Sweetwater’s First Year in B&O

It has been a little over a year since Sweetwater launched their band and orchestra (B&O) initiative. When the news hit, I thought, “Wow! Game-changer. If Sweetwater can do for the local band director and students what they have done so well for other musicians, that’s a big deal.” A year ago, we did an interview with Sweetwater, and talked about the challenges they will face trying to crack into this market that has followed the storied musical The Music Man model for over a century. We recently sat down with Sweetwater’s Vice President of Band and Orchestra, Jeremy Mueller, to talk about how things are going, and what they have learned their first year.

Sweetwater’s Vice President of Band and Orchestra, Jeremy Mueller

SBO+: The Music Man, traveling to schools, promoting instrument sales, that’s been an enduring model, so how does an Internet/mail order company do that?

“It’s a model that’s so interestingly dated, right? Obviously, there’s been some modernization there, but generally speaking, that model still sort of exists today, where it’s the music man going from school to school, from town to town. A lot of this launch has to do with finding ways we can modernize, what is potentially a really sort of old, classic model.”

SBO+: Owning both MMR magazine and SBO+, I have a good perspective on the retailer and educational sides of these things. The music man was going into back-to-school nights, singing about trouble in River City, and getting these parents to sign up. I’m sure you’re not sending a Sweetwater rep to every school out there. What’s been the strategy to have your music man in there virtually?

“I think it’s kind of a two-tiered strategy. We do believe there are key markets across the U.S. where you do need to have a boots-on-ground type person. We’ve been hard at work over the last year and a half, hiring those in-market, we call them school relationship managers, who are doing exactly what you’re saying. They’re helping recruit for the program; they’re being the connective tissue between the band class and Sweetwater. By the end of this year, we’re gonna have about 24 of those people that are directly in market, and that’s something that we’re gonna continue to scale up.”

SBO+: In the old model, you had band directors who were married to the local support, the repairs, the rental program. Do you think the generational change in the people who are teaching band and orchestra now has contributed to the relative ease of coming into this market?

“I think that’s a fair question. I also think COVID changed things in general; everything is more virtual. I think there’s a whole new series of things that are becoming more normalized, where having a digital relationship for something like a rental wouldn’t have been thought about pre-COVID, but post-COVID it seems a lot more palatable. 

SBO+: During COVID, I was steering a lot of teachers to Sweetwater for tech, because they’re gonna have a support team over there. Let’s talk about that support side in the B&O world for a minute. A year ago, I was hearing how you were gonna have kind of an instant replacement program for repairs, and online support, and even video. How has that all translated in reality? Let’s talk about first in the support, and then we’ll talk about the repair side.

“I think it first starts before the product even hits our doors. One thing that is a real differentiator, and we took it sort of from the guitar playbook… you brought up the guitar example there. When we took up guitar, we wanted to say, “How could we do things differently?” And so, you know, part of what sets Sweetwater apart from other folks carrying guitars is it goes through a robust 55-point inspection. And so, we wanted to take a play from that book when we were looking at the category as a whole, and saying, ‘Okay, how can we ensure everything that’s leaving our docks and headed to a customer is in absolutely perfect playing condition?’ And so, we looked across each instrument category and we created a very, very robust 40-point inspection for all woodwind instruments, for all brass instruments, for all string instruments, to ensure each thing that’s coming in, it gets thoroughly inspected, adjusted, so it’s ready to go out.

“And what we found in that process is lots and lots of instruments fail. Just because it’s a new instrument doesn’t necessarily mean it is gonna play out of the box. We’ve found a lot of that data through this process, but we’ve also helped the manufacturers, from a manufacturing perspective, too, to really point these things out, so hopefully, whether we sell that trumpet next time or whether somebody else sells that trumpet next time, it’s gonna be in better playing condition because we’re thoroughly inspecting everything.”

“So, that’s one part of our service. Another part of our service is we are now matching all these customers, in a one-to-one way, with a dedicated sales engineer (SE) who’s specifically certified for band and orchestra, and specifically certified for rental. So, we now have robust training programs we’ve developed. I’m sure you’re familiar with our Sweetwater University 13-week training course. We’ve now inserted band and orchestra multiple days, multiple classes, involved in that Sweetwater training. So, every SE who comes now into the fold is getting a baseline of band and orchestra training, but in addition, there’s the ability to become a specialist on certain instruments. So now, if you’re a saxophone player, you’re getting matched up with an SE who is an absolute pro on that instrument and can be a perfect resource for you going forward. And then we also have certification in rental, because there’s a lot of complexity with rental that’s different than sales. It’s really important that folks, like, mom and dad, when they’re renting, they get matched up now with an SE that knows exactly what the rental program’s all about, and can really speak to that and be a great resource for them. There’s a big difference between a trumpet and a clarinet, right? So, even within the category itself, there’s nuance from one instrument to the next. It’s really important to have that trusted advisor… this company was built on that kind of concept, of a trusted advisor.

SBO+: Nobody wants to have an instrument shipped, open the box, and find out there’s a problem. 

“Our process is to advance-ship a replacement. So, the parent lets us know now when that instrument goes down on a Tuesday that there’s an issue with the clarinet. We’ll contact the customer to make sure it isn’t something like a minor fix right now. But assuming it’s even just a regulation issue, we’re gonna advance-ship a replacement clarinet with the return label already on the box. And it’s the same brand, same model, same everything clarinet. So, that’s a seamless experience for the student. And they’ll stick their broken clarinet in that box. And so, within two days, we’ve now effectively switched that clarinet out, we’ve exchanged it, and really there’s no non-playing time in class. So, we’re taking that three-week downtime, and we’re shortening it down to one or two days.”

SBO+: What does the actual rental program inventory choice look like compared to what’s for sale?

“Think about it in two different buckets. There’s a student-level series of products, and then there’s an intermediate series of products. And those things are vertically integrated. So, if we carry a student-level Yamaha trumpet, we’re gonna carry an intermediate-level Yamaha trumpet. On the student line, it’s what I would consider student premium products. They are the best quality student-level product you can buy on the market today. The intermediate model is the industry-standard intermediate that aligns with that student product.”

SBO+: I’m impressed that Sweetwater has pulled off the rental thing via mail. I’m not gonna say I was skeptical a year ago, but I was morbidly curious. I know that market so well it was just like, “Oh, how are they gonna do that? How are you gonna deal with the back-to-school nights?”

“I’ve been in this industry for so long, specifically dealing with beginners and the K-to-12 space, the education space. That’s my background as an educator. We’re adding a bunch of features to our rental inventory that, what we call kind of ‘hot-rods’ it. Every clarinet comes with a hard rubber mouthpiece and upgraded ligature. Every saxophone comes with a top-end mouthpiece and an upgraded ligature, standard. We believe putting a better mouthpiece, and matching that with a beginner player, is going to make the entry point instrument just that much better. They’re gonna sound that much better. They’re gonna feel encouraged faster. They’re gonna be less likely to wanna drop out due to frustrations. I feel like there’s almost a moral obligation for us to provide that.” 

SBO+: I think the genius move there is to be able to have that relationship with a band director, who says, “Look, 20 bucks a month, and we can get you this fabulous trumpet, if you really wanna play trumpet, from Sweetwater on a rental.” What is the average cost for a rental of a trumpet?

“We start all our rentals with a trial period, and it’s dynamic pricing based on the market, but that trial period for a trumpet’s only five bucks for the first month, so it’s really a low barrier of entry to get started. The rental rates will vary depending on what market you’re in, but it’s only $20 to $30 max for a trumpet. We wanted to make sure this was super-competitive with the businesses that are out there, but also just super-affordable for the customer.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

Let’s be clear: this is a “tough love” editorial.

As a music educator turned travel consultant, I work with dozens of music educators every year to plan successful performance tours.  And lately, I’ve been seeing some missteps that can undermine that success.

But I’m not here to throw stones, because I was a high school band director myself for over a decade.  I took my students on several tours… and I made my share of mistakes.

The benefits of student performance travel are almost too many to list: Better rehearsals and elevated performances as students rise to meet the moment, stronger bonds between your performers, expanded horizons, another tool in your recruiting toolbox…

That’s why it genuinely saddens us when schools initiate the travel process, but ultimately can’t make the trip happen.  And it can leave students disappointed, parents upset, and administrators skeptical.

The good news: These missteps are easily avoidable and correctable.

Fix #1: Start Early

Here are some all-too-common scenarios:

– A trip is planned for the spring, but the planning process doesn’t begin until the autumn immediately prior.

– The planning process begins at the tail end of the school year, but momentum is lost over the summer, and the necessary boxes don’t get checked until autumn.

Because of travel industry changes, other options for student activities and experiences, and rising costs, it has never been more critical to plan early. It is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to set up your group and yourself for success.

As I conduct a “post-mortem” on these groups, the causes were all very similar:

School approval took too long.

Let’s face it, the wheels move slowly. It’s not uncommon for an approval decision to be tabled for more pressing matters at administrative and school board meetings. I know, I know—what could possibly be more important than the music department tour? But we must allow for delays like these, and waiting too long gives you zero wiggle-room to adjust if things do go a little sideways. 

I find it helps to know in advance what the steps of the process are – meaning, how many approvals are required before you get the official “yes” – and then pad that time a bit. In most cases, this means the process must not only begin the previous school year, but with ample time before summer break, when everything shuts down for three months. 

If in doubt, be a bit of a “squeaky wheel.”  Check back regularly for updates. Administration and staff are human too – things get set aside or forgotten, and deadlines for board agendas can be missed. Know what happens when and follow up accordingly.

Students decided to do something else.

There are more options than ever for students to experience different kinds of travel. Waiting too long to announce your tour only opens more possibilities for students or families to make other plans.  This reduces your number of travelers, which can increase your costs, which can make it too expensive for the students who did sign up, and the vicious circle takes its toll. 

Not enough time to fundraise.

The travel industry isn’t immune to inflation, and trips are getting more expensive. That means it will take more time for your students to raise more funds. It’s a tall order to roll out a $1,000 tour to students in September and expect that they’ll be able to pay for it by February. 

Additionally, waiting too long increases the odds that modifications will need to happen along the way – reworking the tour because of lower numbers, changing the destination, and so on.  These burn more of your time and attention. 

Fix #2: Communicate Regularly

The second key to success: Be an involved communicator.

There’s a “public relations” aspect to tour planning.  As the voice of your program, your communications send a clear signal.  Students, parents, and administrators draw cues from the tone and timing of your communications.

So, if in doubt, communicate a little more than you think is necessary.  Keep the upcoming trip on everyone’s radar – and do so with positive energy and an “eyes on the prize” attitude.

“Communicating regularly” extends to your travel planning partners as well.  A good travel planner knows you’re busy and will only send you an email when necessary – which means your response helps to keep things moving at the right speed.  It also keeps your planning process on a proactive rather than reactive footing, which increases control and reduces anxiety.  Help us help you.  It’s what we’re here for.

Start early. Communicate regularly. Those two simple steps will set you and your ensemble up for a successful travel experience.

Tom Merrill is a travel consultant at Bob Rogers Travel. A wind musician and vocalist, Tom’s personal love of music inspired him to pursue an undergraduate degree in music education and then a Masters in conducting and clarinet. He taught middle and high school band in Colorado and Iowa for ten years before launching a new career as a performance travel consultant and festival event organizer.

Selecting a Classical Saxophone Mouthpiece for Band Performance

When striving to produce a good saxophone tone, one of the most crucial pieces of equipment is the mouthpiece. There are many brands of saxophone mouthpieces being manufactured using a variety of materials, encompassing a wide price range and designed for performers at all levels of development. Beginning saxophonists usually play the stock mouthpieces sold with their student model saxophones. These synthetic mouthpieces are inexpensive, mass-produced and primarily designed to produce the basic sound. As a saxophonist progresses, the stock mouthpiece is usually replaced by one made of ebonite also known as hard rubber. These mouthpieces, which are somewhat more expensive, are made of a better material with more craftsmanship, allowing the performer to attain a better tone. They also come in a variety of tip openings, facings and chamber sizes providing saxophonists with more opportunities to find a mouthpiece that better suits their playing style. Many professional saxophonists perform on hand-finished, hard rubber mouthpieces that allow for maximum expression and individuality.

Tip Openings, Facings and Chamber Sizes

When selecting a mouthpiece, the tip opening, facing and chamber size should carefully be considered. The tip opening is the distance between the tip of the reed and the tip of the mouthpiece. Mouthpieces with small tip openings are easier to control, have a more stable pitch but require a harder reed. As the tip opening increases in size, control becomes more difficult, the pitch is more flexible, and a softer reed must be used.

The mouthpiece facing is the distance between the tip of the mouthpiece and the point where the reed and the mouthpiece separate. The longer the facing, the more mouthpiece the saxophonist will need to take into the mouth in order to line up the lower teeth with the position where the reed and mouthpiece separate. Due to this fact, a medium facing usually works best for most performers.  

The mouthpiece chamber is the internal cavity inside the mouthpiece and its design has a direct effect on tone and response. The chamber can be small, medium or large and have a variety of shapes from round to rectangular. A small, rectangular chamber will produce a brighter tone with more power. As the chamber size increases and becomes rounder, the tone will become darker and less powerful.

Classical Saxophone Tone

When Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone, he designed the mouthpiece with a large, round chamber that produced a dark, round sound with little or no edge. His tonal concept gave the saxophone a beautiful solo voice that was also desirable in ensemble performance because it allowed the saxophone to blend properly with other instruments of the orchestra and symphonic band. 

With the formation of the jazz big band saxophone section in the 1930s, the design of saxophone mouthpieces changed giving jazz saxophonists the ability to play with more power and edge in their sound. This trait also carried over into the classical arena as classical saxophonists adopted this tonal style to some extent. Modern day classical saxophonists still strive for a warm, dark sound but with the additional power afforded by the change in mouthpiece design.

Before attempting to select a classical mouthpiece, the saxophonist must first develop a classical tonal concept. This concept can be developed by listening to prominent classical saxophonists perform in live concerts, lessons, master classes and from recordings. After this concept has been developed, mouthpieces can then be test played to see which one allows the previously established tonal concept to be achieved. 

Classical Saxophone Mouthpieces

There are numerous saxophone mouthpieces designed specifically for playing classical music. These mouthpieces are usually made of hard rubber, have small tip openings and are played with medium to hard reeds. Their chamber design is somewhat round with several facings and tip openings available to meet the requirements of various performers. 

In addition to producing a good tone, several other performance aspects should also be considered when choosing a classical mouthpiece. Good response, intonation and control in all registers, amount of air resistance and if the mouthpiece is reed friendly are all important factors to consider when selecting a mouthpiece. 

Mouthpiece response, control and intonation in all registers, especially in the low and upper range of the instrument should be carefully examined. Many mouthpieces will sound great in the middle register but when playing in the extreme registers, both low and high, response may be poor. Also, some mouthpieces, while producing a good tone on certain pitches, can be hard to control due to their chamber design, tip opening and facing. The result can be problems with squeaking, intonation, and embouchure fatigue. 

Air resistance and reed friendliness are two other considerations that should not be ignored. The amount of air resistance a mouthpiece creates while being blown is an important factor in how comfortable it will feel when being played. Some saxophonists prefer a free blowing mouthpiece with little resistance while others like more air resistance. 

Reed friendliness refers to the ability of a mouthpiece to produce a good tone on a variety of reeds that have the same strength number but are not exactly equal in reed hardness. Since the strength number given to a reed by the manufacturer is only an approximation of how hard the reed really is, saxophonists need a mouthpiece that can play reeds varying slightly in strength in order to avoid problems when rotating or switching reeds before a performance. Having a reed friendly mouthpiece will give the saxophonist peace of mind knowing if a reed is damaged or dies before a big performance, another reed can be easily substituted in its place. 

Several popular classical saxophone mouthpieces used by professional performers and teachers are the Eugene Rousseau New Classic, Selmer Paris C* S80 or S90, Selmer Paris Soloist and the Vandoren Optimum. For saxophonists who prefer the original tonal concept of Adolphe Sax, the Sigurd Rascher mouthpiece is designed to produce this sound. A sketch of the original Adolphe Sax mouthpiece can be seen here.

Selecting a Classical Saxophone Mouthpiece

When selecting a classical saxophone mouthpiece, the performer must first narrow the choices since it is difficult to play every brand of mouthpiece made. This can be done by researching various mouthpieces using the Internet, researching mouthpiece brands and models played by prominent saxophonists, getting recommendations from saxophone teachers and finally test playing mouthpieces at larger music stores that have them in stock.

If the local store does not have the requested mouthpieces in stock, some online stores may ship several mouthpieces at once for individuals to try. Although this is not the most convenient way to select a mouthpiece, serious saxophonists should test many mouthpieces before deciding on the specific one to purchase. When ordering mouthpieces online, some stores have a return policy that will allow the performer to keep the mouthpieces for up to thirty days. This is very helpful since the saxophonist can practice and perform on the mouthpieces in a variety of situations and venues such as rehearsals, sectionals, ensemble and solo performances. 

By playing the mouthpieces for several weeks, most of the time the saxophonist can be sure the mouthpiece selected is the best one. If possible, each mouthpiece should be recorded while being test played. It is often easier to determine which one sounds best using a recording since this allows saxophonists to focus their full attention on each example rather than trying to play and listen at the same time. 

When test playing any mouthpiece, saxophonists should protect it from marks or scratches caused by the teeth or ligature. If a mouthpiece is damaged in any way when it is test played, saxophonists may have to buy the mouthpiece even though they may not want to. To assure the mouthpiece is not damaged when being test played, a mouthpiece cushion or tape should be placed on the mouthpiece beak to protect it from teeth marks. 

To protect the body of the mouthpiece, a leather or fabric ligature in the Rovner style should be used so the mouthpiece will not be scratched when the ligature is placed on it. By following this advice, many mouthpieces may be test played without damage. If a satisfactory mouthpiece is found at a local store but the price is higher than buying the same mouthpiece online, the store manager should be asked if the online price can be matched. Often, the local store will sell the mouthpiece for the discounted online price.


The saxophone mouthpiece is one of the most important components in determining a saxophonist’s tone. After a student has developed a proper mental concept of classical saxophone tone, a suitable mouthpiece may be chosen to assist in achieving an appropriate tone for band performance. After doing online research and getting recommendations from band directors, private teachers, and performers, students should test play several mouthpieces to discover which one works best for them. With good recommendation information, careful test playing, and much patience, students should be able to find a mouthpiece that will assist them in achieving their ideal classical saxophone tone.

Dr. Tracy Heavener is an endorsing artist of JodyJazz mouthpieces.

NAfME’s Transformation

Prior to 2018, the music education community often articulated the need for NAfME to address topics centering diversity, inclusion, access, and equity; however, none of the previous actions created an impetus toward “doing the work” to make equity a foundational principle of NAfME’s identity. As an organization, NAfME kept “kicking the can down the road.” In other words, the Association rarely reaped outcomes from discussions about equity. We engaged in dialogue—but with little follow through. 

Even with Vision 2020, NAfME leadership realized the association was still much in the same place as when the vision was authored. Little was done to promote or advance significant change. 

But, as we all know, 2020 brought with it unforeseen change. COVID-19 and a series of injustices revealed unheard of disparities and violent acts of dehumanization against hundreds of people. It was time to stop “talking about equity” and to start “being about equity.” That was a tall task to ask an organization with a history of 113 plus years of doing things the same way. 

NAfME’s equity journey was not an easy one. As with all equity work, it required a willingness to take on a personal and collective journey inward before the Association was able to actualize equity to any degree to impact change.

The journey started with very basic questions; however, the questions required a personal and collective community response. 

– Who are we? 

– What is our purpose?

– Why do we exist?

– What do we know about our history? 

– How has our history informed and shaped our existence as an association?

– What narrative do we most often use to conceptualize our identity as a music educator?

-How do we show up or present ourselves? 

It took NAfME over a year to answer these questions, which are the foundation of our strategic plan and equity work.

In discovering our why, we also found a path forward. It is important to note NAfME’s journey was not one in which anyone simply picked up the mantle and ran with it. It took effort. Lots of effort. It took commitment, patience, forgiveness, grace, courage, humility, and the willingness to be vulnerable. These were some of the experiences of NAfME members, the National Executive Board, and NAfME staff. What was unique about this process is everyone started their journey in different ways and from different perspectives. No one started from the same place. Everyone had varying degrees of knowledge and experience. However, central to the experience was the sense of building community through collaboration. Everyone had and continues to have a voice in this work. Each experience is different, which allows everyone to listen and learn from those with narratives and stories unlike their own. 

In 2021, NAfME’s journey led to the conceptualization of the association’s identity through three cornerstones—advocacy, professional learning, and music teacher education and music research, and one keystone, equity in music education. Over the year, a myriad of emotions and thoughts engulfed the NAfME membership, including fear, doubt, excitement, nervousness, and at times, intense dislike. However, I can speak with certainty that NAfME’s equity work continues to consider the concerns and voices of all its members. 

With the NAfME keystone in place, the association now has a lens through which to consider all matters regarding NAfME, including practices, policies, organizational and power structures, use of space, time, language, symbols, rituals, celebrations, and resources such as allocated funding, and staff time. 

To learn more about the conceptual framework for the 2022 NAfME Strategic Plan, please visit the NAfME website.

At present, the NAfME Equity Committee and Equity Leadership Institute are developing an Equity Resource Center slated for launch in the spring of 2024. 

The first phase of the Equity Resource Center includes articles from professional journals and resources, an overview of the Divisive Concepts Laws by state, personal stories centering equity, testimonies, definitions, and other references. 

For equity work to become an element of strength for the organization, the work must reflect the people and their voice. Equity work reflects all of us through ongoing dialogue and collaboration. You can do this work too! Start with the heart.

Anyone interested in learning about equity in music education is welcome to attend the Equity Leadership Institute meetings. These monthly meetings are open to anyone who desires to grow opportunities and expand equitable access to music education. Information about NAfME’s equity work can be found on the NAfME website.

Mackie V. Spradley is NAfME Immediate-Past President

Mind Your Own Business – Carnegie Hall’s B-Side Program Teaches The Business Side of the Music Industry

In November 2022, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Institute of Music announced a new youth-focused pilot program, titled “the B-Side.” The program is intended to introduce youth to many of the business functions in the music industry. Each of these functions also present future career opportunities for performers and non-performers, both instrumental and vocal. 

Planning and preparation for this new offering was deliberate and disciplined. Two pilot focus groups of the potential audience group of young musicians were conducted this year. These were limited to New York City attendees. Twenty student musicians, ages 14 to 17, attended a February 11-18, 2023, session. A second session of older students took place in April. The purpose of these was to identify topics, interest level, and current level of knowledge in the business side of the music industry. An earlier brain-storming planning session worked with local music industry business leaders to determine the business areas they felt needed to be included. 

Learning objectives of these sessions included student exposure to and appreciation of the overall music industry. This includes understanding what an artist’s team requires to execute efficient and effective projects, gain an insight into their own strengths and sharpen their research and critical thinking skills. The program participants experienced real-life in the professional working spaces of various specialties, networking with local industry professionals including asking direct questions about that specific career path. 

Boyle outlined Carnegie-Weill’s overall long-range B-Side plan. “The first phase of the B-Side provides an overview of some of the key roles and departments found in a record label production. This beginner curriculum focuses on exposure to career paths while also providing opportunities for young people to cultivate their skills in networking, collaboration, and career readiness. As the B-Side grows we will develop additional curriculum targeting specific roles, skills, and education necessary to be successful in those roles. We also will look to develop specific related support such as skills in applying for internships and jobs as well as navigating the actual workplace.”     

B-Side’s origin included input from industry consultants who accumulated potential music industry roles and topics. Each day’s topics focused on the different functions and departments and people that make a project or performance possible and successful. The course would include guest speakers who work in these real-world industries. The course goal was to de-mystify the numerous music industry careers and provide possible entry points for these students. Whether artistic, administrative, promotional, legal, financial, or even a blend of these, the students could approach these careers with a real and current understanding of what is required.

Jermaine Brown, a February participant, takes on the role of sound engineer while visiting the Pulse New York Music Studio.

None of the many books or a variety of earlier and current specific educational efforts provide the early direct exposure of music students with working members of the various relevant business activities and careers like Carnegie’s B-Side. 

Reflecting on the importance of the B-Side, I remembered my own experience. After years of activity as a student musician including school and college orchestras, concert and marching bands, big band, combos and even a drum and bugle corps, I was forced to learn the business side of music through a college activity. 

February student Ryzia Rhames works with Pulse Studio sound engineer Robin Buyer.

The University of Florida had a student-staffed lyceum council which selected, contracted, and produced an annual series of six on-campus music performances by major national musical groups and soloists. As business manager of this council, I executed the contracts, made all venue arrangements such as seating, crowd access and security, parking, as well as sound and lighting systems, developed and distributed promotional materials, prepared tickets as well as providing both box office and stage staffing. All under the watchful eye of the dean of students since the council operated with student funds from the university. The council’s concerts included artists such as Satchmo (Louis Armstrong), classical pianist Leonard Pennario, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and others of similar national importance and prominence.

The call came from the dean of students about an unusual opportunity that required quick action and response. He had been contacted by the booking agent of the then very popular Kingston Trio. They were touring southern college campuses and had an open date. The dean had advised them that this year’s schedule was set, and all our funds were committed. They responded that we “might make it work” and wanted to talk. That negotiation became my assignment and ultimately my education. The Kingston Trio did appear at the Florida Gymnasium to an enthusiastic audience of thousands of students and residents of the surrounding area. This, with a hastily drafted contract with no minimum fee but just a percentage of gate receipts. The council’s portion of these receipts allowed expansion of the following year’s concert schedule.

Mason Bourne, a February session student, presented his reactions to the Pulse Studio visit

Likewise, lessons about union labor contracts came from a confrontation with the Teamsters Union over the handling of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s truckload of instruments and other support equipment that accompanied their concert appearances. Knowledge of the state laws regarding union contracts on state university campuses and the campus enforcement options was critical to a quick onsite resolution.     

No part of my lengthy and extensive music education and participation had prepared me for any of these critical and necessary activities.

The April B-Side session participants are all smiles in Carnegie’s Resnick Education Wing as they complete their journey into the non-performing world of the music industry.

While this Carnegie-Weill pilot program came with an emphasis of educational offerings for BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) students, it addresses the needs of all music students to become aware of the many broad non-performing career paths in music. Associated are the many skills that are necessary to be successful in those careers.  

One B-Side student summed up their experience saying, “we got so much information in context of what really goes on inside labels of the music industry and how you can be successful in those fields. The day in the music studio really brought us into the life of a regular artist or participant that’s really doing this for their job every day.”  

Questioned about national, or even regional, rollout of similar sessions, Boyle stated, “Not at this time! Our plan is to take our time to collect feedback and reflections from our team as well as the February and April pilot program participants.”  Future B-Side plans are for a continued on-site, New York City area only, offering next spring at Carnegie Hall, “exact dates to be determined” said Meg Boyle, Carnegie Hall’s manager of public relations. 

Books About Non-Performing Music Industry Careers

There are several books that address non-performing music industry careers. These resources can provide valuable and helpful information to music educators in guiding their students.

Borg, Booby and Eames, Michael, Introduction to Music Publishing for Musicians, MusicPro guides, 2021, Focus is primarily on publishing and its related fields. It also contains a resources list and end-of-chapter quizzes.  

Borg, Bobby, The Musician’s Handbook, Billboard Books, 2008, Focus is on the relationships between performing musicians and the other various necessary music businesses. 

Braheny, John, The Craft and Business of Songwriting, Writer’s Digest Books, 2001, Outlines all the functions important to a songwriter with a list of resources.

Crouch, Tanja L., 100 Careers in the Music Business, Barron’s Educational Series, 2008, A number of appendices resources including organizations, directories and magazines, colleges offering four year music business management degrees, and more. 

Gerardi, Robert, Opportunities in Music Careers, VGM Career Horizons, 1997, Lists a number of associated professional organizations, other “extended career choices” that include teaching, musicologist, music librarian, music critic, music therapy, religious and military music and careers about the music equipment such as the manufacture, repair of instruments and electronics.    

Weisman, Loren, Music Business for Dummies, John Wiley & Sons, 2015, Primarily focuses on the roles directly involved with the musical performance environment.

Merging the Kodály and Orff Schulwerk Philosophies in the K-5 Classroom

Music teachers must be flexible and adapt to each student’s unique learning style to help them achieve musical excellence. To enhance their comprehension of beat, rhythm, and melody, students may require additional opportunities to explore various instruments. Creative movement, singing, listening activities, and visual aids are all useful techniques for teaching elementary general music. This approach ensures each student can efficiently learn and master each task in the learning process. 

The Enlightenment

 I must tell you; I found the perfect way to teach music to my students—the Kodály method. It’s all about making music literacy and understanding more accessible and creating an environment where singing is the main instrument, and personal musicianship is developed thoroughly. But I wanted to switch things up and add some spice to my teaching methods. During the COVID-19 shutdown, I attended virtual Orff Schulwerk pedagogy workshops across the United States, and they were game-changers! They were super cheap and enabled me to attend local, regional, and national music education conferences. Presenters emphasized that learning experiences should happen through the four-stage learning process of Orff Schulwerk’s pedagogy—imitation, exploration, literacy, and improvisation (Frazee & Kreuter, 1987). Focus was also placed on the value of speech, movement, singing, instruments, and listening lessons. Due to a deepened insight, I adjusted my curriculum by combining the Schulwerk approach with my Kodály framework—ultimately birthing the “KodOrff” approach if you will. As mentioned by Shehan-Campbell and Scott-Kassner (2010), there’s no one right way to teach music. Each teacher must choose the way that works best for them and their students. 

Before coming to this realization, my instructional delivery seemed stagnant. The search for more innovative student-centered strategies and activities seemed farfetched. 

Revising the Curriculum 

Having good ideas is one thing but making them happen is another. Adjusting my curriculum forced me to think about the best way kids learn. Content must be appropriate for their current age, stage, and phase of both their psychological and physical development. So, I started with the basics, such as keeping a steady beat, identifying rhythm, exploratory singing, matching pitch, creative movement, choreographed movement, improvisation, playing instruments, expression, and sight-reading melodic/rhythmic patterns. The intentional spiral design scaffolded musical elements in a developmental, not chronological, model. I believe this remixed pedagogical plan of action provides a well-rounded musical experience. 

Curriculum in Action 

In the 2021-2022 school year, my first graders played games and sang songs in review of what they learned in kindergarten. One was called “See Saw,” where they partnered with a classmate and sang while mimicking a teeter-totter motion—unconsciously modeling the melodic contour. This made learning fun, and it aided them in hearing tonalities. Students matched pitch using the sol-mi interval on a neutral syllable, decoding the melody of familiar tunes by saying either “high” or “low,” and reading “sol-mi” patterns from a one-line staff. Sometimes, students took turns pointing to “sol-mi” pitch buttons on the whiteboard while the rest sang using the words “high” and “low”, helping me check for understanding. My way of infusing the Orff process was through the lens of imitation, exploration, improvisation, and creating. Activities included echoing teacher-led melodic/rhythmic patterns extracted from folksongs used within the lesson. Folk dances extended targeted concepts with fun being the highlighted component. Providing frequent opportunities for students to use learned content to reconstruct into varied arrangements and original student work reflected student-centered instruction. This process involved both singing and the playing of instruments (i.e. glockenspiels, xylophones, drums, and recorders) which heightened anticipation and interest. Teaching movement from an Orff Schulwerk approach added sequence to both choreographed and creative movement. Infusing student awareness of personal space, whole and partial body parts, shapes, leveled shapes, loco-motor and non-locomotor movement, mass formations, and music mapping improved how my students perceived the artfulness in which music is performed and felt. 


The merging of the Kodály and Orff Schulwerk philosophies, in my case, has been proven to be a perfect blend of musical understanding and applying knowledge to create something new. With this pedagogical application, it is with high hopes that each experience fosters a life-long love and appreciation for music that will be joyously shared with the next generation. 

You can contact Spencer at

Inspiring the Next Generation of Music Educators

It is no secret schools in the United States face the most significant educator workforce shortage in our Nation’s history. The combination of the extensive number of educators leaving the field as the world emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing encroachment of political issues into the schools, and a significant decrease in the number of students choosing education as a career pathway has created a perfect storm that has left many of schools scrambling for staffing. Music and the performing arts are not immune from this storm. 

Recognizing the shortage of music educators poses a significant threat to the future of music education in our schools, a coalition of like-minded national organizations involved with music education joined forces in the Fall of 2021 to address this challenge. Recognizing this issue was bigger than any individual organization, the National Federal of State High School Associations joined with the American Choral Directors Association, American String Teachers Association, Music for All, the National Association for Music Education, National Association of Music Merchants, and dozens of others to establish the TeachMusic Coalition (TMC). The TMC has worked together over the past 24 months to develop plans and strategies to tackle the workforce shortage head-on. 

What is Causing the Music Educator Shortage?

We can point to a few items as contributors to the music educator workforce shortage:

– Fewer students are entering the education career field in general. According to data from the National Association of Schools of Music, there has been a 14% decline in music education graduates in the past decade. 

– Experienced teachers are leaving the profession at an accelerated rate following the pandemic. They are being replaced with a growing number of inexperienced or uncertified teachers. This trend disproportionately affects urban and rural schools, often impacting economically disadvantaged students.

– Lack of diversity of music educators. Nearly 93% of all music educators are white. The lack of diversity creates challenges for students who do not see themselves in the profession.

– Myths about reductions to school music and arts programs have fed into parent anxiety about paying for college for a major where there is a perception of a lack of job opportunities, which is completely untrue.

Further documenting the issue, the US Department of Education Teacher Shortage Area for 2023 reported 24 states and the District of Columbia (in red below) have identified music/arts education as a shortage area.

This shortage is occurring when there is a renaissance for music education in the United States! 

A Music Education Renaissance?

Yes! As a matter of fact, the United States is the most musically invested nation in the world.  Music education access (92%), participation (50%), programs, music product sales ($10 billion), and music consumption ($26 billion) are unparalleled among our nation’s peers and an envy amongst many of those peer nations. There are more than 140,000 music education positions in the United States.  

The value of music education has also increased, driven by its impact on student self-expression, mental health, and well-being. Music education provides the opportunity for students to work together in ensembles, building stronger, lasting peer to peer relationships, teaching how to collaborate and negotiate with others, and creating a sense of community which permeates not only the music classroom but the larger school culture. 

The value of music and arts education continues to be supported by parents, community members and voters, most recently in 2022 with the passage of Proposition 28 in California. Prop 28 will invest, on average, $1 billion in music and arts education, with 80% of the funding going to fund new teaching positions in California’s schools. 

In addition, the music education profession is undergoing many exciting changes. Music has a long and rich history; however, where student voice and choice are prevalent and where multiple cultures and communities are properly represented, new offerings are coming to life. The embracing of new and emerging technologies is giving rise to new music creation and performance methods. In addition to creating space for large and traditional ensembles to coexist with new forms of music making which aids in diversity of experiences and musical expression.

Why Music Education?

First, there are plenty of music education jobs available, with many of the leading collegiate music schools reporting near 100% placement rates for music education majors wishing to teach.

In addition, a recent satisfaction survey conducted by the NFHS focused on why music educators became music educators:

– To positively impact students’ lives.

– To pass on my love for music through education.

– To do something that gives me purpose.

– I was inspired/encouraged by a former teacher.

Many music educators in the same survey (76%) pointed out that part of their job satisfaction arose out of having a supportive teaching environment, led by their school administrator. Additionally, 75% of music teachers also stated they see part of their job as helping support the school’s overall mission and climate through their work, being a vital part of the success of the school.

But for many, teaching music is simply a calling–one of the most rewarding career paths today filled with infinite challenges and joy. 

More students need to be recruited into the music teaching profession, particularly students who reflect today’s students and their musical interests and ideas. The importance of music as part of a well-rounded education for our nation’s students cannot be overstated.

Bringing Solutions

After two years of preparation, the Music Educator Workforce Coalition launched a new resource for students, parents, and guidance counselors under the branding

The website has information, videos, resources, and solutions to support students who may be interested in pursuing a career in music education, support for parents to assist their students be successful, and materials and support for guidance counselors so they may be more effective in providing resources to students who wish to pursue a career in music.

The website supports three pathways to becoming a music educator:

1. A traditional undergraduate music education degree

2. Early recruitment of promising students interested in music education along with resources and support to assist them in becoming a music education major. 

3. Alternative Certification options for people with experience or other degrees who may wish to pursue music education

Taking Action

The creation of is just one tool in the MEWC toolkit. The group’s other actions include:

– Convening all stakeholders to discuss the issue and inspire the creation of innovative approaches to recruit and retain new and existing music educators.

– Working with the American School Counselor Association, Educator Rising, and other educational partners to provide opportunities and enhanced support for students pursuing music teaching as a career.

– Working with Post-secondary Education to review degree requirements to meet the needs of a modern music education system.

– Documenting the various individual state processes to enable individuals to acquire an alternative certification in music

– Highlighting innovative approaches to identifying, recruiting, and supporting students of color who show promise as future music educators. 

– Sponsoring/supporting recruitment sessions at conferences and events across the country. 

By taking a “collective impact” approach to this issue by leveraging the power of all the stakeholders in the music education community, we have a better chance to not only address the immediate short-term challenges facing the field, but we will also be able to address the long-term need to diversify the profession. 

An old adage says: The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today. Through the efforts of the TeachMusic Coalition we hope the seedlings we plant today will grow to create a strong, vibrant, and diverse music educator workforce for tomorrow.

Members of the TeachMusic Coalition include: American Choral Directors Association, American String Teachers Association, California Music Educators Association, CMA Foundation, College Band Directors National Association, Conn-Selmer, El Sistema USA, Florida Music Educators Association, Giles Communication, Hal Leonard Publishing, HBCU National Band and Orchestra Directors Consortium, HBCU Recruitment Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, KHS, Minority Band Directors Association, Montclair State University, Music Educator Consultants, Music for All, NAMM Foundation, National Association for Music Education,, National Federation of State High School Associations, Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma Youth Orchestra, Quadrant Research, Save The Music Foundation, Temple University, Texas Arts Administrators Collective, The Music Man Foundation, TIME: Technology Institute for Music Educators, University of Alabama, University of Illinois, University of South Carolina, Yamaha, and West Music.

Reprinted with permission of the NFHS from the January 2024 issue of High School Today magazine.

Getting to the Point! Comparative Articulation for Woodwinds – Part 1

A director addresses their students: 

“Brass, let’s articulate some eighth notes: Ta ta Ta ta Ta ta Ta ta! 1! 2! 3! 4!” 

Perhaps there is a stray misfire here or there, but the results are quite pleasing!  The director then draws their attention to the woodwinds: 

“Y’all are next!  Ta ta Ta ta Ta ta Ta ta! 1! 2! 3! 4!” 

A curious mix of squawks, poor attacks, and slap-tongues emerges from the flutes, clarinets, saxophones, and double reeds!  What on earth happened!?

Each of the woodwinds has its own highly diverse performance practices. For the most part, “TA” is an effective articulation syllable for young brass players. However, this rarely works with woodwinds. Rather, a different approach should be taken with each instrument to help ensure the best results.

What Is Articulation?

We are all perhaps guilty of thinking about sound originating with the articulation on wind instruments. However, does it really? With a bit of reflection, it is clear the articulation is only capable of stopping sound, not starting it. The tongue touches the reed, inhibiting vibration, or (in the case of the flute) touches the hard palate, acting as a dam, holding the airstream back from the aperture. Air, and only air, is capable of initiating sound on a wind instrument. The tongue can only truly stop a pitch from sounding, or, perhaps, the articulation can also aid in shaping the end of a note.


It is our position that nearly all articulations should be actions of the tongue, not the airstream. The tongue is an incredibly efficient muscle: It strikes inside of our mouths thousands of times a day to help shape every consonant that we utter. It is very well-suited to the task of articulating for wind instruments. By contrast, the respiratory system is a mind-bogglingly complex system of organs and muscles, designed to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Yet, all too many wind instrumentalists subconsciously (or some, perhaps, intentionally) try to separate notes by turning the airstream on and off. Even more instrumentalists accidentally try to articulate using a combination of tongue and air. This is far too convoluted, and often leads to poor, inconsistent results in performance.

Except for a few of the most separate jazz articulations (or perhaps a marcato/staccatissimo combination), the airstream should not be turned “on and off” for an articulation. Rather, a consistent airstream should constantly be flowing (“blowing whole-notes” in our classroom terminology), while the tongue stops the sound in the manners described below. This technique will result in a full, rich, resonant sound, no matter the artic-
  ulation style.

A note of caution for the teacher of beginning wind players. Many popular method books introduce articulation, in the form of repeated quarter notes, at an extremely early stage in development. Indeed, some methods leap to this new concept when many players are still struggling with switching fingerings while retaining a constant stream of air. To ensure quality articulation in future playing, it may be a good idea to use legato exercises with the initial pitches and delay the introduction of articulation until the concept of a full and uninhibited airstream is second nature to most students.

Articulation vs. Accent

We often think of articulations and accents as going together. However, these two tools often serve very different musical purposes. Accents, in general, emphasize a musical point, whereas an articulation provides shape and definition to a line. These two categories can also be approached differently in practice. An articulation (whether legato, staccato, or somewhere in-between) is a function of the tongue (or lack of the use thereof). An accent is a function of the airstream.

Think of performing on a wind instrument. How do you truly play an agogic accent (an agogic accent is when a note is emphasized by being longer in duration than the other notes around it)? By articulating harder? Of course not!  An accent is the result of a small increase (or “explosion”) in the intensity of an otherwise constant airstream. This can be achieved either in conjunction with the tongue, or without the tongue present at all. Similarly, the marcato pairs this airstream explosion with the articulation of a staccato. A tenuto is a slight increase in the volume of air used through the course of a note. 

If articulations are just the tongue stopping a moving airstream from vibrating the column of air in the instrument for a moment, what more, then, must we consider? Of course! The particulars for each instrument. In the next installment we’ll cover specifics for each woodwind instrument

Strategies for Improving the Sound of Your Wind Section

Achieving a cohesive and balanced sound within the wind section of your orchestra or band can present many challenges. Here are a few strategies to maximize the beauty of sound in your ensemble. 

Listening to develop a tonal concept

Perhaps the most effective way for young musicians to begin developing their sound is to have a model to which they can aspire. Some ideas: 

– Find recordings of great players and ensembles. Play those recordings in class. 

– Develop a list of links to the recordings for each instrument as well as full ensembles. Make listening assignments and evaluate through written reflection.  SBO+: Visit and click on “Sound Like This.”

-Bring in local players from a nearby university or professional orchestra to perform for your students. Bonus points if these players are teachers who would give your students private lessons. 

– Take a field trip to a nearby college or university concert and/or a side-by-side rehearsal. You may be surprised at how willing these ensembles and their conductors would be to work with your students.

Individual player development

Encourage private lessons. If there are good teachers in your area, can you bring them in to teach private lessons at your school? If the cost of lessons is an issue, do you have a booster group that can fund scholarships?  Are there music majors at a local university who would teach at a more affordable rate? Online lessons are not ideal, but they might be the best alternative. Be creative and do what you need to do to get teachers helping your students.

Ensemble development

Breaking down the components of a balanced and well-blended sound is vital to help students understand how to listen and respond. The concept of lower sounds being louder than higher sounds is an integral part of a good ensemble tone. I like to think of it as “nesting spheres of sound” with the lowest sounds being the outside sphere and each successive higher register fitting just inside the next lower register. A former player in the Cleveland Orchestra once told me that Maestro George Szell described octaves as “a two-to-one ratio” with each octave being half as loud as the one just below it. This is applicable within sections as well as within the entire ensemble.  

I have taught this concept to my bands by assigning each instrument to SATB Groups

1 – Tubas, baritone sax, bassoon, bass clarinet

2 – Trombones, euphoniums, tenor saxophone

3 – Trumpets, horns, and alto saxophones

4 – Flutes, oboes, clarinets 

Warm-ups were always rote exercises (often scales) that would begin with group 1 followed by each respective group entering in thirds (group 2 enters on “do” when group 1 gets to “mi”, etc). The musicians must attentively listen and try to “fit inside” the sound of the group just below them. This includes matching pitch and tone as much as possible. 

Tone and intonation are inextricably linked. The concept is to play “in tune and in tone.” The use of drones and electronic tuners is a good starting place, but I always asked my students to turn off the tuners after the initial tuning period and use their ears. Don’t be afraid to spend significant time, especially early in the year, passing around a concert F to have players match. They should be matching pitch as well as tone within sections. This can take a long time, but the results will be well-worth the time it takes. 

I recently interviewed Derek Scoles, director of bands at Thomas Worthington High School in Worthington, Ohio. His bands are known for their mature sound.

“The most basic thing I do is focus on sound alone.  One of our biggest obstacles is putting things in front of our eyes that can distract our focus. Warm up and method books are great, but if you’re working to develop the sound, they can become a distraction. A very basic place to start is a concert F.  Every day we start with the concert F whole note. We focus on basic breathing skills and fundamentals of sound. We start with a whole note. Then we do basic styles: 4 quarter notes in various styles. Once we’ve refined what that sounds like, looks like, and feels like, we apply them to scales. Instead of having them read the scales, I project a slideshow with letter names.”

“They have very little to look at, so they have nothing to think about other than how they sound. There are a lot of simple things kids can relate to, but they don’t ever see that “Oh, this is a high note” or “this is a low note” so they don’t think it may be too difficult to sound good. As a trumpet player, I used to see that high note and it would cause an initial tension. Now I’m seeing a letter on a screen that I don’t associate with high or low. I’m just making my best tone. Going chair by chair helps them hear how different their sounds are. We can pick the person who best produces the sounds we want and say “OK, let’s see if we can sound like person #5” for example. There’s a lot of imitation!”

I have found this approach to be extremely effective with young bands. I encourage you to try these techniques for yourself. 

Who Should Attend Festivals? You!

The time is right for every ensemble to participate in a festival! Whenever our backs are facing an audience, our credibility is on the line as directors. Unlike a soprano or alto section whose many voices work together, we are the only one performing our role. Self-evaluation is a necessary part of conducting. Attending a choral festival gives the singers and their conductors the opportunity to be adjudicated. Some beginning conductors fear festivals or contests because of the possibility of less than favorable comments from adjudicators, but just as a young quarterback learns from playing the game, we also learn from our experiences. A festival presents at least three opportunities for learning in one venue. It gives you and the choir an opportunity to be professionally evaluated, to hear other ensembles, and an opportunity to perform for peers. All these reasons should be shared with singers and administrators so they will understand and appreciate the event in advance. 

What constitutes a choral festival? Although festivals may vary depending on the sponsor, there are, basically, two types: adjudicated and non-adjudicated. In an adjudicated choral festival, one or more expert clinicians evaluate the performance of the choirs according to certain standards. However specific the standards, there is necessarily an element of subjectivity in this evaluation. Non-adjudicated festivals usually involve choirs performing either for one another or in combination, and while the opportunity to be professionally evaluated may be missing, performing for and hearing other ensembles make these worthwhile events. 

Choral festivals have long been a part of music education, giving student singers a goal to achieve a high rating as evidence of a performance of high quality. These events can be sponsored by local, county, regional, or statewide music teachers’ organizations such as the National Association for Music Education or the American Choral Directors Association. Each of these groups has standards for evaluation, which are usually printed on a generic form used by adjudicators at all their events. The goal is to have all performing ensembles sing for adjudicators whose reputation and expertise are trusted and whose comments and ratings will be shared. Many school choirs make festival participation an annual expectation. Administrators often see festival ratings as verified evidence of the success of their choral programs. From time to time, a community-based choir or collegiate choral department may host an adjudicated festival. These festivals may be on an invitational basis, with the organizing sponsor inviting choirs that are known to be at or above a particular level of proficiency, assuring a quality performance by all who participate. Having experts as clinicians is at once a reason for choirs to attend the festival and an opportunity to meet higher than usual standards. There are several organizations that run “for-profit” choral competitions, often in conjunction with some sort of amusement park, popular vacation destination, or significant performance venue. While they may employ competent, noted choral experts as adjudicators, the very existence of these organizations is based on having enough choirs pay for the privilege of traveling to the festival site and taking advantage of the non-musical amenities that are offered. The cost of attending these for-profit festivals often includes lodging, meals, and amusement park tickets. There are many regions where vocal jazz, show choir, or popular music festivals offer the same competitive options to ensembles. Some commercially sponsored festivals offer performance categories for these types of ensembles. The role of the adjudicator in any of these festivals is to evaluate each participating choir based on a set of criteria that are known to be standards of excellence. At most festivals hosted by a music teacher organization, adjudication can result in an overall rating. The terms “superior,” “excellent,” “good,” “fair,” and “poor” are common. Some organizations appoint adjudicators based on the reputation of their choir’s performances. While this logic appears sound, not every successful conductor is fair when evaluating the work of other choirs and conductors. Some festival hosts have a training process for their adjudicators, which strives to achieve some sense of uniformity in evaluations. Other hosts, usually of invitational events, rely on the recommendation of other choral teachers for persons to serve as an adjudicator. The typical festival sponsored by the state or local music educator association will give ratings that are posted for all to see. Along with the overall ratings are ratings in specific categories of choral skills. Some schools or districts require their music ensembles to attend festivals and principals or music supervisors may ask for the adjudication forms. While most festivals take place during the spring semester, some are in the fall. There are even a few festivals during the first two weeks of December. They can become an excellent opportunity to share holiday literature with others. Whenever the festival is available, directors should avail themselves of the opportunity to participate. This is especially true for those who are new to the profession, since it is a great opportunity to share and learn new literature by other choirs, while being evaluated in a professional environment. There are few if any opportunities that provide so many teachable moments in an hour or two of performances. As your career develops, consider it a responsibility to yourself and your singers to perform at choral festivals and learn from the experience.
A version of this article was in ChorTeach and appears with permission of ACDA.

From Marine Band Concerto Competition Winner to Audition Winner

Horn player Staff Sgt. Shawn Zheng, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., is one of the newest members of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band – he just joined the ensemble in August 2023. He’s also a former winner (2017) of the Marine Band’s annual Concerto Competition for High School Musicians – the first of which to later become a musician in the Marine Band.

“I remember discovering I was a finalist and feeling so motivated for the opportunity to compete in DC,” Zheng said. “I entered a handful of competitions in high school mostly as fun goals. These were mostly local competitions, but also a few with a national scope, such as the Marine Band’s Concerto Competition.”

“These, along with summer program auditions, led me to always have something tangible to practice toward,” Zheng continued. “As a bonus, they allowed me to meet a lot of young musicians (many of whom I still keep in touch with) who were on a similar journey as I was—that communal aspect of making music remains important to me.”

Zheng mentioned he was less interested in the “competition” aspect of these events, and more in witnessing himself make demonstrable progress because of his own preparation. His progress was real, and back in 2017 his musicianship impressed the judges during the final round of the Marine Band Concerto Competition enough to award him the $2,500 scholarship and opportunity to solo with “The President’s Own” in concert, commensurate with first prize.

“I was of course elated and so grateful for the opportunity to perform my winning selection with the Marine Band, but I was also very nervous,” Zheng said. “It was the first time I ever soloed in front of an ensemble, and the fact it was with such a well-respected ensemble made it that much more nerve-wracking and exciting.”

Zheng went on to study horn performance at Rice University in Texas, where he also gained experience subbing for the Houston Symphony and guest performing with the Houston Ballet Orchestra.

Fast forward to 2023, and he found himself back in John Philip Sousa Band Hall in Washington, D.C., this time auditioning to be in the very military ensemble he performed with six years before. On that day, the Marine Band’s audition committee also saw him as the perfect fit to join as its next horn player.

Zheng explained what appealed to him about auditioning with the Marine Band: “Due to my positive experiences as a Concerto Competition participant in high school, I knew that ‘The President’s Own’ was a world-class ensemble with excellent musicians. It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned more about the unique nature of the job and the day-to-day experiences of being in a premier military band. During the last year of my bachelor’s degree, I started taking professional auditions for ensembles that I felt would be a good fit for me in terms of quality of ensemble, organizational culture, and location. While many of these auditions were for orchestras, the Marine Band also checked all those boxes for me. When the opportunity to audition arose, I knew I couldn’t pass it up!”

“I’m very fortunate to have won the audition,” Zheng added.

When asked about what he had to work hardest at as a young musician, he responded that it was the technical aspects of the horn which challenged him most.

“While I think I had a naturally good ear and intuition for phrasing due to the sheer quantity of music I listened to, the physical aspects of horn-playing itself did not come particularly ‘easy’ to me,” Zheng explained. “There were many instances of having musical ideas I wanted to express that I couldn’t do effectively, due to technical limitations. Though, over time as I became more adept, my focus shifted to improving my mental game and cultivating belief in my preparation, abilities, and career.”

As a professional musician, Zheng continues to make sure the “nuts and bolts” of his horn-playing are kept in good condition daily, but now he faces new challenges. “I’m constantly trying to make my personal practice more efficient,” he said. “If I can have the same net result after one hour instead of three, I’d rather spend less time physically practicing.”

For now, Zheng continues to get acclimated to his new working environment in a military setting, learning more about the organization through first-hand experience.

“I am surprised that an extremely important part of the job is on personal presentation, making sure my uniform is neat and decorum is appropriate,” Zheng shared. “In my position, I am not just a regular musician, but a very public-facing, active-duty Marine representing not only the Marine Corps, but also the United States as a whole.”

Tone Deaf Comics

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!