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Strings Section

Mike Lawson • Archives • January 1, 2002

STRINGS SECTION: Clinicians

Clinic Trends: On-Site Consulting?

For many music educators — particularly at the high school and college levels — the learning isn’t limited to their own classrooms. During summer breaks and for brief stints throughout the year, these music educators take on the role of clinician, bringing innovative ideas and refresher courses to their peers in other parts of the country.

Some common places to find clinics are at state and national conventions, such as the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic (www.midwestclinic.org), the Texas Bandmasters Association (www.txband.com) or the International Association of Jazz Educators (www.iaje.org). At these events, educators present clinics on a variety of topics — broad as well as specific — from rehearsal techniques and improvisation to music technology and instrument care and maintenance.

The 2001 Midwest Clinic, held in December, featured such clinics as “Practical Illustration of Solving Intonation Problems,” “Secrets of Latin Jazz Directing,” “Where Exactly is the Music: What To Do After They Think Have a Piece Learned,” and “Fiddling for All Strings.” The Texas Bandmasters Association held clinics such as “Being a Better Assistant Band Director,” “Developing Powerhouse Programs in Small Schools,” “Integrating Violins into the Mariachi Program,” and “Integrating Technology into Your Rehearsals.”

Other times, teachers will invite clinicians to come into their schools to teach their students techniques, intonation or practice tips in a one-day or one-hour clinic. In some school districts with a large number of music teachers, clinicians are brought in to assist with in-house “problems.”

Clinician Dean Angeles, director of orchestras and string education at Loyola University’s College of Music, is one of these clinicians. He has led clinics in 33 countries during his 25 years as a clinician. Last year, the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nev., contracted him to serve as a consultant working with 25 music teachers on a five-year plan to develop outstanding high school orchestras district-wide. During the course of five years, Angeles will travel to the district at least eight times each year.

“What’s happening in Clark County is something that’s very new. I don’t know of another place that’s done that,” he notes. “I think it’s very exciting.”

During his visits, Angeles will work with the staff on creating a heterogeneous approach to teaching string students from middle school through high school so that teachers’ objectives are consistent from one level to the next — an approach originally introduced by the late Frederick J. Muller, who wrote a series of string methods.

“If there is a weakness in orchestra programs throughout the country it’s that we have teachers at various middle schools that are feeding into high schools that are using whatever approach they’ve learned in college. They don’t really have a focus on developing a truly outstanding high school orchestra,” Angeles explains.

Long-term, on-site consulting — rather than one-time clinics at conferences — seems to be the favored and more effective model for helping music educators improve their programs.

“The one-hour or two-hour clinic, for the most part, is just a band-aid approach,” Angeles points out. “When you’re doing clinics, you need at least a week to work with teachers. If you’re really going into a school district to work with teachers, you need a year.”

Clinician Louis Bergonzi, associate professor of music education at the Eastman School of Music, also wonders whether “one-shot” clinics are as valuable as they are intended to be.

“I often wonder if short-term clinics really help improve teaching,” says Bergonzi, who leads clinics on the orchestral rehearsal process, beginning string pedagogy, aural skill development and contemporary music for school orchestras.

Bergonzi, who led a month of clinics in Australia last January, agrees that the ideal clinics are those that are conducted on-site, like Angeles’ consulting work in Las Vegas.

“I think the best situation would be when you’re working with teachers on-site, in their situation, and the teacher is part of the planning and the programming of what’s going to happen to improve their teaching,” Bergonzi notes. “It’s not just a matter of length; it’s having the teacher in the real situation. They need time to reflect and talk through issues with, in that case, not a clinician, but a consultant.”

Clinician Bob Gillespie, a professor of music at Ohio State University who has traveled to 40 states, Europe and Canada giving clinics for the last 18 years, also finds this model preferable.

“I prefer to go to the schools because then you really are where the teachers live and you can get them more involved,” he said.

All three clinicians expect to see the consultant model grow in popularity and possibly take the place of one-day clinics as the norm.

“What I would like to see happening in the long-term is that other university professors who are involved in string education and conducting become involved in other school districts who will hire people to come in — not for one session, but for a year or more than a year,” Angeles says.

The major obstacle preventing widespread music education consulting is, of course, funding. Bergonzi suggests corporate sponsorships as a potential solution to this problem.

“If companies wanted to start sponsoring that, it would be great.”

Whether or not the consulting trend catches on, these three string clinicians are constantly working to ensure that educators get the maximum benefit from their clinics.

“I want them to come away from the clinic realizing that with every beginning program, it’s the beginning of a five-year program to develop a high school orchestra,” says Angeles. “You can’t be thinking year to year to teach strings. If you are, you’re not going to develop something at the high school level. We have many middle school orchestras that are quite good but what has slipped away on a national level is the high school orchestra program. If you don’t have a viable high school orchestra program, it isn’t going to be long before administrators are going to cut away that middle school program. You really need to have proper recruiting techniques and then proper retention.”

Bergonzi says, “I hope they can reconsider what they’ve always done from a different perspective and think about something new — reconsidering the old; considering the new.”

And Gillespie: “I want to give them ideas that are going to help them be better teachers, supporters and musicians in the public schools.”

The string clinicians interviewed for this article are endorsed by United Musical Instruments.

This article appeared on pages 38 – 39 in the January issue of School Band and Orchestra.

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