Back to Normal (Sort of) – Now What?

Thomas Palmatier • April 2023Perspective • April 2, 2023

It’s that time of year when ensembles are preparing for festivals, assessments, contests, or whatever terminology is used in your state. I was recently a clinician for the Colorado Concert Band Festival and thought I would share the good things I observed and areas where we can all improve.

First, I loved their emphasis on clinics as the heart of the event. Each group performed two or three pieces and then there was a half hour or more for work by a clinician. This put the emphasis on improvement and learning rather than just getting a score. Second, the efficiency of the festival was impressive (run by students of the host school). Everything ran on schedule and yet no one seemed to be hurried or harried. Third, again focusing on learning and improvement, every ensemble was required to hear at least two other groups and encouraged to stay for more. They enthusiastically cheered for each other, which was wonderful for the group on stage.

There were lots of things to feel good about. Directors seemed to understand their ensembles were still recovering from losing almost two years of in-person instruction and programmed accordingly. One excellent group that could perform Grade 4 or 5 literature performed Grade 3 music with lovely intonation, great phrasing, shaped releases, and superb dynamics. How wonderful to see a master educator at work that understood that playing the music beautifully was more important than the grade.

Many ensembles performed a traditional march. Good! Besides it being the core of the band repertoire, there are so many great things to be learned in properly performing a march.

During the clinics, I often started out by asking them what they thought we should work on. Their immediate responses were always spot on. The students knew precisely the areas to be improved and as we worked on those areas, they were very responsive and willing to try new things. These were wonderful young people who were clearly thrilled to be performing music together again.

Every group mentioned dynamics as something they needed to work on and they were absolutely right. Richard Floyd’s article, “Unconvincing Dynamics is a Sin!” in the February 2023 issue of SBO+ should be required reading for us all. Even better would be to read his book, The Seven Deadly Sins of Music Making where he helps us to stop sinning!

Now, for our challenges. There is a shortage of great teachers of the arts. There are many reasons but two of them are things we can fix. Universities continue to graduate more music performance majors than they do music education majors, despite there being a miniscule number of performing jobs. Take a moment to read “Are Higher Ed Institutions Really Doing What’s Best for Music Education?” in the March 2019 issue of SBO+ and stop enabling this practice. Second, the attrition rate for young teachers is high. As fellow teachers, we must more actively reach out to help, mentor, and encourage them. Don’t wait – pick up the phone and call a young music teacher now.

Col. (Ret.) Thomas Palmatier

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