New Music Friday: The Picnic: Watch Out for the B’s

As a teacher, Ingrid Koller always looks for fun and engaging ways to teach a new skill. When students are learning how to tremolo, she often asks them to make their bow “buzz” like a bee.

That idea blossomed into The Picnic: Watch out for the B’s as she imagined an entire orchestra behaving like a swarm of bees. This piece tells the story of a picnic being interrupted by pesky bees. It begins lightheartedly enough with an uplifting jaunty melody. Our picnic-goers are happily enjoying themselves on a sunny day when suddenly they are interrupted by the buzzing of a bee.

Determined to enjoy the picnic despite an annoying bee or two, they resume their picnic, only to be interrupted again and again. As time goes on, more and more bees can be heard, and every section gets a turn. Listen for the sounds of the bees as they travel around the orchestra. Listen too for the pizzicato section where the picnic-goers try to tiptoe around so as not to disturb the bees. Eventually, the very large swarm of bees is too much for them, and at the end, the listener can hear them scrambling to run away.

The buzzing sounds are created when string players play tremolos on notes that are separated by a half step. For an added musical joke, most of the “buzzes” include the musical note B in the very dissonant cluster of notes. In addition to playing tremolos, the musicians are playing “sul ponticello” (on the bridge). This adds a raspy, edgy quality to the sound, making it even more unpleasant and unsettling.

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About The Picnic

This piece gives your young musicians a chance to tell a story with their music. Drama, suspense, and humor are important as the orchestra creates the narrative of happy picnic-goers having their beautiful day interrupted by pesky bees. Invite the students to engage in the drama, looking nervously around or occasionally swatting an imaginary bee in front of their faces. This piece gives the students a chance to practice many skills: tremolo, sul ponticello, watching the conductor during the many rests and working with dynamics. The dynamics are very important, and the students should all attempt to crescendo and decrescendo together to really convey the behavior and the sound of the bees. At C and D, it is essential to observe the piano and pianissimo dynamics to convey the idea of carefully tiptoeing around so as not to disturb the bees. Feel free to play with the crescendos before E, perhaps making each a little louder or varying the dynamics as you see fit. From E to the end, it is fine to let the rhythmic cohesion of the orchestra fall apart a little, as this final section is meant to portray everyone running away from the bees. For even more drama and a fun surprise for the audience, the conductor could give the downbeat and then run away from the orchestra, leaving the concertmaster to cue the final bar.

About Ingrid Koller

Ingrid Koller is a freelance violist, violin and viola instructor, and composer in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

She has played in numerous ensembles and orchestras and has been a member of the Lake String Quartet for over 30 years. Nationally recognized artists for whom Ingrid has played include Roy Clark, Michael Card, and Fernando Ortega. For 19 years, Ingrid was a co-director of the Early Bird String Academy, a before-school orchestra program in North Saint Paul, Minnesota. Inspired by her students, she writes engaging and imaginative pieces for string orchestras and small ensembles. Ingrid studied with John Tartaglia at the University of Minnesota, where she obtained a Bachelor of Music in Viola Performance. Ingrid is a member of the Viola Society of America, American String Teacher’s Association, American Composer’s Forum, and ASCAP. Published works: Adeste Fiddles, LudwigMasters Publications, Five Duets for Two Violas, Five Duets for Two Violins, and Five Duets for Violin and Viola, Latham Music, Ltd/ LudwigMasters Publications, Hello Cellos, LudwigMasters Publications, Haunted Halloween Dances, Tempo Press, The Picnic-Watch Out for the B’s, Tempo Press, Arco Polo, LudwigMasters Publications and Shake, Shake, Shake, LudwigMasters Publications.

Visit Ingrid’s website at Ingridkoller.com.

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