“On teaching: … the job seems to require the sort of skills one would need to pilot a bus full of live chickens backwards, with no brakes, down a rocky road through the Andes while simultaneously providing colorful and informative commentary on the scenery.”
- author Franklin Habit
So, he puts up this (relatively) (for him) massive website to broadcast the idea that he's planning to ramp up his musical arranging efforts. Those efforts previously were just kind of an extra, something on-the-side that he did for fun and a couple of bucks here and there.
But why? My writing in recent years has been mostly for friends. I haven't gone in for all that Advertising and Marketing Stuff. I haven't done research on estimated tax payments. Why shift gears now?
Among the several perfectly good reasons, it occurred to me – and I'm talking mainly to the music teachers out there, the school ensemble directors, and possibly the church musicians as well – that there's one reason which has gotten especially notable in the last year or so:
You probably don't have a spare minute to do it yourself.
I'm lucky to know a pack of music teachers – friends and colleagues with whom I have shared tales before – who probably are capable of putting a note or two down on paper (virtual or otherwise) for their bands, jazz bands, orchestras, choruses, small groups, whatever. I can think of one such friend and colleague who just put an item together for her middle-school jazzers, and seemed quite thrilled with it.
But given all the Stuff (with a capital “S”) that teachers have to do as part of their daily jobs – and the extra Stuff that various education departments, federal, state and local, have piled on top of them – well, I can imagine many music teachers thinking, “I'd love to write out this or that tune for my gang; but with what time, exactly?”
New evaluation regimens. New requirements for record-keeping, with respect to those evaluation standards, and to special-education plans, and … well, the list goes on and on. Even if teachers were “merely” teaching, and didn't have to contend with all the other Stuff that goes with teaching (in many cases, being the parents that their students maybe don't have, or certainly could sorely use), preparation of materials and strategies for those classes still would put time at a premium. Not to mention, they might be trying to maintain lives outside the workplace. What a thought.
In the last year or two, here in Massachusetts, a new requirement was dropped onto teachers of all stripes (music included): they need to take a specialized course in how to deal with English-as-a-second-language learners, and there's a deadline before which they have to take it. It's the equivalent of a semester-long graduate class, with weekly writing assignments; and everyone must complete it, and get a good grade, … and pay for it themselves. No help from the state, or from any individual school districts. Oh joy. Another unfunded mandate.
Don't get me started. Oops. Too late.
I have it on good authority that the humor in those classes is strictly gallows.
<*shakes himself from his red-tinged haze of “you gotta be kiddin' me”*>
Having been a high school band (and chorus and jazz band) director, I know all too well the virtual mountain of to-do list items that face music teachers regularly. Sometimes it's a physical mountain of Stuff.
My new favorite quote about that specific version of teaching comes from a t-shirt meme, of all things:
Being a band director is easy.
It's like riding a bike.
Except the bike is on fire.
You're on fire.
Everything is on fire.
With all that, who has the time to write out the perfect arrangement, not to mention the time it takes to track down copyright permissions information and all the rest of the details that go into all this?
You could say I want to help.
So do feel free to pass the word … if you (or a friend or a colleague) have a project in mind that you will never in a million years get to, but would make your kids very happy (with you!) … drop me a note here, on the Contact/FAQ page …
… and let me know what I can do to make your life easier.
One of the curious terms that has sprung up in the music arranging world in the very recent past, thanks in this case to the influence of the pop music world, is the mashup.
As in, “this is a mashup of Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody' and Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun'.” A couple of tunes that have at least a little to do with each other. Maybe they don't have that much to do with each other lyrically, but somehow they've been jammed together, put into the same key, perhaps linked by a compromise between their two rhythm-section grooves, and away we go.
When I first heard of the mashup, I listened briefly to one, and thought, “perhaps you meant a medley, yes?”
It can seem that way, but of course a medley is one tune, then another, distinct and separate, connected only by clever transitional material. In a mashup, the tunes appear to do something that is impossible in physics. Two objects can't exist in the same space … but two songs sometimes can.
Some mashups are sheer unadulterated brilliance – “I would never have thought of putting those two items together but don't they work!” And some are square peg / round hole creations. But it's been interesting hearing different arrangers' efforts.
The example I quote above, as you will have figured out via the link, is an actual arrangement done by Elle Brigida, a terrific arranger who has written charts for the Cape Cod-based women's a cappella group Cape Harmony for the past couple of summers, and has hit it out of the park on a regular basis. When Cape Harmony closed its shows with that one, this past summer, nothing could follow it.
Another great example of utterly inspired mashing was done by Northeastern University band director John Leonard, for the field show performed by the Central Connecticut State University Blue Devil Marching Band. In the finale of a space-music show, full of Gustav Holst's “The Planets” show through with moments from the new Star Trek movies' and the “Halo” video game's scores, John's rendition of Elton John's “Rocket Man” is sailing along, when suddenly, if you listen closely for the mellophones and saxophones, you can hear a secondary melody from Holst's “Jupiter” movement dancing around amidst the “Rocket Man” melody.
During one of CCSU's band camp music rehearsals, my instructor colleague and I realized what we were listening to, and had a moment of complete jaw-drop. Wow – John made that work. That is really cool. We found an Easter egg!
Some time ago, though, I figured out two reason why I had initially kinda looked askance at the concept (because I surely did), other than – as with every kind of musical form, in the right hands it can work and in the wrong hands you need a crash helmet (or possibly a forensics expert).
The first reason was … gang, you all may think you've created a new musical form, but as it turns out, every kindergarten kid in America has sung a partner song.
Okay, I can be fairly relaxed about that reason.
But the other reason is one that, if I don't exactly want to launch a crusade about it, at least it inspires me to make a suggestion:
Can we give it a more dignified name?
“Mashup” sounds … well … ham-handed, to me at least. “Mashup” is what you do to peas, when you're four years old and don't want to eat them for supper anymore.
When a musical mashup really works, to the point where you only realize after a few moments that you're listening to two songs work out a negotiated settlement … that's so much more sophisticated, and therefore, I think, deserves a better moniker than what it's got.
Anyone got any alternative ideas? Other than partner song, which tends to put me in mind of farmers and dells.
I don't. But I'd like some.
[Ed. note: this article is cross-posted at my "other", slightly less music-specific blog, Editorial License.]