Cultivating Grit and Stoutheartedness

Significant achievements rarely happen without significant investment. While this may be particularly obvious within the music education community, where it’s a given that quality performance doesn’t happen without an investment in time, energy, focus, and commitment, a team of educators in Springdale, Arkansas has taken the concept of investment to a whole new level.

Michael Echols and Christopher Moore are the band directors at George Junior High School, a school with some 620 eighth and ninth graders, about 500 of whom participate in the school’s music offerings. Over the past decade or so, the vibrant population in Springdale that feeds George Junior High and nearby Kelly Middle School has been struggling economically. Some parents have been put out of work, and with the many newcomers to this country in the area, – GJHS hosts a program for students arriving in the U.S. for the first time –  others did not have the standard credit cards, bank accounts, or social security numbers needed to carry on normal business practices.

Eventually, it became evident that students and their families were largely unable to purchase instruments. Faced with watching their program slip through their fingers, Mike and Chris realized that in order to keep the program going, they would have to buy used musical instruments themselves so they could then put them in the hands of their students. Daniel Hodge, the band director at Springdale High School, described their efforts as “literally putting the band program on their backs to allow the students the opportunity to succeed.”

Read more: UpClose: Michael Echols and Chris Moore

Musical instruments or weapons of mass destruction?

A common mistake made by non-percussionist music educators is the relegation of weaker percussion students to the bass drum and cymbal chairs. While it may seem reasonable to assign the “harder” parts to stronger percussion students, in actuality it is the accessory instruments that are often more challenging to play and which provide the important rhythmic backbone of a musical composition. John Phillip Sousa knew this all too well. It was reported that his bass drummer, Gus Helmecke, was the highest paid member of the band! In Sousa’s own words:

“The average layman does not realize the importance of the bass drummer to a band… I sometimes think that no band can be greater than its bass drummer because it is given to him, more than to any person except the director, to reflect the rhythm and spirit of the composition.”

The “March King” knew that nothing could sink a performance quicker and more completely than a bass drummer whose sense of rhythm is poor and to whom time is only a spice.

Read more: Performance: Percussion Accessories

Practice software roundup #2: The Jazz Edition


In my last article, we looked at three software packages used for performance training. These practice aids have advanced assessment options that “listen” to the performer and evaluate for correct pitch and rhythm. While each has its strengths and weaknesses, they all could find a place in the student’s toolkit of practice aids.

SmartMusic, the most full-featured of the three, provides an ever-growing library of titles of both solo and ensemble music as well as a cloud-based grade book solution for the teacher. The cost, while not outrageous, is a subscription model that the student would need to pay every year in order to gain access to the SmartMusic library.

Read more: Technology: Rehearsal Software II

Insights on Dealing with Braces


When I was in the second grade, I had an accident that knocked out a top front tooth and chipped the corner of the tooth beside it. Over the years, the gap closed up somewhat, shifting inward, but it was still quite noticeable. I also had a tooth on the lower set that protruded out in front of the other teeth. This may have been my biggest obstacle to playing trombone.

Read more: Performance: Embouchure

Organizing an Honor Band

Honor bands are a rewarding experience for students, clinicians, teachers, and families. They represent an opportunity for motivated students to come together and create something special in a short amount of time. During the honor band experience, learning occurs in several ways: students learn from each other, students learn from a section coach, students experience a new director, and students perform new music.

When getting a brand new honor band off the ground, there are a lot of details to consider. Each situation is unique, but let’s consider the three main phases in the organizational process: preparation, the day of, and wrap-up.

Read more: Guest Editorial: Honor Bands

World-class musicians and technology converge to support music education

What if it were possible to bring together the greatest classical musicians to perform and record the masterpieces of classical music? What if these world-class musicians could exploit new technologies to bring these great works to new audiences? What if these same musicians were to become musical guides, mentors, and teachers for a new generation of musicians, enthusiasts, and advocates? And what if one of the great conductors of our time were to lead the way?

Well that is exactly what has happened as a result of the vision and passion of the legendary Maestro Gerard Schwarz with the creation of the All-Star Orchestra, a modern variation of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts on CBS. This time, they are not just for the young, and new technologies unleash the power to benefit from these first-rate musicians in your own music room.

Read more: From the Trenches: All-Star Orchestra

So, how’s that national conversation about the impact of music education going?

If Internet search results are any indication, there may be sunny days ahead for music advocates, teachers, and directors, even those whose school programs are under siege by budget-focused administrators looking to wield the proverbial axe.

A recent search for “music education” in Google’s “News” search bar yielded the following headlines:

Study: Music Education Could Help Close The Achievement Gap ... (Huffington Post-Sep 2, 2014)

Read more: Perspective: Advocacy Ammo Incoming

Winter Guard International (WGI) is well known for hosting a series of competitive performance opportunities for winter guard and percussion groups. After years of brainstorming and deliberation, the organization has decided to expand their offerings, opening up a third branch of activity called “WGI Winds.”

“WGI Winds is something that we had been considering for a long time,” says Bart Woodley, director of operations for WGI. “We finally just decided that it was time to do it. We wanted to throw it out there and see if it was something that people were interested in.”

The new program will be run by Wayne Markworth, an active adjudicator and clinician who was also the director of bands at Ohio’s Centerville High School for 35 years. “In November of last year a committee was formed,” says Markworth. “We met in Indianapolis around Bands of America Grand Nationals weekend. Throughout the winter, that committee formulated the rules, regulations, judging sheets, and just about everything else about it.”

Read more: UpFront: WGI Winds

For the 17th consecutive year, SBO is gathering names for its annual Directors Who Make a Difference report. Do you know an outstanding K-12 music educator who is making a big impact in his or her school and community? Perhaps a longtime director or instructor who deserves a little bit of extra recognition for dedication to the craft of music making and inspiration for generations of students? Maybe your mentor, or a colleague who inspires you? SBO wants to hear about these outstanding educators. Share their story here


The CMA Foundation’s donation to Education Through Music will benefit music education programs in NYC public schools

Sarah Trahern, CMA CEO; Darius Rucker; Peter Pauliks, Education Through Music director of programs; Katherine Damkohler, Education Through Music executive director; performing artists Little Big Town. The CMA Foundation has donated $125,000 to benefit music education programs for New York City’s public school students through a partnership with Education Through Music, a nonprofit provider of music education to New York City schools. 

The presentation of the grant was made Wednesday, September 4 during a press conference at the Best Buy Theater in New York to announce the final nominees for the 48th annual CMA Awards.

Read more: CMA Foundation Donates $125K to Music Ed

On the Road

Do you have a story to tell about taking your school music groups on the road? SBO wants to hear about it!

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Directors who make a Difference

Do you know a fantastic K-12 instrumental music educator who is deserving of recognition in SBO?

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and tell us why he or she should be featured in SBO’s annual "Directors Who Make a Difference" report.

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