Many composers are wary of composing for beginning and young musicians. Ensembles for these musicians can be small, limited in instrumentation, and of course, being beginners, there is often a lack of sophisticated technique simply because these musicians are young and learning. Young musicians are learning the fundamentals of sound production and reading music. With experience, they learn more notes and rhythms, and develop tone, range, and a variety of other musical skills as they mature physically and as musicians.
Some music written for this level is of questionable quality, and many composers question how or why they would limit themselves to the means necessary to write for beginners. These are valid concerns. However, I relish the challenge of using limited means to create an exciting musical product playable by beginners. There are thousands of beginning bands in schools around the US, and it is a great market. Bands love playing new music. They also love commissioning new music and publishers love it because they make money selling the music to school bands. Additionally, there are many young bands around the world who perform with astonishing quality and musicianship. You cannot paint young bands with a broad brush!
Many musicians start to learn an instrument in the fourth, fifth, or sixth grade. During this time, it is critical that they learn to love making music, so they continue to stay in our ensembles. If we are to continue to have professional musicians, we have to keep students learning music. What better justification is there for writing good, quality music for young musicians than this? Think of yourself as composing for the next generation of performers, composers, and directors.
Interested in composing for young bands? Check out these resources:
Alfred Grading Guidelines
FJH Grading Guidelines
ABC Grading Chart
Ralph Ford’s Thoughts on Composing for Young Musicians
Introduce your students to minimalist works with this grade 1 piece suitable for middle and high school bands, inspired by “In C” by Terry Riley. Click here for a recording.
I recently had the honor of being commissioned to write an arrangement of “By the Sea of Crystal” for the Lee High School Senior Band in Wyoming, MI. This is the location where I completed my student teaching. This was commissioned to celebrate the graduation of the senior class of 2015, and in memory of David E. Gabrielse. David, the father of director Kevin Gabrielse, passed away in early February of 2015. He was called “Grandpa G” by Lee’s band students. “By the Sea of Crystal” was his favorite hymn.
I entered college with an interest in writing music for wind bands, particularly for middle and high school students. I decided that before I would attempt an original work, I would do an arrangement of a tune I really liked, to acquaint myself with writing for the medium without the difficulty of also writing original material for the ensemble. The result, Oh Shenandoah, can be heard in MIDI below. My old high school band once sightread it, and it was thrilling to hear my arrangement be played! However, unless there is interest, I won’t be publishing the work, mostly because Frank Ticheli’s version is about as close to perfect as one can get. But I had a lot of fun writing this arrangement, and I am proud of the result!