We’ll never survive!” exclaims Buttercup in the light-hearted fairy tale classic, The Princess Bride, when she learns that she is about to enter the dreaded Fire Swamp. Unperturbed, Westley, her hero, glibly replies, “Nonsense! You’re only saying that because no one has.”

Although arts education may at times feel as perilous as William Golding’s Fire Swamp, where plumes of flame erupt with little warning and eviscerate anything in their path, every year countless daring teachers successfully navigate the seemingly endless array of pitfalls that can threaten to derail their curricular offerings. Still, funding, administrative and parental support, scheduling, and the many other logistical and bureaucratic details music educators face can be formidable challenges. When the outcome looks bleak or a particular problem persists, a bit of solid advice and know-how just might prove to be the difference between survival and, well, the less pleasant alternative.

Read more: Perspective: A Better Tomorrow


"This is the year that I’m going to…”

How many times have we said this to ourselves? At the beginning of each school year? At the beginning of each new year? Making these kinds of resolutions is part of what we do so that we can continue to grow as music educators, as well as to help our students grow not only as music-makers, but also as leaders. What is on deck for this new year? Here are a few items that you might consider for the 2014-15 school year.

Read more: MAC Corner: Goal Setting


Practice Software Roundup #1


"Practice makes perfect!" That’s what my fourth-grade band director said as I struggled to play a BH major scale on my trombone. Practicing was boring – and quite frankly, the only thing I wanted to do was play the glissando at the end of the song. Now that was fun! But practice I did. In between weekly lessons, I diligently went through the scales, exercises, and songs from the Rubank Method book each day, never really sure if I was doing anything correctly because I was too wrapped up in the process of playing; holding the horn, moving the slide, breathing, embouchure, and so on. This was way too much for a fourth grader to be thinking about, let alone evaluating what was coming out at the end of the bell.

Wouldn’t it have been great if there were somebody or something that could listen to me practice and at least tell me if what I was playing was correct? Well, today, with the ever-increasing power of computers, the patient “listener” can sit beside your students and let them know if they’ve played correctly – to a point. Let’s look at three software applications that purport to do just that.

Read more: Technology: Rehearsal Software


A conversation with the author of Habits of a Successful Band Director


In 2003, Scott Rush, then director of bands at Wando High School in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, and Tim Lautzenheiser, noted motivational speaker and music advocate, had a long conversation on student teaching while Lautzenheiser was in town to do a workshop on student leadership. That conversation continued between the two over the next few years, until Rush decided to put his thoughts to paper, resulting in the highly successful band director how-to manual, Habits of a Successful Band Director: Pitfalls and Solutions, first published by Focus on Excellence and later by GIA.

Under Rush’s leadership, the Wando Bands were state marching champs for nine consecutive years, from 2005 to 2013, performed at the Midwest Clinic in 2007, and were awarded the Sudler Flag for concert excellence.

In this recent conversation with SBO, Scott Rush discusses some of the key elements of building a successful career in music education.

Read more: UpFront Q&A: Scott Rush


Educators weigh in on the latest trends in professional development


From keeping up with the latest pedagogical trends to becoming eligible for career advancement and increased salary, there are a host of reasons why it is critical to continually engage in activities that will further professional development. Perhaps chief among those, though, is simply to become a better teacher, as indicated by more than two-thirds of the respondents in this recent reader survey.

Curious about where your peers are turning as they continue to build their careers? From training seminars and formal coursework to informal networking and blogging, read on to find out how your peers in music ed are approaching professional development, as well as some commentary on how to fit such endeavors into an already packed schedule.

Read more: Survey: Professional Development


Robbie Hanchey is breathing new life into the Valley Schools music department

Located between the small towns of Eden (pop. 400) and Hazelton (pop. 750), Idaho’s Valley Elementary, Middle, and High Schools occupy a single K-12 campus that serves approximately 600 students who hail both from the surrounding towns and the many farms in the area. When the previous music director left in the mid-2000s, the position went vacant for several years, decimating the school’s music offerings. Other than a paraprofessional who was brought in to provide some music instruction at the elementary level, there was no band or choir available to the students until 2011, when Robbie Hanchey, fresh out of Idaho State University and eager to make a difference, was hired on to revive the defunct music department. And after three years of hard work, creative recruiting strategies, and relentless networking, Hanchey’s music department is thriving.

Read more: UpClose: Robbie Hanchey


The secrets to OSU’s paperless marching band rehearsals, increased efficiency, and much more

Have you ever dreamt of a paperless marching band rehearsal, perhaps during a windy day that had printouts flying across the field? Or thought about a way to decrease the time and expense of printing and coordinating sheets for every step and set of a drill design for each student? Fortunately, technology can now make these dreams a reality. New apps for iPads and Androids make paperless instruction easy, so you can funnel all of your creative energy directly into the marching band show.

The marching band at The Ohio State University took the world by storm when their extraordinary marching routines of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and T-Rex walking across the field were featured on national TV news spotlights. Their innovative introduction of iPads on the rehearsal field paid off. The band’s Oct. 26 performance of “Hollywood Blockbusters,” including Jurassic Park, has received more than 15 million views on YouTube:

Read more: Technology: Drill Prep Apps


How to train (or tame) your low brass section

Have you heard the quote from Richard Strauss, “Never look at the trombones; it only encourages them?” They say the first year of teaching is the toughest – but I would argue any year teaching beginning low brass students can be brutal. Our trombone, baritone, and tuba students are often the musicians who have an enthusiasm for gregarious mischief – keeping them engaged (and seated) can certainly be a challenge in itself. And teaching appropriate rehearsal strategies is only half the battle – more importantly, we have to teach them how to play their instruments with sensitivity and musicianship. Of course, not all low brass musicians are troublemakers; many genuinely want to be strong musicians. And this is great news because good band programs require a foundation made up of happy kids. Here are a few suggestions that have shown to be helpful within my own ensembles.

Read more: Performance: Low Brass


Inside the methods that fueled The Woodlands High School's run to the BOA Grand National Championship

“A group can win a contest or be second or tenth or maybe not even make finals,” says Joni Perez, director of The Woodlands High School (TWHS) band program. “At the heart of it, though, the kids need to be learning what it means to be a good person through the process, along the road that leads to success.” Perez has seen an awful lot of success since taking over the head director position in the suburb just north of Houston in 2010. Since then, she’s brought concert groups to the Midwest Clinic, seen her department awarded the Sudler Shield for marching excellence, had one of her wind bands named the National Wind Bands Honor Project winner, and her marching band is the reigning Bands of America Grand National Champion, having outscored the likes of Carmel (Ind.) High School, Avon (Ind.) High School, and Marcus (Texas) High School in Indianapolis in November of 2013.

Read more: UpClose: Joni Perez


A conversation with the author of Travel 101: A band director's guide for planning student travel

Andrew Yaracs recently retired after a 39-year career as a music educator, band director, percussion arranger, and music instructor. During a prolific 15-year stint running the Butler Senior High School Golden Tornado Marching Band in Butler, Pennsylvania between 1997 and 2012, Yaracs boosted the ensemble and program into the national spotlight, in large part due to his determination that he would take the entire 350-member band on a trip every year. Alternating between major excursions and more economical ones, the Golden Tornado Marching Band represented the town of Butler, the high school, and their community at such notable events as the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade (in 2000 and 2007), the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (in 1997 and 2002), and the Fort McDowell Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix, Arizona (in 2004 and 2010), among others.

Yaracs cites the genesis of this ambitious travel schedule as his time performing with and then managing a drum corps. “That experience of getting out there, performing in different venues and meeting new people taught me a lot about life and growing up,” he says. “That was something that I always felt was a great incentive. I marched and graduated from the high school that I later taught at. When I was in the band in late ‘60s, we only had 90 members in the band and all we did was go to football games and one or two local parades. I had always hoped that someday I would become a band director and thought that if I did, I would do something for those kids.”

Drawing upon his vast and varied experiences on the road, Andrew Yaracs recently published Travel 101: A Band Director’s Guide for Planning Student Travel, a book chock full of anecdotes, sample forms and checklists, and advice and best practices. In this conversation with SBO, Yaracs speaks about his philosophy regarding band travel, fundraising, and some tips and tricks for having a successful and rewarding experience.

Read more: UpFront Q&A: Andrew Yaracs

SBO Web Poll

Do you plan to take your students to see a professional ensemble at least once in the coming school year?

Sign up for the SBO newsletter

College Search & Career Guide