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Image by Weston MacKinnon

Journey by theNorth Star

2023 • Multilevel String Orchestra • 4'

A rich standalone piece and an exciting way to invite older and younger players to perform together.

Here's the magic

CONSTRUCTION

Journey by the North Star is a thoughtfully crafted multilevel piece that is musically rich and pedagogically sound. Built as a rondo (ABACADA), the primary North Star theme (adjacent to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star") leads the ship across the sea. In contrasting sections, more advanced students introduce new musical ideas—the ship sailing, stormy seas, and a sea monster. These ideas are blended with each restatement of the North Star theme.

 

I specifically designed the North Star theme with the youngest players in mind and made it crucial to the work, not a simplification of another idea. This theme is the guiding light which brings the ship to safe harbor. The theme is mostly the same, with modest changes in the repetition, and can be supported by intermediate or advanced players.

The balance of the North Star theme and contrasting themes keeps the piece accessible to young players, offers interest and challenge for older players, and re-contextualizes a simple idea with a broader array of harmonies, colors, and rhythms.

ENSEMBLE COMBINATIONS

This works alone and as a side-by-side piece with the following orchestra combinations:

  1. Advanced Only

  2. Advanced + Intermediate

  3. Advanced + Intermediate + Elementary

  4. Intermediate Only

  5. Intermediate + Elementary

(These designations are generally aligned with most high school, junior high, and middle school programs.)

 

"North Star" is a fabulous end-of-year piece for a combined concert. It might also be performed by older students in the fall and played again at the spring concert with the younger students (a fantastic motivator!).

PEDAGOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Young students will need to know:

  • The D major scale

  • Limited use of C♮ and F♮

  • Simple rhythms in 3/4 time

  • Playing pizzicato and arco (no changes within a single section; lots of time to pick up the bow between restatements of the theme)

Intermediate students will need to know the above plus:

  • Some use of the notes B♭, E♭, and A♭

  • Limited half-step chromaticism in a repeated pattern

  • Shifting into 3rd position (upper strings)

  • Some 8th-note syncopation; some 16th notes

  • Legato, staccato, accent, tremolo

  • Playing grace notes and trills

Advanced students will need to know the above plus:

  • Shifting into higher positions (for Violin 1 and cello)

  • More complex rhythms including 16th notes

PEDAGOGICAL SHEETS

Pedagogical sheets for rehearsal support and to learn about the concepts of harmonic planing and mixed meter are available for this work. These will enhance the ensemble's listening, performance, and overall understanding of the work's structure. These can be used at the director’s discretion.

Sample sheets are included in print with the full score and parts, and all sheets will be available for digital download and printing for free here by January 2024.

AUDIO MATERIALS

Practice tracks will also be made available here for download by January 2024. Tracks may be used to assist individual practice and to teach ensembles how the work sounds as a whole, especially to be combined with other orchestras later.

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