tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Teaching and Music 2020-12-24T13:33:08Z Brian Wis tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1631416 2020-12-24T13:32:25Z 2020-12-24T13:33:08Z Virtual Ensembles: Not a replacement but rather a re-placement

What a semester for teachers in general and ensemble teachers specifically! While countless things have changed for ensemble teachers this year, our main charge has remained: Providing students with pathways to musical meaning-making.

No, virtual ensembles are decidedly *not* the same as in-person ensembles. But I find the view that they cannot be educational/meaningful to be narrow. Yes, just as some approaches to in-person rehearsals and performances can be lacking in educational value so too can virtual ensembles. But with planning they can also be filled with student-centered decision making, productive collaboration, and musical meaning-making. 

Doing what we can, when we can, with the resources we have is the goal during this pandemic. I know that my music teaching friends have been staying true to their ideals and have found a variety of ways for students to have valuable musical experiences. Whatever *your* approach may have been, know that if your students found it meaningful it was the right one! For our music department, virtual ensembles were worth a try and I couldn’t be happier that we made the effort.

Here is my Wind Ensemble at St. Charles North High School performing “Holiday Piece” by David Foster, arranged by Jay Dawson. This “re-placement” of what an ensemble can be during a pandemic has served as a wonderful collaborative project as well as a “digital keepsake” for families and the community. Audio tracks were recorded in student-led groups (broadly by section) using Soundtrap over a period of about two weeks. The students made decisions about articulation, style, tuning etc. as revisions were made. Individual tracks were then exported and brought into Logic Pro X. Videos were uploaded into a Google Classroom assignment and then imported into Final Cut Pro X accompanied by the soundtrack from Logic Pro.

Our entire department participated in creating a virtual holiday concert (Constellation 2020) which you can view here: 

Brian Wis
tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1536593 2020-04-28T17:45:54Z 2020-09-05T14:51:47Z Band Directors, Can We Talk COVID-ly?

Perhaps some of you had this lecture during your undergraduate methods courses:

Professor: “What will you be doing after you graduate?”

Energetic Music Ed. Major #1: “I’m going to be a HIGH SCHOOL BAND DIRECTOR!”

Professor: “Well, that’s certainly possible. But that isn’t what you’ll be doing.”

(uncomfortable silence)

Energetic Music Ed. Major #2: “Teaching!”

Professor: “Is anyone else going to be in the room, or just you?”

(really uncomfortable silence)

Energetic Music Ed. Major #3: “We’re going to be... teaching..... students?”

Professor: “Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere.”


Do you remember that lecture? Did it start to turn your thinking around as you considered that being a band director was going to be less about you, and more about your students and their musical development?

We teach students

We teach students about music. 

We teach students about music through band.

Band is a vehicle. And it is one hell of a vehicle. But perhaps in this time of e-learning we would do well to remind ourselves that we don’t teach band, we teach students. And our students need music now more than ever. But lately many of us are spending an awful lot of time lamenting the one thing we simply cannot have...”our” band delivery vehicle.

Please understand, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be upset that we can’t provide our students with awesome rehearsals and performances as a means to learning music. It stings. I’m upset about it too. The interdependent learning that happens in those environments is life changing. But the fact is, it’s not an option right now, and it might not be an option in the fall. It’s time to face our reality, such as it is. Let’s focus our energies on things we can change, not things we can’t.

Still with me? Let’s keep drilling down.

The reality of this moment is that our delivery vehicle is different. In the near term we are not “teaching students about music through band.” We are “teaching students about music through the internet.”

Band Director: (groans) “Did you really just say that?”

I know, believe me, I know. But it’s true.

Band Director: “You can’t teach band through the internet.” 

No, we can’t. But, again:

We don’t teach band, we teach students. We teach students about music. So what we need to be thinking about is “what type of musical learnings can best be supported through the internet?”

Band Director: “That’s not what I signed up for.” 

I hear you. But....real talk? This isn’t what your students signed up for, either. And they have other choices they could make. Hearing me? The “band vehicle” is compelling by its very nature. Without it, we have to find other compelling ways to continue to reach these kids or they are going to look elsewhere. You have to believe you can do this.

If you don’t believe it can work, neither will your students. And neither will their parents. And neither will your boss. We can lament, or we can walk the walk. Are we in fact teachers of students? Or are we merely band directors? The way we see ourselves right now has never been more important. And while I made my criticism of the National Standards clear throughout the last revision, many of the new standards that don’t lend themselves to a band learning environment can be successfully addressed via e-learning. The ideas are there.

You need time to plan, yes. You need resources and training, yes. But most importantly you must be willing. Willing to see the situation for what it is. Willing to find a way to make this work for the benefit of your students. Willing to teach in entirely new ways that will likely not be comfortable but can still be meaningful. “Not having band” is not an excuse for substandard teaching, period. 


This brings me to a thought regarding “virtual ensemble” videos. Some are worried that videos (or frankly ANY form of online music production) should not be done because it will prove that we can “do band” without being together. Friends, let me tell you something: No one is satisfied with these videos as a replacement for band. No one thinks they are more meaningful than rehearsals and performances. They are “for this time” and most assuredly not like being in band. Do you think students would choose to continue making videos over being in class with each other? No. Do you think parents would rather see videos than go to their child’s concert? Definitely not. Eric Whitacre has been doing virtual choir videos for years...did school choir go away? No.

Two things are going to happen when we are allowed to have concerts again. One, Whitacre will once again be the only one doing virtual ensemble videos. And two, your students are going to have the best audiences they’ve had in years. Maybe ever. People want and appreciate the shared experience of live music, and the pent up demand is going to be an amazing moment. Trust me on this. In the meantime if you feel your students might be energized by such an experience and their families would appreciate it...please don’t hold back on that or *any other musical endeavor* because you are worried about the future of band. You have students who need meaningful musical experiences NOW. Whatever that looks like for you, your community, and the resources available, do it. 

Please don’t miss my point here. I am not saying you need to make videos (I have not). I am not saying teaching music from home is easy (it is not). I am saying you need to offer up the most meaningful musical experiences you can devise right now, whatever that looks like for you and your students. This is the time for the best teaching you can muster. This is the time to share ideas and experiences across our profession. Whatever you decide to do, dig deep. Don’t withhold your best teaching defensively...go on the offensive for the sake of your students. Band as we know it will return. In the meantime we need to teach meaningfully through the vehicle(s) we have. You’re the professional. You’re the content expert. Make it happen.


Band Director: “You have no idea what my situation is like”

You’re absolutely, 100% correct. I have no idea what roadblocks you face. But I have a very good idea of what your students need right now: They need the pre-COVID, inspirational YOU. They need everything you can muster in this moment. I also have a pretty good feeling that you are the reason a lot of your students show up for school every day. And let’s be clear: We are still in school. You could make all the difference right now.

And yes, you are going to have kids blow you off. You are going to have parents blow you off. You are going to have administrators who cannot fix your problems. Everyone is going to miss “just having band.” But you are going to keep at it. You are going to learn new ways of reaching kids and families. You are going to continue to teach with excellence because that is what you have always done. Chin up, kids are counting on you to keep teaching them to love music.

I don’t know what “school” is going to look like this fall. Maybe there will be rehearsals, maybe not. Maybe there will be live performances, maybe not. But regardless, I am not paid to be a band director. I am paid to teach students and my area of content expertise is instrumental music. I intend to earn my salary as I always have. If I am told that classes will be online in the fall and asked if I am ready, the answer will be “absolutely.” Because I can still teach students about music until our community is healthy again. Kids need music even if they can’t have band. 

Is delivering music instruction in an entirely new way reasonable? No, not really. But you know, we have a lot of doctors and nurses who are being asked to do unreasonable things these days. We have a lot of parents who are in unreasonable situations as they try to work from home and oversee their child’s learning. Some parents don’t even have a job right now, which is totally unreasonable. We do have jobs. Here comes the tough love: Stop lamenting your situation. You have a paycheck, figure out how you are going to earn it in a way that has meaning for your students.

No one ever expected band would look like this. It’s certainly not how I expected to spend the last year of my career (nor this summer as I, like you, may need to formulate an entirely new curriculum). But I’m going to do what it takes. What I don’t know how to do, I will learn to do. What’s that other quote from college.... “teachers are lifelong learners?” 

Yeah, that. I’ll be ready. You’ll be ready. We can do this.

Brian Wis
tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1459393 2019-09-25T19:27:10Z 2019-09-26T18:35:23Z What's Wrong With My Band? Literacy Edition (Photo by John Docter)

The teacher complaints go something like:

"Why are my kids looking around the room instead of at their music?"

"Why are my kids dragging?"

"Why are my kids ignoring all the markings?"

Are you ready for the answer? .....................Because your kids are lost.

Your kids can't read music. 

Now, they may be able to tell you the name of a note when you point at it (given enough time). Or your trumpet section might be able to (slowly) tell you the names of notes in the next phrase, but what I'm talking about is individual fluency. The ability to process names of notes instantly.

Your kids probably can't do that. Not at the tempos you are asking them to maintain in rehearsal.

Don't believe me? Next rehearsal, choose students at random to say the names of the notes out loud at the tempo you have been rehearsing. Choose different kids on different parts so they can't just repeat what they just heard from someone else.

What did you notice? Yeah. They can't process the note names instantly with 100% accuracy. So, if you were those kids, and the teacher was rehearsing faster than you could process, what would you do?

  • Write in the names of the notes (or fingerings)
  • Look at the kid next to you to memorize the fingering pattern
  • Learn the tune by ear
  • Slow down

And so it goes. Students learn these survival tactics because that's the only way they can participate "successfully" during the rehearsal. When you reprimand them for looking away from their music, all that results in is a student blankly staring at the page while having no idea where they are. They are lost because they simply can't keep up.

Eventually their survival tactics result in the banding sounding OK by the time the concert rolls around. Then, after the concert you pass out a new piece and "Wow, it's like they didn't retain anything!"

Been there? Yeah, me too.

So...what is the solution? You probably won't like it. Let me start by talking about what the solution is not:

  • Having the students fill in a handout of notes (writing the names below each note)
  • Reciting names of notes out loud on occasion, as a group
  • Memorizing the names of the lines and spaces

Filling in worksheets is far too slow a task. Students won't develop fluency that way (though you could use it for a timed summative). Doing anything as a group will always allow the kids who are struggling to hide. And separating the staff into two things (lines and spaces) actually makes note recognition take longer. Not to mention it becomes rather useless when dealing with ledger lines.

The solution is to rehearse less. You read that right. Less rehearsal, in conjunction with a sequenced, challenging, data-driven (yep, I said it) process for helping students to make note recognition second nature. Instantaneous. 

Once students have truly conquered:

  • Note recognition over the full range of the instrument
  • Enharmonic equivalents
  • Key signatures
  • Scale spelling

Then you have given them a fighting chance to consider:

  • Rhythm
  • Fingerings
  • Dynamic markings
  • Blend
  • Intonation

And all the other aspects of musicianship that we want them to know and be able to do. Honestly, when I hear teachers expressing concern about (for example) their band's lack of pulse control and rhythmic accuracy, I ask myself "I wonder if those kids can read names of notes." Because maybe it's not the rhythm, maybe they are lost/playing by ear/just trying to survive. Help those kids to become fluent at note reading, and suddenly the other things start to improve. 

And I'm not just talking about beginners. At my school, we spend a full class period every week with our 9th graders on music literacy. Every. Week. What do we use? We use my NoteNames+ iOS app. But you don't even need to use technology. When I was teaching in the early 90s I used handmade flash cards and put students in pairs. They had to get through the whole stack of flashcards in a certain amount of time in order to be considered fluent. So don't let the lack of technology stop you! Just make sure there is and expectation, and accountability. And you have to do it regularly, all year.

Of course, the advantage of NoteNames+ is that it provides a graduated approach that results in a sense of urgency. And the Google Docs data reporting allows us to refine instruction, expectations, and summarize progress. You can do some of these things with sites like musicracer.com, tonesavvy.com and musictheory.net as well (though maybe not for free when it comes to data reporting).

And by the way, there is nothing about note reading that is difficult. Beginners should be taught to read the full range of their instrument. You don't need to wait until they need to play those notes before learning to read them. It's just the alphabet! Take a look at the complexity of any video game that 10 year olds play today and tell me they can't learn the alphabetical nature of the staff.

The bottom line is that note recognition needs to be instant so kids can consider everything else we expect them to be attending to. Would an English teacher expect kids to read aloud at a quick pace if they barely knew the letters they were looking at? Would the teacher have the class "read aloud" as a group and just keep going back to the beginning and try again and again? If they class could eventually say a sentence aloud all together, would that mean each child could read? No, that would be a rather silly conclusion. Yet how often do we put music in front of kids, count off a tempo, and expect them to magically keep up? We go back to the top and have them play it again, and again, and again, until it sounds good. Should we assume that each child is actually reading now? Hm.

Put the instruments in the cases and spend regular time explaining the alphabetical nature of the staff, how enharmonic notes are structured, how sharps and flats are presented on the staff, and then give kids tools to develop fluency of recognition. Then put the horns together. Do this once per week and you'll find that you have not wasted time, you've invested it.

Brian Wis
tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1200411 2017-10-23T23:07:11Z 2017-10-24T01:01:16Z 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!

Brian Wis
tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/940000 2015-11-27T15:35:15Z 2016-09-16T16:33:38Z 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.

Brian Wis
tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/872028 2015-06-21T21:21:51Z 2019-11-30T08:14:31Z 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.


Brian Wis
tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/853603 2015-05-09T01:34:24Z 2015-05-09T20:22:55Z 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.  


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

Brian Wis
tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/805573 2015-02-01T15:29:22Z 2015-04-05T16:22:05Z 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.



    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.

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/792476 2015-01-07T12:36:55Z 2015-01-10T18:20:37Z 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)

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/790624 2015-01-03T13:36:14Z 2018-11-12T12:08:29Z 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.

    (Followup article)


    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.

    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!”]]>
    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/734419 2014-08-31T16:32:31Z 2014-11-12T12:49:21Z The Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice

    12:35 in video: [we are working to address the question that] "performance is something that is fundamentally creative, not simply a reproduction of someone else's idea."

    Here here.

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/664370 2014-03-16T14:12:01Z 2014-11-12T12:52:30Z 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.

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/652399 2014-02-09T14:35:56Z 2014-11-09T14:37:41Z 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.

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/627747 2013-12-07T14:32:17Z 2014-03-07T00:12:10Z Read this before you post your next work-related rant


    gerund or present participle: ranting
    1. 1.
      speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned way.
      "she was still ranting on about the unfairness of it all"
      synonyms: fulminate, go on, hold forth, vociferate, sound off, spoutpontificate,blusterdeclaim; More
    Origin: late 16th cent. (in the sense ‘behave in a boisterous way’): from Dutch ranten ‘talk nonsense, rave.’

    Because I happen to be involved with several online professional development groups, I read quite a few "rants" about administrators, parents, co-workers, and students. They usually begin with "sorry in advance for this rant" or "I just had to share this with people who would understand." Maybe you've done this, whether as a cryptic Facebook status, tweet, or just venting away in the faculty lunchroom with colleagues. What I'm going to try to explain to you is this: It's not helping. You may feel better in the near term for having a good "virtual cry" but all those "likes" and retweets your rant is garnering is nothing more than proving that misery loves company. This post is about helping you to have less misery in your life. This post is about aligning yourself with successful peers, not commiserating with those who are convinced that the world is against them.

    Now, take a moment. I want you to use whatever criteria you deem appropriate in order to choose one or two teachers who are successful to you. They can be "large-scale" successful or "under the radar" successful, it's up to you, just make sure they are people you truly admire. Now, ask yourself how often you've seen these teachers ranting? Chances are one of the main reasons you admire these folks is that they rarely seem to have troubles at all. How is this possible? How do these teachers seem to have all the luck?

    I've been teaching for almost 25 years now. Like you, I've done my share of complaining about work, and here is what I've learned: Complaining is, in reality, an admission of my own inadequacies. Think about it. When we complain, what we're really expressing is our own frustration about not being good/clever/smart enough to solve a problem. We've run into a brick wall, and it doesn't feel so good. We don't have the savvy, the tenacity, the inspirational capability to overcome whatever it is that is happening "to" us. It's far easier to shout NO FAIR and to believe that there is nothing we can do. But this "woe, is me" way of walking through life is depressing....and not just for us, but for everyone with whom we interact...especially our students, who are far more perceptive than we give them credit for. 

    Perhaps the reason you can't get your students to engage is because they can sense how defeated you are. If one of our responsibilities is to teach problem-soving, perhaps we need to look in the mirror and start solving some problems for ourselves.

    Years ago I gave myself permission to complain, under one condition: The complaint statement has to be accompanied by "....and here's what I'm going to do about it." Once you start processing in this way, you begin to realize that you are the only person who really knows what your challenges are, and therefore you are the one who is uniquely positioned to do something about it. Sometimes when I complain in this way I don't know what to do about it, so next steps need to include seeking advice or constructive criticism from trusted colleagues. The point is to take action rather than looking for sympathy. As my friend Cathi says, "it may not be your fault, but it is your problem."

    I've learned that complaining without taking action just leads to more problems. I've also learned that a successful career in teaching is achieved by willing yourself to look in the mirror every day in an effort to break through whatever brick walls may appear. Randy Pausch, former professor at Carnegie Mellon put it like this:

    "The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."

    You may need to get better at people skills, strategizing, organizing, and yes....pedagogy, in order to solve whatever it is you are complaining about. All of these improvements are worthwhile (and frankly necessary) if you are going to become the teacher....no, the human you are meant to be. You are the only person that knows you are reading this right now. Will you...right now...make the decision to stop ranting and start taking steps to improve yourself so you can knock down some brick walls?

    Remember....it all starts with "and here's what I'm going to do about it."

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/586910 2013-07-03T14:28:30Z 2018-11-12T12:20:14Z NCCAS Music Standards Draft--Taking Pages From Ken Robinson And Our Other Arts Colleagues Yo-Yo Ma - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2008

    I have been very concerned ever since the release of the K-8 draft for music, mainly due to the narrow definition of "creating" as composing or improvisation. As essential as those musical endeavors are (and they are essential), they are not the only ways of being musically creative. For example, making music through performance is absolutely a creative endeavor. We need a much more encompassing model of musical creativity. Much more. To quote the report from Ken Robinson's National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (emphasis mine):

    "We therefore define creativity as imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value."

    And this:

    "Creativity can be expressed in collaborative and collective as well as individual activities, in teamwork and in organisations, in communities and in governments." 

    And especially this:

    "The creative processes of the arts centre on the shaping and refining of a work in which its aesthetic qualities are central to its meaning. The look, sound and feel of work in the arts is inseparable not only from what it means, but from how it means."

    You can't listen to Yo-Yo Ma play a Bach cello suite and tell me he is not being creative, that he isn't creating something original and of value, or that he is not demonstrating how it means. The same is true for ensembles that undergo the learning, refining, and creation of a shared interpretation of a work...and its collaborative/interdependent nature adds another rich dimension. As we undergo the revision of our national standards for music, we must include the reality that performing (making!) music, alone and with others, is not simply an action, but an essential endeavor that requires and develops creativity.

    Our colleagues on the theater side have an excellent grasp on this matter. The following are excerpts from their K-8 "Creating" draft (emphasis mine):

    "Experiment with, research, and challenge collaboratively and independently, various perspectives and multiple solutions to problems through created roles, design elements, and improvised and/or scripted stories in drama- and theatre- based work."

    "Communicate and differentiate artistic choices in new work, ideas, and perspectives made by self and others through problem- solving, taking risks, and experimenting with peers in devised, improvised and/or scripted drama- and theatre- based work."

    Teaching young actors to experiment, make artistic choices, and work collaboratively in order to create a shared interpretation of existing ("scripted") works is clearly a creative process to the theater writers, and I would highly suggest we take a page from our colleagues in this regard. Their approach is actually much more reflective of what is going on in thousands of music rooms across the country than what is currently presented in our own K-8 draft. Clearly we need to teach a multitude of musical avenues in our education system (such as composition), but that does not mean we should downplay or ignore the creative process of bringing composers' works into the world for all to enjoy. Perhaps Roger Sessions said it best (emphasis mine):

    "Here it is important only to envisage clearly that the differentiation of composer and performer represents already a second stage in the development of musical sophistication. The high degree of differentiation reached in the course of the development of music should not obscure the fact that in the last analysis composer and performer are not only collaborators in common experience but participants in an essentially single experience." 

    Now consider this excerpt from the NCCAS Visual Arts draft:

    Enduring Understanding: Creativity and innovative thinking are essential life skills that can be developed.

    Essential Question(s): Can all people be artists? What conditions, attitudes and behaviors support creativity and innovative thinking? Does collaboration expand the creative process?

    Do you notice how, rather than thinking about creating "something" (like say, a composition), they are thinking more broadly about creative thinking, the way creativity works in artistic collaboration, and ultimately how it is developed? That is what we need to be talking about in all forms of music making.

    In short, the current draft of the music standards should give pause to anyone who teaches music-making in collaborative groups (which is just about every music teacher in the country, in one form or another). Performing, whether that be in rehearsal or public presentation, brings written music to life, and it does so uniquely for each performer, ensemble, and audience member. It becomes something new each time, something that completes the experience with the composer and the audience. How we can say that one act (composing or improvisation) is creative but not another (performing) is beyond comprehension. Performers are not merely worker bees carrying pollen from the flower, they are partners in the creation process, shaping and refining the work. Orchestras, wind ensembles, choirs, jazz ensembles, chamber groups...all of these require creativity in order to bring music to fruition (see the Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice). If we wish to address the age-old criticism that students need to be more involved in (and ultimately be the owners of) the music making process in these settings, then this is not the time to reduce performing to merely obeying the composer or teacher. Every meaningful musical endeavor involves creativity, so let's broaden our thinking on this important process.

    Finally, a word about public dialogue. While I was encouraged by some of the answers provided by Scott Shuler in his letter to Tim Purdum, I was discouraged by some of his language that gives the impression that disagreeing with aspects of the draft is a matter of "misunderstandings, based on incomplete information, that tend to inflame the blogosphere." The K-8 draft clearly reveals the philosophy and overall approach of the writing team, and that approach defines creating in a way that is too narrow and confined. Questioning that approach will result in an overall stronger set of standards, if the writers are willing to embrace the public dialogue that is currently underway. Being open to new ideas and refining existing ones is an essential component of being creative, so let's hold true to that as we hone our standards.

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/584908 2013-06-19T13:50:41Z 2013-10-08T17:26:35Z Understanding Assessment in Ensemble Land

    Music time

    At the end of each day, it all comes down to this:

    1. What did you want each student to know/be able to do?

    2. How do you know that each student knows it/can do it?

    Ensemble directors are usually pretty clear on #1 (particularly the "doing"). But #2 is about being a teacher, not just a director. Assessment in simplest terms is finding out whether or not the teacher was understood by each student. The concept was not taught simply because it came out of your mouth, the concept was taught because the student understood you.

    It is a perfectly reasonable expectation that a teacher (a) knows what each student does or does not understand and (b) modifies instruction accordingly. This is also the most challenging aspect of what great teaching demands.

    And by the way, this expectation has always been the truth of the matter for ensemble directors...this is not news. It's just that these days we are being asked to "show our work" like our other colleagues in the building. This is a good thing.

    ~Brian Wis

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/584327 2013-06-15T23:40:02Z 2013-10-08T17:26:28Z Recreate THAT

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/583978 2013-06-13T17:09:48Z 2013-10-08T17:26:21Z Know Music, Know Life

    Feel free to use. For an 18 x 24 pdf, download here.

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/582684 2013-06-05T13:26:07Z 2013-10-08T17:26:07Z Rehearsals: What is going on in there? Santurtzi Music Band Final Rehearsal

    One positive trend in band and orchestra classes is the increasing focus on authentic individual assessment. Band and orchestra teachers are doing a much better job at finding out what students know and can do in regards to individual technique, expression, and so on. Assessments, both formative and summative, are leading to refined instruction and grades that are more genuine. At the same time, this movement seems to have led to the unfortunate position that what the student demonstrates outside of rehearsal is the only measurable aspect of what students have learned. In fact, if we got into the nitty gritty of some ensemble syllabi we would find that students in many band and orchestra classes could skip all of the rehearsals and the concert, yet as long as they completed all of their individual performance assessments, they would pass...perhaps even with an A. Yet where do we spend most of our instructional minutes, and why? As we all know, what we value is borne out in our actions, so clearly music educators value the process of bringing printed music to life and sharing it with an audience. But if evidence of learning is required in order to justify how we spend our time (a fair expectation), and we have no evidence of ensemble learnings, then rehearsals (and performances) are by definition superfluous...right? How does that sit with you?

    I find this trend disturbing on so many levels. I think most of us would agree that the processes and intricacies of students bringing ensemble music to fruition (and sharing it publicly) should comprise the core of any ensemble class. True, individual proficiency sets the stage (literally) for ensemble music rehearsing/performing, and is therefore essential. But once that stage is set, what are we teaching our students about ensemble musicianship, and how do we know they are learning it? I believe it is our inability to clearly address those questions that is leading to administrators telling teachers that they cannot require students to "participate" in concerts, or that a student who will not be a productive collaborator in rehearsal must be treated as a  "behavioral" matter. Yet if these same students do not turn in their assessments in their other classes, what happens? If a student is a member of a group project in social studies and does no work, what is the result, and why? Do you see the disconnect here? Now think about the importance that administrators place upon classroom observations in determining teacher effectiveness. They are typically observing our rehearsals...so clearly they believe there must be some learning taking place in that setting, right? And if so, there will be assessment (whether formative or summative), and there will be credit given. So...is there?

    We have a lot of work to do on this issue. The fact is that we have been allowed to be mysterious about "what's going on in there" for too long, and now we are being told that rehearsals and performances have no place in our curricula. But we know that ensemble music is an authentic form of positive interdependence (perhaps the most authentic). We know that our students need concert performances (the presentation of the "group project") in order to complete their learning cycles and reap the most meaningful benefits of music performance. We need to articulate the aspects of being an ensemble musician, be more intentional about sharing the what/why/how of "ensemble technique" with our students, and devise authentic ways to measure it. Otherwise we might as well split our ensembles into "like" instruments, cancel the concerts, and treat our courses like class piano. If ensemble matters, it's time to articulate what we're really doing "in there."


    Recently the Band Directors Group has been talking about what students should be doing in order to have productive rehearsals. This brainstorm list may be a starting point for creating lessons and other resources that will help students learn about the important aspects of becoming a great ensemble musician:

    • Eye Contact
    • Marking Parts
    • Correct Posture
    • Adjusting (Pitch) without being told
    • Asks clarifying/thoughtful questions
    • Helpful towards others (kindness)
    • Responsive to conducting gestures
    • Problem solver (musically and otherwise)
    • Productive with "downtime"
    • Initiates discussions about the music with others
    • Pleasant disposition
    • Does not give up
    • Has the pulse internalized
    • Takes creative interpretive/expressive risks with regularity
    • Holds peers accountable
    • Prepared musically (and equipment-wise) for rehearsals and performances
    • Interested in (and enjoys) the success of others, not just themselves, for the sake of the music being the best it can be
    • Takes instruction/criticism with a positive nature...understands its importance
    • Retains previous concepts and can apply them to new situations
    • Is thinking about solving musical problems rather than immediately asking for the answer
    • Can identify elements that are incorrect while they are happening (in themselves and across the ensemble)
    • Can provide effective evaluation of the piece at various points in the learning cycle
    • Is always on time and ready to collaborate
    • Can alter the shape of their sound to accomodate different blending situations and other requirements of the composition
    Are these things that you specifically address/discuss, or do you hope they simply appear in your students?
    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/582134 2013-06-01T14:17:01Z 2018-01-15T13:13:29Z My music teaching manifesto

    Feel free to share.

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/581053 2013-05-25T18:20:25Z 2013-10-08T17:25:48Z On Great Teaching

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/392407 2013-04-13T14:56:52Z 2013-10-08T16:46:29Z The rise of "knowing why through knowing how."

    I'll have more to say about this soon (I'm still getting my thoughts together) but I think that, even in the midst of high stakes testing, we are going to see a window of opportunity for educational endeavors like the arts and other "hands-on", interdependent learning experiences. 

    You can Google the answer to many things, but you can't Google what it means to learn and perform Grainger...you have to experience it. And to be keenly aware that you arrived at the understanding through a shared journey with others....each student assisting the other in the creation of a work of art....this type of human endeavor is both irresistible and irreplaceable. I've been talking about "music for humanity's sake" but Yo-Yo Ma recently said it better...Art For Life's Sake. 

    The larger the human knowledge base becomes, the more important it will be to know how to corporately express, how to serve a greater good together, and how to create shared meanings. Reimer and Elliott mash up? Possibly, much to their dismay. Those of us that are actually teaching ensembles everyday see the realities of this thing we call ensemble music making. 

    More later.

    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/56531 2013-02-23T12:16:00Z 2013-10-08T15:33:42Z On The Topic Of Honor Band Conductors

    I feel the need to express concern regarding a trend in the hiring of guest conductors for "all-state" and other honor bands across the country. Specifically I am questioning the practice of hiring composer-conductors for this important experience without proper scrutiny towards their teaching, conducting, and programming history.

    Don't get me wrong, current composers are vital to our shared art. And I support the programming of new music at these events when the composition is of the highest caliber. Furthermore I am supportive of composer-conductors for honor bands under the following guidelines:

    • Their teaching and conducting is comparable to our finest collegiate and military band conductors.
    • No more than one third of the musical minutes (not just titles) devoted to their own compositions.
    • The remaining two thirds of the minutes selected from the accepted masterworks for wind band.

    This has rarely been the case in my view, and I suspect the same holds true for you. What I see are composers who use the majority of performance minutes (and therefore the majority of the rehearsal time) for their own compositions, and their teaching/conducting is not on par with our nation's best wind band conductors. And I have rarely seen a composer program our great masterworks alongside their own compositions. I'll leave it to you to decide why that might be.

    It is time for school band directors to end this star-struck behavior of hiring composers for honor band events without proper scruitiny. Our students deserve the best teacher-conductors, period. And they especially deserve to perform the masterworks of the wind band canon. If you want to show appreciation to a living composer who is not a great teacher-conductor, commission a (short) piece specifically for the occassion! There are many ways to pay tribute to, support, and encourage living composers.

    If you are on the voting committee for an honor group and you are considering a composer who cannot meet the bullet points above.... please move on. These experiences require the adults in the room to put the students' musical experiences first.

    Afterword: Our college and military band conductors also need proper scrutiny, particularly in regards to their ability to relate to our students, choose realistic repertoire, and pace the experience properly. In short, we must do our due diligence, rather than assuming that anyone who has served as a guest conductor somewhere in the past will be a guaranteed fit for our students.
    Brian Wis
    tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/56533 2013-02-16T13:31:00Z 2013-10-08T15:33:42Z De-Mystifying Recording Setups for School Bands

    Over the years I've seen many questions regarding simple and effective recording setups for band rehearsals, festival submissions, etc. I thought I would try to lay out some simple guidelines.

    Understanding the Pieces of the Puzzle

    I think a lot of teachers dive into this process without really understanding the chain of events that take you from sound to a final product (a CD, mp3 file, or what have you). This is sort of like teaching students by rote rather than making sure they understand each concept. Let's take a look at the puzzle:


    Your band takes care of this :-)


    Obviously we need to capture the sound. You will use one or more mics depending on your situation (more later on this).

    Audio Interface Box

    The microphone(s) will attach to a box with an analog to digital ("A to D") converter inside. The converter takes the analog sounds and converts the sound to (literally) ones and zeros which can then be transferred into a computer and stored on its drive. Most audio interfaces also include the necessary "pre-amp" that will allow you to set the proper gain level(s) for your microphone(s). Many interfaces also include the reverse process, a "D to A" converter so that you can listen back to your recordings through the box. For the purposes of this article we will assume this is the case. Most modern computers have an audio interface built in (of varying quality), so you could just use a traditional mixer to do the pre-amp stage, and then feed that analog output to the analog input of your computer (more on this later as well).

    A Computer

    The converter is going to take the analog sound, convert it to digital data, and send that via usb, firewire, or thunderbolt to your computer. You will use some software that will present that audio data to you and, if you desire, provide you with editing capabilities, the addition of effects, and ultimately allow you to export the sound file and/or burn a CD.

    Powered Speakers (headphones) or Stereo System

    You need to listen to what you have captured, right? For the purposes of this article I'm going to talk about powered (active) speakers, but you certainly could look at taking the D to A output of your converter to an amplifier (stereo system) which are connected to (passive) speakers.


    OK, so let's review what we have so far. We make sound, the mics hear it, the converter makes it digital, the computer stores it. We listen back to it, perhaps edit, add effects, and burn/export the sound file. Got it? Now, there are various ways to combine these puzzle pieces, depending on your budget, convenience factors, and ultimately the level of sound quality you desire. Let's take a look at the options.

    All-In-One Solution

    Many (and I mean many) musicians and teachers use hand-held digital recorders. Zoom is a very popular brand (so much so that it has almost become a ubiquitous name that describes the category, like Kleenex or Band-Aid). A hand-held is very convenient because it combines most of the puzzle pieces into one unit. If we took it apart we would find:

    • One or more mics
    • Pre-amp
    • Analog to Digital converter
    • A miniature computer to store the data and play it back
    • Digital to Analog converter for listening
    • Headphone port and/or even a little built in speaker

    And to top it all off, these units can be very economical AND for many folks the quality of the recordings meets their needs. Additionally, many of these hand-helds allow you to connect the device to a computer and transfer the sound files for editing, sharing, etc. Have a look at these portable recorders.

    USB Mic and Computer (iPad, etc.)

    Now that you (hopefully) understand the puzzle pieces, what pieces are contained inside a USB mic?

    • One or more mics
    • Pre-amp
    • Analog to Digital converter

    Make sense? Many teachers and podcasters use USB mics because it allows them to get a better quality (large diaphragm) mic into the situation and essentially brings the number of puzzle pieces down to a couple of items. You can use headphones to listen back, or attach the headphone jack on your computer to your stereo/powered speakers. For stereo recordings (which I recommend) check out the Yeti Pro from Blue. See lots of options at Sweetwater. In fact there is now a dedicated iOS section on their website for those of you who want to use a mobile device as your workstation.

    Separate Components

    Are you ready to step up to the full enchilada? Don't worry, it isn't as complicated as you might think. Let's walk through each piece of the puzzle with some recommendations.


    There are many directions you can go with mics, but the good news is that there are many budget-friendly options these days. And since I don't want this article to go on for years and years, I'm not going to go into a lot of detail on these mics. If you do some "googling" you will quickly see why these mics are popular and what plusses and minuses they have.

    Stereo mics (makes life simple because the two mics are set up inside the housing at a good angle for stereo imagery). For example, take a look at the Shure VP88.

    Matched pairs have been tweaked before shipping so that they are as equivalent as possible. Generally, you get what you pay for, and remember that the mics are the most critical piece of the puzzle. I would rather see people skimp on the computer than skimp on the mics! Ready to have a look at the choices? For good performance at a good price, I like Rode NT-1A and NT5.

    If you go with a matched pair, you need a way to mount these mics in front of your group. I like to use one stand with this attachment from Shure.

    Audio Interfaces

    I think that for some reason this puzzle piece is the most daunting, but it doesn't have to be. This little box is the go-between for your mic(s), computer, and speakers (or stereo system). So the mics "hear" the sound, it travels down the mic cables into the interface. The interface allows you to set proper "gain" levels (so your recordings don't clip/distort). It then converts the sound to data and sends it to your computer. When you play it back, the data goes from the computer to the interface where it is converted back to sound and travels over audio cables to your speakers (or headphones). A few important points:

    • If you are recording in stereo, you need an interface with TWO mic inputs
    • If your mics require power (look for "phantom power" or "48 volts" on your mic requirements) then your audio interface must have phantom power for BOTH mic inputs.
    • While Apple has done a very good job of automatically accepting connections to the majority of big-name products, if you are a Windows user you may have to deal with some driver issues. Make sure you read the computer requirements carefully and/or ask your sales person for assistance.
    • Make sure you have the proper ports. Don't order a firewire interface if you don't have firewire ports on your computer!

    Again, you don't want to skimp on this step. The pre-amps inside the interface are essential to capturing good sound, as is the conversion process. Recently Focusrite got into the consumer market, and though I have not tried their products yet, their mic pre-amps are legendary. Presonus is also a very popular brand, and I have used their interfaces. Ready to take a look at some audio interfaces?


    I'm going to make this short and sweet: I'm a Mac guy, and Apple has made a real commitment to making recording "just work" on the mac platform. It really doesn't matter which mac you get, they'll all work beautifully for recording your band. You could get a mac mini and a cheap (non-apple) monitor and you are ready to go with whatever keyboard and mouse you have laying around. Garageband is built right in and works very well for stereo recordings. Most teachers don't want to hassle with more than that (and shouldn't have to). If you want more bells and whistles you can go with Pro Tools or Logic Pro. If you want something free check out Audacity. Make sure whatever software you choose is compatible with your audio interface (check the "Specifications" section or talk to a sales rep). Remember, the software does not really make a difference to the incoming sound quality... that is the job of the mics and audio interface. But it DOES have an impact on the quality of effects (if you decide to use them) and the various editing features, ease of use, etc. that you desire.

    Other things to consider

    • Do you want/need the system to be mobile? A laptop might be essential.
    • Do you want to use the computer for other things? Maybe spending a little more is warranted.
    • If you want more ram, don't use Apple (overpriced). Try www.crucial.com

    At our school the music teachers all have 13" Macbook Pros that we use for recording, as well as for metronome during rehearsals, tuning, etc. Solid, reliable, portable. Before that we had a 20" iMac in each rehearsal room, which also worked well.

      Also, years ago you really needed an external hard drive for recording. Today the internal drives are so large that you really don't need a seperate drive for simple stereo recordings. HOWEVER remember you need to back up your files, and sometimes an external drive can be nice in you need to take the project to another computer setup.


      The output of an audio interface is not amplified (well, the headphone jack is, but let's assume you want to hear the output on some nice speakers) so we need to take the output of the interface box to a stereo system or powered speakers. Powered studio monitors are a nice option if you are working on your recording in a studio, your office etc. There are many nice options these days. If I were in the market right now I would be interested to hear this new "Airmotiv" line from Emotiva because they are quickly gaining a reputation for great sounding products at a reasonable price. Same goes for this line from Audioengine.

      If you are looking for something to put in the rehearsal space I do not recommend using studio monitors. They are not designed to fill such a large space. If you want active monitors for that situation take a look at the QSC, JBL and Mackie powered monitors (15" speaker).

      Oh, and if you are going to soley use headphones, do NOT use little iPod headphones! You can get excellent studio headphones for around $99 (I like the Sony MDR 7506).

      One last thing

      For many of us, we also want a system that we can use for rehearsing. Recording a section and then immediately allowing the students to listen and analyze is a great rehearsal tool. But oftentimes the stereo system is not near the podium, and we need a way to get the output of the audio interface to the stereo without running a 30 foot cord across the room. I use a wireless audio product from Emu that is no longer in production, but recently I discovered this product from AudioEngine that looks like it will fit the bill (no guarantees since I have not tested it myself).

      Brian Wis
      tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/56536 2013-02-09T14:07:00Z 2016-02-03T21:38:19Z On Keeping Percussionists Busy


      "I have (x) percussionists in my band, and I need a good grade (x) piece that will keep them busy."

      Does statement above sound familiar? Now I ask you... have you ever heard a band director talking about finding a piece that will keep other instrumentalists busy? Sure, "challenge the flutes" perhaps or "go easy" on some other "weak" section, but "keep them busy" ... do you see what I'm pointing out here? Implicit in the phrase "keep them busy" is the idea that we need our percussionists out of our way, occupied, or otherwise tied-up in some activity so that we can teach... the others.

      Have you ever programmed a piece that had a third clarinet part with only one whole note in the middle of the piece, and one more at the end? Or a piece that called for no more than three trumpets, and demanded that the others sit out in order to preserve "the composers intent" or some other such nonsense?

      Of course not!

      You would never do that to your woodwinds and brass, would you? But how often do we program a piece that has no more than two suspended cymbal rolls, or make the decision not to double (or supplement) percussion parts, leaving percussionists sitting in the back of the room "causing trouble?"

      I've been teaching a long time, and believe me I realize that there are many challenges when it comes to finding music that fits your entire ensemble. Lest this post be seen as nothing more than a rant, here are some suggestions:

      Don't be a purest

      Did you ever notice that most directors will program a piece even if the fourth horn part will be left out, yet they refuse to add mallet parts because "that's not what the composer intended?" Do we think the composer intended for parts to be left out either? So why do we worry about adding parts? Seriously, let's remember that our main objective is to teach all students to become self-sufficient, expressive musicians. That does not happen when students are sitting out. If I have to choose between composer intent and actually teaching every student in the room, that is an easy choice.

      Don't program garbage just to keep percussionists busy

      True, there are newer works that have many percussion parts, and we need to encourage composers to continue to treat the percussion section as an equal. But much of this new music is trite, repetitive, and requires very little critical thinking. And sometimes the percussion writing may be interesting but the woodwind and brass parts are not good. I would much rather see teachers program excellent repertoire and supplement and/or double the percussion parts than spend 8 weeks playing trite music.

      Don't ignore the long-term problem

      Most of us will readily address the issue of not having any tubas or clarinets. But few of us will address the over-enrollment of percussion. At some point, we must be willing to enact long-term solutions that get instrumentation in balance. If you are the only teacher you have control over this issue, and if you are part of a group of articulated teachers you must work together to solve it. But solve it you must.

      Think outside the box. Couldn't you make it standard practice that all percussionists also double on another instrument? If you did, might some decide to play that instrument permanently? If you strengthened your recruitment efforts for instruments of need, might you see more students elect to play those instruments instead of percussion? Those of us who taught during the era of the saxophone's popularity had to solve these same issues of over-enrollment. But unfortunately some teachers only deal in the near-term (crisis mode) rather than looking at the causes and address those in order to insure long-term success. Is your problem that you can't find music to fit your band, or that you have no system for recruiting, promoting, and sustaining balanced instrumentation?

      If this post aggravates you a little bit, I hope that you will count to ten and do a little soul searching first before falling into a defensive frame of mind. Yes of course, your situation is unique, and no one will fully understand what you are going through except you. But at the same time...if you won't solve it, who will? And let me be clear: Keeping your percussionists "busy" is not solving anything. I also want to be clear that I too struggle with this very issue. Finding repertoire that serves all students is difficult. And yes, sometimes a percussionist is going to have just two rolls on suspended cymbal. But that same student had better have some meaningful learning on the remaining pieces on the concert.

      Start by shifting your focus. We are not paid to keep students busy. We are not paid to leave students out. We are not paid to put the composer's interests above our students' education. We are not paid to teach a woodwind and brass ensemble with percussion accompaniment. Get creative, get motivated, and get about the business of programming great repertoire and teaching all of your students to be great musicians.

      Brian Wis
      tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/56538 2012-05-10T22:42:00Z 2013-10-08T15:33:42Z Why Grapes?

      Why music? It seems our profession has felt obligated to explain music's value for decades, yet (not surprisingly) has failed to come up with a concise, decisive answer to this perplexing question.

      I don't think it can be answered...I don't think it needs to be answered. There are many things whose value cannot be defined, and yet they are clearly valued.

      Take grapes. Ever notice that no one ever says "Why Grapes?" Clearly we can describe how they are used, but is that the essence of grapes? Seriously now.....why grapes? Could we survive without them? What is the unique value of this vine-grown goodness? Is there such a thing as Grapes For Grapes Sake?

      Even though there is no clear answer for "Why Grapes?" their value is demonstrated each and every day in the human desire for grapes, whether alone or included in a variety of ways in other food and drink. No one worries about Grape Advocacy, but an awful lot of growers worry night and day about the quality of their soil and vines, temperatures, and watering regimen. And rightly so. If the grapes are sour, people will not want them. There will always be a market for wonderfully sweet grapes in numerous varieties, whether or not we can answer "Why Grapes?" See the line of thought here? Think about it.

      Are we asking...and worrying...about the right questions when it comes to music education? Perhaps rather than trying to answer questions that can't really be answered, we should focus more on the quality of our instruction, our repertoire, types of course offerings, and our learning outcomes. Those are areas with questions that NEED answers, and in fact lay the foundation of value we're so worried about in the first place.

      Grow excellent grapes.]]>
      Brian Wis
      tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/56540 2012-04-01T17:27:00Z 2013-10-08T15:33:42Z Teaching With Krazy Glue

      In our dining room we have four windows. A number of years back we purchased custom fabric blinds (roman shade style), and each came with an extra piece of matching fabric to use as a little valence which covers the mechanism at the top. There is a strip of Velcro on the mechanism, and a strip of Velcro on the fabric. Pair the Velcro, done.

      So this one particular window must have a unique temperature fluctuation, because when the morning sun heats it just right after a cold evening, the adhesive on the back of the Velcro that sticks to the mechanism gives way and the valence falls off with both pieces of Velcro attached to it. The other three window valences are just fine.

      The first time this happened my wife left it on the table for me. I noticed that the adhesive was really tacky (and warm), so I stuck the valence back on the blind and it held just fine....until the next time, which would sometimes be weeks or even months later. I would check the adhesive, and sure enough still really sticky, and I would tack it back up on the window. Does this remind you of the scene in It's A Wonderful Life where every time George Bailey comes down the stairs he pulls the top off the banister? Yeah, me too.

      So the other day I came downstairs and noticed that my wife had again placed the valence on the table. In a moment of clarity, I opened a drawer and took out the Krazy Glue and dabbed it on the back of the Velcro, then put the valence back up. Guess what? Yeah that valence is never coming down now. Duh, why didn't I do that the first time?

      So what does this have to do with teaching?

      How many times have you had to "revisit a concept" with your students that you KNOW you had already taught them? Darn these kids! Your lesson plan gets trashed as you "hang the valence back up on the window" and it sticks and all appears fine...until the next time. Have the students learned the concept, or was the lesson something that would hold temporarily?

      Just like using the Krazy Glue on the valence, what are we doing to be sure that a concept will stick for the long haul? Is a concept really taught if it won't stick permanently? And how do we know the difference?

      When I stuck that valence up for what I knew would be the final time, I felt pretty silly about all those times I just kept sticking it back up there, thinking that maybe this time it would hold forever. Foolish, but I did it, time and time again.

      Anyway, something to ponder.
      Brian Wis
      tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/56541 2012-02-25T20:55:00Z 2017-03-30T02:08:05Z You're not the teacher you could be

      Improving as a teacher is a conscious decision that one must choose...it doesn't "just happen." It involves moving beyond "why aren't my students trying harder" to "what is it about my teaching that leaves my students uninspired and unable to retain the concepts I am trying to help them learn?"

      Tough to look in that mirror? You bet it is.

      But one of the problems in our society today is that we have associated self-criticism with "beating ourselves up." That's too bad, because people who are successful know that the most productive way to a healthy and happy career is a regular and honest review of:

      What I am doing


      The outcome of what I am doing

      So, I am doing x,y, and z on a daily basis. Am I seeing evidence of learning based on those approaches, habits, beliefs?

      If not, am I willing to change, or will I simply:

      bear down on my students

      tell them to work harder

      guilt them into "learning"

      See where I'm going with this?

      If we want our students to learn more, enjoy more, take more ownership for their musicianship, then we are the ones who must improve the most, not them. Are your students excited to learn from you each day? If not...who do you suppose in responsible for changing that?

      Look, I struggle just like you do. I'm not getting my students to the depth of learning that they deserve to experience in music. But I know this, and I have been able to say it for several years now:

      One week from now I will not be the teacher I am today. I will be moving forward, trying new approaches, and digging just a little deeper so my students can understand the joys of music just a little bit better than they do now. If I don't do that, nothing is going to change.

      Like me, you are not the teacher you could be. Don't be depressed by that, see it as good news. Get excited about the fact that the better you become, the more your students will learn. It took me far too long to realize that very simple truth.

      Brian Wis
      tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/56549 2011-12-03T14:08:00Z 2018-01-08T10:54:08Z Understanding Transition Years

      The Band Directors Group has provided interesting insights to the profession. If I had to name the most common problem faced by new teachers it would be the navigation of the transition year. A poorly handled transition often results in a student culture that takes years to correct, makes you miserable on a daily basis, and can even lead to early burnout or dismissal. I don't want to see these things happen to you. There are steps you can take to make the transition a more positive experience. The main point is understanding that teaching is not about you, it's about your students. And this is never more true than in a transition year.

      Some veteran teachers who read this article may have personally suffered through a bad transition. What I've written here may or may not have saved you. Everyone's situation is unique, and everyone's skill set is different. If you have additional helpful thoughts you should add them in the comments section below.

      The Key: Evaluating your predecessor

      Most teachers who have gone through multiple transitions have come to recognize that the process is definitely more of an art than a science. But there are some concrete things you can be aware of during this critical time. One essential aspect is understanding the type of teacher you are following. Some might say not to worry about this, but to me it is a key component. Everything you say and (especially) do during the first year will be compared to the previous teacher by parents, admins, and especially students. So let's take a look at the possibilities (in reference to graphic above).

      1. Following a good musician/teacher who was well-liked

      This is generally a good situation for you musically (if you are a strong musician...and I hope you are) because you are going to be able to continue to teach good technique and repertoire. However this will be a challenge for you relationally because the students are going to be dealing with feelings of abandonment and you are going to feel the brunt of this. You must remember that students are not mature enough to do otherwise, especially those who are in their last year in the building (seniors, for example). Do not add fuel to the fire by changing much of anything. Keep things the way they are and instead, focus on building relationships with students. Learn names quickly, engage students in conversations about future plans and their interests outside of music. 

      And here is another important one: building relationships with parents is just as important. Eventually the program will be yours but right now you are basically an invited guest, you need to realize that. You are going to have to work just as hard to build trusting relationships with parents as you do with the kids. Teach to the best of your abilities and be thankful that you are inheriting a strong program. Be patient.

      2. Following a good musician/teacher who was disliked

      After doing your research you may have found that your predecessor was a solid musican. You see evidence of good repertoire and a well-rounded curriculum. But if for whatever reason the teacher was disliked, you may find that students are resistant to things that make good musical sense because they associate those things with the former teacher. In short, they may desire change that is not good for them. 

      Furthermore they may assume that you, like the last teacher, will show little care and concern for them. Building trusting relationships needs to be job one in this situation. Each and every day you need to build one-to-one relationships with students. You have to break the cycle of distrust while maintaining as much musical integrity as they will allow. Be patient.

      3. Following an incompetent musician/teacher who was well-liked

      This is by far the most frustrating situation, especially if you have high musical expectations. You must remind yourself daily that you are asking for trouble by moving too fast with your musical expectations. Slow down. When students like a former teacher they will associate everything that was taught to them as correct, so conversely everything you try to do differently will be considered incorrect. Don't dwell on this...accept it and get through the year with as little change as possible. The program will be yours soon enough. Do not ever disparage the former teacher. Much of quadrant number one applies here as well. Be patient.

      4. Following an incompetent musician/teacher who was disliked

      While not a no-brainer situation, this is by far the smoothest situation to manage. Students will be glad you are there (thought they may not show it) and they may indeed welcome some change, but you must still be strategic and don't forget to build relationships and consensus with students and parents. Make them a part of this exciting new era. Identify a few positive changes that will be widely accepted and take your time with the rest. Remember that the students' weak musicianship is not their fault. Be patient.

      Being "You"

      This is where the art comes into play. Given the situation, you may feel like you just can't be the teacher you expected to be this year (this is especially true for first-year teachers). You will hear a lot of people suggest to "just be you." I'm going to very carefully disagree with that. 

      Your first concern in a transition year must be your students. If they are used to certain traditions, routines, practices that are not what you had envisioned for yourself, you need to consider their world first. If "being you" means doing things differently, think twice. There is a very fine line between being consistent with your predecessor and being too far out of your comfort zone, I get that. But if you stay focused on the fact that none of this is the students' fault, you will usually know the best way to proceed, and usually that is very slowly in regards to change. If your predecessor had high musical standards and the students liked him/her, well you'd better learn the extant repertoire, and have the score in your head and your head out of the score! If your predecessor chose substandard literature and was well-liked...breathe deeply and don't start programming masterworks this year. If your predecessor told a joke every Friday, and you aren't the joking type, suck it up for a year and tell some jokes. You get the idea. Put yourselves in the students' shoes...remember, even after the transition, it's not about you anyway.

      Build trust, be empathetic, and be patient. You can do it.

      Afterword: Several readers have mentioned the importance of never, ever, disparaging the former teacher. This is of course imperative. Don't do it... not in front of students, parents, or within the BDG. And if the students do it, don't condone it (and remember that ignoring it is the same as condoning it). 

      Good luck, and never be too proud to ask for help!

      Brian Wis
      tag:teachingmusic.posthaven.com,2013:Post/56555 2011-11-20T12:14:00Z 2013-10-08T15:33:43Z For The Love Of The Music

      Yesterday our district had its annual classical festival for band, orchestra and choir. The guest conductor for orchestra was Don Schleicher from the University of Illinois, and I took the opportunity to spend several hours watching him rehearse.

      What really made an impression on me was how much he loved the music. It was so apparent throughout the day, and I think it was as obvious to the students as it was to me. His decisions about balance, style, and his overall expectations from the students were centered around great repertoire and how much he cared for it...how essential it was for the students to honor it.

      There is a subtle but important difference between expecting students to play well and expecting them to play well because the music deserves it. When the students sense that it is a priviledge to perform the music before them, their approach changes from being self-centered to others-oriented. Why? Because the only way to honor the music is to make the ensemble the focus, rather than oneself. This applies to the teacher as well.

      This of course brings up the topic of how the teacher can be passionate about the music being taught when in fact it isn't great music. You can't, not unless you are a terrific actor, and even then the students are going to sense it. Great repertoire (not to be confused with difficult repertoire) is a mandate for us.

      There is great music written for all grade levels (start here), so choosing repertoire that lacks depth and meaning is not only avoidable, but is essential in empowering you the teacher to be energized and passionate in ways that will remind you of why you decided to do this job in the first place....for the love of the music.

      I believe that most of the good and bad experiences we have in our rehearsal rooms are fostered by repertoire choices we make. Put yourself in the position of teaching repertoire that will allow your love for the music to show through. The students deserve to see you at your best, and that just can't happen through careless repertoire selection. Make a commitment to share your love of music from the podium every day. You can do it.

      Brian Wis