Worth the Work

Dan Blaufuss | October 2011

   I recently visited Hersey High School and watched Scott Casagrande work. He had auditon music for the Illinois Music Educators Association district band festival sitting on a table in the front of the room. By coincidence a tuba etude was on top, and I recognized this etude as one that I played for district auditions back when I was a high school student.
   A flood of memories came back to me. One was the sheer size of the band, which was three times bigger than my high school group. It seemed impossible that everyone could fit in the rehearsal room.
   One of the pieces we played was H. Owen Reed’s La Fiesta Mexicana; the “Mass” movement just blew me away. I had never heard anything like the chimes solo before and was captivated by the building trombone parts. Another work, The Hounds of Spring by Alfred Reed, was and still is one of the most beautiful works I have ever heard. It was the first music I had seen with a 9/8 time signature, and I remember not having the foggiest idea how 9/8 was counted. My wild guess was four and a half beats per measure, but my director quickly set me straight.
   Perhaps my favorite from the IMEA festival was Themes from “Green Bushes” by Percy Grainger. I have always been impressed by composers who can take a theme and build more excitement each time it is repeated. Of course, I was also partial to Green Bushes because the tubas got to play the melody first. It was a struggle to get eight tubas (plus low reeds) to start the piece precisely together and play in a light, bouncy style.
   After a quick search online I found the state scales, which also appear mostly unchanged from when I was in high school. As a student, I used to focus too much on technical work and not enough on artistry. I am uncertain I could play all the way through them now at the tempo I could then, but I hope the phrasing would be better now. Certainly perfection is always the goal, but today I would be more forgiving of a flubbed note in a C-flat major scale if it sounded musically pleasing.
   In auditions this year I would encourage students to take advantage of the many wonderful opportunities that district and state festivals offer. The rewards are worth the work to play in these events.