Monday, June 27, 2011

"The Spirit of Troy"

In our high school and college days, we often are introduced to many stereotypes and titles. There are the athletes, the cheerleaders, the preppies, the goths, the nerds, drama club, and of course, the band members. Many times those band members receive poor reputations because instead of choosing to throw a football down the field, they choose to lug around 70lb sousaphone, all while blowing more air out than a hot-air balloon, in order to entertain a crowd. But they’re the weak geeks, right?

Well, not at the University of Southern California, where their marching band, “The Spirit of Troy,” is self-described as the “The greatest marching band in the history of the universe.”

“The Spirit of Troy” was founded in 1880, the same year as USC, but it wasn’t until 1918, when World War 1 ended, that they truly made a name for themselves by leading a victory parade in New York City. Since then, the Troy Marching Band (TMB) has been in more than eight movies, ten television shows, and featured with multiple recording artists during the Academy Awards and Grammy Awards.

The TMB features over 300 students in over 350 performances each year. Out of these performances, the most important for the TMB are the USC football games, where they have not missed a game, home or on the road, since 1987.

Over the last 131 years, the TMB has only had five band directors, with the current one, Dr. Arthur C. Bartner, being there for more than forty years.

With the “Spirit of Troy” only becoming more popular, by appearing on television shows like American Idol, Glee, and House, one must wonder, are those stereotypes ever going to be washed away? If being a band member is such an honor at one of our nation’s top schools, could it be everywhere else?

I suppose only time will tell. Our advice? Keep on marching band geeks because a sousaphone will always be heavier than a football!

Written by Patricia Freeman - @rentmyinstrum

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Top 5 Musical Instruments for Beginners

As teachers, students, and parents prepare for beginner band and orchestra season, it seems vital that highlights the top 5 musical instruments for beginning band and orchestra students. It is important for those interested to know that no instrument, aside from perhaps the triangle, wood block, bass drum, and tambourine, are "easy" to learn. But if you are looking for the easy way to get started, then you have to the right place.

1. Violin:
Violins are reasonably easy to learn, but only with an adequate amount of practice and a deep passion for the instrument. Unlike the guitar, the violin does not have frets, making it vital for violin beginners to have superior eye-ear coordination.

The violin is suitable for children of all ages because they come in a variety of sizes, from 1/16th to full size, depending on the size of the learner. When choosing a violin, opt for the non-electric version, making the learning process simpler and more convenient.

For practice, it is best to choose an area that is quiet and free from distractions.

Not only are violins not too complex to learn, but they are also the most popular of music instruments, making violin rental an easy solution (try renting at

2. Cello:
Another instrument that is fairly easy to learn, and suitable for children six and older is the cello. The cello resembles the violin, however, has a much larger and thicker body.

The playing technique of the cello, somewhat similar to the violin, begins with moving the bow across the string. However, where you can play the violin standing up, the cello is played sitting down, holding it between your legs.

One of the cello playing challenges is that your fingers have to exactly on the right place for it to be in tune. Yet, with practice and concentration on the scales and arpeggios, the new cellist should pick it up in no time.

3. Double Bass:
Just like the violin and cello, moving the bow across the strings plays this instrument. Another way musicians play is by plucking or striking the strings, which evokes a deeper tone.

The double bass can be played standing up or sitting on a tall stool and comes in various size, ranging from full size to half and smaller. More difficult to handle due to its size than both the violin and cello, the double bass is typically suitable for children 11 years and older.

Because of its size, the double bass is not as popular as the other string instruments but is essential in most orchestras, especially jazz bands.

4. Flute:
Flutes are very popular in the band world, and due to the popularity, there will be much competition for those who decide to continue professionally. But if you don't let this fact scare you away, the flute is one of the easier instruments to learn, transport, and not hard on the budget (especially when you rent from!).

The flute is suitable for 4th graders and up and even has different style types to accommodate smaller students.

5. Clarinet:
Similar to the flute, the clarinet is very popular. The clarinet is often a beginning instrument and students can easily transition to the saxophone with few problems since the instrument playing techniques are so similar.

The clarinet is played by blowing wind directly into the instrument's mouthpiece and changing the pitch by covering the tone holes with the fingers. This instrument is ideal for children 10 years and older.

Now that you know the top 5 instruments for beginners, it is time to get out there and start renting or buying. Band season may still be a few months away but if you choose the right instrument and practice, you may find yourself in the top spot at your tryouts this fall.

Written by Patricia Freeman. @RentMyInstrum