Craig V Hamilton - Biography
Craig V Hamilton is The Lena Goodwin Trimble Professor of Music, Director of Bands, and Coordinator of Instrumental Studies at Ouachita Baptist University. He earned his PhD in Music Education from the University of North Texas, Master of Music Degree in Trumpet Performance at Arkansas State University, and Bachelor of Music Education Degree from The University of Southern Mississippi.
Under Dr Hamilton's leadership the Ouachita Bands have toured throughout the United States and Europe, recorded seven CDs with the Mark recording label and performed at State, Regional and National conferences and meetings. Dr Hamilton is also the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the award winning Hot Springs Concert Band. A position he has held since 1999.
Dr Hamilton is a contributing author for the Teaching Music Through Performance in Band series, GIA Publishers and is the editor for the "Conductor's Corner" of the ACB Journal. His professional affiliations and awards include Phi Beta Mu, Pi Kappa Lambda, Who's Who Among America's Teachers, Arkansas School Band and Orchestra Association, College Music Society, National Band Association (NBA), Association of Concert Bands (ACB), and College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA). Dr Hamilton has served as the Arkansas State Chair for CBDNA and NBA and was elected to the ACB Board of Directors in 2012. In 2014 he was chosen as a VIP by the Conn-Selmer Corporation. Dr Hamilton received the Herbert L and Jean Schultz Mentor Ideal Award in 2016.
Conducting: Diagnosis and Prescription
One of the major responsibilities of the conductor is to listen to the sounds the ensemble is creating and offer suggestions for improvement. Similar to a doctor, the conductor makes a diagnosis and offers a prescription for making the sound better. The conductor's diagnosis is based on a solid aural image of the composition. This aural image can only be achieved through thorough score study. The conductor should have the "sound in his ear" before ever standing in front of the ensemble. If the sounds created don't match the "ideal," the conductor must instantaneously decide what the problem is and how to "fix" it.
Problem solving from the podium becomes easier with experience and study. Another way conductors can hone their skills is by observing other's rehearsals. Most ensemble problems fall into several musical categories – rhythm, balance, blend, dynamics, and style.
Rhythmic problems usually stem from rushing, dragging, playing wrong rhythms, or not connecting composite rhythms. The first step in solving rhythmic problems is to make sure everyone is "speaking the same language." Whether you use "1-e-and-a" or "1-ta-te-ta" or something else – everyone needs to understand how to count rhythms. It is crucial to establish a pulse either through one's conducting, a metronome, or a drummer. The ensemble must also know where the subdivisions are and how their rhythm fits within those subdivisions. Many rhythmic problems can be solved by improving one's conducting – be very clear with patterns. Some rhythmic accuracy problems are because of ties or ornamentation. Remove ties and ornamentation to make the rhythm easier and then replace them once the rhythm is understood. The best solution for any rhythmic problems is to slow the tempo and return to performance tempo incrementally. Make sure the ensemble knows where composite rhythms occur and who continues each part of the line. Remember that the conductor is the only one that can see that the rhythm continues in other voices.
Balance issues are usually two fold – either the melody can't be heard over the accompaniment or chords are out of balance. For melody vs. accompaniment problems isolate the melody so the ensemble knows to what they should balance. Balancing chords begins with each player playing with a characteristic sound and ensemble intonation (see blend). Isolate each chord within and between sections. Usually principles of "pyramid balance" apply – lower parts should play louder to achieve the desired balance. Other ideas for achieving chordal balance include changing the seating of the ensemble and "stacking the sections." Instruments on the outside of the set or raised on risers will be heard better than those hidden inside the ensemble. Using better players on lower parts or adding players to lower parts will help to ensure those parts will balance with upper tessitura parts.
Problems with blend are simply voices sticking out. Intonation, characteristic sounds, and blend all go hand in hand. Work on both individual and ensemble sound and intonation every rehearsal. All players must play with a characteristic sound (a combination of equipment, embouchure, air, and "ear"). All players should own and use a tuner. Good practice for establishing intonation and ensemble sound is to have the ensemble (including the percussion section) sing. Always include one selection on each concert and rehearsal where the ensemble can concentrate on sound rather than technique – chorales or slow lyrical music are great tools to create blend, intonation, breath support, and musicality. Blend and intonation is an issue that must be continually reinforced.
Dynamic issues seem to be the easiest to identify. The problems are that players are too loud, too soft, or don't have enough dynamic variation. The ensemble must understand that often a composer will write ff on each part, but if each player plays ff the balance and blend will be destroyed. Ensemble dynamics and individual dynamics are each different and only the conductor has the full score to know how loud each voice should be. Work with the ensemble on isolated chords to create five distinct volumes (pp, p, m, f, ff). After the balance and blend in each volume is established the conductor can then use a numbering system 1 through 5 to signal changes in volume. Work on balance, blend, tuning, and dynamics during the warm-up period. Always work to improve your conducting to show gradations in dynamics and intensity.
Stylistic problems seem to be obvious, yet many ensembles play notes that make no musical sense. Style usually is associated with articulation and note length. Singing is a great shortcut to establishing style. The conductor and the ensemble should sing the music in the correct style. When the conductor is explaining the problem they should speak in the correct style. Model the correct style for the ensemble either through singing, recordings, or playing your instrument. Allow the ensemble to hear live and recorded examples of the music they are working on or music similar to the selections. Develop an arsenal of articulations – marcato, staccato, and legato. Make sure the ensemble can react to your conducting to play each style at each dynamic level. This is easily done using the Remington exercise either on concert F or a Bb chord with quarter notes on each pitch.
- Measure 1 – 4 quarter notes f and marcato
- Measure 2 – 4 quarter notes p and legato
- Measure 3 – 4 quarter notes m and staccato
Use only conducting gestures to make the changes. Demand intonation, balance, and blend throughout. Explain music as sounds in motion – identify target pitches and arrival points for each phrase.
Below is a synopsis of problems and possible solutions listed above. The list is by no means exhaustive. The great part of being a musician is that we never learn it all and we all learn from each other. We all borrow tricks and techniques that work to help our ensemble make greater music.
RHYTHM – rushing, dragging, wrong rhythms, composite rhythms
- have a system for counting/make sure you’re all speaking the same language
- establish the pulse (conducting, metronome, drummer)
- show subdivisions and how rhythm fits within those subdivisions
- improve conducting baton technique
- adjust the music for rehearsal – remove ties, ornamentation, change articulations
- rehearse slowly – return to performance tempo incrementally
BALANCE – melody can’t be heard over accompaniment or chords are out of balance
- have the melody play alone so everyone can hear the melody
- isolate and balance the chords within and between sections
- pyramid (lower parts play louder – assign dynamics)
- adjust the seating – parts on the outside will be heard more
- stack the sections – put better players on the lower parts, put more players on lower parts
BLEND – voices are sticking out
- work on intonation and balance
- all must play with a characteristic sound (air and ear)
- use a tuner
- have the ensemble sing
- play chorale or slow, tuneful, tutti selections that are easy enough to concentrate on the sound rather than the technique
- must establish and continually reinforce
DYNAMICS – too loud, too soft, not enough variation
- use a numbering system – 1 (pp) through 5 (ff)
- analogy of a big volume knob or slider
- work on dynamics in the warm-up
- improve conducting baton technique and demand response from the ensemble
STYLE – playing in the wrong style (note length and articulation)
- sing (conductor and ensemble)
- model for the ensemble (sing and play)
- listen to live and recorded examples
- develop an arsenal of articulations (marcato, staccato, legato) at all dynamic levels
- explain music as motion, identify the target pitches
Growing Your Audience
So what if you gave a concert and no one came? Have you even played a concert where there were more people on stage than in the audience? I often tell our audience that I'm glad they came - because without them, it's just another rehearsal. That's not exactly true, but it is a lot more fun to play for a "full house."
The Hot Springs Concert Band in Hot Springs, Arkansas is a year round community band with 90+ members. We perform between 12-15 different concerts throughout the year. In the summers we perform an outdoor program every other week to audiences that average 1000 people for each concert. October through February we perform inside to packed houses. This has not always been the case. Through a lot of work by talented people and a conscious effort to build our audiences, we have cultivated a very loyal audience base that continues to grow. I am not suggesting that what we do will work for every situation, or that it is the only way, but it has and is working for us.
When I think of growing an audience I think of three things - Promotion, People, and Programming.
Promotion of your program can never be underestimated. If your potential audience members don't know about your performances, they will surely not show up. It's like winking at someone in the dark - how do they know? The Hot Springs Concert Band has used numerous tactics and tools for promoting our concerts.
Before each concert we run an announcement in the local paper - a simple article that tells the reader when and where the concert will be, the theme, and any guest artists. We also include a color picture to catch the reader's eye. A week or so before the concert we run a spot on the local radio station. Different members of the band tell about the upcoming concert and are interviewed by the local radio station DJ.
Our concerts are also promoted by several billboards around town, as well as an electronic billboard in the center of town, and at the convention center. Flyers and posters are printed and placed in local businesses, schools and churches. Harvey McIntyre secures corporate sponsors for each of our concerts. This guarantees representatives from the sponsors showing up for our concert and promotion for them and us.
In the past few years we have added electronic media in the form of a facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/224545217648368/), web site (http://www.hotspringsband.org), Youtube videos, and a listserve with announcements, pictures and comments about our concerts. Finally we use our concert programs to list upcoming concerts and promote future concerts with our current audience.
Nothing builds an audience like personal contact. Before each concert, band members and I walk through the audience talking with the people and getting "up close" to our audience members. I enjoy meeting the audience and hearing what they have to say about our concerts. This has been a wonderful way to make the audience feel they are a part of the band and have feedback.
The band members and audience members are encouraged at each concert to invite someone else to the concerts. Churches and social groups have begun bringing van and bus loads of people to our concerts, making it an event to build community among their groups. We make a conscious effort to talk to civic groups (Rotary, Kiwanas, Optimists, etc) about the band and our upcoming concerts.
The Hot Springs Concert Band is fortunate to have wonderful donors at several levels.
In each of our programs we list the donors, by level, as a token of our appreciation. It is important to make the audience comfortable. For each or our outdoor concerts we provide portable toilets (one regular and one handicap accessible), water, and paper fans (with advertising of course). Summers in Arkansas can be brutal at times, heat indexes about 105 degrees, so we always have an indoor alternative when the weather is too hot or raining.
With each concert we try to involve the audience. Whether it's clapping to a march, singing along with tunes they know, or just standing up and letting us play "Happy Birthday" for them, the audience feels that they are part of the "show." Many bands use a narrator or master of ceremonies for their concerts, but I enjoy talking and joking with the audience between tunes. It gives me another opportunity to connect with the audience and pace the concert to fit the needs of the band.
Once you get them to a concert you want them to come back and bring someone else. During the summer our concerts are based on themes. This years themes included Circus Days, Going Places, And Freedom for All, On Broadway, British Invasion, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We ask the audience to submit theme ideas. They submit ideas to me as I walk through the audience, through our web site, or send me or band members an email. Some of the best concert ideas have come from our audience members.
As I select music for each concert I strive to make it audience friendly. "Audience friendly" doesn't mean watering down your program to the lowest denominator, actually it is quite the opposite. Good music, performed well, will be recognized by the audience and they will return. Those charged with selecting music have an awesome responsibility to their band and audience to seek out the best compositions and arrangements that fit their band's ability level. Throughout the past one hundred plus years some of the greatest music has been written for the wind band. We owe it to our band and our audience to play good music well.
The program should also balance something to help the band grow and something the audience recognizes - leave them singing a tune from your concert!
Another way to draw an audience is to invite guest soloists or groups, guest conductors or composers to perform on your concerts. If there is a local artist that has a following in your community, feature them with the band. It will bring their audience to your audience.
During our summer concerts we have begun a scholarship program for local high school students to sit in with the band. This is great for the students, who play over one hundred and twenty different selections during the course of the summer. It's great for our audience because it brings the students' family, friends and band directors to our concerts. Many of the students return to play with the band or become future audience members.
Whatever your situation, I wish you success in growing your audience. Get to know the people in your band and community. Ask them how they would like to be involved in growing the audience for your concerts. Don't be afraid to adjust and experiment with different methods of promoting your programs. Always strive for quality performances.
READ MORE ABOUT IT
There are several good resources available for ideas about building audiences. Many are available through the internet. David P. Miller has created a wonderful handbook available through the ACB web site entitled Building Your Audience to Standing Room Only ( http://www.acbands.org/Resources.html). Bob Harlow, Thomas Alfieri, Aaron Dalton, and Anne Field wrote Attracting An Elusive Audience (pdf document). Jonathan Abbott has an article titled Audience Development: Try It, You'll Like It (pdf document). For the pdf documents type the title in the search box and it will upload the document.
(Photo: Craig - pictured second from the left)