Jo Ann Hood

Mike Lawson • Features • September 1, 2002

Photos by Jim McGuire, McGuire Photography, Nashville, Tenn.

Jo Ann Hood has taught music education for 30 years – every single one of them in her native Tennessee, and most of them in the Metro-Nashville School District, where she presently teaches.

For the last 23 years, Hood has led the John Overton High School Band to distinction in the face of insufficient arts funding and stiff competition for her students’ talents from area magnet schools. For the upcoming school year, each marching band student will be asked to raise $900 to participate in the activity. On the years that the band travels, the price tag goes up, depending on the destination. When the band performed in Hawaii last year, the week-long trip cost students $1,300 each.

“We get no funding from our school system at all, except for a small budget for the repair of school instruments,” Hood notes. “We have to raise money to support the band, which is not right, but that’s the way it is around here.”

Another challenge Hood faces each year is trying to draw her next crop of musicians from only one feeder middle school in her cluster. She anticipates that a re-zoning of the cluster, planned in the next few years, should help alleviate this struggle.

Despite these challenges, the band has had a consistent record of top ratings in the state Contest of Champions every year for the past two decades.

“I think it’s our approach that we take to the band that has made it so successful,” Hood acknowledges. “Our approach is that winning is not the most important thing. It’s not about bringing home the trophy or winning, but performing to the best of your ability. It’s about beating themselves, rather than other bands, and making this performance better than the last one. It’s about striving to reach – knowing that when they come off the field or concert stage, that that was the best performance they’ve ever given. I think that’s one of the things that has kept them at that level for so long.”

In addition to her commitment to Overton, the veteran director is involved in the promotion of music education on the large scale and in the long term. She is a member of the Tennessee Music Educators Association, the Tennessee Bandmasters Association, the MENC: National Association of Music Educators, the Tennessee Education Association, the National Education Association and the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, to name a few.

“Hopefully, I can make a difference somewhere along the line in promoting music education,” she explains. “I think it’s very important to be a part of your professional organizations. If you’re not, how will they ever improve or succeed and keep music education alive in our public schools?”

When discussing her commitment to music education, Hood doesn’t mention the numerous honors and awards she has received throughout her career, including accolades from the John Philip Sousa Foundation, the Women Band Directors National Association, the National Band Association and Who’s Who Among American Teachers.

Instead, she counts among her many career highlights her outstanding students and their performances over the years, including a concert with the Dallas Brass at the MENC National Convention and the Overton music department’s Grammy presentation that earned them a Grammy Signature Gold School designation. In November, the band helped commemorate the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, performing in the Waikiki Holiday Parade.

“That performance had so much meaning to the kids, especially after September 11th,” she recalls. “They met a lot of the Pearl Harbor survivors here in town and they learned a lot of history. Then, once 9/11 happened, they took more ownership [of the significance of Pearl Harbor] because before it had just been something people had told them about, or they had seen a movie about. When they had such a disaster happen during their lifetime, they understood it a lot more and what it meant to the whole country. It’s one thing I’ll never forget.”

After three decades in music education, Hood is a seasoned authority on band camp and other back-to-school preparations – most of which begin long before the end of the school year.

School Band and Orchestra: At what point do you begin preparing for the upcoming school year?

Hood: I try to get the majority of it done before school is out, which makes the end of school really crazy. Most teachers are just closing out and leaving, but we’re closing out and recruiting and beginning, too. I would say probably, all total, I spend a couple of weeks in the summer. The first rehearsal is tonight (July 11). Our school is starting a week earlier this year so usually we don’t start until next week. But we’re having to start earlier to get band camp in. We do a couple of rehearsals, just music, and kind of get everybody back in synch before we do two weeks of camp – the last two weeks of July. We do band camp at home. It’s a lot cheaper and I don’t have to worry about them at night. We go 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. one week and then the next week, we go 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Two days we go 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

SBO: What goals did you set for the upcoming year?

Hood: For them to achieve and be the best that they can be and to have fun. I think that’s pretty much our standard goal: To continue to improve from one performance to the next.

SBO: What usually happens at the first band rehearsal of the school year?

Hood: Well, you would think that they had not seen each other for a hundred years. But they’re always glad to be back. We put name tags on everybody so the new kids can learn the old ones, and vice versa, and so we can learn their names. They don’t like that a whole lot, but it works well for us.

The first practice will not be the prettiest sounds that you’ve ever heard. We’re trying to get them back in synch and dust the cob webs off their horns. It’s a lot of fun. Most of them are pretty bored over the summer, so they’re always glad to be back.

We do a run-through of the marching music and warm-ups – probably just the opener of the show will be all we’ll get through. I always like to record that first rehearsal and then play it back for them at the end of the season.

This year’s field show theme is “Gloria,” by John Rutter. Some years we’ve used a lot of props and this year, we’re not using any. The focus is going to be the musical presentation.

SBO: How do you integrate the new students into the ensembles?

Hood: They depend on the older kids, the upperclassmen, and their leadership to help with that. They take them under their wing and sit down with them. We have a leadership class that meets three times at the end of school and then we will have two more sessions. We use a lot of Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser’s material and video, and we also have a book that we’ve compiled over the years that teaches them how to be a leader, and what things they should do and shouldn’t do. They have a few requirements that they have to do, like playing their scales and theory. It’s almost like a buddy system – each one of them is going to take the freshmen in their section, or not in their section, and just be a friend to them, try to answer their questions and that kind of thing. It’s open to sophomores, juniors and seniors.

SBO: Talk about the process of adding new students to the program. How do you ensure that each student receives the right music, a uniform and band shoes in his/her size, a student account for fundraising purposes, a place in the field show and the parade formation?

Hood: The uniforms and chaperoning and all that kind of stuff are handled by our very active boosters group. They have a parent that’s in charge of the uniforms, and they’ll spend the next couple of weeks getting them ready to hand out. As far as the music goes, we have an arranger who does that, and we’ll have it ready to hand out. The field shows are computerized, so each student has a coordinate sheet that tells them exactly where they’ve got to go, from page one to page two and where that fits within the music. It’s their responsibility to learn that spot and we’ll go over it and back and forth and then put chunks of it together.

SBO: What is the most challenging part of starting a new school year?

Hood: Getting them to not expect too much at first, especially the upperclassmen. They’re remembering the last contest and how wonderful everything was. Then everybody comes in and we’re struggling to learn and to get them over that hump of getting back into the groove and getting everybody to learn everything. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not automatically going to be like it was on the last day.

SBO: How do you retain students in the music program from year to year?

Hood: Well, that’s a real issue right now. Our school system is set up in clusters, and we are probably the only cluster that has only one feeder school. So we’re struggling right now with that. Once our cluster is rezoned, we will have three feeder schools. Also, there are magnet schools in the area that attract students. So retaining kids has been a real challenge, and that’s one of the reasons our numbers are down. In the last four or five years, we’re down about 20 to 30 students. I think that’s because of the magnet schools, as well as the time commitment – sometimes kids are not as dedicated as we want them to be, and it does take a lot of time – and money is a big thing, too. We get no funding from our school system at all, except for a small budget for the repair of school instruments. We have to raise all of the money to support the band, which is not right, but that’s the way it is around here. Each student has an individual budget. We set a budget and then we divide it by the number of students. Then they either have to pay it or raise it through fundraising, which the majority of them do. We do a lot of projects that don’t involve selling, like working Titans’ football games, doing the parking lot and that kind of thing. It makes pretty good money. But the fundraising is a big deterrent, too – the fact that it costs them a lot of money to be a part of it.

We will go to the middle school, and hopefully this year we will be able to do even more recruiting because of our schedule. McMurray is the school that feeds us, and we’ll have a McMurray night at one of the football games and they’ll all come. They’ll play the Star Spangled Banner with the band and sit in the stands – have a little fun and get to be a part of it and see what it’s like. Then we’ll bring them over a couple more times during the year, and we’ll go over there and work with them. We’ll call them on the phone, do whatever we can do to try to talk them into being in it if they’re undecided.

SBO: What types of fundraising do your ensembles do?

Hood: Fundraising is ongoing. The majority of it is in the fall because that’s where most of our money goes, with transportation and all that kind of stuff. We do the parking lots for football and basketball games through the spring. Then we’ll do Smart Cards and Entertainment Books in the summertime. We do a Thanksgiving and a Christmas fruit sale. We also host a contest and a winter percussion competition. On Oct. 12, we host a WGI/Winter Guard International Friendship Cup. We just basically host it, provide the facility, and WGI gets the judges and all of that. So we do concessions and gate. It’s a pretty big undertaking. Usually about 12 to 14 schools come out for that. It’s a prelims/finals.

The winter percussion competition is winter percussion ensembles or drum lines. It’s kind of a spin-off of the winter guard activity. They do shows in the gym and it’s all percussion. That’s at the end of February usually. We’ll have about 35 lines that will come from all over the southeast for that. It’s a regional that we host.

Again, the parents run all these things. We couldn’t live without them.

SBO: How much money does each student have to raise each year to participate in band?

Hood: Each year, the amount that each student has to raise varies. This year, it’s bare bones and it’s going to be about $900 a student for the year. If they were going on a trip, that would be in addition to it. Last year, the budget was $675, but we ended up being in the hole a little bit. We tried to cut it as much as we could because the trip to Hawaii cost them about $1,300 each, and that included everything for a week in Hawaii. And the trips are voluntary. They’re not required to go on them. We try to provide them enough ways to raise the money so that it doesn’t have to come out of their pocket.

If I win the lottery, the first million goes to me and then the second million goes to the band. I tell them not to hold their breath, though. If we had a lottery in Tennessee, that would help.

SBO: How do you interface with the parents’ booster organization?

Hood: All the parents are considered members of the booster group. We’ll have probably 60 to 80 different parents who will chaperone throughout the marching season, when we need chaperones. We have a booster club that is very active. We have a full executive board and then we have probably 20 standing committees for uniforms, chaperones, newsletter, color guard section, fundraising, semi-trailer – all the different things which we need help with.

SBO: How do you grade student participation in the different ensembles?

Hood: For marching band, we have competitive and non-competitive options. If they’re in the competitive marching band, they have to do all of the rehearsals. The budget for the non-competitive is a lot less because they’re not involved in the major expense of the traveling and all that. The people that do non-competitive are usually the people who do athletics and can’t do the after-school rehearsals. But they will come to the ball games and do the pre-game stuff. They don’t have a place in the field show, but they have a place in the pre-game and in the stands. The field show is done after school and that’s when they can’t commit, but they’re in the bigger class.

As far as grading goes, performances count as a grade. They get a daily grade for class, for the after school stuff. If they’re absent or have to miss a rehearsal, then they have to do a make-up sheet, which is practice time. They have to practice 30 minutes – or half of whatever the class time or rehearsal was – at home. They turn in a form that says how much time they practiced and it’s signed by their parents. That covers them – they don’t get a zero for that rehearsal.

Performances count much like a test grade in a regular classroom. We have expectations that they have to do every six weeks, like scales, technical exercises, maybe parts of the music, depending on what we’re into at that point in time, as well as solo and ensemble festival in the spring. That all counts as part of their grade.

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