By Rachel Steele, School Choral Specialist (This post has been updated to include new 2015-2016 information, but was first posted on Dec. 1st, 2014)
A few months ago, my colleague in the instrumental department, Ken Tilger, wrote a post about how that department picks the items for their promotions. Not to be outdone, I’d like to take the opportunity to let you know how I and my partner in crime, Jen Sper, pick the items for our school choral promotions.
In late winter or early spring, publishers begin to send us their new releases for fall. We get stacks of music (with demo CDs) to review from Hal Leonard (includig Shawnee, Walton, Boosey & Hawkes, G. Schirmer, Pavane, Fred Bock etc.), Alfred (including Lawson-Gould), Lorenz (including Santa Barbara and Heritage), Carl Fischer (including BriLee), Hinshaw, Alliance, Chorister’s Guild and a few other smaller publishers. If you are thinking “Wow, that is quite a bit of music,” you’d be correct. In fact, if you assign each piece an average listening/evaluation time of 3.5 minutes, we spend about 2,200 minutes, or 48 hours, or 6 full working days (no lunch or potty breaks!) listening to more than 800 new releases. For more data on our listening, scroll to the bottom.
When we listen, we’re not only keeping an ear out for our in-house promotions, but also for selections for our clinics (such as Stanton’s Super Session and Excellence in Choral Literature), OMEA Large Group Select Suggestions, and even music for Christmas, graduation and other special occasions.
Jen and I sit with the octavo in front of us and listen to every single selection from beginning to end. We write our impressions, usually just a few choice words or phrases, into a massive spreadsheet that we keep for review purposes. After this, a piece goes into either the “no” or the “maybe” pile. Our “no” pile is quite a bit larger than our “maybe” pile. We consider it a good release if 25-30% of a publisher’s titles end up in the “maybe” category.
Now that we’ve combed through the riff-raff, it’s time to consider the balance of our selections for our in-house promotions. We sort our “maybe” pile by voicing, and then by genre. Just like good concert programing, we are looking for a variety of styles – current pop, classic pop, Broadway, folk songs, original compositions, spirituals, world/multi-cultural, holiday music and various foreign languages.
Now it’s time to play through selections at the piano. We grab a genre and play through, looking for things like:
1. Is it well written/voiced in all parts?
2. What can teachers teach or students learn from working on this piece?
3. Is it enjoyable to sing/play/teach?
4. Is it appropriate for school?
5. Will it appeal to a wide variety of customers?
6. If the song is available in multiple voicings, is one better than the other? Why?
The answers to these questions will usually make our choices pretty clear, and then it’s time to make our lists, contact our clinicians, and design the actual promotional materials that you receive in your mailbox!
By the Numbers – This table shows the number of pieces that we promoted this year by publisher, and the percentage of their total offerings that we promoted. You’ll see that even those publishers with the highest percentage of promoted items rarely break the 30% mark.
Other Points of Interest
- Jen and I only look at promotions for school choral. We have two other people who work specifically on pieces for church choirs, and they have even more selections to listen to than we do!
- While it might sound like a cushy job to sit and listen to music for 8 hours a day, it can be mentally exhausting after a while.
- No, we don’t always agree, but you’d be amazed at how often 2 very opinionated people say the EXACT same thing about a particular piece.
- If there is something that one of us truly believes is worth fighting for, the other one will generally give in.
- The best part about the process is discovering a new piece that is just amazing! This year, our greatest discovery was the promotion from Chorister’s Guild. Traditionally a sacred music publisher, 2015 marked their first school release, entitled “Sing!” from editor Mary Lynn Lightfoot. As you can see from our percentages above, we LOVED IT!!!
We believe that devoting quite a bit of time and effort to this process is very important. The 75 or so selections that make the cut are things that we recommend to you, our valued customers, for the entire school year. If you have questions about this process (or would like some recommendations), please feel free to give us a call at 1-800-42-MUSIC, ext. 1.
Rachel Steele has been working in the choral department at Stanton’s since 2013. She previously taught middle school and high school band and choir for 13 years, and holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in music education from The Ohio State University. Currently a member of the Heisey Wind Ensemble and a musician at Epiphany Lutheran Church (Pickerington, OH,) Rachel also enjoys reading, sewing, baking and the Pittsburgh Steelers!