Posted by: Marie | July 14, 2012

(668) Sticks in the mud – Part 1 of 2

Post #668
[Private journal entry written on Thursday, August 18, 2011]

Every November our local music teachers association hosts an ensemble clinic. I’ve never participated in one; but this year, I started working with a number of students on ensemble pieces. By early summer, we had formed groups and had decided what piece of music each ensemble wishes to perform. I brainstormed with each group on what their performance would entail . . . what instruments, what kind of music, costumes, etc.

I spent July arranging music for each ensemble. I made sure that the music would allow each student to have a turn at being “the star”, at least for a few measures. Usually, certain instruments are assigned the role of playing melody and certain instruments are assigned the role of playing the supporting harmony notes. So, people playing instruments of the latter kind often don’t get to experience starring roles in performances.

Skyline Drive in Taiwan by Martin Chen

So, when I created the arrangements, I made sure every student got an equal share of the limelight. And, I made sure the difficulty of each student’s part was enough to be challenging but not too challenging (most of my students are beginning/elementary level). This allowed me to “custom fit” the music to honor each member of each ensemble. There is no way we could have found existing music that fits so well . . . the only way to have such a great fit is for me (or someone else like me) to arrange the music with that particular ensemble in mind.

There are two girls who will be playing a duet from existing music, so I didn’t need to arrange their music. However, they are performing on the two digital keyboards and will be using the digital technology to utilize some unusual (but really cool) voices during their performance.

I’m so excited – and the students are so excited – about these performances. The students really feel they have gotten to use their wildest imagination to design a awesomely unique and expressive performance. They are emotionally invested in the process – and the parents are so excited about seeing their kids so passionate about something like this.

One of the groups wants one of its members to do a baton-twirling routine as the other two play the Star Spangled Banner on piano and violin. I told them that was a fine idea as long as she didn’t throw the baton . . . our ceilings aren’t high enough to accommodate that. They felt that was fine as she is just now learning to throw the baton and doesn’t feel ready to do it as part of a performance yet, anyway.

I thought it would be a good idea to talk to the ensemble clinic’s coordinator sooner, rather than later, to uncover any logistical issues that might arise. So, a few days ago, I sent her an email, which kicked off the following exchange:


Hi, Linda –

I have a few ensembles showing interest . . . with some twists . . .

I want to make sure the following scenarios are okay before we invest a lot of time and effort to prepare:

– Piano & violin with a third girl doing a choreographed baton routine

– Young girl in a trio with her mom and dad . . . all three are beginner students of mine and they have an arrangement of Ode to Joy in which they each play 1-2 notes of the melody/harmony and it sounds pretty cool!

– One or two pianists with a third reading a poem (we are trying to get her to sing, instead, but she might be too shy . . . we’ll be doing good to get her to read a poem) — I’m thinking we can work with her to make sure it fits in with the timing of the music

Let me know . . . thanks!

– Marie


Hi Marie,

The music that ensembles perform for the Ensemble Performance Activity needs to be performed as written by the composer without anything added to it. The baton would not be appropriate for this activity because of that and also the room in the church would not be a good performance venue for baton. Perhaps they could do it at Achievement Day in March as an option.

Is the Ode the Joy written specifically as a trio…not a solo divided between three performers? It would need to be written as a definite trio with three parts in the score. There is a lot of lower level trio music for students…maybe even Ode to Joy if you need to switch. I’ve found quite a bit over the years online.

Also, the poem/song would have to be written by the composer and noted in the score to be performed with the piano…not a poem picked by the student or you to be used with a piano solo. For example, Peter and the Wolf has a narrative with the music. However, I haven’t seen an easy or intermediate adaptation of this.

This event is to encourage the study and performance of ensemble/chamber repertoire and give students a chance to work with a clinician. Let me know if I can answer any further questions. Thanks for checking on this so far in advance of the EPA so you can make changes.

Take care.


Hi, Linda –

Thanks for all the information . . .

Is there any reason I can’t arrange music to meet our needs? I arrange music all the time for in-studio use, especially at the beginner level. I can use a pen name if my students’ association with me needs to be hidden.

– Marie

[Continued in the next post . . . ]


  1. Sorry if I sound negative. This sounds like something to run away from at great speed. Looking forward to the next installment, maybe . . .

    • LOL . . . it gets worse . . . then better!

      • Good to hear about the “better”

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