A Performance They Will Always Remember

Mike Lawson • MAC Corner • April 6, 2018

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Attendees at the 2017 Midwest Clinic experienced a unique performance this past December.

The Music Achievement Council (MAC), an action-oriented nonprofit organization, sponsored by the National Association of School Music Dealers (NASMD) and NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), invited two Chicago area schools to present its First Performance for Band.

The First Performance for Band has been around for many years, but for some reason, directors don’t know about it. So MAC and the students from South Holland School District 151 and McKinley Junior High School prepared and presented their First Performance in front of a national audience. When asked about the performance South Holland Band Director Mario Moody said, “My initial reaction was one filled with appreciation and a bit of anxiety. Having the privilege of performing at the conference each year during my undergraduate years at VanderCook, I understood the expectations associated with this performance. On top of that, we were asked to bring a beginning band that hadn’t signed up for the school year yet!”

Nyle Taylor, director of bands at McKinley Junior High School, added, “The students had no idea what the Midwest Clinic or what the First Performance was, they had only been in band for a few weeks. However, the idea of a ‘field trip’ created ample excitement.”

As these directors prepared their students, they noticed some differences. “Because beginning band rehearsals are before school, the attendance is often hit or miss,” said Taylor. “However, after announcing that only those who can play their part can go, attendance was at an all-time high! Not only did the participation increase, but the focus during rehearsals was nothing short of intense.”

Moody, who has been teaching for 10 years, said this event also changed his approach to the beginning band. “Their attitude and enthusiasm for the school year were different from previous years because of the intensity and focus I brought to each rehearsal. I understood that I had to be intentional with each method that I taught to prepare my students to perform well in front of others. I did not want to fail them because I did not take the time to be ready for each rehearsal.”

The First Performance is just as the title implies. It is a concert for your beginning band students that incorporates the first five notes they learn. It comes with a script and a sample program. It is a concert in a box. All you do is add students.

The first sound performed at the concert is a replication of the first sounds students play on their instruments. “When you play that first sound to show how you sounded when you first began,” said Taylor. “Be sure to milk it as much as possible. That awful first sound gives parents a comparison baseline for every sound they produce after.”

Directors Moody and Taylor went one step further and added their some personal touches to the First Performance. “During the planning stages of this performance, George Quinlan, Jr. (Quinlan and Fabish Music Company and a member of the Music Achievement Council) challenged us to make it sound fresh and up to date. After looking over the scripted manuscript and song selection,” Moody said, “It occurred to me that the biggest benefit of this model is that the script, “storyline’ can change each year. Depending on the comfort level of the director, they could insert different songs from different beginning band methods to fit the theme, or they could write some arrangements as we did.”

Moody and Taylor identified geographical regions of the world that have distinct chordal and rhythmic patterns and were able to introduce some “ethnic sound” to their beginning band students. Taylor indicated they also customized the provided script saying, “the script paints a picture for parents in a way that simply giving a downbeat never will. It invites parents into whatever spectacular dimension you decide to create for them.”

Their performance received a standing ovation from those in attendance. Parents who were there beamed with pride as did the administrators who were in attendance. During the performance, parents were invited to help create a word cloud of their reactions as they listened and watched their children in performance.

At a panel discussion that immediately followed the First Performance, parents were asked, “Will you encourage your student to stay in band?” The response was 100 percent YES! The parents indicated that hearing their child perform for the first time has encouraged them to motivate their children to continue their progress and participation in their school band program. Taylor added, “Parents felt like they got a first-hand look into the world of ‘what happens when my child goes to band every day.’ They were overjoyed at seeing their future Mozart, Charlie Parker, or Kanye West performing on such a grand stage.”

Moody believes his students now have more confidence. “I am not sure if that is a direct result of this experience or just the natural make up of this year’s group. I’ve noticed they are much more aware of being punctual to rehearsals and take pride in learning new tasks.”

The First Performance also changed Moody’s expectations. “Even when we would have setbacks when the students did not practice, I had to become more creative in presenting another way of achieving our goal. My new approach was no excuses, and I changed my paradigm on the importance of setting high expectations for beginning students. I was determined to approach their success in year one as I would our top Middle School Symphonic Band. For the most part, I believe all students love to be challenged to grow to the next level provided their director gives them a thoughtful and exciting path to get there.”

When asked if they would do it again, both directors responded with a rousing, “Absolutely.”

“My current 6th graders who were in my very first performance in 2016 have gone on to become the strongest advocates for the program,” added Taylor. “Beyond confidence and expectations, they have recruited over half of the students in my 6th-grade band program. They changed the ratio of 6thgrade band to 52 percent returning students and 48 percent new students. Amazing.”

When we think about presenting music concerts, our experiences lead us to want to play at a high artistic level. But it is important to remember that art can be messy. Art is! For students in beginning band, their first sounds are a perfect representation of them displaying their artistic abilities at their highest level. Music teachers will be well-served when they steal a bit of the mentality of our coaching friends. Young children who play soccer or little league don’t spend months learning fundamentals. They are given a basic set of directions and are allowed to learn as they play games. In essence, they are learning to play the sport as they perform it, not rehearse it. In the music world, we recruit students to “play” in band and orchestra, only to hold them hostage in classrooms until their big performance several months or more into after they start playing.

Giving them a manageable, meaningful goal like a First Performance encourages them to prepare and get ready. It allows parents to see and hear the most important people in their lives, their children, perform.

Let’s be honest for a second. Parents do not attend your concerts to listen to the music. They are there to hear their children play. The proof is the fact that as soon as their child is no longer in your program, they stop attending your concerts. You may not receive an invitation to perform your first concert at the Midwest Clinic, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is setting a goal and arranging for your students to “play” in band.

The First Performance Concert, available for band and strings is the perfect vehicle to do so. Directors throughout America are encouraged to join a new movement. The third Thursday of November has been designated as the First Performance National Day of Celebration. Join the fun and take advantage of this day to get your showcase your band and orchestra students in performance. Invite the entire community and don’t forget the press. It is a great way to show some authentic advocacy for you and your program.

You can obtain your copy of the First Performance from your local school music dealer, or you can go to the Music Achievement Council website: www.nammfoundation.org/resources-educators where you will find these and many more resources to help you succeed in recruiting and retaining students in your program.

About the Directors

Mario Moody has served as the director of bands in South Holland School District 151 for the past 13 years, where he teaches 4th through 8th grades. Previously, he served three years as the general music teacher at Wentworth Intermediate School in Calumet City, Illinois. Moody is a 2001 graduate of VanderCook College of Music in Chicago.

Nyle Taylor graduated from VanderCook College of Music in 2016 and is in his second year as director of bands at McKinley Junior High School in South Holland, Illinois. Taylor is also an assistant director of bands for the Greater South Side region of The People’s Music School in Chicago.

Dr. Charles T. Menghini is president emeritus of VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. Menghini served as director of bands at VanderCook for 23 years and in addition served as president his final 13 years there. Today, in addition to providing support work for VanderCook, Menghini serves as a guest conductor and presents clinics and workshops nationally. He is an educational member of the Music Achievement Council, co-author of the Essential Elements band method, published by Hal Leonard, and is an educational consultant and clinician for the Conn-Selmer musical instrument company.

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