A lesson in lifting holiday spirits

Jan Garrison

Oates, students provide the joy


December 22, 2020

Brass instruments have a long and rich history of being an integral part of any celebration during the holidays – especially during Christmas and Easter. So, Culver Academies adjunct brass instructor Mark Oates and his students worked up a special arrangement of “Joy to the World” to share with everyone.

But in these times of maintaining social distancing and online learning, Oates and his students had to lean heavily on technology to pull the feat off.

“I thought the kids did a really great job with it, considering the way we had to record it,” Oates said in an email. “It was a lot of work and I think is such a great way to share the joy of the season.”

Along with playing their instruments during their time together, Oates and the students have been covering topics like music theory and music history. And with the rich holiday season approaching, Oates wanted to emphasize the importance of the Brass Ensemble during it.

“It was important for me to help them appreciate the Brass Ensemble,” he said, “but as I am teaching virtually, and under the current circumstances recording as a whole group wasn't a possibility.”



To pull it off, Oates first started by adapting a traditional arrangement of “Joy to the World” for  a large brass ensemble. He then recorded a click track – a steady tempo that plays for the during of the song to keep everyone together – as well as himself performing parts of the arrangements so each student could “hear” where they needed to play.

Oates then sent out the individual parts, the click track, and a video to show the students how to record their playing. Each individual recorded their part while listening to the click track, then uploaded their video to Google Drive. Oates edited the individual pieces together using Final Cut Pro.

“I was able to ‘line’ everyone up because we all played to the same click track and I also coached them on performance in their lessons,” Oates explained, adding he also used some studio “magic” to tighten the ensemble’s sound.

“It was a ton of work,” Oates said, “but it was also gratifying to see them rise to the challenge – especially for some of the beginners the piece was really challenging. I think the result sounded great and I was excited to see such enthusiasm from the kids.”

His students’ reactions made all the work worthwhile, he added. “I really wanted to do a project that made all my students remember why we study music in the first place – to make beautiful music together and share it with our friends and loved ones!”

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