Sunday, June 12, 2016

Some Latin American Music to Check Out

DHS Band Members, if you enjoyed your Latin American music unit in Concert Band, I've found some new favorites for you, all from Colombia and Argentina. I heard about most of them from various podcasts or stories on NPR, and now you can dig them along with me:

Monsieur Periné
As Billboard magazine describes them, "a Colombian group whose music is a quirky blend of swing, alt, pop and Colombian rhythms; something like a Colombian Postmodern Jukebox." This is totally fun and infectious music, sung in Spanish, Portuguese, and French, and their videos are just as engaging. Their latest album is Caja de Música.

La Yegros calls her "The First Lady of Electro Cumbia" with music that "crisscrosses Latin American and North African folk traditions, tropical pop, reggae, hip-hop, dancehall, and chamamé to create its own frenetic dance genre." She's from Argentina, and her latest album is Magnetismo.

La Yegros on PRI's The World.

This isn't a current group like the previous two, but it is a great example of rock en español. describes them: "This eight-piece Colombian collective combines classic-rock guitar crunch and Afro-pop rhythms with hip-hop flavor and traditional Latin beats." My favorite song by them is "Daño en el Baño" from their self-titled 1999 release.

And one last one goes way back to the beginning of the Cumbia craze. If you like playing "Bailame" in marching band or pep band, here are the roots of that song:

Here's a Spotify playlist with more to explore (including a few class favorites):

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Composing in Band Class

Today being the last day before spring break, I wanted to do something a bit different with the non-orchestra Wind Ensemble members. We had 2 flutes, clarinet, bass clarinet, 4 saxes, 2 trumpets, 2 euphoniums, xylophone, marimba, and piano in rehearsal, and we started off by learning three different pentatonic scales:

Major pentatonic (Bb C D F G)
Japanese "In" pentatonic (D Eb G A Bb)
Lydian pentatonic (C D E F# A)

Then I asked each student to noodle around on their favorite scale and come up with a 2-bar ostinato. After a few minutes, everyone shared what they composed. It was clear that Amy's was our favorite, so we all learned it. Then I played that ostinato over and over and had everyone improvising along to find a complementary pattern. Ben wrote one that was essentially an inversion of the original, so we all learned that as well. Ellis filled in some of the rests and created a 1-bar rhythmic motive for the keyboard percussion, and I modified it for the flutes.

Once we had all of our material, it was time to play our piece. We began by repeating the first note of the main ostinato over and over, adding a couple more notes every few iterations. This was inspired by Steve Reich's minimalist percussion work, Drumming. The countermelody came in next, followed by the rhythmic parts. Then Ethan played a soaring improvised theme on top of everything. The piece ended as an arch form, with the layers exiting in the opposite order that they entered.

Here is a fairly unrehearsed version of our piece. Enjoy!

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Passing of the Generations...

As so often happens here at the Illinois Music Education Conference in Peoria, I found myself in the wrong part of the Civic Center as I wandered around looking for the MYA Big Band concert. This resulted in a happy coincidence, as I ran into a DHS Band alum and former drum major, who is now a band director in Naperville. She invited me to her clinic session where she presented her master’s thesis research on how young band directors from the suburbs often feel “praxis shock” when they take their first job in a rural, downstate community. She spoke of her own experience as a North Shore kid who became the grade 6-12 band director in a small town in Central Illinois. I remember talking with her on the phone several times as she navigated the first two years of her career, and I really enjoyed sharing in her triumphs and challenges. I was so proud listening to her thoughtful and important research.

This got me thinking about how in education we are continually passing the torch on to the next generation of teachers. My former student took all of her experience at DHS and two college degrees and is now sharing her passion for music with a group of eager middle schoolers, some of whom might go on to be yet another generation of music educators. They are my musical “grandchildren,” just like all of those kids being taught by other alumni who are now music educators like Sam, Michael, Aaron, Susan, and Alexis, and all my past student teachers.

To bring this around full circle, I went into the exhibit hall to find my high school band director, who has since retired and works as a tour escort for high school band trips out west. We had a great chat about what we were both up to, and I could tell he was pleased with having started me on my career that led me to Deerfield. So now all of my current and past students have Mr. Pete Pappas to thank, because you are his musical grandchildren. Thanks, Pete, for all you taught me, and thanks to all my teachers from Mr. Meyer who first gave me saxophone lessons in 4th grade all the way through my profs at NU, DPU, and BU. And so the circle continues…

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Binge Listening

It seems that everybody today talks about binge watching their favorite TV shows. With so many ways to view them and with so many episodes available all at once, there is a great temptation to hunker down and spend hours with a single show, especially now in the middle of winter. It's a much different experience from traditional viewing, one episode a week. The immersive nature of binge watching allows you to really connect with story lines and characters as they develop and change. That (and simple inertia) is probably why it's become such a popular activity.

Something I've come to enjoy is what I call binge listening. With streaming services like Spotify, you can listen to an artist's entire recorded output from debut album to their latest offering. It's very interesting to hear how some artists stick to a tried and true style or genre while others change greatly over the years.

For me, binge listening works best with an artist with a somewhat limited output. The Beatles put out 13 albums, all of which predate the CD era, so they all clock in around 40 minutes or so (not counting the double White Album). That's about 10 hours to hear the progression from a brilliant cover band through Beatlemania, folk rock, psychedelia, sonic experiments, and back to their skiffle roots. Well worth your time!

Other artists I've done this with: Steely Dan, R.E.M., and The White Stripes (still in progress). I also recommend taking a specific portion of an artist's output, like Miles Davis' second quintet albums (E.S.P., Miles Smiles, Sorcerer, Nefertiti, Miles in the Sky, Filles de Kilimanjaro) or David Bowie's Berlin trilogy (Low, Heroes, Lodger) if their discography is too large to go through all at once.

On the classical side, I am currently listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams nine symphonies in order. I had previously only known a couple of them, so to sit down seriously with all nine is fascinating. Quite a departure from the English Folk Song Suite.

Anybody have recommendations for their own binge listening playlist?

(Yes, I know that this is the first blog post in a year and a half. It might be the last for another long time. Or maybe not. We shall see...)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Live Music in the Summer

At the end of the school year, I usually remind the students to check out some of the many live music offerings around Chicagoland in the summer. This year, I've taken my own advice to heart and have already been to four events.

I started off with a trip to Ravinia to hear the Steans Music Institute jazz showcase. This concert capped off a week of intensive jazz study for 15 up-and-coming undergraduate and graduate students from the finest college music programs in the country. They were put into three quintets, and each group played five tunes, all of which were composed by the band members. They were led by some of our most esteemed jazz educators, including Dr. David Baker, trombonist Curtis Fuller, and bassist Rufus Reid. It was a great evening of music with a lot of fine soloing and unique compositional voices. I will definitely put this concert on my must-see list for June 2015.

Next I checked out DHS alum Greg Spero with his trio playing a homecoming gig in Highland Park at Vibe at 1935. Greg played piano in our jazz band and trumpet in the concert bands and marching band. He has since carved out quite a nice career for himself as a jazz pianist and keyboardist. This gig featured a lot of tunes from his most recent album, Electric. I especially dug his Bollywood meets Herbie Hancock number called "Raga."

I was very proud to see my former student with his killer bandmates Junius Paul on bass and Makaya McCraven on drums. Check them out if you get a chance!

My next event was a trip into the city to see Sting's new musical The Last Ship at the Bank One Theatre. Despite the fact that it took over two hours to drive there from the north suburbs, it was a very enjoyable show. The story is about the relationship between fathers and sons set against the backdrop of a dying shipyard in the north of England. The performances were strong, and I enjoyed the music. The tunes are varied with lots of traditional fiddle sounds, but there are little hints of Sting's individual style - a chord here or a bit of melody there. It sounds at times like one of his early solo albums, The Soul Cages, but it is definitely a musical theatre score, as opposed to a bunch of pop tunes strung together to make a "jukebox musical."

My last live music event was an old-fashioned "house concert." We had a guest musician, Matthew Clark, singing in our Sunday morning service at church, and one of the families hosted him in their living room that evening for an intimate performance. It was great to hear a singer/songwriter who knows more than four chords and can really get around on an acoustic guitar. Matthew sang and told stories about his life, and about 30 of us had a great time listening and chatting with him. There's actually a long history of house concerts in Western society--before recorded sound, if you wanted to hear music it had to be live. Think about all of the great Classical Era music that was performed for dinner parties, including many serenades by people like Mozart. What a wonderful tradition to bring back.

Later this week, we'll be off to Ravinia for our first Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert of the season. Looking forward to hearing one of the finest orchestras in the world!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Goodbye to the Hard Bop Grandpop

You may have heard by now that legendary jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver died last week at the age of 85. He is best known for his funky, earthy playing and his wonderful compositions that defined the style known as "soul jazz." Combining blues, jazz, and gospel sounds, his tunes have a classic feel-good attitude that has made many of them standards. I went through my old repertoire lists and found the following tunes that the DHS Jazz Band and after-school combos have played over the years:
  • Nica's Dream
  • Strollin'
  • Nutville
  • Tokyo Blues
  • Summer in Central Park
  • The Preacher
  • Song for My Father
  • Filthy McNasty
  • The Jody Grind
  • Senor Blues
  • Silver's Serenade
  • Sister Sadie
That last one has really been a staple of our repertoire, with 6 performances over the last 26 years. It's currently in our book, so you can expect to hear it in the fall. We've played "Song for My Father" almost as many times, including this past spring with Tuesday Afternoon Jazz. There are very few composers whose music we've played as much--John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Charles Mingus. That's impressive company.

If you'd like to find out why Horace Silver is so highly esteemed in jazz circles, check out this greatest hits album:

Photo: Horace Silver by Dmitri Savitski 1989, CC BY-SA 3.0

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year 2014!

Yes, I know, it's been many months since my last post. I guess I've been lazy and putting up quick Facebook posts instead of more thought out blog entries. Well, I'm going to make it up to you today, on this first day of 2014. Here are 10 reasons to look forward to this new year in band:
  1. January 15 is Klezmer Day! We will have three musicians visiting from the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band visiting DHS to work with SB and WE on pieces for our upcoming concert.
  2. The orchestra winds and percussion will join our strings in the second performance of A Heartland Symphony at the Illinois Music Education Conference in Peoria on January 24. I'll be making the trip with you all.
  3. There are still lots more Pep Band at basketball games!
  4. On January 30, we'll put on the second annual Jazz Combo night featuring the 2014 MAJ and TAJ debuts. This year, we'll be in the studio theater, which will be a fun new venue for us.
  5. The Winter Band Concert will take place on February 5 with all three concert bands--we'll perform our klezmer music along with other wonderful selections.
  6. The Jazz Band heads to Evanston Township High School on February 8 for the Evanston Jazz Festival, where we'll play a 3-tune set, get professional critiques, and hear a concert featuring John Fedchock, an internationally-known trombonist.
  7. A number of our students will join musicians from 9 other local schools at the North Shore Honor Band Festival on January 11. A special highlight will be a world premiere piece by guest conductor James Curnow based on themes from Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
  8. Concert Band will start their annual music on Latin American music. Get ready to become a giant mariachi ensemble, salsa band, and samba group!
  9. The Solo and Ensemble fest in March will feature a number of SB/WE chamber groups as well as soloists.
  10. Sometime this spring, I'll announce the proposed destination for the 2015 band trip. I've got some pretty cool ideas, but for now, my lips are sealed!
So there's just ten reasons why it's going to be a great 2014 with the DHS bands, and I haven't even gotten up to spring break. So now's the time to warm up those chops and wrists--time's a-wasting!