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Leon Sieve, Steve Olsen, and Bojan Hoover: “Working Towards Excellence”

Rosemount High School, located in suburban Minneapolis, has a long-standing tradition of musical excellence.  Located in one of the larger school districts in the state of Minnesota, which includes four high schools with about 2,000 students in each, Rosemount was at one point the only school in the area. As the town and district grew, it was split into two high schools of approximately even size.  Years later, Rosemount was split again, and then again, until there were four high schools, all spawned by the one original institution.  The last split, which occurred in 1997, had a particularly traumatic effect on the music department, as many of the resources and band personnel were moved to the new school, while Rosemount High School was left to rebuild.

And rebuild they have. Under the guidance of Steve Olsen, band director and music/dance/art department coordinator, along with fellow band director Leon Sieve and a recently hired third director, Bojan (“Bo”) Hoover, the performing arts at Rosemount are once again on par with those at other top public schools in the state of Minnesota. With the help of administration and a supportive community, approximately 60 percent of the student body now participates in band, choir, dance, and theatre, a figure in which Steve Olsen take particular pride.

Rosemount’s plethora of highly successful instrumental ensembles (which include six concert bands, a five-time state champion marching band, as well as jazz and chamber groups), are divvied up evenly between the three band directors, who frequently work together, even team-directing the marching band. In addition, the school also hosts an annual marching band festival every year, as it has continuously since 1989. Until several years ago, the Rosemount band festival was even considered the unofficial state marching band championship, as it was the last festival of the season and typically attracted many of the best bands in the region.

To learn more about this vibrant music community and the formula to their success, SBO recently caught up with Steve, Leon, and Bo, who credit their accomplishments to dedication, teamwork, and the selling of a vision for the music program to students, parents, and administrators. The three band directors also pooled their years of experience to share some tips on festivals, including preparing students for performance, selecting events to attend, and even some organizational sticking points of hosting a music festival.

School Band & Orchestra: Let’s dive right in and talk about the evolution of the music program since the last high school split off from Rosemount in 1997. How have you approached the rebuilding process?

Rosemount Band: After the split in 1997, Rosemount was left with only a tiny little band program. At that point, there were about 130 kids involved, split into two bands, and a tiny marching band that didn’t have much success at competitions. Prior to that, Rosemount had had a great history of music. Well, the new school that split off followed in that tradition, and this school was left having to rebuild. So that’s what we’ve been doing, and now we’re up to 400 students in the band program. We’ve done well in competitions, both locally and nationally, and we also really believe that our program is not centered on one ensemble, which can be a weakness in some schools.

 

Rosemount High School Bands at a Glance

 

 

 

  • Location: 3335 142nd Street West, Rosemount, MN
  • On the Web: www.rosemountband.com
  • Students in School: 2,056
  • Students in band program: 401
  • Band Directors: Steve Olsen, Leon Sieve, Bo Hoover

 

 

Ensembles and students in each:

  • Concert Band Blue: 74
  • Concert Band Gold: 80
  • Varsity Band: 71
  • Symphonic Band: 69
  • Wind Symphony: 54
  • Wind Ensemble: 53
  • Marching Band: 178
  • Fall Color Guard: 30
  • Winterguard: 13
  • Four Jazz Ensembles: 84 (total)

Recent Accolades & Notable Events

  • 6-time Bands Of America Super-Regional Finalist
  • 2010 Bands Of America St. Louis Super-Regional AAA Class Champion, and AAA Outstanding General Effect & Outstanding Visual Awards
  • 5-time Minnesota State Champion Marching Band
  • Jazz Ensemble 1 selected to participate in day-long clinic with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
  • Many students selected for area College/University High School Honor Bands
  • 7 students selected for 2011 Minnesota Music Educator’s All-State Band and Orchestra
  • March 2010 – Performance tour to Honolulu, Hawaii
  • March 2007 – Performance tour to Beijing & Shanghai, China

 

 

At our school, we want all of our kids in every ensemble to have a quality experience that meets them where they are at, challenges them with high expectations, and challenges them to meet their potential. We think that every kid in every one of our ensembles is going to get that experience.

 

SBO: Can you tell me about what it takes to get from 140 kids up to over 400? What steps did you take to foster that growth?

RB: A big part of that was an organized effort with administration in the high school. The instrumental music band directors at the elementary and the middle school levels work together as a team to establish what might be called the “articulation of our curriculum,” in terms of exactly what the kids are being taught and when. We start at fifth grade here, so that discussion builds continuity all the way through high school.

The other major factor is working closely with parents to develop support for our program. We make a big point of meeting the kids where they are at, challenging them, and trying to make it fun along the way.

Other factors that we think are important are having long-term goals, having a leadership program in place with student leaders who get what our vision is and what we’re trying to do, and then working in tandem with all of the constituency of people – administrators, parents, fellow band directors at every different level.

SBO: Where do you start with a project like that?

RB: It starts each day in the classroom. It starts by selling that vision that this is going to be a quality experience, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be challenging, but in the end, it’s all going to be worth it. That’s what we hear in the end from our seniors: they worked hard, they are proud of what they’ve accomplished, and it’s worth it. Many of them go on to play their instruments beyond high school, and that makes us especially proud.

SBO: What do you hope these kids walk away with after their time with you?

RB: Hopefully, their experience has given them a love of music and a love of music making. Also, learning what it is to work cooperatively with other people. We set high expectations and goals, and achieve some and maybe not others, but we’re always working towards excellence. Enjoy the process along the way, while learning how to get along with a diverse group of people.

The team of teachers we have in place, we each have our own unique skills and aptitudes that we bring to the program, and it’s the same with our student leaders. We talk a lot about this; they have a responsibility to utilize their strengths towards our vision and our goals. Some of them are great musical ideals and goals, and some of them have nothing to do with music.

SBO: Talk about the teaching dynamic between the three of you. How do you divide up the course load?

RB: What’s interesting about our situation is that Steve is in his 30th year of teaching, Leon is in his 18th year of his career and Bo is a new teacher. So we have representation across all different levels of the career spectrum of a band director.

Utilizing our strengths, we have a brass specialist, a woodwind specialist, and a percussion specialist. We divide up the lessons primarily through that way, and then with the bands, we have six concert bands, so we each take two of them. There’s a primary conductor for each concert band, but then we’ll have days where we’ll do sectionals, and Steve will take all the brass, Leon will take all the woodwinds, and Bo will take all the percussionists. When we are with our own ensembles, we have a very similar routine during class time. We also listen to each other’s groups, give each other feedback and help each other. It’s a very team-oriented approach.

 

On Deck: Music from the most recent Rosemount Wind Ensemble performance:

 

  • “Suite from MASS”  – Leonard Bernstein, arr. Michael Sweeney (Hal Leonard)
  • “Villanelle” – Paul Dukas, arr. Donald Miller (Edwin F. Kalmus)
  • “Emmanuel” – Michael Colombier, trans. Mark Scatterday (manuscript)
  • “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” – Richard Wagner, trans. Lucien Cailliet (Alfred)

 

  • “Festive Overture” – Dimitri Shostakovich, arr. Donald Hunsberger (Hal Leonard)

 

SBO: I’d be remiss if I don’t bring up the topic of funding. How is your program holding up?

 

RB: Certainly funding is an issue with us, just like everyone else. Fortunately, we’re doing okay. We are finding that we are relying more and more on fundraising for some things that previously may have been funded by the district. In general, though, I would say that we’re pretty healthy. We’re just hoping to hang on. A big part of it is that we feel we do a really good job of educating our parents – who are the stakeholders in the program – in terms of understanding the value of the education their children receive in instrumental music. We also make it clear how they can play a key role in supporting the program and their children.

SBO: Specifically, what do you do to get this message across to parents?

RB: Before every concert we play, we present a brief power point presentation with some facts and statistics that function as music advocacy about our band program and music education to inform them of what’s going on. We include some great research about the value of students participating in music and the performing arts that we’ve received from national music education organizations, as well as some information about audience etiquette. We receive a lot of good feedback about the pre-concert slide show from both parents and students.

We also send out a lot of emails. We have an email list to which we send out announcements, and we also include some music advocacy items mixed in there. We try to work with members of our local media – the town newspaper and so on – to celebrate the great achievements of our students, both in band and academics. We celebrate academic success in our school, and it turns out that almost all of the students who are recognized for scholastic achievement happen to be band members and/or performing arts members. The valedictorian of every senior class is a band member, and we try to make that known as much as we can.

We also have an extensive website that is continuously updated and used to communicate with the parents and the community. In fact, our website also attracts people to our program. We currently have four families that are in the process of relocating here specifically so their children can participate in our band program.

 

SBO: Looking at the bigger picture, where would you like the band program to be in the next five or ten years?

RB: First of all, we need to work hard just to keep what we have going right now. While a lot of news sources talk about recovery, in education, we’re about two years behind. So honestly, we’re proud of what’s going on right now and we just hope to maintain it and keep the infrastructure in place. While it may be easy to cut programs back, it takes years to rebuild once those cuts are made and the program suffers.

In the future, we also hope to have more competitive success on the national stage, while also expanding opportunities for our students through travel and participation in other special events.

SBO: Speaking of events, let’s talk about the Rosemount Band Festival.

RB: Our festival, one of the older ones in the state, having been around for 22 years now, used to be the unofficial state championship in Minnesota. We used to schedule it so that it was the last festival of the season, and everyone in the region would come to perform or watch other bands. And when the placements came out, the winner was considered the unofficial state champions. However, we have an aging dome stadium in town, the Metrodome, and five or six years ago, a non-profit organization was founded to put on a state high school marching band championship there. Since that happened, we have made some changes to our festival.

Our focus has totally changed now. We have our festival early in the season, and rather than a championship, it is now all about getting the bands that participate feedback that can help them enhance and improve their shows as the season moves on. We try to find clinicians who are great at giving lots of feedback and really understand what’s going on from an educational perspective.

We still continue to get all of the top bands to come. Part of our success with that comes from bringing in really terrific educator adjudicators. We look for people who really understand what we’re doing as teachers first and as adjudicators second. We’ve had some great people from around the country come and work with us.

SBO: Hosting a band festival for so many years must have given you some insight into the key ingredients for running a successful event. What have you learned about how to make everything run smoothly, create intrinsic value that will draw in the performers, be entertaining for the spectators, and maintain financially viability for your school?

RB: It has to be meaningful for the performers – the kids. We always ask ourselves whether or not the other bands that will be at a festival we’re considering will be inspiring for our kids. One of the key ingredients to a successful festival on both sides – whether visiting or hosting – is attracting the kinds of groups that will be inspiring to their peers. The other thing that helps attract those kinds of groups is level of adjudicators that you hire, as well as the educational component – doing clinics and that sort of thing.

For our kids, if they know that they’re going to see clinicians and adjudicators and that they will receive comprehensive feedback, that makes the whole experience much more meaningful to them. It’s not just about the score. We’re not that interested in that. We’re much more interested in affirmation about things the students have done well, but also constructive criticism in areas that need work, so the kids and the ensemble can continue to grow and improve, as an ensemble, individual performers and musicians, and people.

The venue is also a critical element. A field in good condition makes a big difference. Organization is also a huge part of it. We’ve all been to festivals that are not well organized, and that can be a miserable experience for everyone. It’s important to have a parent group on board that’s organized and friendly.

As far as timing goes, it’s critical to find the right date, to make sure you aren’t competing with other festivals. We’ve tried a few different weekends in the past, and last year we settled on some dates that collaborate with another festival in our district, setting it up so that groups could participate in both events on the same day. That’s especially useful for groups that come from out of town and have some distance to travel, we do an afternoon show, provide clinics that are interested, and then there’s an evening show at our neighboring school. We make it work so that student groups can participate in as many area activities as they want to, and that works out really well.

SBO: What are the critical sticking points of the organizational process?

RB: Certainly, everything needs to run on time. Also, it’s important that there’s a good video made of the performance. The first thing that the kids want to do after we’ve had a weekend of performing is sit down and watch their performance to see how they did. It’s important that the host provide the participating bands with the option to make a good video like that.

Other factors to consider: It’s good to have food available. Thinking about trying to get parents to come, there are a lot of opportunities to go to these things, so you want to try to make your show special and unique somehow. One of the aspects of our festival that sets it apart is our announcer who has a real personality and has a lot of fun with the crowd. He has a wireless mic and he’ll go out in the audience during a break and do really fun things with the crowd. We have parents that come to our shows even after their kids are long gone because they love the announcer and the pageantry of how we put the show together. Our field and setting are beautiful – our stadium is kind of like a little bowl with all of these trees around it – so we really try to sell everyone on all of these other kinds of elements that make our show unique and different. You have to do that if you are trying to make your show successful. It’s not enough to just have a bunch of bands play.

Another factor that helps draw crowds is keeping the price low.

SBO: Have you noticed any general trends in festivals over the past few years?

RB: We’ve seen an increase in the utilization of a positive, education-based adjudication system, such as the one used by Bands of America. They employ an “earned credit” system (in contrast to the traditional “tick system” where mistakes are noted and subtracted from a score), with meaningful rubrics that are very instructional and informative to the student performers.

Another way in which festivals are changing comes with technology. With the use of YouTube, Fan Network, Facebook, and other social media networks, there is a growing awareness of high quality band performances across all genres of musical styles and instrumental ensembles (concert band, marching band, jazz, solo performances, etc.). Students and teachers are inspired and educated by viewing performances on these networks as well as “how to” instructional videos and a wealth of other helpful resources.

SBO: Do you have any tips for band directors who are planning to bring their students to a festival?

RB: It’s always critical to research the background information about the clinicians/adjudicators. If there is a clinic, make sure the pace of the clinic allows for some time near the end when the students can ask questions and interact with the clinicians.

It’s also important to be open-minded about the feedback you receive. Listening critically to the comments of the clinician, asking questions, being open to “corrections” and/or constructive criticism of the clinicians will make for a more productive festival experience.

Band directors should definitely take a moment to teach audience etiquette, for both students and parents, reminding all to represent themselves in a respectful, dignified, and professional manner. Especially noting the importance of being quiet during performances, and applauding appropriately at the correct times for all performances they witness.

It can be useful to give students (and parents) a schedule listing high quality bands that you recommend for them to observe perform. Further, ask them to note elements of the performance they especially enjoyed or found memorable and why. That little exercise can help keep them focused throughout each of the performances.

And finally: Leave the cell phones at home!

 



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