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Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Navajo Nation Band

In this installment of the Mullen Music Studio blog, two members of the Navajo Nation Band share some of their experiences with the band and what it was like to participate in the 2013 Inaugural Parade. Joining us for this blog post are Navajo Nation Band Coordinator, Valerie Harrison and saxophonist and former Mullen Music Studio student, Ronette Yazzie. 

@MullenMusic: Can you tell us a bit about your background in music?

VH: Speaking for myself, I taught myself guitar in 2nd grade, then progressed to piano about 4th, then joined band beginning in 5th grade with the clarinet. While in high school I learned the oboe.  I joined the Navajo Tribal Band in 1976 during my last year of high school.  The band was huge and included many older members some of whom were also an inspiration to me... Jean Fredericks and Ron Benally. The notes of the music looked confusing at first but I saw a challenge.  I worked my way up from 3rd to 1st in no time.  Later, although I did not go on to a university I had a job that left me free to pursue activities directly involved with the Navajo Nation Band.  But I have not limited myself to just NNB. I've learned other instruments and have participated with the Play It Again Band, Phoenix, AZ and have coordinated and participated with TubaChristmas, Tuba City, AZ.  I've been marching and playing with NNB for 37 years officially as of February 17th and have held every position from member to Director.

RY: I started to learn how to read and play music since I was in the fifth grade, in Coolidge, AZ. I always continued to play music until I was finished with High School where Mrs. Mullen taught us. After graduation, I didn’t really know what to do with my music. I didn’t want it just to lay there collecting dust. So I decided to continue somewhere and somehow.

@MullenMusic: How did you get involved with the Navajo Nation Band? What is the audition process like? How often do you rehearse?

VH: Auditions at that time were by invitation and whether you'd come back. We had once a month rehearsals at that time. I had two fellow clarinet players who were already members of the NNB and they bugged me to join saying that I was good enough.  I have been 1st Clarinet, 1st Chair most of high school, so I went to the rehearsal and have been hooked ever since.  My friends were Virgil Davis, Alto Sax (now) and Ernest Ross, the youngest NNB director ever and I was the Assistant Director. 

RY: I started with the Navajo Nation Band in the summer of 2010. Right after graduation, I began to miss playing music. That year Valerie Harrison, band coordinator, contacted me because I was interested in joining. She invited me to come to a rehearsal that following weekend giving me details on who I would meet, who our director was, etc. That day, I met Virgil Davis who befriended me right away, took me under his wing, and helped me get all the music I needed and shared with me stories of adventures and information on upcoming parades. When I first joined we didn’t really have an audition process. I was told to just play with the band when I had that first rehearsal. But that was under a different director. There after NNB received some requirements which we all had to go through. We were told that EVERYONE needed to audition, so we had the audition process throughout different areas like Chinle, Gallup, Window Rock, and even Phoenix. At that time we just were told the dates and time slots and set up an audition that fit best to us. Requirements included scales, excerpts (mine was "Old Comrades" by John Philip Sousa), and sight reading. The audition didn’t take more than 30 minutes. We don’t really rehearse a lot especially during the winter. Mostly the band members are asked to practice on their own. However, there are times like before a large performance that we are required to attend a mandatory rehearsal. We all have our own choice to attend or not, but if you're definitely going to the performance you need to be there because that’s where you’ll receive the information needed on when we’re leaving, where, and what time. Most of the band members have jobs and are from all over the reservation so not all can come to rehearsals when asked. The Navajo Nation Band is pretty much lenient and works with you.

@MullenMusic: How was the NNB chosen to participate in the 2013 Inaugural Parade in D. C.?

RY: Well I’m not entirely sure. Our band director, Darwin, was the one that was in contact with the people that got us in the parade. From what we were told, the band was gaining recognition because of the Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City, OK, The America's Freedom Festival in Provo, UT, First Light Federal Credit Union Sun Bowl Parade, El Paso, TX. These major parades that we did this year got us recognized, when our band application was submitted we didn’t need to send additional information because they had been watching us for a while, and right away we were told that we were in but all the members that were going to go needed to have a security check in order to participate in the parade.

@Mullen Music: How long was the parade route?

RY: The parade route wasn’t too long. I think It was 2 or 3 miles. We’re used to marching that length of parade. However, it was a long wait just to get where we needed to be. Everything was time consuming and not everything was planned out. This event was a little different because it was all depending on the President and when he was going to be walking in the parade.

@MullenMusic: What did you enjoy about marching in this historic event?

VH: It was just an honor to be there. Then finding out later that President Obama did actually pay us an honor as well by giving us his attention. I missed my opportunity to see him. That's how devoted I am to doing my job. A highlight I enjoyed was the pizza at Union Station... Vittorio's.  It is the best pizza I ever had in my life!  Another one was checking out the viewing box for the president the day before the parade.  Actually just being there was an awesome feeling. Another more subtle one was the fact that everyone got along so well during the long bus ride.  It was the bus' inaugural trip too!  Brand new bus - never used!
I've been to Washington, D.C. twice before - once for the 1985 Presidential Inaugural and parade which was the only parade ever cancelled but got to attend the Indian Ball as chaperon for Miss Navajo, Lorene Lewis.  Then again, that same year for the 4th of July Pow Wow held on the Mall as chaperon again for Miss Navajo.  Met Mike Love of the Beach Boys.

RY: It was fun; I think the most memorable thing on the trip was actually seeing the president stand up as we walked by. That night there wasn’t many people there as we marched because it was late, getting cold with a bit of wind. Just seeing his respect as we were there I felt we did represent our Nation as we passed by.

@MullenMusic: Can you share with us some of the highlights of your trip? Were you able to visit other sites while you were there?

VH: Only where the tour guide had us go I went... Mount Vernon, Lincoln Memorial, The Wall, Iwo Jima, Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History.  Missed out on Museum of the American Indian.but was in the Voice of America building for a meeting. 
VH: Wish we had gone to Arlington Cemetery.  I've seen it from the surrounding freeway but the experience is way more awesome to be there.

RY: The meeting of new people from all over was pretty neat. While we were out there on the trip we had a traditional day where we all wore our native attire throughout the day as we went to most of the Smithsonian museums. While there, I wore my traditional turquoise attire, my fiancé wore his Navajo Code Talker with his grandfathers that were in the war on it. People all over as we were walking wanted to know who we were and others were proud of us too. There were some fellow Navajos that we ran into at the museum. They actually traveled there just to see us perform. They were so proud of us and what we were doing that they wanted to support us. So it was a really great experience doing this, and representing out Nation, and Heritage. Really we did so many things I wished every person could experience it the way I did. Overall, it’s a completely different experience than just sitting in a history class looking at a book. Actually seeing and looking at different museums was so incredible.

@MullenMusic: What would you say to young people out there who a considering joining band?

VH: Do it!  Music is everywhere, music is life.  Do it for yourself!   To quote, rather badly, a friend who has passed on, "Sports are limited.  Music is lifelong!"

RY: I say go for it! There are so many opportunities that come as you join. Like this year were looking for more exposure and we got it. We were able to represent our nation everywhere we go. We see incredible things and meet amazing people. In the band it’s like you're already considered family. Everyone jokes with one another; we take care of each other. We even get to meet Miss Navajo, and our Nations President. Most people don’t want to join in the first place is because of how far we have to travel, or how much investment we have to put into our attire just to be a part of it. We're usually reimbursed for mileage. 

@MullenMusic: Any last thoughts?

RY: In closing I’d like to say one thing. It’s not about the money. It’s about having fun. Playing for those you love and gaining the experience, so that one day you can tell your grandchildren what you did for our great nation. It’s incredible to hear the stories that are shared from the elders of the band. They have been dedicated their whole lives to this band, and still going strong. It’s an opportunity that every person should experience. Thanks! A’he’hee

For more information, please visit:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Q & A with Chip Michael, Music Director of TwtrSymphony

Over the past year, I've had the unique opportunity to play trumpet with an international musical ensemble made up of world class musicians without ever leaving the comfort of my living room. You've seen various posts about TwtrSymphony on my Mullen Music Studio Facebook page and Twitter feed and I want to dedicate this blog post to helping people get a better grasp of what this ensemble is all about. Our guest artist today is Chip Michael, Music Director of TwtrSymphony, a new concept in the symphony orchestra. 

@MullenMusic: Can you tell our readers a bit about the origins of TwtrSymphony? 

@ChipMichael: TwtrSymphony started because of a conversation over Twitter. I am a composer. One night I was speaking to some musicians friends over Twitter about a new orchestra piece, a piano concerto, I was really excited about. There was a problem - I didn't have an orchestra.  Erica Sipes replied, "Chip, you know plenty of musicians on Twitter. Why don't you just start your own?"  My wife has been telling the same thing for a couple of years now, but starting an orchestra isn't as easy as just wanting it to happen.  So, I didn't pay much attention to Erica's comment, signed off of Twitter and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up to find my three friends had spent a couple of hours tweeting about ideas for an orchestra connected over Twitter. They had really come up with so many great plans, I couldn't ignore their passion for the project. So, I started the Twitter account TwtrSymphony.  I tweeted from my personal account and started following all the musicians on my personal account with the TwtrSymphony account.  Within a few days we had over 100 musicians wanting to participate so we had to hold auditions.  

Auditions means getting music to musicians, The original group of friends talked about what sort of music we should use and they all agreed it should be original music, music that connected with the flavor and style of what I write. That way, musicians who are really familiar with the standard audition pieces don't have an unfair advantage. TwtrSymphony was breaking the mold of what traditional orchestras do right from the start.  

By the end of the first month, we had 60 audition pieces of music and over 300 musicians auditioning for spots in TwtrSymphony.  That was a much bigger response than I ever expected and every week new musicians want to audition. 

Right now we have just over sixty core musicians, with another 30 musicians who I can call on from time to time.  We want to open it up even more to anyone, anywhere who wants to play in an orchestra, to have the chance.  But that's goals for the future... 

@MullenMusic: You are the music director of TwtrSymphony. What does that entail? 

@ChipMichael: As Music Director I am responsible for the end result of the music we produce. While initially the project was started to record my music, I quickly began to see TwtrSymphony could do so much more. They could help other composers like me get their music recorded and shared out into the real world. We could elevate the awareness of orchestral music, taking it outside the concert hall and out over social media.  This was too good of a project to be used selfishly. 
So, my job consists of 

  • finding new music
  • working with the composers to make sure the parts are playable by the musicians and each part has the appropriate click tracks so the musicians can record their part correctly
  • understanding the nuances of the music so I can communicate to the musicians exactly what we need in terms of dynamics, expression and emotion in the music
  • send out parts to the musicians
  • get the recordings back from the musicians and put them all together for the sound engineers
    • this also means taking a first pass at edits for every part - sometimes it means sending the part back to the musician to re-record a section or two of the music
    • I also make comments about adjustments the engineers need to make to levels to get the proper feeling of the overall music - much like a conductor does while conducting the music during a concert
  • I get the edited music back from the sound engineers making comments and adjustments to the music to sculpt the piece into a cohesive unit
  • I also spend time talking with press, investors, and other organizations that want to work with TwtrSymphony moving classical music into the 21st Century.
@MullenMusic: How many musicians are involved and where are they located? 

@ChipMichael: We have 60 core musicians located all over the world. Because English is my primary language and Twitter is much more prevalent in the US than in other countries, about 40% of our musicians are located in the US, 20% are located in the UK.  From there we have musicians in Austria, Norway, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, Finland, Poland, Bosnia, Australia, Japan, Chile, Brazil and Venezuela. The 30 other musicians are spread around the world as well. The over 100 composers who submitted works in our call for scores are pretty evenly spread around the world.  

@MullenMusic: What does a TwtrSymphony rehearsal look like? 

@ChipMichael: That's a good question. Since all the musicians get their parts individually, a rehearsal is a very personal thing for each musicians. Some musicians like to take the music outside for the first rehearsal, just playing over their part while listening to the complete piece. Other musicians focus in on the music in their studios.  There are probably as many variations to the rehearsals as there are musicians.  Because we don't physically meet, TwtrSymphony doesn't have a standard rehearsal process, not like you would think with a standard orchestra. 
@MullenMusic: What kind of music does the ensemble record? 

@ChipMichael: We focus on new orchestra music.  We believe there is a real interest in new orchestral music.  Film and Game scores are among the fastest growing segment of classical music downloads. While some people think orchestra music is a thing of the past or music for only older people, we disagree. Film and video game music attracts a much younger crowd than you typically find in the concert hall, so younger people are interested in orchestra music - they just aren't necessarily interested in the concert hall.  

So, TwtrSymphony wants to record music that is new, fresh and exciting - but not film and game music.  We want to then take that music and put it out where non-concert hall people might find it - the internet.  We want to get everyone excited about new orchestral music, raising the awareness of the vast number of new composers working out in the world. 

Then, when we have established fans, other orchestras will be encouraged to play this music, taking it into the concert hall - thus exposing the concert hall to more new music - and bringing more people into the concert hall as a result.

@MullenMusic: What is the easiest way for people to access the music of TwtrSymphony? 

@ChipMichael: The easiest way to listen to the music of TwtrSymphony is through our website:
- but you can also find our music on YouTube - search for TwtrSymphony!  

YouTube Music Video for "Tremulando Dança" from Symphony No. 2, Birds of a Feather by Chip Michael

@MullenMusic: What are the requirements for joining the ensemble? Do you need elaborate recording technology or access to a studio to play?

@ChipMichael: We have a link on our website so any musician who wants to join can apply.

When we get applications we initially send out an email telling the new musician who and what we are and a bit about the process.  We explain to them they will need some way to record themselves playing the music, while at the same time listening to the recorded click track. That doesn't sound particularly difficult, but can be a lot more challenging than it seems.  If the musician is still interested, I send them the audition music and give them a time frame to get it back to me.  

When I have the returned audition piece, I check it for the following
  • Is the music played in time with the click track? This is important because editing music so it fits in time can be very difficult for the engineers, so musicians need to be very accurate with their performances
  • Is the recording of a quality we can use? Often the recording is too soft or has too much background noise to be usable. 
  • Is the playing good - does it have expression and match the music?   
If an audition doesn't pass, I send a note back to the musicians why their audition didn't pass. They are always welcome to re-audition at anytime.  Most of the time, I help musicians understand what their issues are and how they can correct them.  Sometimes they do and they re-apply, but most often they accept the process as a learning experience, realizing what we do is more difficult that it seems. 
@MullenMusic: Are members paid for their time? 

@ChipMichael: No, and this is a problem.  Musicians often have multiple jobs to try and make ends meet. They may work teaching students, playing in gigs, working for recording studios and lecturing at a college or university. They have to manage their time really well to also include time for practice to keep their skills up.  The musicians in TwtrSymphony work on this project because they believe in the project - they believe in what we're trying to do.  

However, as we grow and attempt to do more, it means it will take more time for the musicians which will take time away from the other jobs they have that actually pay them. So, we need to find a way to start paying our musicians. That's one reason we've started our Kickstarter.  We believe the musicians deserve to be paid for their talents and time.

@MullenMusic: TwtrSymphony has recently recorded and released a complete symphony along with chamber works. Were these existing pieces or were they tailored to this orchestra? 

@ChipMichael: The symphony was written specifically for the musicians in TwtrSymphony.  Unlike a normal orchestras, we have saxophone, guitars and even recorders.  While other orchestras will hire these musicians when they need to in order to perform a particular work, they are not typically part of the orchestra. Because of the way TwtrSymphony works, we want to include anyone we can. Therefore, when we had saxophone, guitars and recorder musicians audition, I wrote the symphony to include this instruments so they could participate.  TwtrSymphony is all about participation. 
The two chamber works we released were also written specifically for TwtrSymphony musicians. Although we do have some other chamber works that were not; these are still in the recording process.

The call for scores we held earlier this year has about 1/3 of the pieces were specifically tailored for TwtrSymphony.  The rest were not. They are all new works, but written without TwtrSymphony in mind.  However, these pieces fit within the parameters of our call for scores and so are considered.   

@MullenMusic: What's next for TwtrSymphony?

@ChipMichael: Right now we're looking at recording a CD of all new works, exposing the world to new music, new composers and new ideas in terms of what orchestra music can be.  During this process we're working with a variety of software vendors to help smooth out the collaboration process over the internet.  

We want to expand so anyone, anywhere can potentially participate in the recording. We want it so a new musicians in Zimbabwe can access the music over the internet, record their part and submit it for consideration.  This will ostensibly eliminate the audition process while at the same time allow a lot more people to participate in the music making process.  We will still have core musicians, musicians TwtrSymphony can count on to produce high quality recordings of each of the parts. But, the more we can allow others to work with us, the more fans we have, the more people making music, the more people exposed to new music - and in general the more people working to help TwtrSymphony succeed.  

Beyond that, there are lots of ideas in the hopper - but nothing we can speak about right now!

@MullenMusic: In closing, is there anything else you feel is important to the topic of TwtrSymphony or classical music in general?

@ChipMichael: Our Kickstarter is important because without it, completing a full CD of music could take us years to accomplish. Much of the music we have to record was written in the last year. But if it takes us four years to get it out to the public, it's hardly new anymore. We want to be responsive to the music industry, getting music out to the public in such a way as we set the trends rather than echo them years after the fact. 

It is also important as success with our Kickstarter means people feel TwtrSymphony has value, is a worthwhile project.  There are a number of other potential investors out there watching what we're doing. If we succeed with this, we may well get other much larger investments to help TwtrSymphony do even more.  But right now, they're watching to see if we can succeed here.

Should we not get funded, doesn't mean we failed. It does mean it will take us a lot longer to get where we're going.  

We believe in the power of music to move people. We believe the music we're doing has that power and the direction we're moving is right not only for TwtrSymphony, but for other orchestras and classical music as a whole. The more popular we are, the more popular classical music is in general. That's good for everyone.  

@MullenMusic: I want to take this opportunity to thank Chip Michael for taking time out of his busy schedule to participate in this blog post! 

For more information, please visit:

TwtrSymphony Kickstarter Campaign

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Q & A with Dr. B.J. Brooks, Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Composition at West Texas A&M University

Q: When did you decide to make music your career?
A: Around 8th grade. I began to imagine that I would probably someday be a band director. In high school, I imagined that I might want to be a professor too.
Q: What/Who has had the most significant impact on your work?
A: My piano teacher for helping me learn to compose and my High School band director for learning how to write better.
Q: What is it like to be a composer in 2012?
A: Well, no one really needs composers and composing is easier in 2012 than ever before, so there is tons of competition. I feel fortunate to be able to write music that I would want to hear and that other people seem to share that sentiment.
Q: One of your compositions, “El Simbolo Zia” premiered at the 2012 NMMEA All-State Convention. Can you tell us a bit about the commissioning process, the premier and your inspiration for this piece?
A: All of my compositions in the last five years has been the result of commissioning. Before I write a note I like to think and meditate about the commissioner and the performers and feel what the performance will be like. I can often see the performance in my mind before I can hear it. For El Simbolo Zia I used the Zia icon, a red circle with four lines on the top, bottom, left and right and its symbolism, four directions, four seasons, four parts of the day and the four ages of life to unify the piece in a significant and meaningful way. The piece is in four distinct sections, each representing a part of the Zia symbol.
Below is a video of the Eastern New Mexico University 2012 Alumni Band performing "El Simbolo Zia" with Dr. Brooks conducting: 

Q: What do you want the audience to experience through your music?
A: I want the audience to feel something. I can't expect them to feel what I do, but I feel successful if they simply feel something, either for good or bad. I appreciate solid responses, rather than lukewarm. So a "I really HATED that" means more to me that a "I guess that was nice, I really didn't notice."
Q: What are your expectations of a conductor who programs your work?
A: When I give a piece away, its like I give it up for adoption. The conductor is the new transformative person who raises the work and sets it loose. 
Q: What are your expectations of a performer who plays your music?
A: Depending on if the work has a conductor, their role may be similar to the conductor's. They bring the work from the page in to sound.
Q: From your perspective, has social media had any impact on contemporary classical music? If so, what?
A: Perhaps. Social media and the democratization of music distribution through sources such as iTunes have allowed for composers to play to vast niche markets that could have never happened in the past.
Q: Do you feel that music programs are adequately preparing student musicians to appreciate, program, interpret, and perform new music? Why or why not?
A: I am more concerned that music programs may not be preparing student musicians to appreciate music itself. Society is driven to distraction. Without knowledge of musical expectations in music that is not designed to appeal to a mass audience many nascent listeners often become "bored" or "confused" by a musical line or "lost" in the form of an obtuse work. It tends to be the case that people don't know what they like, they like what they know. More exposure and musical exploration can yield listeners more attune to variety in their listening.
Q: What projects are you working on at the moment?
A: I am currently working on a piano piece for eight hands, a solo saxophone piece, an organ piece and a concerto for flute and wind ensemble.
Q: List any upcoming projects, performances, etc.
A; October 28, "The Mark of Zorro" Silent Film
November 3, "Starry Messenger" for the Amarillo Master Chorale.
December - "Joy to the World" Orchestra & Choir at WTAMU.
The following questions were posed by 7th Grade junior high school students in Tennessee: 
Q: How much work do you put into composing?
A: About 1/3 of my job as a Professor at a university involves composition.
Q: How long does it usually take to write a symphonic piece?
A: My usual answer is "All of my life". It takes everything I've ever known to complete a piece and I'm always learning new things, so I feel I can work better everyday. Other than that, about 1 hour for 30 seconds of music. A symphonic work of 10 minutes in length can take a few weeks.

The video below is a performance of "Cadence" by Dr. Brooks performed by the WTAMU Symphonic Band at the 2012 TMEA Convention.

Q: What kind of music do you compose?
A: I compose music that I would like to hear. Sometimes that might be music you would want to hear, sometimes not. There is quite a bit of variety in music and I like to vary my style too.
Q: What made you start composing?
A: I started composing because there was music I wanted to hear that I did not have, and hadn't heard before. So I sat at the piano and came up with music that I enjoyed.
Q: How old do you have to be to become a composer?
A: You can start composing at any age.
Q: What's your favorite subject / topic to write about?
A: I like to write about topics that people know well but that I can interpret musically my way.
Q: Do you write strictly from emotions or is there something else involved in your writing process?
A: I always write based on what I feel. But I have done a lot of studying about music, so my instincts are easy to represent musically. I also incorporate precompositional strategies, like brainstorming and outlining, so that I can be consistent in my writing.
Q: How long have you been composing?
A: 25 years.
Q: How long does it take to compose for a whole CD?
A: All my life.
A CD is about 70 minutes. My last piece was an orchestral work that was about 90 minutes long. I wrote the 98,000 notes in about a month.
Q: How stressful is it to compose music?
A: I don't get stressed because I know my workflow and my limitations. I don't make promises I can't keep. I say what I'm going to do and then do it.
The following questions were posed by 8th grade junior high school students in Tennessee: 
Q: When were you first interested in music?
A: When I was young my grandmother taught me how to play the piano because she noticed I was interested. I was about five then.
Q: How old were you when you composed your first piece?
A: I wrote my first piano piece, Musikalisch Schӧnin, in 1988 when I was in seventh grade.
Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?
A: My mother was in band and my father played fiddle. One of my uncles runs a recording studio and the other writes country music in Nashville.
Q: What do you do when you're not working on music?
A: I spend time with my family and I like to build things with wood and make machines out of Legos.
Q: Were any of your family members composers?
A: The uncle I mentioned earlier writes music for country singers in Nashville. If you are a country music buff, you may have heard his music before.
Q: Do you ever have times when you can't think of what to write?
A: No, but I always think I could write better.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Thinking.
Q: How old are you?
A: 37.
Q: Do you like to compose?
A: Yes. I find it to be very rewarding.
Q: Did you ever have doubts about your career?
A: No. I've always quite enjoyed every job that I have had, but then again I tend to be quite optimistic about things.

Artist Biography: 

Dr. BJ Brooks was born in Portales, New Mexico in 1975. He was guided in his early piano compositions by his piano teacher Cheryl Pachak-Brooks and was later instructed in large ensemble techniques by band director and arranger Pat Henry. He spent 5 years in DCI as a member of the Troopers Drum & Bugle corps as well as an age-out member and tour director of the Blue knights Drum & Bugle corps of Denver, CO.

BJ holds a bachelor's degree from Eastern New Mexico University, a master's degree from West Texas A&M University, and doctorate from Texas Tech University. He was instructed in composition by Dr. Jon Jonsson, Dr. Stephen Duncan, Dr. Norman Nelson and Dr. Peter Fischer.

BJ has composed numerous works for ensembles, solo performers and the electro-acoustic medium. His works are played by a wide range of performers, from universities to beginning ensembles around the world. In 2011 his “Cadence-Fantasy on Rhythms of Nick Angelis” was selected to be performed by the Croatian Army Symphonic Wind Orchestra at the International Society for Contemporary Music in Zagreb, Croatia. His music has been honored with numerous awards, has been included as educational material at the University of North Texas Conductor’s Collegium, is included in the acclaimed book series Teaching Music Through Performance in Band, is found on several repertoire lists including Texas’ PML, and has been featured at numerous conventions such as TMEA, TBA, United States Army Band Tuba-Euphonium Conference, and the Midwest Clinic. BJ is an active clinician and adjudicator with concert ensembles and marching bands across the Southwest.

Dr. Brooks is Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Composition at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas. There he resides with his wife, Melanie, two children, Meghan and Tobin and a dog, Grainger.

For further information on Dr. Brooks and his work, please visit:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Q & A with Dr. Amanda Pepping, Assistant Professor of Music at Georgia State University

Student: L. M.
Age: 12
Instrument: Trumpet

Q: How can I learn to sight read rhythms better? 

A:  My high school band director had us practice simple rhythmic blocks almost every day. Practicing rhythms outside of musical pieces helps develop the pattern recognition skills that are essential to sight reading. There are many different ways to learn to sight read rhythms and melodies better, though. You can ask your music teachers for guidance in choosing one that will work best for you.

Student: C. E.
Age: 13
Instrument: Tuba

Q: When I play my cheeks always look like a chipmunk. How can I stop that?

A: Chances are that your cheeks look like a chipmunk because you're not directing your air through the aperture, the hole between your lips.  When we play brass instruments, we need to blow air like we would when blowing out a candle. I've had some success with students with puffy cheeks by having them blow at a spot across the room every time they play.  You can practice this off the instrument as well. You first blow at your hand, held half-an-arm's length from your face.  Then blow (without buzzing) through just your mouthpiece in the same way. Next introduce buzzing an easy-to-play pitch to this blowing exercise, and finally, glissando up and down on the mouthpiece maintaining that focus. This should make things easier on your tuba.

Student: J. A. B.
Age: 13
Instrument: Trumpet

Q: Are there ways to make practice time easy and more fun?

A: I love practicing, but sometimes it feels a little routine.  I think it's important to set achievable but motivating goals for every practice session, whether they be perfecting a piece of music or improving an aspect of playing. I have the hardest time in the practice room when I feel like I have nothing I need to do. I try to make sure to establish my objectives before I even pick up my trumpet so I know why I am in the practice room.

Another thing that I think helps on days I can't focus is to practice more shorter sessions. If you have to practice 1/2 an hour a day, then sitting down for three 10-minute sessions could be helpful.

Student: I. A.  
Age: 18
Instrument: Trumpet

Q: How would a trumpet player increase hitting higher notes with ease?

A: That's a question that every trumpet player asks. Make sure that you're using good air and playing efficiently. Practice good playing habits every day. A great teacher who you work with on a regular basis will help you improve faster than anything I can tell you here.

Student: Z. R. 
Age: 15
Instrument: Trumpet

Q: How do I improve on playing louder, but make it sound good? 

A: Just like the question about playing higher notes, practice good habits daily. A good teacher who you work with regularly will help you progress faster than you could without the teacher. As you learn to use your air more efficiently, you'll be able to play louder.

Student: R. C. 
Age: 16
Instrument: Trumpet

Q: Do you have any recommendations for learning and practicing multiple tonguing? 

A: One of the first things I make students learning to multiple tongue do is just walk around practicing tonguing patterns, going tu-ku-tu-ku or tu-tu-ku for about 30 seconds every day before we even pick up a trumpet.  The next step is to blow these patterns on your hand or a piece of paper and make sure the wind is moving forward the entire time.  At this point, we start the simple tonguing exercises in the Arban book. Students start very slowly, making sure each note is long enough.  Then they speed up, which is easier with the right air support.  Like all aspects of trumpeting, you have to practice tonguing every day.

Student: R. T.
Age: 15
Instrument: French horn

Q: Do you have any suggestions on how to improve transposition?

A: Transposition is easier once you can play in any key, so make sure you know all your scales. I teach students who are transposing for the first time to play simple melodies in all twelve keys, both with and without music. Writing out transpositions helps many people who are learning the skill for the first time. Transposing is something you have to practice most days to make significant improvement.

Student: B. M.
Age: 15
Instrument: Trumpet

Q: I am saving up to buy a professional trumpet and cost is a factor. What should I look for?

A: I think cost is almost always a factor.  Used instruments can be just as good as or even better than new ones, so don't rule them out.  There are a lot of bells and whistles on instruments.  What is most important is to make sure you have a good instrument that can achieve a good sound in every register and dynamic.  Also, you cannot assume that two b-flat trumpets, even if they're the same model, will play exactly the same.  They may all be very good, but just like with cars, every now and then you find one that isn't quite up to the level of the others or one that is exceptionally better than similar ones.  The best thing is to have your trumpet teacher or a professional try out an instrument and get his or her assessment before you buy it.

Student: M. D.
Age: 17
Instrument: Guitar

Q: When you feel stuck on something you're having trouble with, do you give it some time and come back to it later or do you pick it apart then and there until you perfect it? 

A: Yes. I do both of those.  I will work on something until it becomes frustrating, and in that moment, I know I need to put it down for a little while so I don't teach myself to get tense or stressed about playing something.  I've found that even the most frustrating passages become easy with regular and patient practice.

Student: R. T.
Age: 15
Instrument: French horn

Q: Did you ever feel pressured to pursue a more (if you will) practical career? Describe what decisions you had to make before making music a career? 

A: I did feel a lot of pressure to pursue a more practical career.  I chose music because my teacher Bob Dorer, now of the Minnesota Orchestra, said that if I could be happy doing anything else in the world but be a professional musician, I should do that instead. He rightly pointed out that there are many more stable, more lucrative, and easier vocations.  However, I get to play every day.  I always look forward to work, and I love what I do.  This was the right choice for me.

Student: R. T. 
Age: 15
Instrument: French horn

Q: As a female musician, do you ever feel unequally treated as opposed to your male peers? As a female brass musician? 

A: Growing up as a female trumpeter in New Mexico, there were certainly times I felt like my peers treated me differently than they treated each other.  However, when you grow up, successful people have pretty-much figured out how to treat each other.

Artist Biography:  

Amanda Pepping enjoys her multi-faceted career as a performer, arranger, educator, and co-editor of the International Trumpet Guild News section.  She has given recitals and solo appearances throughout the United States, Europe, and most recently Thailand.  She has performed with groups including the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, Colorado, the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, the Phoenix Symphony, , Bent Frequency, the New Trinity Baroque Orchestra, the Houston Bach Society, the Arizona Opera, and the Brass Band of Battle Creek, Michigan. She has been a featured soloist with various European ensembles, including the Hombeek Brass Band in Belgium, as well as groups here in the United States, including the Salt River Brass Band, UGA Wind Ensemble, and ASU Marimba Ensemble. She is the assistant professor of music at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Before moving to Georgia, Amanda taught Texas State University in San Marco and Texas Lutheran University in Seguin.  In Arizona, Amanda was an adjunct professor at Mesa Community College and Phoenix College.
Amanda was a 2005-2006 Fulbright Fellow in Karlsruhe, Germany, studying the Baroque trumpet with world-renowned trumpet soloist, historian, and teacher Dr. Edward Tarr.  Amanda received her doctorate from the University of Texas in Austin where she studied with Ray Sasaki and served as a teaching assistant to musicologist Dr. Lorenzo Candelaria. She holds her master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Arizona State University where she studied with and was a teaching assistant to David Hickman, whose book Trumpet Pedagogy, which she edited, has sold over 4500 copies.  She has also studied with German trumpet soloist Reinhold Friedrich, Emory Harvison of the Phoenix Symphony, and Robert Dorer and Douglas Carlsen of the Minnesota Orchestra.  Several of her arrangments can be heard on her first solo album, Amanda, which is available through Summit Records. Amanda is a Sonaré artist.
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