With its uplifting and unifying powers, classic big band swing is the perfect form of music to introduce to today’s youngsters. In the 1930s, swing music provided an escape from the Depression with its fun, danceable beat and cheerful lyrics. In an era of segregation, it brought black and white people to the dance floor with no thoughts about race or other differences. And it was enjoyed primarily by teens and twentysomethings who idolized and appreciated the instrumentalists for their musical abilities as much as the vocalists. In today’s world of negativity, bullying, mindless pop songs, and addictive screens, kids can benefit once again from a healthy dose of swing.
Swing Goes to School
Bring the Beantown Swing Orchestra to your high school or middle school and introduce your students to the culturally and historically significant form of music known as big band swing, and have our players work with your jazz ensemble members to enhance their performance capabilities. Our musicians are young, energetic educators dedicated to achieving the Beantown Swing Orchestra’s mission of promoting this timeless music to younger generations.
Music and Instruments of the Swing Era Presentation (30-45 min.)
This lecture and live music demo describes the music of the Swing Era (1935-1946) and the various instruments that were used in big bands. Nine of our musicians will explain the function of their instrument (drums, bass, piano, guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, clarinet, vocals) in the context of the swing band and how they interact with each other. Several big band charts will be performed, followed by a Q&A session. Geared towards general audiences, this presentation is a great way to boost kids’ interest in musical instruments while introducing them to an exciting and purely American form of music.
Topics covered in the discussion include:
- The birth and death of the Swing Era
- Famous big bands
- Why swing was so popular among kids
- African and European influences
- The rise of the vocalist
Members of the Beantown Swing Orchestra discuss the music and instruments of the Swing Era at Rockport High School in Rockport, MA on January 11, 2017.
Swing Era Workshops
For your music students, our workshops will help them learn the specific techniques and styles required for performing Swing Era music on their instrument. Much of this is a lost art and not known by many performers.
Some important qualities we will teach include:
- Drummer keeps time on the hi-hat and feathers the bass drum; no snare comping.
- Guitar plays three-note chords on all four beats.
- Playing stride on the piano is an important skill.
- Horns play quarter notes short and bouncy; longer notes should have vibrato.
- For brass, proper posture and breath support are key to volume, pitch, stamina, and injury prevention.
- All instruments need to play with a big, full sound.
Trumpet Shakes Masterclass
Here is an example of teaching trumpet shakes, a common Swing Era element, by emphasizing proper techniques and practice methods.
Show off your ensemble players’ new skills by inviting students, parents, and the community to a joint big band concert in your auditorium. Your students will experience the Beantown Swing Orchestra in all its glory, while our musicians will get to see the fruits of their labor in your ensembles’ representing the future of big band music.
Alternatively, invite the student body to a swing dance in your gymnasium, cafeteria, or other performance space. Dancing was what Swing Era music was created for in the first place, and partner dancing is a whole other lost art that we would love to see revived in younger generations. We’ll bring a pair of experienced dance instructors to give a group lesson, perform demos, and encourage students to dance, while the Beantown Swing Orchestra performs songs that are sure to be enjoyed by this age group. This social activity provides a wholesome and healthy alternative in an era where electronics and other sedentary activities dominate young adults’ leisure time.
Our school clinics have the added benefit of allowing us to scout out young and talented students and train them for eventually performing with the Beantown Swing Orchestra. We often invite some of the most promising students to sit in with us on a few charts at a performance, allowing them to gain some experience with a professional big band and its high level of musicianship. One of our proudest moments came when one of our trainees, 16-year-old vocalist Kiva Trumbour, appeared as our special guest at a holiday concert and stole the show with her performance of “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” for which she received a standing ovation.
“All I Want For Christmas Is You”
Kiva Trumbour, with the Peabody Veterans Memorial High School Chorale performing the band’s Basie-style arrangement of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” at Peabody City Hall in Peabody, MA.