open rehearsals. Spark that energy in them to get out there and find the music around them. It doesn’t just exist in the high-priced venues.

Summer is a big movie time for school-aged children. Suggest that they pay closer attention to the film music and what kind of role it plays. Help them to become critical listeners. Does it enhance, dramatize, get in the way or not have any effect on the film whatsoever? Challenge them to change from their standard radio stations and explore new ones for unfamiliar styles. They may just discover enjoyment in a new kind of music.

Challenge your students to seek out a wide-range of musical styles and experiences from classical to jazz, folk to fusion, orchestral to chamber, and Broadway to film. Offer them the idea of keeping a music “journal” which lists the performances, recordings and general listening they do this summer. They can create a school database in the fall, which shares their favorite recordings, performers, groups, styles and concert venues. This is something they can continue to update throughout the year. It can also serve as a wonderful student-designed and maintained resource.

The following is a sample listing to help you get started. For your Star Wars fanatics, suggest that they listen to not only the Star Wars soundtracks but to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” as well and compare the two. There are many DVDs available of the Tschaikovsky ballets that can captivate even the most reluctant of viewers. Listen to Morricone’s magnificent score for the film, “Cinema Paridiso”.

Summertime is a perfect time to feel the expansive images evoked in Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Fanfare for the Common Man. Be taken in by the non-stop energy of young jazz pianist, Jamie Cullum’s DVD “Live at Blenheim Palace” in England. Inspire them to find Brazilian jazz, Cuban jazz, and Mexican mariachi music. The suggestions are endless. Get them excited about discovering this world of music.

Beethoven – Symphonies 5, 6 and 9
Mahler – Symphony No.4
Brahms – Symphony No.3
Ravel – Bolero
Moussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition
Holst – The Planets
Rossini – William Tell Overture
Saint Saens – Carnival of the Animals
Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue
Gershwin – An American in Paris soundtrack
Tschaikovsky – Ballets: Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty…
Strauss – Till Eulenspiegel and Don Juan
Prokifieff – Romeo and Juliet
Bach – The Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould, solo piano)
Bach – Cello Suites (Yo-Yo Ma, solo cello)
Bach – Suite in B minor for flute and strings
Stravinsky – Rite of Spring
Rimsky-Korsakov – Sheherazade and Capriccio Espagnol
Copland – Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, Billy the Kid, Fanfare for the Common Man
Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata (piano solo)
Chopin – Preludes and Nocturnes (piano solo)
Vivaldi – Four Seasons
Dukas – Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Dvorak – New World Symphony
Haydn – Trumpet Concerto
Mozart – Horn Concerti
Nielsen – Clarinet Concerto
Cimarosa – Oboe Concerto
Hindemith – Trombone Sonata
Ibert – Flute Concerto
Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerti

Duke Ellington
Ella Fitzgerald
Benny Goodman
Count Basie
Wynton Marsalis
Jamie Cullum (“Live at Blenheim Palace”)
Christian McBride
Claude Bolling, Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano (additional suites for other instrumentation)
Billy Joel

Bernstein – West Side Story
Lloyd Webber – CATS
Schwartz – Wicked
Lerner and Loewe – My Fair Lady
Rodgers and Hammerstein – The Sound of Music and The King and I and many more
Les Miserables
Sondheim – Three-Penny Opera
Cirque du Soleil – many DVDs of true multi-media performances

Empire Brass Quintet (many recordings)
Canadian Brass Quintet
Julliard String Quartet

And on, and on, and on…

Send your students off excited to find and recognize the music all around them. Inspire them to listen to how music permeates almost everything we do. Remind them to open their ears when they are out in nature (summer camping, hikes, days at the lake.) and hear the music of nature that exists when we eliminate the man-made “noise”.

Music is powerful, thrilling, vivid, sensual, peaceful, dramatic, soothing, humorous and often indescribable. It has the power to express serenity and exuberance, fear and triumph. Give your students permission to dive fully into this large musical pool of styles and have their own personal experiences. Send them off to lie on the grass and listen to a live performance or a great recording on their ipods or CD players and let themselves be taken away.