Sidewalk Learnin'



Composer(s) / Arranger(s): Gary P. Gilroy

Performance Time: 3:51  |  Grade: 3  |  Style: Contemporary, Jazz

Sidewalk Learnin’! was commissioned by the Thomas S. Hart Middle School (Pleasanton, CA) Concert Band, Dennis Aquilina, Conductor, for their trip to perform in New Orleans in the Spring of 2017.  It is dedicated to the music students of Thomas S. Hart Middle School: past, present, and future. 

The title refers to the amazing musicians of New Orleans who grow up on the streets learning to play and improvise.  The composer recalls walking the streets of New Orleans hearing incredibly young musicians playing fabulous improvised solos and being very impressed.  These young players performed with deep feeling and emotion as well as relentless passion and intensity.  Their performances were both entertaining and inspirational. 

Dr. Gilroy was thrilled to receive a second commission from Dennis Aquilina and the Thomas S. Hart Middle School Band program.  It marked the third time in as many years that the composer was asked to write a second commission for a group that had previously commissioned him. 

Mr. Aquilina requested that this composition be in the style of New Orleans jazz so Gilroy looked to the music of the likes of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Re-Birth Brass Band for inspiration.     

There are many demanding qualities in this style of music so crafting something that was suitable for junior high school or middle school musicians was not an easy task.  Mr. Aquilina is a conductor who challenges his students and as a result, his young players perform at an impressive level.  His previous commission, Heart of the City, was very energetic and quite demanding.  Sidewalk Learnin’! provides challenges that will offer young players the opportunity to learn plenty of syncopated rhythms that are often quite repetitive. 

There are some special considerations regarding the percussion parts for this work.  The xylophone and bells players should use a hard plastic mallet for the best sound.  Percussion One should arrange all of his/her instruments so that they can all be easily played in a small arc that faces the conductor.  Percussion Two should use a small bass drum with a fair amount of dampening.  This bass drum should be laid on its side so that it can be played with two mallets.  The sound should be slightly resonant like a drumset.  Percussion Three should use snare drum sticks that are thin or medium at best.  He/She should not use a very thick stick.  It might be best, however, to use the butt end of the stick to play the “low block” and “high tom.”   Again, the player should arrange the instruments in a small arc facing the conductor so that everything is within easy reach.  It would be best to have the block mounted so it does not bounce around.  Percussion Four will again want to arrange all instruments in a small arc facing the conductor so that everything is within easy reach and it is highly recommended that the cowbell be mounted. None of the percussion writing is considered “optional,” but is all rather soloistic in nature.  The percussion must understand that when they have lots of repeated patterns they need to back off and blend in once they’ve made their first statement.  Dynamics in the parts usually indicate this but it will probably be wise to remind the players of this often during rehearsals.

There is an optional solo section that can be repeated to provide some students with a chance to work on their improvisational skills.  The conductor might adjust the dynamics in this section as needed.  It can also be repeated more than once to give more students this wonderful opportunity to grow and express themselves.   

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