The Maslanka Collected Chorales are an extraordinary tool to help develop blend, balance, intonation, and ensemble cohesion in groups ranging from large symphonic bands and orchestras to small chamber groups or sectionals. With a daily 5-10 minutes per rehearsal you will hear a significant improvement in melodic and harmonic pitch awareness in your players.
Dr. Stephen K. Steele, former director of bands at Illinois State University and one of the foremost proponents of David Maslanka’s music, offers his strategies and techniques for getting the most out of this fantastic music.
There is absolutely no end to the possibilities in developing the use of these chorales. The following are a few suggestions: in like instrument sectionals or chamber ensembles; mixed instrument sectionals and/or chamber ensembles; full ensemble. I recommend that each chorale be used for at least one week before moving on to the next.
Full Ensemble chorale use
Rehearsal time is precious and must be used in the most beneficial ways possible. I found that beginning each rehearsal with a chorale reading facilitated the ensembles’ sense of balance/blend/pitch; created a center of being and sound; was a point of departure; and established a focus for the rehearsal. These chorales helped to build the ensemble tone quality through diligent daily use.
There are certainly various approaches to the use of the chorales, limited primarily by the conductor’s imagination. What I found to work best was to begin the rehearsal by reading a chorale without comment while intently listening and encouraging the ensemble to listen as well. Then, using just one phrase of the chorale, listen to all bass voices alone (including marimba, piano and string bass), seeking a blended, in-tune unison sound, with each voice heard as an equal part of the whole. Follow the same notion with the tenor voices, and then combine the bass and tenor voices. We are now listening for both unison and harmonic pitch issues. Next, listen to the alto voices, and then add them to the bass and tenor voices. Finally, listen to the soprano voices, concluding with a final reading of all four voices for that particular phrase.
- Full chorale reading
- Select one phrase and listen to bass voices only
- Listen to tenor voices only
- Combine the tenor and bass voices
- Listen to the alto voices only
- Combine the alto, tenor and bass voices
- Listen to the soprano voices only
- Read the phrase with all parts
With very little discussing, lecturing and/or pontificating, the ensemble members will have daily melodic and harmonic pitch awareness growth. You will notice a significant improvement in the ensemble sound quality between the initial reading and the final reading of the chorale exercise. The challenge is to achieve the full attention of each ensemble member every day while working with the chorales. The daily time commitment should be between five and ten minutes, depending on the length of the rehearsal, the pacing of the chorale use and the familiarity of the ensemble with the exercise. Sometimes it is helpful to return to the chorale during the rehearsal to assist in reestablishing the ensemble sound that you are developing.
Droning assists with the development of interval pitch awareness and may be used in conjunction with the chorale work at the beginning of the rehearsal. Use a fermata point in the chorale as a reference point. Have the bass voice drone their fermata note while the remainder of the ensemble plays an ascending scale (major or minor depending on the key center of the chorale) one octave from the bass note. Change the voice providing the drone and direction of the scale. You will find many variations of drone use with some thought. This doesn’t require a significant amount of rehearsal time (two, maybe three minutes) once the routine is established. Again, keep the discussing, lecturing and/or pontificating to a minimum.
Use the part distribution page to assign ensemble parts. As the ensemble instrumentation allows, use all four parts balanced throughout each section, ie: piccolo and flute; double reeds (oboe, English horn, bassoon, contra bassoon); clarinet family (e-flat, soprano, alto, bass, contrabass); saxophone family; horn; trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn; trombone, bass trombone; tuba/euphonium; mallets; piano; string bass
- Piccolo/flute – soprano, alto, tenor, bass (octave transpositions may be required)
- Double reed – oboe 1, soprano; oboe 2, alto; English horn, alto or tenor; bassoon 1, tenor; bassoon 2/contrabassoon, bass
- Clarinet family – e-flat, soprano; soprano, soprano, alto and tenor; alto, alto; bass and contrabass, bass
- Saxophone family – soprano, soprano; alto 1, soprano; alto 2, alto; tenor, tenor; baritone and bass, bass
- Horn – use all four parts (octave transposition may be required for the soprano voice)
- Trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn – use all four parts (octave transposition may be required for the bass voice)
- Trombone, bass trombone – Three part distribution: trombone 1, alto; trombone 2, tenor; bass trombone, bass. Four part distribution: trombone 1, soprano; trombone 2, alto; trombone 3, tenor; bass trombone, bass
- Tuba/euphonium – euphonium 1, soprano; euphonium 2, alto; tuba 1, tenor; tuba 2, bass
- Mallets – bells/crotales, soprano; xylophone, alto; vibraphone, tenor; marimba, bass
- Piano – play all parts from score
- String bass – bass