As part of a busy month of performances, the members of Black Bayou Brass (resident faculty brass trio at ULM) presented a series of concerts at several high schools in southern Louisiana. The concerts went well, and our audiences were very eager and attentive. There are some strong instrumental music programs in that part of the state, and it was our pleasure to perform for them. After doing these kinds of performances for a few years, I’ve started to notice some commonly asked questions from students, which are compiled in this FAQ. The first two provide some background information about the group and our program from this year’s performances, but the rest are based on actual questions we’ve received from students.
- Who are you? We are the Black Bayou Brass, the resident faculty brass ensemble in the Department of Music at The University of Louisiana at Monroe. Our current members are Alex Noppe (trumpet), James Boldin (horn), and James Layfield (trombone). (After our opening number one of us usually introduces the group and mentions a little bit about our performing and teaching duties.)
- What pieces are you going to play? Our program varies widely depending on what repertoire we are currently preparing for upcoming recitals, but we have worked very hard over the past few years to put together an engaging, lively set of pieces for young audiences. Much of our repertoire is home-grown, having been arranged by current or former members of the ensemble. For this tour we performed the following:
- A Philharmonic Fanfare, Eric Ewazen
- Duncan Trio, David Sampson (selected movements)
- Csárdás, Vittorio Monti/arr. James Boldin (trombone feature)
- Trio, Daniel Schnyder (selected movements)
- Rondo, from Horn Concerto, K. 495, W.A. Mozart/arr. James Boldin (horn feature)
- Libertango, Astor Piazzolla/arr. Anna Suechting
- Finale from William Tell Overture, G. Rossini/arr. James Layfield
- Flight of the Bumblebee, Rimsky-Korsakov/arr. Micah Everett
- How often do you rehearse? Once a week for two hours. Most students are surprised by this answer, and we always take the opportunity when students ask this question to stress how important it is to come into rehearsal having already prepared the music to a very high level. A group rehearsal is not for individual practice, but rather to put together the music as an ensemble. Unless a piece is quite difficult (Jan Bach, Daniel Schnyder, etc.), it really doesn’t take us (or any other professional group) that many rehearsals to have it ready for performance.
- How long have you been playing your instruments? I’ve been playing the horn for over 20 years.
- What kinds of scholarships are available for music students? This is a big question, and varies widely depending on the size and resources of a particular institution. At ULM we have good scholarships for both music majors as well as students that aren’t majoring in music but who want to continue playing their instruments in a college ensemble. These awards can include out-of-state tuition waivers as well as other types of scholarships. In addition to music-related scholarships, our university has several prestigious academic scholarships for high-achieving students. This brings me to the next question in this FAQ.
- What can I do to improve my chances of getting a scholarship or increasing the amount of a scholarship? If you want to major in music I think you need to focus on two main things as a high school student. The first is reaching the highest level of proficiency you can in your concentration, whether it’s performance, education, composition, theory, etc. For music education and performance you should strive to play (or sing) as well as you possibly can by your senior year. Take regular lessons with a qualified private instructor, and pursue as many different performing opportunities as you can, not just All-State band or orchestra. Form a chamber group, and request coaching from local university faculty or symphony musicians. For some specific ideas on what to practice, check out this post. If you want to major in music theory or composition, you should already have some experience in both areas by the time you go to college. Take responsibility for your education; go online and find help, or better yet, reach out to area teachers and ask for their input. The second area of focus is your grades. Grades matter! No matter how talented you are, there are very few music schools that will accept you (or award a scholarship) if your grades are poor. If your GPA is suffering be proactive and take the proper steps to improve it: ask for extra help from your teachers or seek out tutoring services in the community. Trust me, earning good grades will pay off when it comes time to apply for college scholarships and financial aid.
There are lots of other questions I could add, but these cover the major concerns I’ve heard from hundreds of students in dozens of high schools. Is there a question you think should be on this FAQ? Feel free to comment below.