Doo-Wah Dixieland

The piece is by John Edmondson, and it was lurking inside my Queenwood ‘Developing Band Book 1″ set. My students love this piece. Of course being from New Orleans, they all have an idea of what Dixieland is.

It’s always interesting trying to find music for beginning band. People mislabel things all the time. Grade 1 pieces are really grade 2 (and yes, there is a HUGE distinction), or they throw out the standardized grading system altogether and just say “easy”, “medium-easy”, etc.. and of course their definition of ‘easy’ never matches with the rest of the world’s. It’s hard to create music for beginners. They’re limited both in range and rhythm. You already know their tone quality isn’t going to be fantastic, so doing a slow piece that emphasizes tone quality won’t work just yet (although we’re trying right now with Scarborough Fair). This one does.

It’s an original composition – also something rare for beginning band composers who tend to take extant works and water them down… a lot. It gives them publishing $ and credits. The piece introduces kids to some jazz techniques, which means A) It attempts to swing (we’re reading it straight for now), and B) the kids like it. It even gives all 3 of my severely-ADD percussionists a challenge.

What’s the point of all of this? Preparation. I’m sitting here looking over my score to the piece, writing out my lesson plan for ensemble (which I call “Quarter Notes”, as I live in the French Quarter of New Orleans and they’re a beginning band). I feel like one distinguishable attribute of good teachers is flexibility. I can create lesson plans ’til the cows come home, and it never goes as planned. I supervise some younger undergraduates teaching a general music class of kids and within 5 minutes they look like a deer caught in headlights when the kids do something to make the script change – or worse yet, when you write a lesson plan that for whatever reason just isn’t working that day with that particular group of kids – and you need to improvise a lesson based on what doesn’t work. They never taught me that as an undergrad. You always have these mock classes with “ideal” students sitting in front of you, and eager to learn.

I bring it all up because I just wrote an email to a particular undergraduate asking her if she wants to conduct the piece we chose together this week. I’m giving her 20 minutes to introduce the piece, work on it a bit, and give it to them to work on at home.

(Our concert program so far looks like: Doo-Wah Dixieland, Scarborough Fair, Harrowgate Festival, Medley from Pirates of the Carribean, Ancient Voices, & Harry Potter – I’m picking 3 of those to perform at the concert. We’ll see).

It will be her first time in front of the group, maybe in front of any group. I remember how that feels (it wasn’t too long ago!). My job is to prepare her in the best way possible and assist her with classroom management while she’s up there so her first experience isn’t bad.

Maybe I’ll play clarinet! 🙂

Back to Doo-Wah Dixieland…

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