How to avoid over-programming for your next concert

I’ve lost count as to the number of times I’ve had this conversation with a colleague:

Me: “How was your concert?”

Colleague: “Ugh. It was a little rough around the edges. I think I put a little too much on the kids’ plates.”

Me: “How did you go about selecting the music, and how did you go about issuing it?”

Colleague: “Oh man! I chose everything over the summer and it all works together beautifully. I issued everything during the first week and I had my plans all set on my calendar. I was so organized! I thought for sure the kids would pull it off. They just didn’t quite get there I guess.

Now, if you are reading this and I’ve had this conversation with you, don’t worry...nobody knows that but you and me. But at this point I’ve had that conversation enough times that I feel compelled to try and help anyone who has gone through this type of situation. It’s rather easy to fix if you can let go of some old habits.

  • Understand that a successful concert relies first and foremost on your ability to *teach* the repertoire in the amount of time allotted. Many teachers (and especially younger teachers) literally have no idea how long it will take them to teach a piece when they choose it...especially if they have never taught it before! You may see a grade level on a piece, and think that it fits your band perfectly, but you really won’t know how long it will take to bring that piece to fruition until you start teaching it.
  • Your ability to teach a piece to your students is always impacted by the unforeseen characteristics of your ensemble. I say “unforeseen” because each school year brings a different collection of students. They will interact musically with one another in unique ways. They will have different approaches to preparation and rehearsal engagement. Over time, once you have built a very consistent band program it may become easier to predict the nature of a group before the year starts, but until you really feel like you’ve entered that era, every year brings a very unique group of learners.
Given the above realities, pre-selecting a entire concert before you hold the first rehearsal with your new band can truly be a recipe for frustration for both yourself and your students. I’d like you consider a very simple approach to concert preparation that folds repertoire selection into the overall preparation cycle. That’s what I’ve done for years, and here is how it works:

  1. Decide upon the “main” piece for the concert. Don’t issue it. Don’t even make the part assignments.
  2. Select, assign and issue the piece that you feel is the next most challenging work.
  3. Rehearse that piece until it is basically concert ready. That could be two weeks...or it could be longer. Assess your students, record your rehearsals...STUDY your scores. Teach your rear end off.
  4. Once your secondary piece is ready, you have will learned many things about yourself and your students. If that piece comes together quickly, you are pleasantly surprised (I would issue another secondary piece now, if so). If not, you now have the opportunity to revise your thinking about the “main” piece. Do you really have enough time to bring it to realization, based upon what you have learned? Is there another piece that is less complex but still meets some of your goals? Should the piece you already issued become the “main” piece? Remember that your students don’t even know what you chose as the “main” piece so there will be no disappointment (other then perhaps your own). That piece can perhaps be programmed later in the year. Make your decision now, and be realistic.
  5. Assign and issue your “main” piece and work on it until your students truly understand it. Don’t cheat.
  6. Look at the remaining time on your calendar. Count up the number of rehearsals that you have. Plan for a full concert run one full week before your concert, and remaining rehearsals for spot checks of all the pieces. How many rehearsals will you really have?
  7. Choose and issue remaining piece(s) based upon what you have learned so far and in consideration of the time you have left. If you need to supplement with pieces two grades lower...do it. If you choose well the parents will never know. This is the step where you can save your kids. Do what is best for them.
I have used this process for years. It really prevents having “eyes that are bigger than your appetite.” There have been times where I am able to choose remaining pieces that are *more* challenging than I expected, and (more often) there are times when I am supplementing with easier pieces, or fewer pieces. Either way the bottom line is that over-programming is avoided, students can be more successful and (especially) in a position to enjoy their performance instead of being completely stressed over it (which we all know makes matters even worse).

I’m not sure why teachers feel the need to pre-select an entire concert before they’ve really come to understand their ensemble and their own ability to teach each piece. Perhaps it was a mantra in college methods courses? I don’t know. But to my way of thinking, ensemble learning is an organic process and placing all the music into students’ folders in the first week is committing you to an outcome which may be less than successful. By surrounding your “main” piece with other works that are selected in light of student progress, you and your students will be more successful.

If you give this process a try please let me know how it went!

No Seth, Demoralizing Kids Is Not A Joke

"Over one thousand clowns performed at this morning's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Said the clowns, 'we prefer to be called high school marching bands."

~Seth Meyers

Last year we heard from Jim Rome who proclaimed that college marching band kids were "dorks." He was out of line and he raised the ire of thousands.

But Meyers is worse. 

Why? Because while Rome was tweeting off the cuff, Meyer's monologue was written, edited, and approved by a team of people in advance. It was a premeditated joke at the expense of hard working high school students. Kids. Rome didn't think, but Meyers and his team clearly did...and rolled with it. It wasn't funny, it was demoralizing. Who does that? Are radio and TV personalities that desperate for material that the integrity of kids is somehow fair game these days? Is there nothing left to joke about when it comes to adults?

Meyers is already spinning the pushback to his advantage. He has "apologized" on Twitter (without admitting why he was out of line) and will likely be featuring some marching band kids who "get back at him" on his show. Lovely.

Look around you Seth, you have plenty of material in the 21 and over crowd. Leave the kids alone, especially those who are working so hard to bring a little holiday joy to you and your family on Thanksgiving morning.

Afterword: To those stating "it's just a joke" or "kids need a thicker skin" I'd ask that you think more carefully about that. Joking about adults is (in most cases) OK. High school kids? No.

Where is the humor in labeling the hard work of children clowning around? But the saddest thing is, if people didn't believe it (even if just a little) it wouldn't have gotten a laugh. If the punch line had been "kids on the Sesame Street float" I think there would have been confused silence. But marching bands....that's funny...clowns with horns. Music Educators need to think about why that is so, and stand up for their hard working students.

Get my app NoteNames+ for free in the App Store

In the mid-90s I wrote (using Apple's HyperCard) a little software application called NoteNames. I was teaching beginning band at the time and it seemed like a good way to get kids to make note-reading an afterthought. NoteNames has been available for Mac and PC since that time, and served as impetus for other sites and apps such as musicracer.com.

Well, fast forward to today and the App Store gave me a nice Father's Day present. NoteNames+ for iPad is now available on the App Store. It's free, so you teachers out there should check it out and tell your students. It will also connect to your Google Drive and give you endless data points to demonstrate student growth. Contact me to learn how to implement that feature.

If your kids use this app, I promise you that they will be able to instantaneously be able to read the full range of their instruments, including enharmonics, major and minor key sigs, and more. Try it. NOTE: Get Google Drive instructions here.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/notenames+/id931267859


Mr. Stombres' Opus

There's always considerable debate about the "true" purpose and value of music education. To me, there isn't a simple answer. Music has the power to do so many things in the lives of young people, things that they carry with them no matter what career they pursue.

On Tuesday night former students from around the country came to St. Charles, Illinois to honor our colleague Jim Stombres. Most of the people you will see in this video are not music professionals (although many are). They are bound together by a deep love for ensemble music-making, and demonstrate overwhelming gratitude for their former teacher. When you watch this video you know with certainty that music education is something every student should have in his or her life.

(video by Jim Blaney, photos by John Langston)

Mr. Stombres Celebration Alumni Band

May 5th, 2015

We come together, as one band of many individuals, from all walks of life, whose lives have been touched by an incredible educator, musician and man.  Mr. Stombres, this final performance under your direction, is for you and for all of your students, whose lives are better because of you.  From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for teaching us to love music for a lifetime and we wish you well in the next stage of your life.  

Flute  

Julie Bergeson Allen,  BHS ’85, BPS101 Elementary Teacher, Elburn, IL

Sandy Fulton Andress , BHS ‘87, Homemaker & Worship Tech Volunteer, New Berlin, WI

Elizabeth Phelps Barber, NNHS ‘97, Adjunct Flute Professor, NIU, Evanston, IL

Christina Josephson Beatty, NNHS ‘98, Chemistry & Forensics Professor, Urbana, IL

Tanner Conroyd, SCN ‘10, Student, St. Charles, IL

Meghana Desai, NNHS ‘96, Software Engineer, Naperville, IL

Molleen Dupree-Dominquez, NNHS ‘95, High School Teacher, Oakland, CA

Meghan Grier Gatenby, NNHS ‘99, Elementary Art Teacher, Montgomery, IL

Katie Moylan Grosskopf, NNHS ‘96, Human Resource Manager, Naperville, IL

Kathryn Husar, SCN ‘09, Student, St. Charles, IL

Jennifer Ainsworth Ievans, NNHS ‘89, Accountant, Aurora, IL

Tori Lupinek, SCN ’11, Student, Chicago, IL

Scott Metlicka, BHS ‘89, Professional Musician, Elgin, IL

Alison Mondul, NNHS ‘94, Assistant Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Julie Young Pedraza, NNHS ‘95, Cary, NC

Shannon Purcell,  SCN ‘13, Pharmacy Student, St. Charles, IL

Melissa Rose, NNHS ‘96, Registered Nurse, Morehead City, NC

Jennifer Klein Rosenbaum, NNHS ‘95, Mother, Naperville, IL

Kelly Scullans, SCN ’14, Deaf Ed. Student at MacMurray, St. Charles, IL

Amy Allison Song, NNHS ‘93, Ceramic Artist, Plainfield, IL

Rebecca Gaines Strong, NNHS ‘95, High School English Teacher, Suffield, CT

Beth Hackney Tukker, NNHS ‘92, Mother, Aurora, IL

Elizabeth Zinger, NNHS ‘93, Music Teacher, Middelton, WI


Oboe

Victoria Hans, SCN ‘13

Student at Loyola University, Chicago, IL, Nora Anderson Lewis, NNHS ‘94

Associate Prof. of Music at Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS

Susan Raben Stellmacher, NNHS ‘99, Director of Development, Naperville, IL


Bassoon

Katie Phelps Brunner, NNHS ‘92, Private Bsn Teacher/Coach, Pleasanton, CA

Whitney Holsteen, SCN ‘08, Ed. Resources Teacher, Louisville, KY

Tracy Muklewicz, NNHS ‘94, Psychotherapist, Chicago, IL


Clarinet 

Vicki Long Bohl, NNHS ‘95, Ultrasound Technologist, Schaumburg, IL

Jennifer Cossman Capone , NNHS ‘95, Music Therapist, owner of Blue Ridge Music Therapy, Forest, VA

Phillip Carter, SCN ’09, Music Teacher, St. Charles, IL

Jessica Corry , SCN ’08, Band Director, Oswego, IL

Linda Tai D’Ambrosio, NNHS ‘95, Glen Ellyn, IL

David Dobrodt, NNHS ‘95, Political Organizer, Northern VA

Meredith Galloway, SCN ‘14Student, Elburn, IL

Tiffany Ryan Hermsen, NNHS ‘99, Sales Planning Manager, Cedar Rapids, IA

Allie Isabelli, SCN ‘13, Student, Nashville, TN

Jenny Leather Isherwood , NNHS ’96Reading Intervention Teacher, Seattle, WA

Beth Kozubik Jenson, NNHS ‘92, Marriage & Family Therapist, Orcas Island, WA

Jessica Lindeman Nellis, NNHS ’01, Band Director, Arlington Hts., IL

Jeremy Olisar, NNHS ’02, Music Teacher, Waynesburg, PA

Kate Rouker, NNHS ‘96, Aviation Underwriter, Naperville, IL

Lori Shubert Wink, NNHS ’92, Nurse Practitioner, Houston, TX


Bass Clarinet 

Amanda Setlik Jones, NNHS ‘01, Pianist & Music Teacher, Boulder, CO

Contrabass Clarinet 

Shannon Considine-Dunn , NNHS ‘99, Health Behavioralist, Ann Arbor, MI

Alto Saxophone 

Matt Alletag, SCN ‘04, Musician & Music Teacher, Chicago, IL

Brian Backer, SCN ‘14, Law Enforcement & Jazz Studies Student, Western Illinois University

Gail Becker , BHS ‘88, Director of Ed.- Capital City Theatre / Private Vocal Coach, Madison, WI

Tom Gersic, NNHS ‘97, Salesforce, Hoffman Estates, IL

Adam Justice, NNHS ‘01, Vice President, Grid Connect, Naperville, IL

Patrick Seymour, NNHS ‘01, Professional Musician, Miami, FL

Doug Young – NNHS ‘99, Embedded Software Engineer, Boston, MA

Tenor Saxophone 

Matt Moe Striedl, BHS ‘87, Sugar Grove, IL

Matt Zmuda, SCN ‘12, Music Education Student, Elmhurst, IL

Baritone Saxophone 

Matt Dingeldein, NNHS ‘01, Potato Chip Tester, Chicago, IL


Trumpet/Cornet

Mike Backer, SCN ’09, Music Ed./Theater Student at NIU, DeKalb, IL

Scott Beatty, NNHS ‘98, Sportscaster & News Reporter, Urbana, IL

Tim Chipman, NNHS ‘89, Systems Analyst- AllState Insurance, Winfield, IL

Vickie Cochran Bertini, BHS ‘87, Senior Web Developer, Phoenix, AZ

Kevin Dobbeck, SCN student teacher ‘11, Band Director, Algonquin, IL

Tracie Dillingham Eckhardt , NNHS ‘96, Human Resources, Grand Rapids, MI

Blake Engel, NNHS ‘97, Startup Software Designer, San Francisco, CA

Aaron Guzman, NNHS ‘97, Band & Orch. Director, Riverside, CA

Gerrit Husar, SCN ‘14, Student, St. Charles, IL

Martha Moody Lucking, NNHS ‘96, Consumer Marketing, Warrenville, IL

Matt Matuszek, SCN ’06, Music Teacher, Kalamazoo, MI

Stephen Miles, NNHS ’89, Musician, US Army Band, Benson, AZ

Kristofer Mirjanic, SCN ‘12, Mechanical Engineering & Applied Math minor, Northern Illinois University

Max Rasmussen, SCN ‘14, Computer Science Student, Elgin, IL

Claire Smith, SCN ‘12, Nursing Student, DeKalb, IL

Rachel Sypniewski, NNHS ‘97, Costume Designer, Chicago, IL

Sarah Sypniewski,  NNHS ‘96, Entrepreneur/Writer, Santa Monica, CA


French Horn 

Madeleine Bolz, SCN ‘14, Music Education Major, Illinois State University

Alicia Casacchia, SCN ‘13, Student, Naperville, IL

Barb Jöstlein Currie, NNHS ‘93, 4th Horn Metropolitan Opera, New York City, NY

Laura Boyer Engelhardt, NNHS ’95, Band Director, Cedar Falls, IA

Thomas Ferrin III, NNHS ‘99, Taking care of business (everyday), Guam

Thomas Jöstlein, NNHS ‘89, St. Louis Symphony, St. Louis, MO

David P. Quagliana, NNHS ’95Psychologist, Cleveland, TN

Rebecca Whelpley, NNHS ‘92, Organist/Accompanist/Private Teacher, Brookfield, WI

Grace Zimmerman, SCN ‘14, Political Science Student, University of Colorado


Trombone 

Steve Bradley, NNHS ‘94Music Teacher, Chicago, IL

Andy Fife, NNHS ‘95, Arts Management & Policy Consultant, Seattle, WA

Mike McGuigan, BHS ‘87, Sound Therapy/Vibrational Medicine, 

North Aurora, IL, Nate Michalic, SCN ‘07, Audio Engineer/Assistant Director of Media Services, Oak Park, IL, 

Keith Pitner, SCN student teacher ‘11, Band Director, Aurora, IL

Michael Skyles, BHS’87, Professor of Music, Northern State University, Aberdeen, SD

Mike Zielinski, NNHS ‘99, Manager, Fix This!, Shorewood, IL

Euphonium 

Chris Brown, NNHS ‘00, Computer Programmer, Geneva, IL

Brian de la Cruz, BHS ‘85, Printing Company General Manager, Batavia, IL

Kendra Barrett Gohr, NNHS ‘95, Private Low Brass Instructor, Libertyville, IL, ALUMNI BAND ORGANIZER

Kay Pepiot Laudando, NNHS ‘93, Media Analyst, Aurora, IL

Pamela Boyer Schulz, NNHS ’92, Associate Principal, Marion, IA

Tuba 

Colin Banker, SCN ‘06, St. Charles, IL

Katie Bost Heuer, NNHS ‘96, Physical Therapist, Naperville, IL

Brigid Lamb Matson, NNHS ‘99, Compliance Supervisor, Shawnee, KS

Steven Vasica, SCN ‘13, Student, Elgin, IL

Paul Weissenborn, NNHS ‘88, Band Director, Kansas City, MO


Percussion

David Hutter, SCN ’06, Band Director, Chicago, IL

Larkin Barrett Kinsella, NNHS ‘97, Choir Director, Manhattan, IL

Bill Leather, NNHS ‘01, Band Director, Mishawaka, IN

Josh Moshier, SCN ‘04, Composer, Santa Monica, CA

Jesse Nolan, NNHS ‘00, Resident Music Director for Blue Man Group; President of MashPlant, Palatine, IL

Rick Pittman, BHS ‘87, Low Voltage Technician, Sycamore, IL

Tom Scarborough, NNHS ’93, Software Engineer, Naperville, IL


String Bass

Catherine Salomone Infantino, NNHS ‘94, Owner, Slabmedia, Boston, MA

John Sutton, NNHS ‘00, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Chicago, IL


Special thanks to:

Mr. Adam Gohr & Libertyville H.S. 

Mr. Jim Kull & Mr. Gil Wukitsch & St. Charles East H.S.

Mr. Brian Van Kley & Batavia H.S.

Mr. Brian Wis & St. Charles North H.S.


Honor Band and Orchestra Conductors: Illinois Gets It Right

I just returned from the Illinois Music Education Conference, and I couldn't be more pleased. A few years ago I wrote about the importance of choosing the very best educator-conductors for our students, rather than hiring composers who (a) have a natural bias towards there own music and (b) often do not have the conducting skills that our students need, especially given the minimal amount of rehearsal time. Ocassionally, we get it right but all too often we have not done as well by our students as we should.

This year Illinois got it right in a huge way.

The Honors Band was conducted by Eugene Corporon from North Texas State University, and the Honors Orchestra was conducted by Larry Livingston from USC. Having spent several hours in these rehearsals (more on that later), I can tell you first hand that our students got the experience that we expect from All State. Passion, kindness, and above all, expert teaching through wonderful repertoire. Congratulations to the entire ILMEA leadership team.

Gene Corporon has always been a champion of current composers for wind band. His choices...Carnaval! by Julie Giroux, Magnolia Star by Steve Danyew, and Yosemite Autumn by (Illinois native!) Mark Camphouse... stayed true to that mission and also provided a relevant Illinois connection for students. Livingston (who worked at Northern Illinois University for a time) chose the first movement of Mahler's Second Symphony in C Minor. Yep, you read that right, Mahler 2.

Had you asked me before any conference whether students should be attempting Mahler 2 I would have responded with more than a bit of concern, but this year I would have been wrong. Though it might be a mistake for most conductors to attempt Mahler in what is essentially one day of rehearsals, watching Larry Livingston teach...using the score only for calling rehearsal numbers...proved how essential it is to have great teaching and musicianship to go along with great repertoire. Students' musical lives can be forever changed only when both factors are present. I've seen plenty of honor groups where the person on the podium was not up to the repertoire they selected. This year was an amazing treat.

If you were at Larry or Gene's first rehearsals you know what each phrase sounded like the first time it was attempted. This is very important for gaining perspective on someone's teaching. For example, as capable as our students are, they did not understand the Mahler at first...it is a deeply profound tour de force. They needed to be taught, and Larry Livingston taught them. He taught them about the historical context of the piece, he taught them about Mahler's personal and professional history, he demanded that they expect more from themselves, and he taught the musical concepts needed to foster technical and expressive clarity so the students could grasp this monumental work. Most of all, he made sure the students knew he cared. Do you suppose the students were "engaged" as a result? Indeed. If you are a teacher who is still complaining and/or confused about using the Danielson Framework in the teaching of music...it was all there for the taking. Inspired teaching will manifest itself in any framework (a discussion for another time).

This brings me to my next challenge for our state associations around the nation: In addition to hiring great educator-conductors, treat the rehearsals as the most important professional development experiences at the conference. 

For example:

  • Formalize the rehearsal rooms for observation by setting up 50 chairs for teachers (keep the student cases/coats elsewhere)
  • Secure scores so teachers can follow and learn
  • Provide credit to teachers who observe at least one contiguous hour of a rehearsal. Too many teachers think that watching the last ten minutes of a rehearsal session (because they need to pick up their students anyway) is sufficient. It's not. You are missing so much of the teaching process. The time before the break is usually a review...you have missed the actual journey. If you went during the heart of the rehearsal blocks you know this. I did, and never did I see more than five or six colleagues. This is a shame. If you observed for an hour or more...bravo!! But by my calculations it's probably about 50 teachers at best. Not enough.
  • Allow the guest conductor to "get real" with teachers at break time. Teachers need to know how to better prepare their students for these events, and I often wonder why we do not allow our guest conductors to express their thoughts directly to teachers while those thoughts are fresh. 
    • How do you think our students stack up as compared to other places you've conducted? 
    • Knowing what you know now, would you have selected easier/harder repertoire? 
    • How can we improve so that you and our students can have an even better experience next time?

Hold a short session at a break or at the conclusion of the day for this type of frank communication to take place and everyone learns something.

    During one brief break in the orchestral rehearsal Dr. Livingston approached me and said "thank you for spending so much time here." I said "I'm sorry more of our colleagues are not here, we need to change that." He poked me in the shoulder and said "then say something."

    And so...now I've said something. 

    Let's take the next step. The rehearsals are not just for the students dear friends, they are arguably more meaningful for us. I learned things this week that are going to directly benefit all of my students, not just the All Staters. Even if I never get a little red stamp on my professional development sheet, and even if I must stand because there is nowhere to sit, I will continue to spend more time in rehearsals than I spend in the exhibit hall. 

    You should, too.

    ________________________________

    Afterword:

    Three things:

    1. I wanted to make mention that Larry Livingston also gave an amazing clinic session that was attended by precious few band and orchestra teachers. A huge missed opportunity. If you were there.... you know why! Never miss an chance to gain insights ... especially off the podium...from a great educator-conductor.

    2. The importance of observing rehearsals isn't just an "all-state" issue. The same goes for local honor festivals (in Illinois they are called "district" festivals). We need to spend more time learning from conductors at every opportunity, instead of sitting in the cafeteria commiserating. Honor ensembles are not just for student learning. If we don't attend rehearsals, the only people that benefit are the few honor students. If we do attend, all of the students we will ever teach will benefit because we will become more effective. There is a very powerful difference here. How does sitting in the cafeteria make you a better teacher? You know the answer to that.

    3. Larry asked to have a piano in the rehearsal room. He played improvisations for the students several times. He was sharing himself with them...giving a gift. This will give you an idea.

    Now that we're done behaving like Jim Rome, can we please take a stand?

    ~Brian Wis

    For the last few days musicians around the country have been playing the internet's version of "I know you are, but what am I?" in response to Jim Rome calling marching band students "dorks." Worse, many more have taken to spewing insults that make his statements pale in comparison.

    This is not helping.

    As I said the other day, his behavior needs to be called to account, and it needs to stop. Behaving like him...or worse than him...is not going to accomplish anything. Trying to convince him that band students are "cool" or "athletic" is also a waste of time. His goal (like any bully) is to belittle others, to establish a pecking order. He has no interest in being educated, convinced or enlightened.

    So what do we do?

    First of all, say something to his boss, @CBSSports and utilize the hashtag #MarchOnRome or #romeisburning. CBS is the only entity that can make a lasting impact on his behavior. Jim Rome is paid to analyze and make commentary on collegiate and professional sports. He has no business demeaning musicians. CBS is not pleased with his behavior (notice his picture has been removed from their banner on Twitter) but they are not going to take real action unless sufficient pressure is applied.

    Secondly, spread the word. Instead of hurling insults at Rome, let others know what he did. This is far more effective. Post one of the many recent articles to your Facebook wall. Let your friends and relatives know the real Jim Rome.

    Finally, a word to those who have been saying "just ignore him, it just increases his celebrity." With all due respect to those who taught you this approach as a kid, this is not the time to ignore Jim Rome. Letting others know what he has done does not bring him more notoriety and fame, it reveals his true character, and that is both necessary and fully deserved. Ignoring what he did will not change his behavior. He was ignored in 2009, and we see where that got us:

    You know where I come out on marching bands! The only people who like them are the people who are in them. And maybe their parents who “jammed their clarinets in their face” in the first place! But that’s not what the American College of Sports Medicine thinks…


    According to their research, the “dorks” with the oboes and feathery plumes on their lids are working just as hard as the guys with facemasks and shoulder pads. Exercise physiologist Gary Granata says the performers are “…running around the field at very high velocities with heavy instruments while playing very difficult passages. At the top levels of marching band and drum corps, you get a level of competition and athleticism that is equal to a Division I athletic program.” Division I, what?! Backgammon?!

    Jim Rome is out of line again, and his behavior needs to stop. Take a stand. 

    ________________________________

    (consider using the share buttons below)

    What Was Jim Rome Really Saying (About Marching Band)?

    ~Brian Wis

    Like many band teachers out there, I enjoy watching bowl games for several reasons. For one, I'm a college football fan. But I also enjoy watching the halftime coverage of the college marching bands. They rarely get airtime during the regular season for more than a few seconds, so bowl games are a treat when the networks afford some time to the bands. Some of us see our former students out there on the field, and some of my friends used to march in those very bands. A few colleagues who are former members now have sons or daughters marching. For all who appreciate the performing arts it is a cherished moment to see young people carrying on the proud tradition of entertaining the crowd at halftime, representing their schools, and supporting their teams.

    But for CBS Sports personality Jim Rome it was an opportunity to carry on a more infamous tradition...the bullying of non-athletes under the guise of kidding around. He tweeted (and has since deleted) the following to his more than one million followers during halftime at the Rose Bowl:

    "Is there anyone not in a marching band who thinks those dorks running around with their instruments are cool?"

    A rhetorical question with a clear air of superiority. After the subsequent backlash, he tweeted the following:

    "Band nation - I hear you. I was out of line. I apologize. I do not condone bullying of any kind and that was not my intent."

    Was he out of line? Absolutely. Did he offer an apology? Yes. But there's something about that last sentence. If Rome doesn't condone bullying of any kind, if his own words were not intended as such, then what exactly did he intend to communicate? Was this even an apology at all?

    If you were a school musician in the not too distant past (i.e. when Rome was a student), Rome's demeaning tweet likely put a knot in your stomach and stirred up some uncomfortable memories. This was standard fare for us back then. Some have defended Rome, stating that he was simply making a joke. If you grew up being hassled about bringing your instrument on the bus, or being pushed around in the hallway because you were labeled a "band dork" or being mocked by football players while you were out practicing (in order to support them on a Friday night), you know differently. If you were on the dishing-out side of this equation at the time, comments like his might still roll off your tongue years later (to the thousands that retweeted or favorited his post, I'm looking your way). Some probably didn't even give his tweet a second thought after the laughter subsided. Just another funny joke at the expense of the band kids....hey when is halftime over?

    But this wasn't simply a joke.

    No, it was all too familiar alpha dog behavior aimed squarely at anyone who isn't an athlete, in this case the band kids; past, present, and future. Athletes are cool, musicians are dorks. Cute show, but don't forget the pecking order. Don't forget that what you dorks do pales in comparison to what the cool people do. Why are you even here? And all that stuff that was said (or done) to you back in the day? It lives on, and while the words may be hurtful to you they are hysterical to me and my buddies. That's the message he intended to send.

    Message received Jim.

    The problem for Rome is that while his intent is clear, we no longer accept it. Times have changed, Jim. Bullying is no longer viewed as just kidding around. And saying you didn't intend to "condone" bullying is a lot different than apologizing for being a bully. Your carefully-crafted words ring hollow. Those of us who grew up around this stuff know the difference. "You band kids are dorks...hey sorry you know I'm just kidding." If we heard it once, we heard it a hundred times, and it is no longer acceptable.

    Kidding, or revealing?

    Jim Rome has revealed himself to hundreds of thousands of musicians, teachers and parents. We see you much more clearly Jim, no need to apologize for that, we're cool.

    ______________________________________

    Afterword:

    Many have since tried to convince Rome of band's "coolness" by posting videos of (fantastic) bands and drum corps, or pointing out the hours of preparation that go into a marching show, much of which can be very physically demanding. My favorite is the photo from the US Army Field Band (pictured above) which certainly makes the case for "cool." But truthfully, that's not what this is about. This is about respecting each other in this world, not making a case for "non-dork" status in the mind of a bully. Rome will never be convinced that band is cool, but I do believe he can be forced to change his behavior. This is about recognizing that there is no reason for putting others down. This a simple case of alpha dog behavior and it is unacceptable. 

    Rome is free to speak (reveal) his mind but we have an obligation to call him on his behavior. If we don't, then how will anything change? We don't change perceptions and behaviors in our society by allowing this sort of thing to go unchallenged. We don't ignore it, we don't respond by saying "I'm a proud dork" (a coping mechanism), we don't post threats or nasty words on his twitter account.... we address it. He is in the wrong to use his position of power in the media to demean student musicians. Period.

    Everyone who works hard and believes in what he or she does deserves respect, especially those in the performing arts who serve others. To the bands at the Rose Bowl, and bands around the country that work hard week in and week out to provide entertainment to thousands, our thanks and admiration. We know the stigma perpetuated by Rome may be a reality for you (as it was for many of us when we were younger) but be proud of your work and know that we appreciate you.
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    Addendum:

    Apparently this is not Jim Rome's first rodeo when it comes to this type of behavior...broadcast transcription from 2009 (has since been deleted from his site). Note the use of similar demeaning language.

    "You know where I come out on marching bands! The only people who like them are the people who are in them. And maybe their parents who “jammed their clarinets in their face” in the first place! But that’s not what the American College of Sports Medicine thinks… 

    According to their research, the “dorks” with the oboes and feathery plumes on their lids are working just as hard as the guys with facemasks and shoulder pads. Exercise physiologist Gary Granata says the performers are “…running around the field at very high velocities with heavy instruments while playing very difficult passages. At the top levels of marching band and drum corps, you get a level of competition and athleticism that is equal to a Division I athletic program.” Division I, what?! Backgammon?! 

    Yeah, because we all know how tough it is to nail the bridge on “Louie, Louie” while backpedaling with a tuba on a wet field. Maybe, Tim Tebow will burn his last year of eligibility with the band instead of the Gator football team! Just pick up the piccolo, miss a note or two of whatever “Earth, Wind and Fire” song they’re playing and then proclaim: “I promise you one thing. A lot of good will come of this! You will never see any piccolo player play as hard as I will for the rest of the season.” 

    Look, I’m sure being in the band requires some dexterity. Just don’t tell me they’re as athletic or working as hard as the guys playing the game. They’re not! Given the choice, no one picks being in the band over the being on the team. What’s next?! Cheerleading is as tough as line backing?! Tailgaters are more athletic than tailbacks?! Pssst…Pleease!”

    What Jack Nicklaus Taught Me About Teaching Music

    You don't have to be a fan of golf to recognize the name Jack Nicklaus. One of the best of all time, several of his records still stand today in an era dominated by "forgiving" golf clubs, "spin reducing, extra distance" golf balls, and overly-athletic swinging that is leading to back/knee problems and shortened careers. Jack's biggest victories were spread out over 24 years.

    To what does Jack credit his success more than any other factor? His ability to "manage the course." This essentially means his ability to know his own strengths, weaknesses, and the course well enough to make the best decision prior to each shot. Sounds simple, but it's not.

    "I had always realized that golf is a two-part game: striking the ball and managing yourself and the course. Like most amateurs, however, I'd worked hardest during my learning years on part one....

    As a handicap golfer you are always being told you would score better if you would think more about strategy and less about the swing -- to put tactics ahead of technique when actually playing on the course. This is almost certainly true, but as a piece of advice it's pretty useless unless you know or can discover exactly how to do that.....And here's the real rub: almost all golf instruction, both direct and written, focuses almost entirely on striking the ball rather than playing the game. In short, golfers suffer from too much information about its physical elements and too little information about the mental qualities necessary to use these to maximum effect."

    How complete was your music education? Were you taught how to manage the course, or were you merely taught how to hit the ball? Did you have college professors who had "been on the course" long enough to help you understand course management, or were they really just your swing coaches?

    Coordinating a band, orchestra, or choir program...or even an entire music department...requires excellent course management. We've all seen teachers who are a "show of force" musically but lack the planning, tact, and caring necessary for real teaching success. After a handful of years these folks are either looking for greener pastures as swing coaches or spending the latter half of their careers frustrated and jaded. They can surely hit the ball a long way, but as the great golf teacher Harvey Penick said:

    "The woods are full of long hitters."

    Spend some time thinking about the course. Jack had to teach himself, and so do you. Learn to manage that, and you'll be a more successful teacher...and a happier one as well.

    Kirchhoff, Benson, and our national music standards

    Thank you to whomever recorded this fantastic lecture by Craig Kirchhoff that every ensemble educator should review. He cuts right to the heart of the matter regarding our ultimate charge, which is decidedly NOT to teach students to love an ensemble or activity, but to transcend that and love music. This should be our core value as ensemble educators. We have heard this expressed in various ways time and again from Battisti, Reynolds, Kirchhoff, Green, and others who are deeply concerned with our profession's priorities.

    During the lecture I was particularly struck by this quote from composer Warren Benson about performing compositions:

    "What infuses life to cold print is imagination, creativity, and beauty."

    That is the finest summation I've heard regarding the meaningful endeavor of bringing composed music to musical fruition. Additionally, in an obvious-yet-insightful statement, Benson says that what a composer does makes no sound (nor what a conductor does, we could add). He says it is in the musical performance where "my understanding, and your understanding, meet." This is simply brilliant. The music's true meaning is incomplete until that intersection occurs between the composer's understanding and the performer's. 

    Performers and composers are all in the creative process together. Merely playing the printed music "correctly" yet devoid of personal creative decision-making is insufficient for bringing compositions fully to life. Learning and performing music intertwines technical requirements and knowledge with a uniquely creative interpretive, interdependent process that, when done well, results in a meaningful experience for the performer, listener, and composer. As ensemble teachers, we empower our students to realize their vital role in this association. It is their creative musicianship, after all, that should be primary....not our own.

    I wish the NCCAS music standards writing team had understood this before creating a framework that forcefully divides composition (and improvisation) into the creating role and performing as merely serving "intent." Really? It's as if the performer is the waiter who carries the food to the table, or a FedEx delivery person bringing the pre-packaged goods to your door. Benson understands that the performer is doing far more than that, and so should the NCCAS.

    What performer's do is learn, create, then reveal their own understanding of the composition. Not the composer's intent, but the music itself as understood. That is what interpretation is. To do this requires imagination, creativity, and beauty. When we teach students to do this, they learn to love music, and that's the goal. And that is how our national standards for performing should be designed... around a recognition of what is really happening within the musical learning and performing cycle.

    Thank you Craig, and thank you Warren.


    Afterword: I continue to hear the commentary that somehow we "need to" segment the standards as Creating/Performing/Responding/Connecting so that composition will have its due, or because the format is easily understood and managed, or because "otherwise ensemble teachers will just rehearse." None of these justify manipulating the realities of music making. It makes no sense to ignore the creative capacities required in performance in order to bolster another form of music education, or to make a framework that is convenient to process. 

    The bottom line is the existing framework may look nice on paper but it does not reflect the realities/complexities of making music. We are coming up short at the exact moment we need to be embracing the creative process in every form of music making. We need to do away with the false divisions. Musicians are interdependent because bringing music into the world is almost always an interdependent process. Think about that....then look at the way the standards are structured.

    There is probably a more delicate way to say this, but the framework and standards being developed for ensembles are not consistent with the philosophy and approaches of educators who have taught students to experience deep, meaningful musicianship over many years. The standards read as though developed by those with cursory knowledge of ensemble education before moving on to "bigger and better" endeavors. If that was your experience I am sorry, but the truth is that there are many of us out here who are empowering students to be creative, expressive musicians who think deeply and critically about their music making.