• Dan Trahey of OrchKids

    Mike Lawson | September 19, 2013

    OrchKids program blossoms under watchful eyes

    By Eliahu Sussman

    In addition to being a highly regarded professional ensemble, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is also the parent organization of OrchKids, a music education program for underprivileged youths modeled after Venezuala’s El Sistema. Dan Trahey, OrchKids director of artistic programming, first spoke with SBO in December of 2010 for a feature on El Sistema-inspired programs in the U.S. In this follow-up interview, Trahey outlines the progress the organization has made in the past few years and Marin Alsop’s role with the program, while also clarifying some possible misconceptions about how El Sistema-inspired music education initiatives relate to traditional school music programs.

  • UpClose: Marin Alsop

    Mike Lawson | September 19, 2013

    Reinvigorating the Classical Art Form

    Marin Alsop is the real deal. A MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” recipient? Check. A “fellow” at the prestigious American Academy of Arts & Sciences? She certainly is. The first woman to ever become the music director of a major American orchestra? Oh yeah, Marin Alsop is that, too. Meanwhile, this acclaimed conductor and music director is also one of the staunchest and most active advocates for music that one could possibly imagine.

    The daughter of two professional musicians in New York – her father was a concertmaster with the New York City Ballet and her mother a cellist in that orchestra – Alsop began playing an instrument at a very early age, and then was awestruck when, at age nine, she had the opportunity to see Leonard Bernstein in concert. At that moment, she became determined to be a conductor when she grew up. Of course, at nine years old, her goal of leading an orchestra seemed pretty straightforward, and there was little thought to the groundbreaking pioneering on behalf of women everywhere. (To this day, Alsop maintains a degree of incredulousness that the role of conductor was unattainable for women. She says, “I am extraordinarily proud to be the ‘first’ [female conductor of a major orchestra] but I am also shocked by the fact that in the 21st century there can still be ‘firsts’ for women!”)

  • Dr. Ken Dye

    Mike Lawson | August 15, 2013

    Evolution Within a Historic Program

    The University of Notre Dame is home to one of the oldest continuously running collegiate bands in existence. Thought to have been established as early as 1846, four years after the founding of the university, the Band of the Fighting Irish has been a valued contributor to the university since its inception, as well as a constant presence at home football games, from 1887 to the present day.

    However, the Notre Dame Marching Band is also much more than a historical footnote. Under the watch of director Dr. Kenneth Dye, the ensemble was awarded the 2011 Sudler Trophy by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. The Sudler Trophy is the highest honor in the college marching world, reserved for “collegiate marching bands of particular excellence who have made outstanding contributions to the American way of life.”

  • Ed Jacobi

    Mike Lawson | June 21, 2013

    A Life Changing Experience: Insight into One Band Program’s International Exchange.

    When planning a large-scale outing for a school music group, sometimes it helps to make friends first. For Ed Jacobi, band director at the Chicago-area Buffalo Grove High School, one such connection that was made back in the 1980s with an adventurous administrator at a school in Vienna, Austria is still actively paying dividends. In fact, June of 2013 marks Jacobi’s tenth time leading a large group of music students from his high school program on a tour of Europe in the past 23 years.

    The Buffalo Grove Band is a thriving non-competitive school music program that features a full complement of ensembles: marching band, symphonic and concert bands, a pep band, and a jazz band. And just about every third year since 1990, Ed Jacobi has brought the majority of his band students to Central Europe for a cultural exchange based in Vienna, Austria, and a performance tour that often stretches across Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, or Northern Italy.

    This year, the group is traveling for 14 days, the first week of which will be spent in Vienna, where many of the 133 American students, along with some of their parent chaperones, will be staying in the homes of their Austrian hosts. And later this fall, as they have every year for more than two decades, more than 40 16- and 17-year-old children from Landstraßer Gymnasium, Buffalo Grove’s Viennese sister school, will visit the Greater Chicago area.

    SBO recently caught up with band director Ed Jacobi, who took time away from his hectic pre-trip planning to discuss this successful transcontinental partnership and its impact on the music program at Buffalo Grove High School.

  • Michael Niedziejko

    Mike Lawson | May 15, 2013

    DSC_0043Over the past 19 years, Michael Niedziejko has steered the New Providence (New Jersey) High School marching band into remarkable territory. In addition to laudable participation numbers (more than 140 kids out of a school of only 620), the “Pride & Class of New Providence” has also seen a great deal of competitive success, garnering eight USBands (formerly USBBA) state championships in the past 11 years, while also winning the 2011 and 2012 Class 6A National Championships.

    Niedziejko credits this consistent success to an overall model of consistency in the New Providence High School music program: consistency in staffing, in instruction, in programming, in preparation, and in execution. “In my teaching, from day one of a particular season to the very last day, I teach the same exact way. Whether I’m being observed by administrators or not, whether we’re in a public situation or a closed situation – it doesn’t matter, I teach the same way. I want my students to always see me the same way as I am when I teach. It’s important to be honest in that capacity. Most studentsappreciate that.”

  • 2013 Essay Contest Winners

    Mike Lawson | May 1, 2013

    Congratulations to the 2013 SBO essay scholarship winning students and their school music programs!


    Austin Amestoy

    Age 12

    7th Grade

    Laurel Middle School

    Laurel, MT

    If I was the principal of my school, I would incorporate a variety of important music related courses into my school. To begin, I would have piano as a required class. Piano would become a metaphorical gateway to learning other instruments, as it teaches how to read music and how to learn the notes. Music History would be another non-required course. The class would be a very important class for aspiring musicians because it would voice the importance of music to our society, and also explain how music came to be.

    Another route to take would be band class. This would be the first class that students could get used to working together as a musical ensemble. It would also make available the use of new instruments, such as saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, flute, and bells. As an expansion of band, I would also include orchestra into my curriculum. It would be an excellent opportunity for students who took band to be introduced to string instruments, and enter into more complicated musical compositions.

    Lastly, I would ensure choir was on my list of available musical classes. Choir holds a great chance for students to expand on their vocal abilities and increase their range of notes that they are capable of singing.

    If I was the principal, I would make sure that the students of my school were enriched with choices in the field of music.

  • UpClose: Richard McCready

    Mike Lawson | April 4, 2013

    A Glimpse into the Future of Music Education


    As technology shifts the world around us, long-accepted paradigms about how we communicate, learn, and teach are rapidly evolving. Richard McCready of Clarksville, Maryland’s River Hill High School, recognizes this seismic shift in the educational landscape, and has been at the forefront of implementing a new reality. Recently named the Technology Institute for Music Education (TI:ME) 2013 “Teacher of the Year,” McCready uses technology to inspire and engage students in music making and composition using an assessable, task-based methodology.

    “What we have in our whole assessment model and our whole curriculum model throughout schools is one based on mathematics: it follows a sequential order,” says McCready. “That certainly is an okay approach. However, kids today are learning in a totally different way.” McCready is referring to a new style of learning that he describes as being more like a spider web than a straight line. He continues, “The whole approach through creativity allows us to go into learning skills in a way that is not so linear. We don’t say, ‘We need to learn this skill and then we’ll go to the next one.’ What we do is we gradually impart skills as the students need them.”

  • 2012 ’50 Directors Who Make a Difference’ Report

    Mike Lawson | December 14, 2012

    SBO’s 15th annual “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” report comes at a pivotal time for music education in the United States. Even with the divisive and acrimonious Presidential election finally behind us, a great deal of uncertainty still lies ahead. Incessant talk of increasing national debt and other lagging economic indicators kindles fears of another recession that would undoubtedly put even more pressure on school budgets and, consequently, could be disastrous for arts programs nationwide.

    And yet, in the midst of monumental national and local economic challenges and dour budget forecasts, music educators continue to excel in classrooms across the country. Take heart in this report, which sheds light on exemplary teachers who run thriving, and vibrant programs in schools big and small, elementary through high school, from coast to coast. These following 50 band directors, orchestra directors, and instrumental music teachers are joined by their common cause of spreading the language of music and, through it, the life lessons that are manifest in the dedication to this endeavor. In this 2012 edition of the “50 Directors” report, educators share their teaching philosophy, how they hope to affect overall student development, and the most important lesson they’ve learned since entering the teaching profession.

  • Music and the Brain: Dalouge Smith and the SDYS

    Mike Lawson | October 12, 2012

    The San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory is the home of an El Sistema-inspired youth orchestra program. Recently, the organization partnered with researchers at the Neurosciences Institute (NSI) and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Center for Human Development to begin a landmark study with a goal of measuring and understanding the effects of music education on childhood cognitive development. The study, which goes under the acronym "SIMPHONY" (Studying the Influence Music Performance Has On Neurodevelopment in Youth) joins the expertise of UCSD child cognitive development experts, the NSI's experts on the brain and music, and the SDYS's experience teaching young people music.

    Dalouge Smith is an arts advocate and the San Diego Youth Symphony's president and CEO, a role he has served since 2005. SBO recently spoke with Dalouge about this potentially revolutionary scientific endeavor with the goal of better understanding the project's genesis, methodology, and some of the hypotheses that the people involved are hoping to prove.

  • An Introduction to Researching Music and the Brain

    Mike Lawson | October 12, 2012

    Part 1: An Introduction to Researching Music and the Brain


    Two pioneers in the field of researching how music impacts the brain are Dr. Nina Kraus and Dr. Aniruddh Patel. SBO recently spoke with these two scientists to discuss their work and its broad implications on music education.

    Nina Kraus plays the electric guitar, some bass, and a bit of drums. She is also a professor of neurobiology at Northwestern University, where she heads the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

    "There's so much work to be done," says Kraus. "I don't need to tell music educators how important music is, not only for the sake of music but also for helping kids become better learners. However, there aren't a lot of visible scientific outcomes in education in general, and there aren't a lot of ironclad results that show the effect that the musical experience has on the nervous system. The work that my lab does, along with the work of others in the field, can hopefully provide some of the evidence that the educators and policy makers can use to get more resources for more music."

    Kraus's studies of the impact that music has on various cognitive abilities have been published in some of the world's leading scientific journals. This summer, Kraus published a study in the Journal of Neuroscience titled "A Little Goes A Long Way," touting the lasting brain benefits of even a relatively small amount of musical study. In that experiment, which received significantf media attention, Kraus measured the brain's response to sound among 45 students at Northwestern University and determined that people with even a small amount of musical training were "better at processing sound" than those with no musical training.

  • Music and the Brain – Discerning Fact from Theory

    Mike Lawson | October 12, 2012

    Everyone knows that  learning and playing music has innumerable educational and developmental benefits. The many skills it takes to become proficient at playing an instrument will also serve people in a variety of other ways throughout their lives: from fine motor skills to auditory skills, social skills of working in an ensemble to the focus and discipline needed to practice effectively, and so on. While this may be common knowledge for music educators, there isn’t actually much scientific evidence of the concrete and specific ways in which music helps cognitive or social development of music learners.

    People have been theorizing about the many benefits of music making for thousands of years. In fact, the word “music” comes from the “Muses” of ancient Greece, the deities who represented creative and intellectual endeavors. And for just as long, people have been observing these benefits in musicians and those who study music, noting that it must not be coincidence that so many high school band and orchestra members excel at academic achievement and bolster their schools’ honor rolls.

    Dr. James Catterall, a professor at UCLA and a leading researcher in the field of Arts Education, has performed studies concluding that students who reported a high level of involvement with learning a musical instrument had “significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12” than those who did not study music. Another study of Dr. Catterall’s looked at 25,000 students and found that students involved in music also score higher at standardized tests, as well as reading proficiency exams. And while this is certainly welcome news – affirming what may be obvious to music educators – those studies still only determine a vague link between achievement and music, failing to explain the specifics of why and how music is so beneficial.

  • The 2013 SBO Essay Scholarship Contest Winners

    Mike Lawson | July 18, 2012

    School Band & Orchestra has completed its 13th annual scholarship competition for music students, grades four to 12. Since its inception, the SBO Essay Scholarship Contest has awarded more than $260,000 in scholarship funds and music products to 132 students and their school programs. In 2013, the winning student entries came from nine states: two from Georgia and one each from California, Florida, Minnesota, Montana, Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Five winners were selected from grades four through eight and five from grades nine to 12, each receiving a $1,000 scholarship, with their respective school music programs receiving a matching award of musical products from co-sponsors NAMM, Alfred Music Publishing, Sabian Ltd., Woodwind & Brasswind, and Yamaha Corporation of America.

    This Year’s theme, “If You Were The School Principal, Which Musical Ensembles Would You Include In Your Curriculum and Why?” received several thousand entries from every state and several foreign countries. The music students received their scholarship awards from local music dealers representing National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), a major co-sponsor of the program. Presenting music dealers include Jacobs Music, Melhart Music Center, Eckroth Music, Guitar Center, Atlanta Band Center, Music & Arts, Midwest Musical Imports, Foxes Music, Baker Music, and Bertrand Music.

    Congratulations to the 2013 SBO essay scholarship winning students and their school music programs!

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