• UpClose: Owen Bradley

    Mike Lawson | April 9, 2008

    Not Just a Band Director

    Owen Bradley is technically the band director at North Port High School in North Port, Florida, though the title "band director" doesn't give full credence to the extent of Mr. Bradley's efforts. More than simply leading the school's thriving orchestra, marching band, and jazz band, Owen is actually teaching. He's using music as a medium for exploring a broad range of topics, from co-curricular concepts incorporating other academic subjects to technology and the future of music production.

    Indeed, this last point is a source of pride for Mr. Bradley, as the integration of modern music technology into his daily classroom routine has enabled him to reach an often unaccounted for segment of North Port High's student population the self-driven and self-taught, technologically-savvy kids who in their free time experiment with GarageBand, Reason, Audacity, and similar high-octane music-producing programs.

  • From the Trenches: Dear Santa…

    Mike Lawson | December 18, 2007

    If you are like most music educators, by the time you read this you will be on holiday break. Midwest Band has come and gone. Music for All's Bands of America program has crowned LD Bell High School (Texas) the new Grand National Champion. And you are now diving into the stack of magazines that has been piling up on the floor by your desk for the past four months.

    To provide you with a little mental break and back by popular demand is my annual letter to Santa asking to deliver what I believe will be meaningful presents to many girls and boys (naughty and nice) so they may use these gifts to prosper in the New Year!

    Let's start with gifts for• PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES!

  • A Big Payday

    Mike Lawson | September 19, 2007

    In recent years, skyrocketing executive compensation at large, publicly traded corporations has become a major issue in the news and a serious point of contention among shareholders. Companies showing minimal growth, or even downsizing, have seen their top executives' pay increasing by multiples never before seen. Evidently, this trend is now spilling over into the non-profit sector, including the arena of arts management. The compensation of CEO Josiah Spaulding of the Citi Performing Arts Center made the news in the Boston Globe, July 31 edition when the board of directors paid Spaulding a whopping $1.265 million bonus on top of his regular compensation of $432,135. This largesse took place while the organization was facing serious deficits and dwindling bookings. The board's defense is that the bonus was part of a contractual obligation that was agreed upon in 2001 and was given now for the CEO's efforts in the intervening years. Be that as it may, the numbers are still staggering. The most unfortunate part of this picture is that there have been decreases in programming, drastic cuts to the number of performances, and an early end to a recent Shakespeare production at Citi Performing Arts Center.

    The first issue that is most disconcerting is that this organization is a "non-profit" corporation; public tax dollars that are being used to subsidize groups of this type. Secondly, does it make sense that someone running an arts organization receives extraordinary compensation when the arts groups that it hires are having difficulty paying their musicians, dancers, singers, and other performers, as well as running deficits in their annual budgets? Granted, it takes a serious amount of skill, dedication, and vision to run a successful (if it is successful) arts management group, but is it worth almost $1.7 million? Even if it is, should it be done on the backs of the performers it hires (or doesn't hire, in the case of CitiCenter)? Compare this to the Raymond Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in Palm Beach, Florida. According to, the CEO, Judith Miller, whose organization has increasing revenues and a larger budget than CitiCenter's, makes a more reasonable income of $252,000 per year.

    There are managers running organizations with much larger compensation packages, which may be justified, as they are able to keep increasing revenues for their organizations. However, this past April (according to the Boston Globe, April 13, 2007 edition), the Boston Symphony Orchestra asked its volunteers to pay a fee while the orchestra has been burdened with a budget deficit of nearly $1.4 million. This is while the BSO paid its managing director, Mark Volpe, over $400,000 per year. If, according to the, the president of Bard College, who oversees a budget of $159 million, earns $242,000 per year, and one of the country's highest-paid governors, New York's Eliot Spitzer, earns $179,000 and oversees a budget of over $100 billion, why are the salaries of some non-profit executives so high in an era marked by severe cuts to the arts?

  • UpClose: Barry Spanier

    Mike Lawson | August 14, 2007

    From a Vision to a Band

    From a seed to a sapling, and a sapling to a tree. A strong music program begins with a vision. This idea must be articulated and nurtured, so it can lay roots and extend. As the environment takes notice of the positive nature of this aim - the power of unity and determination, the exhilaration of performance - it gains in strength, numbers and support.

    The vision at Tulane University was sown by students. In 2003, after 30 years without a marching ensemble, a student-run pep band decided to march for homecoming, with support from the few emeritus alumni who recalled a Tulane marching band long extinct. The enthusiasm of this student group inspired administration to bring in a music director who could rekindle Tulane's dormant marching tradition.

    Enter Barry Spanier, a man who has fielded marching bands across two Olympic games, a World Expo, and rebuilt the NYU Orchestra. In a recent SBO interview, Barry spoke of the progression leading up to his current position as Tulane's director of bands and the challenges and joys of sowing musical seeds.

  • 50 Directors Who Make a Difference

    Mike Lawson | December 29, 2006

    As this annual feature grows longer in the tooth, folks occasionally hypothesize: "At some point it's going to become difficult to come up with new teachers to profile. "Well, here we are, nine years into this exercise, and finding educators worthy of inclusion in our "50 Directors Who Make a Difference" report is the least of our problems (tracking down all these people and getting them to reply to e-mails and answer phone calls within deadline - now that's sometimes a challenge...).

    SBO, itself, is guided by the notion that there is a vast and ever-growing body of music educators who are dedicated, skilled, and inspiring mentors; this yearly article is merely one broad-stroke summary, which certainly confirms that notion. Individuals with decades of experience, as well as fresh-faced newcomers, are sharing their love of music with children and "fighting the good fight" - it's rarely difficult to come up with commendable teachers, even when considering the smallest of states (I'm talking to you, Rhode Island and Delaware!).

  • From the Trenches: Celebrate Today… Be Vigilant All Year Long”

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    Happy Music in Our Schools Month! A great time of year to celebrate and showcase music education and the wondrous benefits music provides to our students. It is also the time of year many groups choose to initiate local advocacy campaigns.

    For me, this is an opportunity to look around and contemplate how we have done in our collective efforts to increase music's role in our education system and to examine some of the practical realities that we face while working toward the elusive goal of "Music for Every Child."

    First of all, we have much to celebrate: standards for music and arts education have spread through the land, a federal mandate as a core subject, a renewed focus on the role of music and arts education in a NCLB environment.

  • David Carbone

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    A successful high school Marching Band program can outstrip the traditional scope of most other “academic programs.” Particularly in smaller or rural areas, a good Marching Band can galvanize the community and strengthen a town’s sense of identity and pride.

    The music educators and student performers of Bellbrook High School’s Marching Band are no strangers to this phenomenon, as the Marching Eagles have helped put Bellbrook, Ohio on the national radar. Winners of six BOA Grand Nationals Class A championships, last year the Marching Eagles were named the 2004 BOA Grand National Class AA champion, the first national championship since the program moved up a class in 2002.

    David Carbone, director of bands and music at Bellbrook since 2001, recently spoke with SBO about maintaining and strengthening a winning Marching Band tradition.

  • Excerpts from the Winning Essays

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    In our June issue, School Band and Orchestra announced the winners of the 2004 Scholarship Essay Contest. Each of the 10 winners - five in grades four through eight, and five in grades nine through 12 - received a $1,000 scholarship for writing an essay about their favorite composer. Each winning student's music program received a matching prize of $1,000 in musical merchandise from the contest's co-sponsors: Alfred Publishing Co., C.G. Conn, Yamaha Corporation of America, Avedis Zildjian Company, and Hershey's Fundraising.

    Included here are excerpts from the 10 winning student essays. The essays in their entirety are posted on SBO's Web site, The 2005 Scholarship Essay Contest topic and deadline will be announced this fall in both the magazine and on the Web site.

    Kurt Rever
    Grade 12, Age 17
    Pinkerton Academy
    Derry, N.H.
    Instrument: Percussion
    Director: Leighanne Cullen
    Favorite Composer: John Williams

  • George N. Parks

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    In the first grade, he revealed his earliest tendencies toward a career as a marching band director: he conducted the woodblock band.

    By ninth grade, he’d decided he wanted to pursue a career as a band director and, soon after, began his training as the drum major of his high school band. As a member of the Reading Buccaneers in Pennsylvania, he served as drum major for 13 of his 14 years with the drum and bugle corps. And for the past 27 years, George N. Parks has been at the helm of the 300-member Minuteman Marching Band at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

    It seems that directing bands runs in his family.

  • Go East, Young Band!

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    Band and orchestra directors interested in a unique travel opportunity that incorporates musical, social, cultural, and educational experiences should consider Asia.

    Many schools and communities in Japan, China, and other Asian nations are seeking sister-school relationships in the United States.

    Forging a connection with such a school can lead to experiences for students that will have both greater depth and less cost than many so-called “educational” tours organized by travel agencies. The key is to create a dream and to implement it with directors and their colleagues doing the legwork. Yes, the process is labor intensive, but it results in a long-term relationship with the sister school or community that continues for decades. Our experiences will, I hope, inspire and give direction.

  • Daniel Levin

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    Many teachers talk about dedication to their students, to their career – and many genuinely mean it – but right off the bat it’s was clear that Amistad Academy’s Daniel Levin truly walks the walk.

    Arranging a conversation with Levin was, initially, somewhat of an exercise in frustration. After a couple of false starts, Daniel and I were able to sit down and he apologized for the difficulty in scheduling: “I’m sorry I’ve been so hard to get a hold of,” he said. “It’s been really busy for me the past couple weeks. I would’ve been able to get the days off, because – well it’s my honeymoon right now- but I know all the things I need to do everyday to keep things running. I don’t want to encounter the loss of morale or momentum. It wouldn’t have been acceptable to me, personally, to leave for a long time.”

    Such commitment and passion have surely found a fitting home at New Haven’s Amistad Academy, flagship school for Achievement First – a three-school (soon to be four – August 2006) enterprise which aims to help urban students achieve academic and personal excellence. Since coming on board in 2002, Levin has fully immersed himself in the lives and academic futures of his young scholars. An accomplished performer in his own right, Daniel draws upon his own musical abilities and his knowledge of contemporary music technology to truly connect with his students in ways that could serve as a template to any educator.

  • UpClose: Noe Sanchez

    Mike Lawson | October 19, 2006


    Spicing up Music Education through Mariachi

    The success of any music education program is predicated upon the ability to capture and retain student interest. The finest educators, most robust budget, and active parental and community support all matter little if the kids, themselves, are unengaged and apathetic. As such, it would behoove any music director to take note of the growth of mariachi programs over the past few years. Offering a different musical aesthetic and lower "price point" than many more traditional school music ensembles, mariachi is resonating with a number of students who perhaps might not otherwise be drawn to music education.

    An accomplished mariachi performer in his own right, Noe Sanchez has been teaching mariachi at the Somerset (Texas) Independent School District since 2003 and is presently chairman for MENC's Mariachi Advisory Council. SBO spoke with Mr. Sanchez about what makes mariachi unique and why it is such a vital component of contemporary music education.

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