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Perspective | Filling a gap for middle school band

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For nearly three decades, I have been a band director in rural eastern North Carolina. Throughout my tenure, I discovered there was not enough quality literature in 6/8 time signature that was appropriate for middle school students.

Many pieces in this time signature exceeded the capabilities of young musicians. The range was often overly demanding, and the scoring was too exposed or thin, making the pieces more suitable for more advanced students rather than meeting the needs of developing middle school band students.

In 2016, I decided to address this gap by commissioning a new band work in 6/8 time specifically tailored for middle school band. Not only did I want to add more music in 6/8 time signature, but I also wanted a piece that would double as a teaching tool. I quickly discovered commissioning new band music was expensive!

Financial constraints on small, rural schools typically do not allow for commissioning works. Limited funding and scarce resources are common for most rural schools in eastern North Carolina. Despite these challenges, I secured funding through a Love of Learning grant from The Simple Gifts Fund. The Simple Gifts Fund supports educational initiatives for schools in Sampson County, ensuring that even in rural communities, our students have the opportunity to thrive.

For my first commissioning project, I selected Michael Oare, an accomplished composer of young band literature who was also an active music educator. The Love of Learning grant not only funded the commission but also provided the opportunity for Oare to travel to my school to work directly with my students on his commissioned work, “Night of the Dark Horse.” This invaluable experience not only allowed my students to gain insight into a composer’s perspective, but also an appreciation of the composer’s work to create this piece of music.

“Night of the Dark Horse” performance by Sampson Middle School’s 8th grade band.

In 2018, I collaborated with fellow band directors in Sampson County to commission another 6/8 piece, “Flight” by Peter Meechan, featuring a solo tuba part. This engaging work further exposed our students to 6/8 meter and premiered at our Sampson All-County Band clinic in Meymandi Concert Hall. This commission not only provided a platform for our All-County Band students to showcase their talent, but also encouraged directors in our county to actively incorporate 6/8 meter into their curricula.

Sampson All-County Middle School Band students on stage in Meymandi Concert Hall. Courtesy of Vevlyn Lowe

As I approach my final years of teaching, I reviewed the 6/8 young band repertoire once again and decided that students were in need of a 6/8 march with just introductory 6/8 rhythms that could serve as an opener to a concert or festival competition.  

Randall Standridge was the ideal composer for this project! He excels in writing exciting music for young bands and ensuring that all of the instruments have interesting parts. His newly commissioned “March of the Hobgoblins” provides an entertaining and educationally enriching experience for students and audience alike. Additionally, my students had the privilege of virtually meeting the composer to discuss his work and gain valuable insights on his creative process.

March of The Hobgoblins – Premiere Performance at Sampson Middle School, courtesy of Vevlyn Lowe

Through these three commissions, I am proud to have expanded the 6/8 repertoire beyond just my classroom walls. The Love of Learning grants enabled me to make an impact not only on my students, but also on countless ensembles worldwide, providing them with engaging music that will continue to inspire students for years to come.

Editor’s note: The Anonymous Trust supports the work of EdNC.

Vevlyn Lowe

Vevlyn Lowe is a 28-year music educator and current band director at Sampson Middle School. She graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in music education, and then received her master’s degree from Florida State University.