Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Welcome to the Gesundheit Institute for Musical Developement

This is a portion of my new film, Patch Adams: Band Director
note: this is not a portion of my new film. I lied. It's a slightly altered portion of the real Patch Adams movie. Duhr. Enjoy

"Sir, Would you define practice for me?"
"Yes, practice would be defined as the care of a student seeking musical attention."
"Everyone who comes to the rehearsal is a student, yes. And every person who comes to the rehearsal is also a teacher."
"I'm sorry?"
"Every person who comes to the rehearsal is in need of some form of physical, mental, or musical help. They're students. But also every person who comes to the rehearsal is in charge of taking care of someone else... that makes them teachers. I use that term broadly, but is not a teacher someone who helps someone else? When did the term 'teacher' get treated with such reverence... At what point in history did a teacher become more than a trusted and learned friend who visited and taught the learning..."
"What if one of your concerts had failed?"
"What's wrong with failing sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can't we treat failure with a certain amount of humanity and dignity and decency and, God forbid, maybe even humor? Failure isn't the enemy gentlemen. If we are going to fight a disease why don't we fight one of the most terrible diseases of all: Indifference. Now I've sat in your schools and heard you lecture of transference and professional distance. Transference is inevitable sir. Every human being has an impact on another. Why don't we want that in a student/teacher relationship?... A teacher's mission is not just to prevent failure, but also to improve the quality of life. Thats why when you teach a student you win, you lose. You teach a person, I guarantee you, you win, no matter what the outcome... Don't let them anesthetize you. Don't let them numb you out to the miracle of music... Always live in awe of the glorious mechanisms of the musical body. Let that be the focus of your classroom and not a quest for grades which give no idea of what kind of people they will become. Start your communicating skills now. Sing with strangers. Sing with your friends. Sing to wrong numbers. Sing to everyone. And cultivate musical friendships with those amazing people at your back.... Sir, want to be a teacher with all my heart. I wanted to become a teacher so I could serve others and because of that I lose everything and gain everything. I've shared the lives of students and staff at the school. I've laughed with them. I've cried with them. This is what I want to do with my life. And as God is my witness... I will still become the best damn teacher the world has ever seen. You can't keep my from learning. You can't keep me from studying."
"Is that all?"
"I hope not sir."

NOTE: I have had the distinct pleasure this semester of not only seeing the interpersonal and humanistic growth of many students, but (and the wording of this is crucial) as a side effect of the personal growth I have been blessed to experience a musical miracle of growth also. While the homesickness and loneliness of living in the backwoods just south of the Middle in the county of Nowhere makes me long for civilization and old friends. I wouldn't trade this for the world. My students are not yet the best musicians in the world, but most of them now care. They have something they live and breath for. We are few, but not indifferent or lazy. I thank my God for the chance to be here and do what I do with my amazing wife and daughter by my side. While I am not truly friends with my students I am enjoying them and I love them. Radical as that may be in the industrialized mechanism of modern teaching. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pulling the Lion's Tooth

Today I pulled a few rotten teeth from the mouth of the Lion.
The Lion bit me in anger so I hit it with 7 detentions.

I don't know what it is with this place. I give homework. Like a worksheet or something ONCE a semester. This time I gave them 4 pages of worksheets with the answers on top in a reading section and the questions below. I gave them 3 days of class time to finish. Today was the two week anniversary of the assignment's due date and I had 33 not turned in by class time.

Last spring I gave 2 days of class time for a one-pager and had 13 not turn it in at all. They took zeros.
In talking with teachers around here it seems like these kids just simply don't do their homework. Ever. Our modern society demands that we don't accept zeros in schools. I'm lucky that my superintendent says they can't NOT do the work, but I can give them a zero if it takes way too long.

This is BULLS###

My parents would have found the biggest stick and beat the living daylight out of me if I had just blatantly refused to do homework. You just didn't not do your homework.

I nagged to get a bunch more done and turned in by the end of the day and had reduced my naughty list to 7. Impressive nagging skills come from my mother's side. Five of the seven say they aren't going to do it. Ever. No matter what.
So they'll finish it in detention or suspension, whichever comes first.

See detention is a problem around here. Kid's don't take it seriously. Teachers almost never do it because the students don't show up for detentions. Teachers have to create verbal contact with parents to carry out a detention so parents can arrange for transportation. So detentions are often several days after the event which earned the detention.

Again, bullfeces.

You don't NOT show up for a detention. And if my kid got a detention and had to miss the bus that would be fine. Walk your delinquent butt home.

For each detention you skip you get two more. Get more than 5 detentions stacked up and you get an in school suspension. Statistically (according to my administration) about 80% of detentions end up in ISS.

They will do their homework. Someday either now, or in detention/suspension. But it will happen.

"In my day" we didn't even think of not doing homework, or not showing up for detention...

I hope this is a cultural thing around here and not a social construct of the current generation.

Because if my children.... so help me God there will not be a stick big enough...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Self-induced misery and the gurus who got me here

I recently had a discussion with my sister about the nearly predictable lull in teaching careers. Usually somewhere around year 5 most teachers second-guess their career choice.
Now I am no where near year 5, nor am I second-guessing my career.

I should probably rephrase myself and clarify that I feel myself entering a plateau. And not the picturesque plateaus... Let me explain this metaphorically. Here you see a beautiful plateau, an area that reminds me a lot of my years in the Mojave. It isn't perfect, but there is a sense of awe and an omnipresent sense of peace. I've been in that world, nothing was perfect... but it has felt just right to be teaching were I am.

What you don't see is that this plateau is in an area called Hamm, Ethiopia. More popularly known for this type of image. I am starting to notice what is behind the serene...

Now, before anyone gets all up in this metaphor. NO I do not live in a war zone and haven't since I left the San Bernardino area. But the thrill of each day is wearing a little to comfortable. It's feeling more like a routine and less like a dream come true.

Some of my sense of mediocrity has come from the lack of spice. We've been doing the same gosh darn things for a while now. I remember many times as a band student when I swore if I had to play X again someone was going to get a lead pipe jabbed in their face. I'm feeling that as a director. I keep finding things to fix and stuff but I'm kind of in the zone in a bad way.
Another part of this comes from personal struggles. I don't know if my emotional or financial life is worse right now. Neither one is particularly stable. This week started on a downer. A 7th grade student of mine OD'd on methanphetamines and was life-flighted our over the weekend. The kid is still not doing well. I wish I could say I didn't see it coming. The kids parents are worse.  One of my seniors is pregnant and got kicked out of her house and is still MIA. It is amazing how much your students affect you.

So lately I've been thinking on those people that I call my gurus. Two directors I grew up with who specifically inspired me to be who all I am. I think about how they coped and survived. I wonder how they became so impressively successful in my eyes. I admire them. P and Z are their names.

P was the first man to inspire me to play music. I completely and totally loathed my elementary music directors and suffered their torture with the singular goal of getting to 7th grade and playing for P. Needless to say he passed on tragically the summer before my 7th grade year. But I'll never forget his excitement and the way my older sisters adored the man.
His replacement, Z, was my director for the next 12.5 years in various settings. He was the only educator to ever give me a detention. But he also taught through thick and thin. I remember the pain the band felt when two of our own died in car crashes, and the support he gave my sister and I through our own excruciating childhood.

I don't know the answers yet.

But I do know I see flashes in the eyes of the kids I teach. I saw them today for the first time in weeks. I cannot describe what these flashes are, some awkward combination of hope, joy, passion, excitement,... But when I see them I don't doubt why I teach. Even when I feel stuck in a rut.

So, yah. Been kinda in the dumps lately.
Wishing I could move my school and all my students closer to civilization.
Wishing I could be a better father, husband, and educator.

But this is right. It just feels like where I need to be for a while. Even though at times it sucks.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Crunch Time, Decisions, Manatees, and the Ironic cause of Exhaustion

I feel like I'm waterboarding kids and getting paid for it... Yet no one complains about the work.
I have marched my students, especially the Middle School band, so persistently that I'm noticing deltoid enhancement in a few <100lb 7th grade trumpet players. Either the 4 foot 4 kid is taking steroids or we've worked hard.
But it shows. None of these kids had ever marched before and during first few weeks when we marched in the confines of the track I found it nearly unbearably embarrassing. But we worked and worked both on our music and our marching and miracles began to appear.
Friday September 30 the MS Band marched in the homecoming parade while the HS kids did their thing. They rocked it. No it wasn't perfect but I felt such overwhelming joy at the skills they had developed and were showing off. You know that one trombone player in every band that can't play work crud and doesn't understand the whole left-right-left-right concept of marching: ya that kid, anyway HE DID IT!!! They got sloppy in their playing after the 5th time through in the parade but we had already passed the main crowd. I was incredibly proud.

That night at the football game the HS band joined us and to say the least they were not focused on doing well. I knew as we got ready in the band room that they weren't ready to do the game. I had students just up and leave the pep band, several got in a fight in the parking lot. Most of the bad behavior was the HS students. The MS kids did their best, but they mostly have 2nd parts to the pep band stuff. To say it shortly: they sucked, badly. Both in behavior and music.
My AD caught me in the 2nd quarter and asked why the band didn't sound as good as it had at previous games and if I would come give a statement to the sheriff on my kids who had been ticketed... All I can say was lack of focus. They know their expectations and have done fine in the past, but by then I had already sent 4 kids home because they couldn't demonstrate appropriate behavior. We called off pep band at halftime (usually they get the 3rd quarter off and come back for the end) and went in to the school where I gave a speech where I nearly screamed and cried in the same sentence. I felt a really odd combination of anger/embarrassment/disappointment. My superintendent and I talk a lot and he says that band directors, more than most teachers, are so vested in the ensemble that when the kids make bad decisions we feel like we failed, when really the kids just made dumb decisions.
Now we face the last 10 days of work prior to our big marching competition. Crunch Time. They've shaped it up again, just homecoming night was a fail. My MS band has out-worked and out-marched the HS, but the HS still can play better. Hopefully it'll average out come Saturday Oct. 15th.

We have had repeated issues with a lack of instruments. My HS Band has 18, MS has 29, 6th has 26, and 5th has 22. Thats what, 85 band kids in a district with 300 students K-12. Massive growth. But maybe a dozen of the students own their own instruments. About 87% qualify for free lunch so we provide their instruments. I ran out long time ago and we're a little too creative in sharing and doubling. I've invested in a lot of disinfectant spray for mouthpieces and the admin, against my recommendation, purchased a few $99 chinese flutes/clarinets that are JUNK. But whatev'. So logically I've been applying for grants, haven't succeeded yet, but I'm not quitting. Thus my big decision... the board and admin have asked me to prepare a proposal of sorts on the standing requirement for all 5-6th graders to be in band. My current inclination is to remove that requirement. I'd rather have a beginning band of 10-15 kids who give a flying crap about band than deal with the circus of 8 drummers who refused to play anything but drums because they didn't want to be in band in the first place. Still facing that decision though.

I do have a lovely mentor that the district assigned to me. They try to give you a mentor from a similar subject, but the choir teacher doesn't give off that mentor vibe. So my mentor is the MS Science teacher. Random, I know. But she is great. She's observed me a time or two and I've always left our meetings a little more prepared and motivated. She stinks at spelling and emailed me once by saying that I was her manatee. I find it funny. Manatee, he he he.

Finally, today I nearly was late to school. My 1st period class was in the room when I arrived literally with one minute to spare. I was embarrassed. But here is the thing. My nightly routine is this:
     8pm-ish Put Lydia and myself to bed
     11pm Quiet, feed, change and put Lydia back to bed then myself
     5am Quiet feed change and put Lydia back to bed and clean up the house and get ready for work. I don't go back to sleep.
Last night Lydia slept through. She didn't wake at 5, or 6, or 7. I woke up in a panic at 7:50 wondering if  my kid was dead. She was happily asleep, but I was late for work. I re-hit the internal PANIC switch and clambored my way to school. Apparently my child is no longer a natural alarm clock. I think it is ironic that I had a full nights sleep but because of no breakfast, no prep time, etc I feel brutally exhausted. Epic fail.
And thats the story from Franklin where all the women and strong, the men are harvesting, and the children... don't get me started on the children.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I know, I know, Its been a while...

School blew into session hiding in the dust left behind by the birth of my first child and moving to a new home. Someday soon I'll breathe again.

Lydia was born August 10th after a long day. Karin survived hours of labor only to receive a last minute c-section. But all went well. We went home on the 13th and found that my gracious mother-in-law had done most of the unpacking. A blessing considering we had been in the new home about 4 days. That next monday, the 15th, I went to school and began it all again.

This semester has been a blast. I'm working and seeing the beginning signs of improvement in the program. I doubled the high school band, added about 5 to middle school, and had both 5th and 6th grade bands up and running with instruments within 2 weeks of school starting. I have some quirks that make my own life harder though:
First, I do everything in my power to help students learn to practice. I re-do the 5th and 6th grade practice sheets every tuesday to correspond with that week's lessons. It takes a lot more planning and curriculum-wide vision, but the practice sheets are designed to help them through the practicing process and push them toward the mutual goals we set the first week of school.
Secondly, I'm a blue. I'm a relationship oriented teacher and my personality tends toward creativity and not organization. I've known for quite a while, and set goals and plans in place, that I would struggle with organization, structure, and discipline. My paranoia over such has led to a multitude of file folders and lists and schedules.... My school does not require me to turn in lesson plans, but I do them in a short hand form to keep myself in track. I struggle with disciplining students and have a few class clowns who abuse that, especially in the 6th and 7th grade. I struggle with the immediacy factor in discipline because for minor-medium type infractions, such as disturbing class by talking, I have them write their name on a sheet along with an acknowledgment of their misbehavior and loss of a point in their daily grade. I don't think they get it. The daily grade goes in the grade book at 10pts a week or 2 per class. This is the majority of their grade and I have at least a dozen kids with F's and D's in band because they repeatedly disturb class in minor ways. This week I am going to begin making some phone calls, its still early and grades will change a lot. But I'm nearing exhaustion in my attempts to create a learning environment. Oddly enough, the 5th, 8th, and High School bands have the same grading system and have lost very few points and behave fine. There is something about 6th and 7th grade.
Add on to that the fact that I do not have enough instruments. I am using everything the school owns except a nearly destroyed baritone, a nearly destroyed horn, a bari sax, a junker bassoon, and a marching snare or two without heads or harnesses.  I have students sharing horns and cleaning them each class. The school decided, against my best advice, to order a few no-name brand flutes and clarinets which won't be here for at least another month.
So I've applied for a few grants. Please let something work...
OK gotta go.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Summer and Young Adulthood "Auld Lang Syne"

I haven't blogged in a while. Don't interpret that as nothing happening though.

This week I finished the summer lessons I offered. My students were inconsistent in actually showing up, but I did teach some 34 private lessons. While many students are well-intentioned this one-on-one setting solidified my opinion that way too many students are significantly behind where they should be. A combination of community values, lackadaisical goals and standards, combined with a student population who are expected to work on the family farm or ranch after school has led to poor musicianship.
I do not claim to (yet) be a guru in my field. I am the peon hired on by the pawns. Yet, for example, I believe (as the teacher's edition states) that Standard of Excellence Book 1 should be completed by the end the first year. If my curriculum, as set up with my administration, works as intended then this years 5th graders will pass the 6th graders in January or February. 

My classroom is slowly coming together. My Wenger Music Storage System cabinets are not yet in due to a local severe lack in masonry bits to drill the bolt holes in the wall. It is also due to our Driver's Ed class happening in my room for the past two weeks. Limited access has slowed my work tremendously, so I've been working from home a lot. However, working from home means my files don't automatically update to the server like they do at school. Thus when I returned my laptop to my room on tuesday and found it MIA on thursday morning I was frustrated beyond belief. Turns out some Driver's Ed hooligan stole my school computer from the classroom. It was returned after the superintendent and sheriff participated in what was probably a frustrating extra-lesson in the class. But the laptop appears to have been wiped clean. I haven't backed up very recently, it's been at least 2-3 weeks. So this is an epic loss. The only shenanigins pulled on my laptop were deleting everything I had and downloading a bunch of pictures, mostly of that Disney actress "Victoria." LAME!!!

My wife is in her 40th week of pregnancy and is as miserable as can be in this wretched heat. Any day would be nice!!!! Ok, not completely. Last saturday our landlord showed up, he lives in Arizona so this was big. Short version: They sold our house. It's been on and off the market for about 7 years so we didn't expect it to sell quite that quickly. But we've also done an inordinate amount of work and the place looks significantly better. However now we have to be out by August 24th. I took this job in March so I wouldn't have to move, start a new job, and have a kid all at the same time. However, in the next 3 weeks I will move, start my true first year of teaching, have my first child born, and redo at least 2 weeks of work because some kid was an idiot.

When I get stressed their are two physiological symptoms or signs of my stress. One is a slight tremor on the lower half of my left eye. No one can see it but I feel it kind of shaking. Doctors tell me it is a sign of exhaustion. The other symptom is more of a habit. I tend to run my fingers into my hair from the front, causing the foward part of my hair to stand on end. It looks really classy?!?! 

On monday, prior to the theft, I was able to check my PowerTeacher and see who actually registered for band. The HS Band is at 15 students, up from 8 when I arrived. The MS Band is actually about the same as last year (20ish). However, there are almost 10 students in MS who took lessons this summer but don't show up as being registered. I am hoping that was a mistake or an oversight and that they will change their schedule to be in band. 
I know it isn't really about the numbers. I fight between thinking about numbers-based program improvement and quality-based improvement. My superiors want numbers so I can't ignore that job stipulation, but if the band sucks.... I took a handful of students up to the UNK Sounds of Summer flag and drumline camp and, honestly, I was embarrassed at my students, not their behavior at the camp, but their musicianship and work ethic were atrocious. 

The honeymoon stage of this job is nearing it's end. I feel like trying to make the band grow is like kicking against the pricks. While in front of the students I find myself feeling hopefull, excited, and I feel like we make progress. But at night, while I'm packing up to move, searching for a home, or trying to make up lost work on my computer it is then I realize that:
I'm an adult now, a soon-to-be parent.
That my parents were right about a lot of things but that they aren't perfect.
That my ideal band is unattainable.
That I will always be poor.

Yet I wouldn't trade this for the world!!!! 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Band Camps and other Opportunities

I've taken a break from painting the school for the past 10 days or so to go to a convention, host my own band camp, and take my students to a few other camps.
I spent three days at the New World Inn in Columbus, NE for the Nebraska State Bandmasters Association  Summer workshop/conference (hereafter called NSBA). I have been to NSBA conventions and workshops for 4 years now and things really "clicked" this time. I guess having a little teaching under your belt changes perspective. I always learned a little at NSBA, but this time I was devouring the information. I have soo many ideas and new tools to use when my classroom opens up in just a few weeks. I can't imagine that the NSBA was that much better this year, it must be me who has changed. I felt really refreshed and rejuvenated for teaching.
On Tuesday I hosted my own band camp. I'm told it's been 7-10 years since they had a summer band camp. It was only a 9-4 event on just the one day, but I felt we got a lot done. NSBA definitely helped. I had roughly 23 students show up, which isn't great, but the parent volunteers said that was significantly more than would've come in previous years. Here is my short review...
Biggest successes:
1. Making marching less tedious with activities, games and goals.
2. Setting a standard for those who didn't come to camp.
3. Really building unity and getting to know the kids.
Biggest flaws:
1. Forgetting a camera. The local paper would've loved pictures and so would have I.
2. Trying to plan too much myself. I should rely more on the band parents and community.
3. Communicating the need to wear tennis shoes for marching not flip-flops.

Overall I consider it a success.

At NSBA the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA) gave a training on how to appropriately use facebook (and other social media) for teachers of band programs. I created a separate professional profile and a band page for the kids to "like."  I feel kind of weird having my students befriend my blank professional profile despite the fact that I have already had an increase in parent-teacher communication with this tool.

Several of my kids are now at a drumline/flagget camp at UNK in Kearney. I'm going back up tonight to see their final performance and drive them back into Franklin.

Their performance abilities are still, um, below average. But their work ethics and attitudes have improved amazingly.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer School Vol. 2

I miss my band!
Ok, now that I have that out of the way.

I've been working as much as possible to prepare for the fall. These students have nearly no experience, especially with marching. I'm researching mottos, chants, and anything fun and motivational. I've spent hours and hours reading through games and motivational teaching methods. I've also been teaching summer lessons to a few kids. Hopefully this all works out to be helpful.
This weekend I have spoken to a few parents about the program. They say the kids enjoy me teaching, but that they aren't really excited because they are starting to realize that the success we've discussed won't come without hard work.
I've thought a lot about doing a lesson on a motto. Pius always said in unison "With one, as one, for one" at the end of rehearsals. The meanings of this are somewhat specific given the catholic school environment. But I'm thinking that might also work in the public schools, but I need to decide on how I'd like to approach the meaning of the statement.
I also know a school that says "Every note, every step, every member, every time." 
I don't know what to do. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. I specifically want a motto/chant that they can literally say together to promote unity and hard work. Those of you who read this. Let me know what you have done in the past please.

I am also going to run an idea by my leadership in the fall: I'd like to let the local and very active Chamber of Commerce know that we could put together something for business openings or community activities.

I'm also planning a community pep band for football season, maybe homecoming, maybe not. I can't help but invite community members to play a piece or two at the christmas concert. There are TONS of adults around here who have told me they still have that trumpflutsaxinet laying around and would love to play again.

Ugh. I want school to start again.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer School

This summer I am not teaching, but I have several band camps, my own band camp, lessons, and a job painting for the school. Plus the garden and the seemingly endless honey-do list.
So I was walking home from school the other day and feeling helpless about getting the program where I'd like it. It just seems so far off in the future.
Then it hit me. My band is off balance, but it is actually bottom heavy. I have between 95% and 100% retention for the fall. Finally, although the HS band is tough, the MS band often has that certain glint in their eyes that lets me know they're "getting it." They read the movements of my baton and react, albeit reactive acting. I have a band. That long-term goal to actually have a band room and students to teach.
I'm pretty lucky.
I dropped a student off at the Nebraska Masonic All-Star Marching Band Camp at UNL and ran into a number of classmates from college. The conversation went something like this:

Classmate: What are you doing here?
Me: I brought one of my kids to camp.
Classmate: Isn't your baby due in August? She's a little young for band camp!
Me: No, a student of mine.
Classmate: Oh, so you have a studio now.
Me: No, I'm a band director now. I got the BME remember.
Classmate: Whoa, wait. You're like a teacher? But you just graduated.
Me: Yep, in Franklin. It's like an hour south of Kearney.
Classmate: How is the band.
Me: Well....blah blah blah etc.

It's so cool to be counted among the band teachers. I just hope I am a good one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

End of year movement

I haven't technically been here a year. But the end of this school year means massive changes to the music rooms. 
For several years now the "Choir room" has been used as storage and office space, because one teacher taught all the music classes in the band room. Next fall, with band and choir separate we cannot use the same room. Plus there is to be some re-carpeting and painting in the band room this summer. My students and I have logged many hours cleaning and moving out everything so that they can re-carpet and paint. When the carpet is done they will install my Wegner sheet music storage unit, build me a bunch more shelving units, and then i will do instrument inventory and sheet music inventory as I move it all back into the band room. I really have my work cut out for me this summer.

This is the band room right now. There are a few personal instruments to be taken home today.
There are also a few items which will be taken to the trash and a nice cabinet 
that will be sold at a school surplus auction next week. I pulled the screen down to hide the HIDEOUS white board, which is being replaced this summer also. In addition they're building me some more shelving units like the ones seen because the program is growing.

This is now the Northwest corner of the choir room. Stacked in that pile are 8 horns, 7 trombones,
11 trumpets, 5 alto saxes, 1 tenor sax, 2 bari saxes, 5 baritones, 3 tubas, lots of drums, and a Piano.
I tried to stack it out of the way as much as possible. 
But the poor choir teacher has me invading her space. 

The Southwest corner of the choir room. Containing marching snares, and trumpets, clarinets, 
bass clarinets, lots of drum stands. The robes and uniforms have been taken to the cleaners.
The filing cabinets will be replaced by the Wegner Music Storage units which are in 
the gigantic cardboard boxes. The only thing in this picture staying in the choir room
for next year is the overhead projector.

For now all I have left to do is move 67 music stands and 54 chairs into the choir room, move the surplus to the bus barn for auction, and throw away the broken stuff. 
Hopefully I can get it all back together before the July 12th band camp. Ugh. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lanky, Mouthy, Tripping-over-your-own-feet Marching Techniques

So I'm finishing the year with marching basics. We went out to the field today and subdivided the marching step (1-e-&-a, 2-e-&-a, etc). The slow motion of dividing up the step helped the high school tremendously. The middle school made massive and impressive improvements.
The 6th grades couldn't walk straight if their life depended on it. They were trying sooo hard for the first 20 minutes but the awkwardness of pubescent youth was whooping them. They were literally tripping over their own feet. After the initial rough time they began to feel helpless and mouthy. I then stopped the marching and did a number of energy-sucking stretching and dancing activities until the smiles returned. We did march a little at the end and they did better.
I forgot how clumsy they are at that age.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Limited Instrumentation

I have spent probably 20 hours this past week beginning a seemingly doomed search for music.

My students really need exposed to classics: the Whitacres, dello Joios, Reeds, Swearingens, Fillmores, Jacobs, Holsts, and Grundmans. They have played way too many Mike Storys and Paul Murthas. Not that Story and Murtha aren't good enough arrangers. But these student's haven't played anything older than maybe 15 years.

The biggest challenge is the limited instrumentation. My high school band in the fall will have doubled and will be more or less 5 clarinets, a bass clarinet, 2 altos, a bari, 2 trumpets, a horn, a trombone, a tuba, and 2 percussionists. Something in the central Nebraska water makes flute undesirable. So I look and look and look. I've found a number of "limited instrumentation" resources with JWPepper and most recently Nevertheless, these are mostly grade 1-2 works. My high school band could handle a 2-3.5 and be more successful. But most everything requires a flute.

So, I'm thinking about having a successful 8th grade flute step up and help. Which, as i understand, would even be acceptable in District Music Contest.
I'm also still trying to find something that fits my instrumentation without bringing middle schoolers into the mix.

On the bright side. I've doubled the band program in High School and the Middle school is looking at 140% growth in the fall. Not a single 6th grader is quitting and only 2 or 3 are quitting before entering 9th grade. So recruitment seems to be successful.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Concert Night

I've only done a few concerts here as a new director but I'm pleased with my band's improvement. They aren't perfect or anything but progress is progress.
The two things I've noticed most so far:
First, directors who stay calm have an amazing power. Directors who literally sweat out every detail in a stressful manner will drive the kids to performance anxiety. I'm proud to say I'm very comfortable in the performance because I work my heine off to have everything prepared in advance.
Second, smiles from the podium are super powerful. The kids both light up and focus more when they glance up and see the smile of confidence. I remember my college director giving me this amazing smile of confidence in a concert several years ago and now I'm noticing it working on my students.
I'm pleased with my kids.
Not necessarily with others though.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday's Stink

I had some pretty intense and interactive lessons today in band about world musics. We focused on the Gamelan. They went great. However, despite only being here for the second half of the second semester I've found an odd connection with the seniors. I have 2 graduating band seniors, both of whom are going in to music education at Midwestern universities. It was surprisingly bitter-sweet class when suddenly, after signing their check-out sheets, I realized I would not get to teach them again. Maybe I'm still really young in the world of teaching. But when you have so few students and you give them your all... parting words are bitter.
It was harder than I thought.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Its funny how much my students complain before and after class, but during class they visually demonstrate interest and participate in the lesson to the fullest degree. It almost seems that students, especially those in middle school, feel they cannot verbalize liking anything for fear of peer judgement.
Most of my students seem to enjoy the effort I put into teaching. I have not yet done a stereotypical band rehearsal where you come in, warm up, and straight up rehearse the music. I always have something, a new listening activity, a new worksheet, a mini music history presentation, new stretches and movements, and occasionally I even perform for my students.
They smile, they laugh, the commit themselves, they work hard, and improve daily. Yet they pretty much all act like they are "too cool" to be in band. Students are a unique species. I love it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Marching 101

Today I introduced my MS and HS bands to marching basics. I had a list of 8 drill commands and combined it with work on posture and carriage.
Apparently they were taught previously to walk to a beat and not actually march. I'm not going to ask for high steppers or anything, but I have a sneaky suspicion these kids can't keep a beat in their feet. I'm going to incorporate foot movements into lessons for the rest of the year.
Next fall I will need to remind myself to pace lessons and involve less tedious tasks in rehearsal. I found myself wondering today if the strictness of a marching band was going to drive the students away. Several blatantly stated they hate marching and it showed in more than just their attitudes. How do I get my students to enjoy marching band? I feel like results are the best motivator, but they haven't seen positive results and won't in the near future. What can I do in the meantime?

In the beginning there was rock, then things began to roll...

I was hired on as a band director starting March 1st, 2011 after a January 20th interview. An odd time to start for sure.
The verbalized rationale: I could get to know the students and be settled.
The under-tone rationale: A small school wants to solidify the job before the market opens up and competition from larger, better-funded, schools began.

I took it.

My High school band was 10 members: 4 Trumpets, Clarinet, Alto Sax, Flute, Bari Sax, Trombone, and a Drummer. Two of which left in the first few weeks because of moving. Now there are 8. A mixed octet with uniforms.
My Middle School band is about 22. There are pretty well balanced, but oddly enough there is a severe lack of trumpets! WTHeck. 
The district also requires all 5th and 6th graders to try band.

The program has really suffered from lack of direction/guidance, lack of performance, and lack of leadership. As a side effect is the lack of membership. The records I've found indicate that less than 10 years ago the HS Band was 54 members strong and was performing at conventions throughout the region. Now they do homecoming and a parade at the town up the road. 

I felt like I was putting on a cheerleading outfit underneath by teacher suit. I had to create the type of group students would WANT to join. Because all students start band I knew that all of the students 7-12 had at one time been in band. I need to bring them back in. I don't know what the answer is exactly, but if I use multiple methods something should work.

I've been here about 2 months now.

We have plenty of community support, above average equipment, decent funding, and a good-enough rehearsal space. 

This blog is the tale of my tiny band. Only time will tell where she takes me.