James Latten, associate professor of music, is currently the conductor of Juniata’s Concert Band, Wind Symphony, and Percussion Ensemble. In the past he has also lead the Orchestra and Jazz Ensembles. Latten discusses the process of choosing songs for music concerts.
Q: To what extent does audience preference go into your repertoire selection?
Audience preference does play a role, but other factors such as appropriate difficulty level/preparation time, the strengths of our ensembles’ membership in a given semester, and most of all the musical, educational and aesthetic content of a wind band piece are significant hoops that a piece has to jump through before I program it. I’ve become much more selective when it comes to choosing quality literature.
Q: To what extent does the make-up and ability of the ensemble go into your repertoire selection?
It’s a huge factor. Even though we have a retention rate of just over 90 percent in our instrumental ensembles, we are just not guaranteed in any given semester that each section of each of our two bands will be 100 percent solid. Study abroad/student teaching losses really hurt us, and “per capita”/“law of averages”/”bell curve” conditions dictate that a 1,600-student institution will be very fortunate to ever have a well trained tubist, bassoonist, violist, etc. enroll here. And the cohort of adult players from the community (to fill in on open parts) is talented and motivated, but small. So, because of that, I really cannot choose the textbooks I am going to teach from in the courses until the second or third week of school. That is to say, I need to hear the ensemble, listen to new members privately, get to know the strengths, preferences, and work ethic of the membership before I choose literature that will have musical value and also increase the strengths, preferences, and work ethic of the membership. It takes my entire summer (except for a week vacation) to recruit new members and choose “possible” literature for the fall. It really takes that much intense time.
Q: How does selecting music for the percussion ensemble differ from selecting music for the wind symphony?
A: It differs greatly. It is even harder than choosing music for wind symphony because the percussion groups are all one-on-a-part playing, and so highly dependent upon the skills that each player brings to the table. Also, we have our traditional percussion ensemble as well as three auxiliary ensembles, so I’m really filling four groups and (three weeks into the semester) beginning to select “textbooks” for the class. I am up for that challenge, one that is unlike any other class, but it does require that I have a good knowledge of repertoire that we can purchase and/or hand out at a moment’s notice.
Q: What were some of your favorite songs that you’ve conducted at Juniata?
A: Off the top of my head I’d say:
Orchestra: “The Planets,” Meditation from “Thais,” “Slavonic Dance op. 72,” Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony
Percussion: Bonham; “Ku-Ka-Ilimoku,” “The Swords of Moda-Ling,” and two pieces I wrote: “IMR: Impressions of Magnetic Resonance” and “The Haunted Hall” in which all the instruments, all the sounds, were created by physically striking the stage, auditorium, walls, floors, or other parts of the building.
Band: Overture to “Candide,” “Aegean Festival Overture,” “Suite of Old American Dances,” and one piece that we just sight read: The band wanted to try “the hardest piece possible” so I challenged them with something “close” to that – Hindemith’s “Symphony in B Flat.” I loved it and they hung in there and did a nice sight-reading job with it.
Kelsey Molseed ’14
Campus Opinions Online Reporter