News & Views Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Uplifting Programmatic Pieces for Strings – Grade 1-2 Monday, October 30, 2017

recommended by Dan C., Orchestra Music Specialist

Looking for young string orchestra repertoire to buoy your students and your audience? Here is a wide variety of outstanding original music that will not only provide a lift at your concerts, but will also offer innumerable teaching opportunities as well as interesting parts for every section of your young string orchestra.

cfn-bas75-fRays of Light by George Sweet, Grade 1
If you have one of those young middle school groups that seems to latch on to new concepts easily, you should consider this subtle selection that will make them sound mature beyond their years. There are occasional dissonances that pop out much like the Rays of Light after a dark storm that they are representing. Several of the phrases end in ritardandos, with the next phrase starting at a different tempo from the previous one, which also makes the music sound very “grown up.” While technically easy (nothing faster than eighth notes) the weaving of all the parts, which are equally necessary, gives it some musical muscle, to which your students and audience will positively respond.

Air of Nobility by James Swearingen, Grade 1
A very easy yet majestic concert opener with a big fanfare that brings it in and takes it out, Air of Nobility passes the melody from first violin to cello to second violin (wow!) with plenty of support from the rest of the group. There are lots of teaching opportunities, with a style change between the fanfare and the ceremonial processional march, double upbows, the difference between marcato and legato and the meaning of Maestoso.

barn-arc-7051-00-fSoar with the Dragons by Rob Romeyn, Grade 0.5
Your beginners will really latch on to this dragon fantasy, which is right in their reading/video game wheelhouse. They will get to dig into the string, learn double upbows and begin to conquer “hairpin” dynamics up and down. Add the optional triangle and gong, if you can, to really capture the soaring quality and aggressive sound will surely be impressive to their audience on an early concert.

Northern Lights by Alan Lee Silva, Grade 1.5
You can always count on Alan Lee Silva to provide a picturesque portrait of whatever he chooses to write about, in this case the mysterious Aurora Borealis. Using a call and response device, he keeps everyone involved in the flow of the piece, and when the dynamics are closely followed it is quite effective. There is give and take with tempos and styles which will add maturity to the sound of your young group as well.

master-50250113-fCat, Dancing by Bud Woodruff, Grade 1.5
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 30% of homes have cats, so a lot of people will be able to relate to the notion of a cat dancing. With pouncing pizzicato in the accompaniment and interesting turns in the melody, all parts are important as your students maneuver 2/2 time (start in 4, then move to cut time) left hand pizzicato (not always on open strings!) and half position in the violas. Cat, Dancing is clever and contagious, intriguing and beguiling.

A New Dawn by Lorri Baum, Grade 2
There is so much negativity in the world, that this upbeat paean of positivity could be a breath of fresh air at your next concert. Celebrating new life, new growth and new beginnings, it is also a musical lesson in keeping the arpeggiated accompaniments quieter than the melody (which is shared liberally) incorporating syncopation (usually in unison rhythms) and introducing A#. Plus it should leave a smile on everyone’s face!

fjh-st6434-fIntrada by Brian Balmages, Grade 2
Brian Balmages has really made a name for himself as a writer of unique, intriguing, outstanding pieces at any grade level. Without being too technically difficult, Intrada sounds a whole lot harder than it is. Feeling the pulse through regular meter changes and accents, your students will get a big sound with the terraced dynamics and various textures as sections are added and subtracted. It’s bright and contemporary with great momentum.

To Catch a Pickpocket by Chandra Lind, Grade 1
This engaging, minor key piece by new composer Lind spins an intriguing musical story of a cat-and-mouse game between a very clever pickpocket and the new inspector in town. In a fugue-like middle section, the two characters engage in a lively chase. This well-written, very approachable musical tale is sure to enthrall your students!

alfred-45860-fMidnight Adventure by Michael Kamuf, Grade 2
This contemporary work paints a musical picture of a late-night outdoor escapade using flowing melodies soaring over rich harmonies and driving rhythmic figures. Perfect as an opening or closing selection, it also correlates to Sound Innovations Book 2, Level 2.

Pieces of Eight by Richard Meyer, Grade 2
Look no further for the perfect piece to introduce your students to 6/8 meter! This cool-sounding, minor-key jig uses only three basic 6/8 rhythms to give your students the confidence they need to navigate a too-often neglected time signature. Pieces of Eight gives every section a turn at the fun and catchy melody while the repeated patterns in the accompaniments will reinforce students’ reading of the new rhythms.

Check them out at, and pick your favorites for upcoming concerts, festivals and adjudications!

About the Author:
Dan C. has worked at Stanton’s since 1979, primarily with orchestra music and print promotions. A “working” musician, he’s a classical cellist, a rock & jazz bassist and a folk & country guitarist/singer. His free time is spent with family or reading, gardening, cycling and working puzzles. His series of musical puzzles (RP3 Rebus Puzzle Picture People) can be found on the Stanton’s Facebook page each Sunday. He also has a reputation as a pretty good joke teller. Seriously.

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