Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

The Influence of Sound Envelope Shape on Instrumental Music Educators' Preferences for Concert Band Crescendos

Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

The Influence of Sound Envelope Shape on Instrumental Music Educators' Preferences for Concert Band Crescendos

Article excerpt

A preliminary investigation of recommended methods for performing a full-band crescendo

Professional band directors use several teaching approaches to help students perform a full-band crescendo. Some recommend all instruments crescendo uniformly over time, while others suggest the rate of a crescendo should be based on instrumentation, with lower instruments increasing intensity before higher instruments. Still, others support performing crescendos with an intensity increase analogous to the shape of a trumpet bell. Unfortunately, research supporting these widely employed conceptions is nonexistent; indeed, it seems many of the practices used to teach an acceptable performance of dynamics in large ensemble rehearsals draw solely from the opinions and testimonies of accomplished directors, whose preferences and methods vary considerably. The systematic identification of the most efficient and reliable conceptions of standard performance practices could help directors-especially those new to the profession-develop more effective pedagogies and consequently increase the likelihood of students producing musical performances.

To clarify the diversity present in the profession, experienced and expert band directors highlighted in Casey (1991 ) prescribed full-band crescendos that dramatically increase in intensity near the end of the crescendo, which is anecdotally portrayed by many band directors using a shape analogous to the contour of a trumpet bell. Jackson (2010) and Lisk (2006) illustrated crescendos as steady increases in sound distributed evenly over time depicted as a wedge or ramp shape. A relatively complex conception comes from Jagow (2007), who posits that when performing a unison ensemble crescendo the "lower voices/instruments should crescendo slightly faster than the higher voices/instruments in order to maintain a solid balance during dynamic modulation [and avoid] a crescendo that will sound top heavy" (p. 55). An illustration of this concept depicts three wedge-shaped crescendos concluding with different peak intensity levels for low, middle, and high instruments. Miller and Clark (2014) offer a similar idea to Jagow, but recommend low instruments increase intensity before middle and high instruments do, attain peak volume, and sustain their volume to the end of the crescendo. Simultaneously, the middle instruments should perform a steady linear crescendo and attain peak volume at the end, while upper voices maintain a low volume for most of the crescendo and only increase near the end. In other words, the high instruments crescendo in the shape of a trumpet bell and the middle instruments crescendo in the shape of a wedge.

The methods recommended by Miller and Clark (2014) and Jagnow (2007) seem to suggest that an acceptable performance of a full-band crescendo might involve a purposeful shift in ensemble timbre to achieve balance. Interestingly, this conception and practice is not without precedence. For example, the crescendo pedal on a pipe organ-an instrument anecdotally referred to when discussing concert band sonorities-simultaneously increases volume and changes timbre by progressively adding stops or different sets of pipes (i.e., instruments). In contrast, the expression pedal on an organ increases volume from a fixed collection of pipes (Miller, 1913; Shannon, 2009), thus maintaining a relatively consistent timbre across dynamic changes. Whether the timbre change introduced by these two methods is an intended or preferred effect that band directors should systematically listen for and teach to their students is largely unknown.

Research exploring the role and importance of dynamics suggest perceptual relationships that may be useful to band directors; however, not one article directly addresses the pedagogy of ensemble dynamics. For example, several studies indicated crescendos are perceived to have a greater change in intensity when compared with decrescendos (e.g., Geringer, 1995; Susini, Meunier, Trapeau, & Chatron, 2010). …

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