Commentary

In a recent blog post, the Oxford University Press asked a handful of notable college educators about the most important issues facing music education today. This question is also a common feature in the conversations that form this publication’s cover stories: after all, how better to explore critical survival strategies than to examine a program’s greatest challenges? As educators discuss the evolutions of their programs and the impediments they face, it helps to both present a mosaic of the broader state of music education, as well as illuminate particular and often unique challenges confronting school music programs and their directors.

The answers, like the programs themselves and the personalities of the people that run them, are widely varied.

Read more: Perspective: The Biggest Challenges Facing Music Ed

Commentary

Making a Case for the Bass… Saxophone

The bass saxophone, one of the most unique, multipurpose low woodwinds available, has been off of the radar for most music educators for the last half-century. However, the instrument is making a comeback. It’s time for everyone to learn a bit about the history – and future – of this great instrument.

Read more: Commentary: Bass Saxophone

Performance

First steps for beginning students

 

Teaching students to play the clarinet is often both rewarding and challenging. A student’s natural enthusiasm when beginning a musical instrument is hard to match. During the first few weeks, students are introduced to embouchure, breath support, and playing their first notes on the clarinet. Some students pick up each new fundamental easily, while others require additional help. Young students are especially flexible in the beginning, allowing instruction that is not grasped to be set aside and replaced with methods that produce better results. If possible, consider meeting a beginning class during the summer band program, as this allows for working with separate instruments and individuals.

Read more: Performance: Clarinet Class

Features

Concert bands and chamber groups drive Mountain Ridge High School’s comprehensive band program

 

If the performance opportunities offered to students are an indicator of a school music program’s vitality, George Hattendorf’s Mountain Ridge High School band program in Glendale, Arizona is positively thriving. Over the past decade, Hattendorf has overseen the development of an array of extracurricular, chamber-style ensembles that augment the Mountain Ridge concert and marching bands in what he describes as a “win-win” situation. “The kids are able to utilize a number of their skill sets from their concert band experience in the small groups,” he reasons, “and they’re also able to take skills that they learn in the chamber aspect and bring it back to the larger group.”

Read more: UpClose: George Hattendorf

Commentary

Paradigm Shifts and Parents’ Roles

Every once in a while we need a good dose of mother nature to wake us up and make us realize what is truly important. I have had many such moments throughout my life. Each time I experience one, it forces me to get out of the rut of my daily existence. It drives me to take a good hard look at the things that matter – and I mean really matter.

It is so easy to get caught up in our work and our lives. Too often we end up obsessing over little things, things that we believe are important for us to do our jobs well, things that allow us to get through the day and to (supposedly) live our lives. But too often these things don’t really matter.

Read more: MAC Corner: Parents' Roles

Technology

Hardware & software kits for school music educators

The term “Digital Audio Workstation” (DAW) refers to an electronic setup for recording, editing, and producing audio files. You might think of it as a complete recording studio connected to a computer or tablet. These workstations often bundle hardware with software that may have a published curriculum including lesson plans designed to work right out of the box. Here’s what a basic DAW might include:

  • DAW Software (Magix Music Maker, Studio One, Pro Tools, Logic, and so on)
  • Notation Software (such as Notion, Sibelius, Finale, or Encore)
  • Audio Interface (AudioBox USB, M-Box, MicU Solo, Scarlett)

    Read more: Technology: DAW Bundles

Features

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

Performance

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

Technology

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

Performance

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


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