Letter from Sado was commissioned as part of the BandQuest series in 2014. Since then it has received hundreds of unique performance around the world - but many Directors are still frightened to try it. Don't be! There are many creative opportunities in this Grade 3 work that will enable many wondrous teaching opportunities along the way.
The opening and closing of the work utilises 'boxed' melodic fragments that the students arrange into their own soundscape. In the beginning there is a "Stormy Sea" and at the end, a "Still starry night". The boxed fragments are EXACTLY the same BUT it's how the Director and their students interpret them that changes the piece.
There are a number of ways your can approach the creative soundscapes. To help you out, here are some ideas that I have used based on music concepts. To keep it fresh, use one conceptual approach per rehearsal and build upon your ideas.
HINT: I strongly recommend that the composition is created on a a HUGE piece of paper that lives on the band room wall. As ideas are added and explored, the students will see their composition grow and change. I also recommend recording your ideas each week and then reflecting upon then before you add anything new. This will refresh the students and maintain continuity.
1. Compose with FORM
The first thing to consider when approaching the material is to consider the form of what it is you are trying to emulate. Ask questions like:
Where are we going to start? Are we in the middle of the storm? Are we at the beginning and the clouds are just rolling in?
Where are you placed in this storm? Are you on a ship in the ocean? Or are you watching from the coastline?
Devise similar questions relating to the ‘Still, starry night’.
HINT: Invite students to discuss ideas with the people around them BEFORE you invite responses from your students in a more public forum. They will feel more comfortable sharing their ideas if they have been made by a bunch of students.
The most important thing that you need to know when approaching these boxed sections is, that not every player needs to play ALL the time! This is where a great lesson in Texture comes into play - and guess what? It’s related to FORM.
Invite discussion using the following:
When we are at height of the storm, what sort of texture should we have?
How do we achieve this - who should be playing when?
Listen to examples of different music with obvious changes in Texture. Some good examples that will inspire your students for this piece are:
“The Sea” orchestral suite by Frank Bridges
"Four Sea interludes" by Benjamin Britten
"Star Dance" by Richard Mills
“Awakening Earth” by Sarah Hopkins
1st Symphony - Movement 4 by Gustav Mahler
3. Consider TIMBRE
Colour is EVERYTHING and if you have all the same sounds happening all the time, then these sections will just sound like your band making a racket before they start rehearsal. Describe timbre in your own words (or invite ideas from your students) then use these questions to get ideas flowing:
Imagine you are on a boat, in the ocean, in the most ferocious storm you’ve ever seen. What do you see? How do you feel? Think of single words to describe your experience. (TEACHER: Write words on board in a mind map).
Now LINK these words and emotions to sounds - are they high or low? Are they in the middle? Are there lots of different sounds or lots of sounds that are the same? (TEACHER: ADD these to the mind map and start to formulate your composition).
What percussion do we need to achieve these colour changes?
4. Consider EXPRESSIVE TECHNIQUES (such as articulation, dynamics, tempo, style)
It is highly likely your students will play each cell at the same volume and at the same tempo every time UNLESS you invite them to do otherwise. The parts ONLY show notes! Consider changes in FORM, TEXTURE & TIMBRE when inviting students to consider how they will approach the cells THEY play WHEN they play them.
I encourage some improvisation here (rather than anything being too prescriptive) - this enables the composition to remain ‘live’ with each performance, and invites students to become more confident with each and every performance of the soundscapes.
To get your creative juices flowing, PLEASE watch this You Tube clip of a "Letter from Sado" performance by Dr. Rob Taylor with the Lower Columbia River Music Educators Association Wind Ensemble (Honor Band). He is the MASTER of this work and extracts remarkable things from his students in a short period of time. I believe you can do the same!