Building A Library

Building A Library

Ed Dumas

As a music teacher, one of your most important functions will be to choose the music that your students will learn. Many of the pieces that you choose will certainly come from an already existing library, but at least some will be new music recently purchased by you for your music program. The choices that you make now in purchasing music for your program will ripple into the future and will continue to affect what you can choose from your existing library to reuse and replay once again.

It is important, then, to make sure that you choose wisely when purchasing new band music to add to your library collection. You will want to ensure that the items you are choosing now have lasting value that can be replayed in future years. Items that are purchased today which have less “repeatability” means that future years have less choice and more financial cost associated with fulfilling your repertoire needs. Below are some suggestions as to how you can ensure more repeat usability for your library by only purchasing great selections for your concert bands and jazz bands.

Look for Repeatability

Avoid purchasing music that is very trendy but has a short lifespan. This often includes this year’s favourite pop/rock tune, or theme to the latest TV hit show. For example, I am sure there are thousands of music programs across North America whose library contains the theme from the TV show “Friends,” but I am not at all sure how many students today have ever watched the series. Offerings such as these may seem nostalgic to the person buying the chart but are guaranteed to be almost valueless to future generations.

Amidst the excitement of purchasing something recognizable, try to determine how much staying power a trendy arrangement will have. It might be easy to say that new purchases should stay away from all theme music, but that could also cause you to not choose an arrangement which may have lasting staying power. For example, not choosing the James Band theme for your jazz band might be missing an opportunity, since the James Bond 007 spy thriller genre of movies has been going strong for 60+ years so far while the world is impatiently waiting for the next installment to be released.

Sometimes it is okay to choose what you know is a one-year chart for either concert band or jazz band knowing that you will use it to raise the profile of your music program. If you use this strategy, though, I would suggest you fix a limit on how much of your budget will be dedicated to short-term music to ensure that repeatability in your library is still maintained.

One of the major facets of repeatability is the concept of writing music specifically for the wind band genre, as opposed to transcribing or arranging something written for another medium. I mentioned above the issue of pop/rock tunes being used in a wind band setting, and most music teachers understand how far apart these two mediums are. The nature of electric guitars, bass guitars, and drum sets does not translate well into a wind band using flutes, clarinets, brass and divided concert percussion.

But beyond that discussion, consider the more subtle ramifications of transcribing from orchestra to a wind band setting. While these charts can be more successful than pop/rock tunes to wind band settings, they are still often less successful than the writings created by composers specifically for winds and percussion. This is often because specific challenges of writing for strings vs writing for winds do not line up exactly, or even close, for that matter. Even within the winds, writing for one group such as clarinets with the “over the break” challenges is completely different than for brass with their harmonics challenges.

A great composer writing specifically for the wind medium can be more precise in their writing for all winds to create a product that is more exciting or more beautiful than a transcription, or both. I would encourage you to choose more specifically composed works for winds, and fewer transcriptions from any other medium brought to the winds. You will find wind compositions to give you more longevity of use in future years.

Collect Festival Syllabus Lists

I used to keep a paper file of printed syllabus lists from various festivals which I could use as suggestions for new music choices. While this was cumbersome to keep and read through, today's technology allows for a digital file to be kept with all sorts of syllabus selections that can be sorted according to grade level. Festival syllabus lists can be especially valuable since these are selections which some of our finest music educators have already agreed are excellent quality works which will retain playability for many years to come.

MusicFest Canada syllabus is a great place to start looking for quality arrangements. This list also contains a large quantity of Canadian content. Even if you are not attending the festival, you are welcome to scan the list and listen to the choices at each level to find quality selections for your students.

Local festivals often do not contain a specific syllabus list but are still useful in helping choose your selections for your students. The first place to look would be in attending a winner's performance evening concert where the finest groups from the festival are showcased. Here you will find other teachers’ selections that can lead to great choices for your students.

If you are participating in a festival with your students, plan on listening to some other groups in their adjudications. Here you will find selection recommendations from colleagues that can help you with your future music library purchasing choices.

Attend Concerts

Attend concerts held by your colleagues, community groups, or local university music programs, and while there, keep the program handout. Always take with you to concerts a pen or pencil to write on the program any notes about specific arrangements you heard that might be exciting for your students. Later you can put the program in a paper file, or more likely today, keep a digital file of pieces that you heard that you would like to later acquire.

Attend Tapestry Music Reading Clinic

Every year, Tapestry Music assembles some of the best new publications for concert bands and jazz bands and presents these new offerings to teachers in a reading clinic. The reading clinics give teachers a chance to play through the new publications, or even to just sit and listen to them performed live. These events are a great opportunity to hear firsthand how successful the new charts might be for your students.

One of the biggest advantages of attending the Reading Clinics is that the music has been pre-selected, which means someone with a long history of wind music has already approved the composition as worthwhile to include in the clinic. This year Ken Surges, who has an extremely long history with wind music, is once again choosing the concert band music, while Dave Sabourin, the owner of Tapestry Music, is choosing the jazz band repertoire.

The date for the two reading clinics presented this summer will be August 23rd, 2023 in Surrey, BC., and August 24th, 2023, in Lake Country, BC. Contact your local Tapestry Music rep about information to register for either reading clinic. Bring your horn, too!

Attend BCMEA Clinics

The BC Music Educators Association annual convention has long been an excellent source of advice regarding repertoire for wind bands and jazz bands. There are sometimes workshops called “Desert Island Five” which present teachers’ suggestions of their five favourite works that they could not be without if they were stranded on a “Desert Island.” These events provide excellent resource suggestions for teachers as they most often come from current working teachers who are finding success using the works they have chosen.

While at the BCMEA convention, also make note of the honour group performances. The honour groups are ensembles made up of the most talented students in the province and led by prestigious conductors from around the world. The music chosen for these honour groups is always of high calibre and is worth considering adding to your library in future years.

Teaching Music Through Performance in Band

This series of books and recordings is an indispensable set that has huge value for music teachers everywhere. Released by GIA Publications, this original series for wind bands is now up to twelve volumes and on a second edition of books! The series has also been extended to present volumes for other groups including orchestra, choir, jazz band, and young ensembles.

The idea in this series is that the music selected is considered some of the best available for each type of performing group, and is presented by grade level for each group. Writeups and analyses of the selection are also presented to help the classroom teacher judge the suitability of the recommendation for their students. Full-length recordings of all the music chosen are also provided, and these recordings can be of significant value to you and your students.

Purchase of the entire set in any one category can be daunting to say the least, considering how encompassing this series has become. But even just adding a single volume each year can soon add up to an extremely useful teacher resource for finding high-quality literature for your groups.

A good plan could be having your school district purchase one complete set for whatever performance groups are offered in your district and make them available for all music teachers through a district lending library system. Even one central music program having a complete set and offering it to all other music teachers is a good possibility as well. Contact your local Tapestry rep if you need help with this resource.

Get to Know Historical Repertoire

Some of the great names from the beginnings of the wind band genre should never be forgotten. These include writers such as Gustav Holst, Alfred Reed, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Clare Grundman and Percy Grainger among many, many others. While you may not want to program for only the historical greats, it is important to expose your students to at least some of this repertoire during their time in your program. One substantial traditional work per year is probably sufficient.

Get to Know the Modern Greats

At the same time, it is important to know who the current leading composers are. Frank Ticheli is a name right now that is huge on everyone’s list of great modern composers who are changing the world of wind bands. But beyond Frank Ticheli are many others, such as James Swearingen, Randal Standridge, Robert W. Smith, Elizabeth Raum, Eric Whitacre, and David Holsinger. So many great modern composers write specifically for wind bands at all levels that there is no reason to be satisfied with poor-quality choices.

Once you become well-versed in the various composers who write specifically for winds (as opposed to transcribing from another medium), you will find that you will soon be able to name the composer after hearing only a few moments of the music, even if you have never heard that specific creation before. You will come to know the undeniable sound of each composer and will immediately think of them when you hear a new work they have just created.

Get to Know the Canadian Greats

Finally, music teachers in Canada should know that we have a strong and vibrant history of composing music specifically for wind bands in this country. Canada’s best composers include Howard Cable, Robert Buckley, Morley Calvert, John Weinzweig, Donald Coakley, Andre Jutras, Elizabeth Raum, Vince Gassi, and many, many more.

Here on the West Coast, we are blessed to have the amazing Robert Buckley nearby. I have worked with Robert several times and conducted his compositions more times than I can count. I am always impressed at how fine his compositions are and how pleasant he is to work with at the same time. I would encourage you all to include some Robert Buckley and other Canadian content each year with your students and point out to them just how much Canadian content is all around us in the wind band literature.

Wish List

Finally, I would like to recommend that you keep a wish list of compositions that you would like to perform with your students. You will find new additions to the wish list at just about any time of your day. You never know when a moment strikes you that need to write down the name of a piece of music that you just heard as something that “someday” you need to go back to.

Keeping these names of compositions in one place, preferably digitally, will help you do a quick scan later when you are finding that you are missing that one “certain” piece for one of your groups. If the Wish List was kept digitally and accessible from your smartphone, you would find that the list is more useful to add names to or use names from the list.

When you get your mindset into a mode of developing a great library of wind band literature, it seems like great options for inclusion always just kind of appear and make themselves known to you. No longer will you and your students be satisfied with the “latest pop tune” to be transcribed for the concert band.

When compared to great musical literature composed specifically for concert bands at the level of your group, pop music just seems to be missing so much depth and longevity. Searching for the next great concert band composition becomes an exciting search which enriches the student performance. Original concert band compositions will give your students more “protein in the meal” that helps them continue to progress and develop as musicians.



Ed Dumas is a retired band director who taught his entire career in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District. Ed is now living with his lifelong partner Laurie in Parksville, BC.  Ed & Laurie also work as Mid-Island reps for Tapestry Music while enjoying making music in retirement.

You can find Ed’s other writings for the MusicED Blog at:

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