Coda Connections
Columbia Bands Fans' Quarterly Newsletter
Winter 2010-11

News & Calendar - Winter 2010-11
Feature - Common Hand-held Percussion Instruments
Behind the Baton - Director's Thoughts
Fun Stuff - A few words about...
Official CB Positions - People in Charge
Contact Information


Columbia Bands, the administrative organization for both the Columbia Concert Band and the Columbia Jazz Band, is happy to announce that our new web site is up and running! Please visit and let us know what you like/dislike about our new cyber-home. Please also be advised that the jazz band's web site is currently still up.

As always, the Calendar and Fun Stuff sections have been updated below. Enjoy!


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- Len Morse, Editor

News & Calendar

Winter News

The Columbia Concert Band is ready to provide some fantastic music later this month. The Columbia Jazz Band just came off a memorable tandem concert with the Richard Montgomery H.S. Jazz Band, and is gearing up for similar gigs. The calendar shows each group's public performances.

Winter Calendar

  Sun, 12/12, 3:00PM, Concert Band at River Hill High School, Clarksville, MD

  Wed, 2/16, Time TBA, Jazz Band at Wilde Lake High School, Columbia, MD

by Len Morse (Percussion)    
Common hand-held percussion instruments

Hand-held percussion instruments are important to the style and flavor of a musical piece, in many types of performing groups. As the title implies, these are percussive instruments that can be held in one hand and played with the other. There are no multi-mallet xylophone notes or blindingly fast snare drum rolls. You don't even have to worry about tuning.

Hand-held percussion instruments are also called auxiliary percussion, or more informally, "toys." However, they are certainly no less important than their larger cousins. Potential percussionists should keep in mind that certain techniques are necessary, and that there is more to playing auxiliary percussion than simply learning a rhythm and staying in tempo. It is also helpful to learn how to play these instruments and how their various sounds lend themselves to certain musical styles.

Cabasa: No, this is not Polish sausage (a.k.a. Kielbasa); this is usually a short, wooden cylinder (about five inches in diameter) with several strings of metallic beads around the rounded part, and a handle coming out the middle. Hold the handle with one hand, rest the beads in the palm of your other hand, and twist back and forth with a sharp motion. The cabasa is used in many music genres (including Latin, Rock, and Jazz) when you want a defined, rhythmic "shk shk" sound.

Claves: About eight inches long, claves are usually two solid wood cylinders struck together. Hold one in the palm of one hand, with the fingers of that hand curled to form a "resonating chamber" beneath the wood. Strike with the other to create a light, high-pitched "tik tik" sound. These are used mostly in Latin music.

Cowbell: The metallic "tonk tonk" of a cowbell has many uses in various music genres. It can be a constant background for Rock or Swing, a syncopated accent to Ragtime, or a sound effect in Broadway musicals. Manufactured in various sizes, the cowbell is an oblong, hollow piece of metal that you hold in one hand while striking the top near the open end, usually with the thick end ("butt" end) of a drumstick or with a cowbell beater.

Finger Cymbals: About two inches in diameter, each of these looks like a miniature crash cymbal with a fabric or leather handle attached to the top. However, they are to be used only once in a while, as a light, exotic sounding accent to quiet music. Grasp each soft handle between your thumb and index finger (making the cymbals horizontal), then strike the edge of one with the edge of the other for a single "ding."

Gogo Bells (a.k.a. Agogo Bells): If played well, Gogo bells can get your listeners into a hot Latin or Caribbean mood quickly. They look like narrow, conical cowbells, usually seen in pairs or trios, each on the end of a curved metal bar. Again, strike only with the butt end of a drumstick. Gogo bells come in many different sizes, lending a variety of sounds to frequently fast dance or celebratory Latin music.

Guiro: This is one of the few percussion instruments you are supposed to scrape. Picture a wooden (or plastic) fish about ten inches long, with no face, no fins, two holes in the body, and plenty of ribs, and you almost have a guiro. Hold the guiro by placing two fingers in the holes, then with the other hand, scrape the thin, wooden stick across the ribs for a skeletal, Salsa-like dance flavor.

Maracas: One of the most popular Latin hand-held instruments, maracas are often played in pairs (sometimes with two in each hand). Although usually associated with Mexico, maracas are used in a wide variety of music to help create a charming Latin feel. Maracas are made from many different materials, including wood, plastic, or rawhide, and have a couple handfuls of beans, beads, or pebbles inside.

Ratchet: This instrument is a metal or wooden A-frame with small, wooden slats on the inside and a crank at the top, connected to a handle on the side. Turn the handle fast and your get a loud, "snappy" sound. The ratchet is often used to suggest mechanical sounds or to highlight moderately fast, usually comical passages.

Shaker: Although shakers can be round gourds with beads on the outside, the most common have thin plastic or wood cases and are usually cylindrical, or sometimes egg- or fruit-shaped, with tiny ball bearings or beads inside. Shake back and forth so that the beads hit opposite sides of the case. Just like the maracas, a shaker adds a smooth Latin feel.

Slapstick: If you want the sound of two large pieces of wood smacking together, nothing beats a slapstick. Since a single hinge holds it together, you must play carefully to avoid catching any fingers in between the wood; use sturdy handles on the outside to prevent injury. However, spring-loaded models are generally safer. Slapsticks are often used to simulate a whip "crack."

Sleigh Bells: Most people don't realize that some non-holiday music calls for sleigh bells. This instrument is usually a thick piece of wood to which many small, metallic bells are attached (two or four rows). It is approximately one foot long and can be shaken, or struck on the handle end for a more defined sound. Sometimes the bells are simply sewn into a loose strip of fabric.

Slide Whistle: This instrument is just a long whistle, with a thin, metal rod than you pull out or push in to change the pitch as you play. It is most often used for amusement in high-energy atmospheres such as a circus march, or perhaps simply to show movement. Add a ratchet and a cowbell and see what happens!

Tambourine: This item can be shaken or struck in a variety of ways to produce many different sounds, depending on the mood of the piece. It consists of a circular, wooden shell encasing flat, metallic "jingles" and usually has a head stretched across one side, made of animal skin or plastic. Tambourines are often heard in 1970's era Rock tunes and in European folk songs, as well as in many other genres.

Triangle: One of the most popular hand-held percussion instruments, the triangle can help bring a variety of moods to the music. However, it is also used in conjunction with other instruments to accent or to keep a steady rhythm. It is essentially a solid metal tube, about one quarter to one half inch wide, bent into a triangle shape, and held by a thin string or wire. Strike it with a metal rod called a "beater," which comes in various thicknesses.

Vibra-slap: As the name indicates, this instrument vibrates after being struck. The Vibra-slap is a thin metal rod bent to form a handle in the middle, with a wooden ball at one end and a fan-shaped wooden piece containing small, vibrating metal slats on the other end. Hitting your leg or open palm with the wooden ball is often the best way to play it, rendering a jangling "kaaaa" sort of sound.

Woodblock: Most percussion instruments are appropriately named, and this is one of the best examples. The woodblock is a single piece of wood, rectangular in shape, with some hollowed out interior space. You strike it (with a hard rubber mallet or sometimes a drumstick) right in the center, close to the hollowed edge for a solid "tok tok" sound. Woodblocks vary in size and can give character to almost any style of music, be it Jazz, Latin, Rock, or Broadway show tunes.

The items mentioned above are quite common and can be found in any reputable music store or catalog, or at a percussion retailer, including:

- Rhythm Tech
- Steve Weiss
- Percussion Plus
- World Musical Instruments
- Instrument Pro

Non-percussionists should keep in mind that hand-held percussion instruments are not always easy to play, requiring technique, and some percussion parts are quite repetitive, so if you have the opportunity to play one, you may want to bring a pencil to mark your music or otherwise keep track of how many times you should play a particular passage. Hand-held percussion instruments are invaluable as stylistic additions, and bring extra excitement to any musical piece.

Behind the Baton
by Mike Blackman (Concert Band Director)     Conductor
Music for the sake!

Having chosen to make music my profession, I have found myself in many different musical situations over the past 20 years: I have taught classes in Piano, Music Theory, Orchestra, and Band; I have worked as an arranger and instructor of competitive marching bands; I have done some professional playing; I have been (and continue to be) a student of conducting; I have taught private lessons, and of course, I have spent two-thirds of my life with the Columbia Concert Band.

Music, as well as the other fine/performing arts, is in danger in American public schools. Because the arts do not appear on standardized tests, they are often the first to go when budgets are cut. I fear that the decision-makers do not realize how much their own lives are impacted by music. We are surrounded by it - in advertising, at the movies, at our happiest and saddest occasions. It feeds the soul, but we take it for granted.

So, what do we do? We point out the 50 years of research that shows again and again that the study of music is good for other academic skills - the ones that ARE tested. And we hope that the important people feel that this is a good enough reason to keep music in our schools. In many cases, this strategy has worked, so I suppose I'm thankful for all of those studies that have been conducted.

Ironically, I think that we as musicians also tend to forget "what it's really about." Since most musicians get their start in school, they remember receiving some type of grade for their efforts (or lack thereof!). Those who play well enough might get a job performing on our instruments - for a paycheck. I have a difficult time helping some of my high school students to understand that we don't need to compete against another band to be inspired to do our best.

I will admit - I remember being motivated by the grade, the paycheck, and even, at times, the competition. I think, however, as I become more "chronologically advanced," my sense of purpose has become much more clear. Music is a gift of humanity. We can all enjoy it, and we can all share it - and we should. It is inspiring, uplifting, cathartic...and fun. This is why I love community music, and especially the Columbia Concert Band. Community musicians understand the real value of music. They get nothing tangible in return for the time, effort, and emotion that they give - the satisfaction of sharing "the gift" is reward enough. I hope that you will continue allowing us to share with you. Come on out and hear us again!

Michael Blackman
Proud CCB Director

Fun Stuff
Quarterly Word: "Nocturne" - A short piece suggesting night-time calm. Composers who have used this style/mood include Wolfgang Mozart, Frederic Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn, Claude Debussy, and Benjamin Britten.

Quarterly Quote: "A good composer is slowly discovered, a bad composer is slowly found out." ~ Ernest Newman, English music critic

Official CB Positions

President - Woody Wingfield
Vice President - Len Morse
Secretary - Michael Pack
Treasurer - Aileen Borders

Music Directors

CCB Director - Mike Blackman
CJB Director - Pete Barenbregge

Appointees and Volunteers

Historian - Melinda Frisch
Publicity Chair - Jim Kaiser
Fundraising Chair - Woody Wingfield
Equipment Manager - Len Morse
Grants, Programs - Jeanette Donald
Facebook Fan Page Moderator - Carolyn Hipkins
Accountant - David Weisenfreund, CPA
Librarian - Marilyn Kelsey
Curator - Jeanette Donald (Acting)
Uniform Manager - Bill DeVuono
HCAC Liason - Tanya Hoegh-Allan
Insurance Liason - Jenn Ambrosiano-Reedholm
CCB-CJB Liason - Maurice Feldman
CB/CCB Webmaster - Len Morse
CJB Webmaster - Matt Williams
Graphic Artist - Corey Holland
Members-at-Large - Jenn Ambrosiano-Reedholm, Maurice Feldman, Jim Kaiser, Meghna Lipcon, Kathleen Shoemaker, Jim Wesloh, and John Zontek


Contact Information

phone: 301-598-4587
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Columbia Concert Band | PO Box 2713 | Columbia | MD | 21045-1713