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: 

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.

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, and 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.

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 it. If you choose well the parents will never know. This is the step where you can save your kids. Do what is best for them.
I have used this process for years. It really prevents having “eyes that are bigger than your appetite.” There have been times where I am able to choose remaining pieces that are *more* challenging than I expected, and (more often) there are times when I am supplementing with easier pieces, or fewer pieces. Either way the bottom line is that over-programming is avoided, students can be more successful and (especially) in a position to enjoy their performance instead of being completely stressed over it (which we all know makes matters even worse).

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

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

No Seth, Demoralizing Kids Is Not A Joke

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

~Seth Meyers

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

But Meyers is worse. 

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

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

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

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

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

Get my app NoteNames+ for free in the App Store

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

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.

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.

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 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 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 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 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 a gift. This will give you an idea.

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

    ~Brian Wis

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

    This is not helping.

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

    So what do we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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


    (consider using the share buttons below)

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

    ~Brian Wis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But this wasn't simply a joke.

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

    Message received Jim.

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

    Kidding, or revealing?

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



    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!”