I typed this post shortly after the conference ended on May 16th, and then forgot about it with all the business leading up to graduation and the end of the school year.
Over the past two days, hundreds of Iowa band directors descended on the Marriott Hotel in Des Moines for the Iowa Bandmasters Association 2015 Conference. This is the tenth conference I have attended, and it was the best overall. There wasn’t a single hour in either day that there wasn’t a clinic or performance I didn’t want to attend. Let’s try that sentence without all the negatives: There was something I wanted to attend every single hour of both days of the conference. IBA President Jacqui Meunier hosted outstanding clinicians and performances throughout. I wanted to get my thoughts out on “paper” quickly, so I could begin to implement them in my classroom.
Our Vertical PLC sat down prior to the conference and developed a list of all the different clinics and concerts we wanted to attend. When there was overlap for individual teachers (and there was a lot of it!), we strategized as a team who could attend what so the PLC could get the most out of the conference. Each of us took voice recorders into each of the clinics. I cannot wait to debrief with my team!
Two Big Take-Aways: Sound and Brand
I know the sound I am striving for in my classical and jazz trombone playing. I can coach brass students to produce the sounds I desire. I am working at developing an understanding for the sounds I want from my woodwinds and percussion. I have never really thought about the overall sound I want from my concert and jazz bands. Like Dr. Brad Genevro asked in his clinic, Out of Tune/Out of Tone: what is your sound?
My middle school colleagues attended different sessions that talked about having a brand for your band program. Clinics included Habits of a Successful Middle School Director by Scott Rush and Bridging the Gap – Junior High to High School by Marcia Neel. I want to learn more in our debriefing, but my understanding is that we want to brand the program from 5th grade to 12th grade. Students in the beginning band are a part of the high school band through apparel, literature, events, etc.
Sessions I Attended
Young Conductors Project
Three years ago, one of my mentors, Tony Garmoe, began a program of bringing in nationally recognized conductors to critique the conducting of up and coming band directors in the state. I was one of the first six young conductors, getting to work with Colonel Lowell Graham of the University of Texas-El Paso and the first attempt at an IBA High School Honor Band.Two years ago, I had the honor of presiding for the next conductor, Paula Crider, Professor Emeritus of the University of Texas. Last year, IBA hosted Professor Marcellus Brown of Boise State.
This year, we were blessed to have Dr. Jack Stamp of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He worked very hard to get the young conductors to tie their gestures to the music. How do you say that with your hands? With your face? We as conductors are there to facilitate the performance. Too often, we are getting in the musicians way.
Out of Tune/Out of Tone
Dr. Brad Genevro worked with the Mount Vernon High School Band to demonstrate exercises for tone development within the concert band rehearsal. He raised questions like:
- What is your sound? (as a conductor)
- What are your tonal models for your students?
- What is your ideal _____ sound?
- Where are your best sounds in each section?
- What are we providing our students to focus/recalibrate their sound?
- What are we providing ourselves to focus/recalibrate our sound?
- How can we seat students so they have access to the best sounds in the ensemble?
He suggested having students charting their instrument timbrally. This could be done using an intonation chart, but commenting on the timbre for each pitch (bright, dark, buzz, etc.). He took the ensemble through a variety of exercises having them adjust based on timbres: fitting inside the sound of different instruments, building from first chairs/best sounds, etc.
You Don’t Know a Thing ‘Til You Teach a Sixth Grader to Swing
Steve Shanley of Coe College and Wendy Morton of Prairie Creek Intermediate presented on strategies for beginning a jazz program. Steve came in and worked with Wendy’s sixth grade beginning jazz bands. They took video of Steve taking the students from the very basics of swing to playing their first chart.
To paraphrase Steve: if music equals all written and spoken languages, then
- Concert Band and Jazz Band are two different languages
- There are similarities and differences between the languages
- Start from what is similar and work to add the differences
- Develop an internal concept using call and response (AURALLY BEFORE VISUALLY)
- Encourage matching of pitch, rhythm, and articulation
The Past, The Present, and Where Are We Going?
Bob Long of Missouri Western State and this year’s 1A/2A All-State Jazz Band Director hosted a panel of seasoned jazz educators to talk about the past, present, and future of jazz in Iowa. The panel included Larry Green of the Jazz Education Network, Dick Redman of Pella, Bob Washut of UNI, and Steve Lawson of Harlan. The panel discussed the history of jazz in Iowa schools, student motivation, improving jazz education in Iowa, what constitutes a “successful” program, and where each saw jazz going in the next few years. It was fascinating to hear the history of Iowa jazz from people who knew, worked with, and learned from legends like Jack Oatts and Jim Coffin. It was a different world when students could travel to rural Iowa towns to hear some of the greatest big bands of all time.
Habits of a Successful Wind Ensemble
Scott Rush gave an excellent presentation on different teaching strategies within the high school rehearsal setting. He believes that approximately 50% of rehearsal time should be spent on fundamentals. In order to do this and keep students engaged, we may have to trick them. Scott gave us a homework assignment of writing out all of the different components of playing (tone, technique, etc.). The components of playing serve as the mechanism for teaching students how to troubleshoot their own playing and serve as the reason why the warm-up is not mindless. He encouraged us also to take an inventory of the components of playing, asking our students to tell us what we did as an ensemble to teach each of the components.
Listening Inside and Outside the Rehearsal
Paul McKee of the University of Colorado-Boulder was this years 4A All-State Jazz Band Director. He gave a clinic on how we should encourage students listening both inside and outside of their jazz band rehearsals. For inside the rehearsal, he had suggestions for setup to maximize the students’ ability to hear across the ensemble. For outside the rehearsal, he had an extensive handout of “iconic recordings” for big bands and individual instruments.
How Good Do You Want to Be?
Dr. Frank Tracz of Kansas State University gave a very motivational talk on increasing the width/breadth of the time we spend. A lot of the resources Dr. Tracz used can be found on the Kansas State Bands website.
Tips for Your Jazz Trombonists
Dr. Anthony Williams is the assistant professor of trombone at the University of Northern Iowa, and was this year’s 3A All-State Jazz Band Director. He gave an excellent presentation on developing a routine as well as specifics to jazz trombone.
- Iowa City West High Wind Ensemble – Rich Medd, Jack Stamp, Erin Mahr, Brandon Weeks
- La Fiesta Mexicana, II. Mass – H. Owen Reed
- Satiric Dances for a Comedy by Aristophanes, I. Allegro Pesante – Norman Dello Joio
- Marche Militaire Francaise, from Suite Algerienne – Camille Saint-Saëns, transc. by Hindsley
- 1A/2A All-State Jazz Band – Bob Long
- Fish ’N Grits – Jeff Jarvis
- Meetin’ Time – Benny Carter
- Riley’s Thang – Mark Colby, arr. Beach
- 3A All-State Jazz Band – Dr. Anthony Williams
- A Walkin’ Thing – Benny Carter, arr. Curnow
- Limbo Jazz – Duke Ellington, trans. Berger
- The Count is In! – Jim Martin
- 4A All-State Jazz Band – Paul McKee
- Billie’s Bounce – Charlie Parker, arr. McKee
- Little Gus – Paul McKee
- Back Home – Paul McKee
- Cedar Falls High School Jazz One – Kyle Engelhardt
- The Heat’s On – Sammy Nestico
- Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey! – Jason Marshall
- Black and Tan Fantasy – Duke Ellington & Bubber Miley
- Chucho – Paquito D’Rivera
- Blues for Trombone – J.J. Johnson, arr. Mike Conrad
- Homage – Gerry Niewood, arr. Rick Lawn
- Letter from Home – Pat Metheny, arr. Bob Curnow
- Black Bottom Stomp – Jelly Roll Morton, arr. Jason Stock
- Cedar Rapids Washington High School Wind Symphony – Jim Miller, Jack Stamp, Brittany Wedeking, Brandon Weeks
- Song for Lyndsay – Andrew Boysen, Jr.
- Esprit de Corps – Robert Jager
- Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School Wind Symphony – Jared Wacker
- The Earle of Oxford’s Marche – Gordon Jacob
- (Readacted) – John Mackey
- Fantasia for Alto Saxophone – Claude T. Smith
- A Longford Legend – Robert Sheldon
- Concertino, Op. 107 – Cécile Chaminade, arranged by Clayton Wilson
- Shadow Rituals – Michael Markowski
- Drake University Wind Symphony – Robert Meunier
- Chester – William Schuman
- Pale Blue on Deep – Aaron Perrine
- The Gum-Suckers March – Percy Grainger, ed. Mark Rogers
- Serenity – Ola Gjeilo, arr. J. Eric Wilson/Gjeilo
- Glory to Glory – Kevin Walczyk
- One Life Beautiful – Julie Giroux
- Symphony No. 2, IV. Apollo Unleashed – Frank Ticheli
- Johnson County Landmark – John Rapson
- Chunka Lunka – Mary Lou Williams
- Foxy Trot – Kenny Wheeler, arr. Sam Petersen
- Mild, Mild Midwest – Michael Conrad
- Bulgaria – Peter Erskine, arr. Bill Dobbins
- On a Misty Night – Tadd Dameron, arr. Scott Gwinell
- Jumpin’ at the Woodside – Count Basie
Moving forward with the sound and brand ideas from above, I want to continue to make a stronger vertical connection with all my students to the top ensembles at the high school (Marching Band, Wind Symphony, and Jazz Collective). This can be through apparel or performances (like discussed in Marcia Neel’s clinic about Bridging the Gap), but it needs to be part of our conversations and rhetoric in rehearsals and lessons. We are preparing them to be a part of these pinnacle performing groups. While 6th Grade Band is its own ensemble, we need to have our students thinking long term: 6th Grade Band is getting me ready for playing in Centennial’s Wind Symphony. 7th Grade Monday/Thursday Jazz Band (we need a cooler name) is getting me ready for Jazz Collective. The goal for these kids isn’t to make it through X Grade Band; it is to be a part of the top ensembles at the high school!
One area I am personally lacking in my teaching is tone development. I feel I can model a good sound on trumpet, trombone, and euphonium. I know that quality is not represented in my horn or tuba playing, let alone my woodwind or percussion performance. I do not feel that I have a good concept of what my Symphonic Band (10th Grade) should sound like as a whole, nor Jazz Collective. Don’t get me wrong, I know what good concert and jazz bands sound like, but I haven’t been making a concerted effort to have a specific sound in mind for my ensembles. Nor have I been working to bring them closer to that sound.
I want to have specific models for my students in their individual and ensemble playing. I plan on recording (audio and video) a lot of their lesson material. I would feel comfortable doing the middle school literature on anything but tuba. I will likely be farming out the high school high brass and tuba literature to more qualified players.
I also want to start developing a concept for Symphonic Band and Jazz Collective. What is the blend of sound that I want? How should each section sound? The work I really need is on the jazz band rhythm section, and the concert woodwinds and percussion. I plan to do a lot of listening this summer and trying to write down what I am hearing.
As a staff, we are looking at resources and methods to help us improve in our ensemble rehearsals. These resources include Foundations for Superior Performance, Habits of a Successful Musician, Foundations for Wind Band Clarity, and Basic Training for Concert Band. I want us to start to identify specific ensemble skills to be developed in each grade level over the course of the year. This can help us guide our literature selection and provide a stronger sense of purpose for each class.
For my own personal study, I want to take a challenge of Scott Rush’s recently iterated in an article he wrote for SmartMusic:
Take a blank piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of the page. On the left side of the paper, write the following Components of Playing list, leaving several spaces between each word. This is essentially what you are responsible for teaching in terms of fundamentals. On the right side, start listing how you teach the various components. Fill as much of the right side as you can by listing teaching strategies, method books, worksheets, and any other means that you use to teach the component. When you’re done, you should have a blueprint for your daily, weekly, and quarterly fundamentals curriculum. You should be able to visibly see your teaching process in action.
I want to meld this with the different concepts David W. Vandewalker discusses in Foundations for Wind Band Clarity:
- Characteristic Tone
- Horizontal Shape
- Vertical Alignment
- Prioritization of Sound
Is it next year yet?