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Rhythm Stand

Jennifer Higdon
Unit Plan for 8th Grade Band

The Composer: Jennifer Higdon

Born December 16, 1982, Jennifer Higdon is an American composer known for her wide variety of works. In 2010, Higdon
was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her Violin Concerto. She was the recipient of the Grammy Award in Best Contemporary
Classical Composition for her Percussion Concerto in 2009 and Viola Concerto in 2018. She recently received the Nemmers
Prize from Northwestern University which is “awarded to contemporary classical composers of exceptional achievement
who have significantly influenced the field of composition”. Higdon is currently on composition staff at the Curtis Institute
of Music and lives with her wife in Philadelphia.
Higdon’s compositional style is described as ‘neoromantic’. She uses a number of ostinato in addition to rhythm and
melodic repetition in her works. Most of her works are for full orchestra
Other works include: Blue Cathedral (1999), All Things Majestic (2011), On the Death of the Righteous (2009)
Other band works include: Kelley’s Field (2006), Fanfare Ritmico (2002 Arrangement)

The Commissioner: American Composers Forum

The American Composers Forum was founded in 1973 to promote American composers and the music they write. Their
ultimate goal is for music of these composers to be appreciated and incorporated into American culture. In 1997, the ACF
started Bandquest, which is a collection of pieces for middle school bands written by living American composers. They have
also started ChoralQuest and NextNotes to reach more music students. Composers who have written for Bandquest include
Jodie Blackshaw, Alex Shapiro, Michael Daugherty, Michael Colgrass, and Libby Larsen, among others.
The American Composers Forum commissioned Rhythm Stand from Jennifer Higdon, and the piece was premiered May 27,
2004 by the Baldi Middle School Band in Philadelphia, PA under the direction of Sandra Dylan.

Budd - Rhythm Stand, Jennifer Higdon

Broad Description
Rhythm Stand features a number of rhythmic themes that are repeated and connected throughout the entire piece. Higdon also
utilizes pencils and stands as instruments in her work, signifying the importance and presence of rhythm all around us in everyday

Background of Piece
The program notes of Rhythm Stand are as follows:
“RHYTHM STAND, by Jennifer Higdon, pays tribute to the constance presence of rhythm in our lives, from the pulse of a heart
beating to the rhythmic sounds of the world around us. Celebrating the “regular order” we all experience, Higdon incorporates
traditional and non-traditional sounds within a 4/4 meter American style swing to heighten student awareness and enhance their
creativity. Organized in unique compositional and rhythmic patterns, this work invites students to explore multiple ways of
organizing sounds and making music.”
In the composer’s own words:
“Since rhythm is everywhere, not just in music (ever listened to the tires of a car running across pavement, or a train on railroad
tracks?), I’ve incorporated sounds that come not from the instruments that you might find in a band, but from ‘objects’ that sit
nearby…music stands and pencils! Music stands are played with pencils, which are both ‘objects’ at hand. Not only that, but some
of the performers in this piece get even more basic…they snap their fingers. Because music can be any kind of sound arranged into
an interesting pattern, I decided to add sounds that you wouldn’t normally hear coming from band instruments, sounds which are
created out of ordinary things that might be sitting nearby. Composing is merely the job of combining interesting sounds into
interesting patterns. And interesting patterns create cool rhythms. So…I’m making a STAND FOR RHYTHM!”

Budd - Rhythm Stand, Jennifer Higdon

Rhythmic Elements




Heart Statement
The heart of Rhythm Stand comes from the powerful ways Higdon designed these rhythms to fit together. The inclusion of tapping different
parts of the stand is also an interesting metaphor for how there is rhythm and music constantly present in our lives; we just have to listen for it.

Why This Piece?

Rhythm stand offers wind players to become percussionists with pencils and stands. Further, this piece forces students to practice subdivision
and accurately reading rhythms. It is also a great opportunity for percussion to feel important, as they get to keep the steady beat throughout
most of the piece. This is also in general very fun and satisfying as the melodies ascend and descend.
Unit Goals
1. Students will be able to subdivide while playing

2. Students will be able to identify other rhythmic passages besides their own

3. Students will be able to match other musician’s articulation and intensity

4. Students will be able to develop personal practice strategies

Because of the unique middle school band schedule, I was able to complete formative assessments with
students in both lessons and rehearsals. I introduced the piece by starting with a strand of eighth notes, and
did a similar, shorter exercise in lessons to check for understanding. Further, the articulation matching and
subdivision was also transferred to other pieces, as students were more aware of rhythmic duration.
Introducing the Piece … First Rehearsal Strategies
Start by introducing the first rhythm pattern by writing two measures completely including eighth notes. Give the students a beat and instruct
them to clap this rhythm. This is meant to be very easy, and show the importance of subdivision in this piece. After the students clap this
phrase, begin taking eighth notes away, one or two at a time depending on skill level. Have students clap each of the scaffolded rhythms until
the final, inscribed rhythm phrase remains. Next ask the students who has this in their parts and where. Most sections in the band have this
passage at numerous times. Ask them to them clap this rhythm again.
Repeat this same procedure with the second rhythm, beginning with eighth notes and scaffolding them away until the inscribed rhythm remains.
Again as the student who has this in their parts and where. Fewer sections in the band have this passage, but it still arises a number of times.
Now comes the challenge. Looking at m. 21, ask the student who play rhythm 1 and rhythm 2 to clap their parts. Percussion should clap steady
eighth notes, as they are often the beat keepers in this piece. The students may observe that when these two rhythms come together, they
interlock and it will sound like the entire band is clapping eighth notes.
Once the students have clapped their rhythms, they should switch to the other rhythm. This is an essential portion of this activity, as some
students encounter both rhythms, while for the others who only play the first rhythm, they will now be aware of what other rhythms are
happening during the piece.

Articulation Matching
Students can practice articulation matching in a number of ways.
● In lessons, students listen to each other perform a few measures, then play together, finding a balance
● In rehearsal, play four eighth notes for each note of a scale, ascending and descending and have students close their eyes to
enhance their listening skills. They can focus their listening by focusing on each person on either side of them, their section and
then the entire band
● The scale exercise can be furthered by notating the first three eighth notes as staccato and the final as marcato

Budd - Rhythm Stand, Jennifer Higdon

Reflection & Student Work
The students absolutely adore this piece, which made teaching it that much easier. In each of the activities, students were
often able to guess the purpose as they were doing it. The first lesson plan made teaching the entire unit significantly easier,
as students were able to pick up the difficult rhythmic passages in the very first rehearsal, which I wasn’t expecting.
Regardless, we were able to move onto matching articulation and fitting rhythms together rather quickly.

In developing practicing strategies, I worked with students individually in lessons for them to each create their own strategy
that was personal and special to each one. I would like to share the experience of the bass clarinetist in the eighth grade
band’s practicing strategies. He was one of the students who quickly latched onto the rhythmic passages and could play them
ease. His difficulties were derived from measures in his part that included strings of eighth notes with unusual intervals. I
demonstrated a few different ways to work through these measures, and asked him to return with what worked best for him.
He returned able to play his part exceptionally well, and found that both changing the rhythm and playing backwards was
both challenging and fun. I have seen him apply this practice strategy to his other music, which is steadily improving. Other
students chose to utilize practice strategies as slowing down, playing with their eyes closed, and one flutist practices her
articulations by playing the exaggerated opposites, and going back to the original. I have seen her articulation, tonguing
specifically, drastically improve.

One of the most important things I have gained from this teaching experience is the value of breaking things down and
focusing on small things at a time. Particularly with rhythm, going through and clapping eighth notes first allowed students to
be successful the first time they played the piece. It is also wonderful to see students display their creativity through the
practice methods they created.