• A Love Affair with Music: Vincent Macrina and the Brockton Band Program

    Mike Lawson | October 19, 2006

    From the late 1830s to the early twentieth century, Brockton, Massachusetts was known as Shoe City, with 135 footwear factories flourishing within its borders. Since the end of the manufacturing era, Brockton has acquired a new identity. As the birthplace of Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler, it is now known as The City of Champions. This year the citizens of Brockton officially recognized another homegrown champion: Vincent Macrina, music teacher in the Brockton Public Schools for the past 33 years. Now director of music for the entire district, Macrina has garnered so many honors and awards in his career that he has become a Brockton institution.

    He, along with the ensembles he directs, which include the Brockton High School (BHS) Advanced Concert Band, Select Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, and Marching Band, are renowned throughout the region. Like the academic and athletic accomplishments of its students, the band program is, in Macrinas words, Brocktons pride and joy.

    Born in the small town of Gasperina, in the Calabria region of southern Italy, Macrina came to this country in 1958 at age 10. His father, a tailor, had emigrated five years earlier, and brought his family over to Brockton in time for his son to enter fourth grade.

  • From the Trenches: We Can Win!

    Mike Lawson | October 18, 2006

    The unimaginable became the unthinkable, the unthinkable became the unlikely, the unlikely became the uncertain, the uncertain became the possible, and now the possible has become reality.

    Twenty months after the first report documented the significant decline of music education in California schools, and following an intensive and well coordinated advocacy campaign by music and arts supporters, the state has enacted into law the single largest investment in music and arts education programs in the history of our nation: More than $500 million targeted to reinvigorate K-12 music and arts education programs - and it comes not a moment too soon.

    A new report being prepared by the Music for All Foundation shows that student participation in music programs in California has declined by over 600,000 students (56 percent) in the last 6 years. This funding marks the turning point to reverse this trend and build back these programs.

  • Alfred Watkins

    Mike Lawson | June 1, 2003

    At first, Lassiter (Marietta, Ga.) High School Band Director Alfred L. Watkins downplays his band’s recent travel plans – a trip to the Bands of America National Championships in Indianapolis, and another to the Marching Band Regionals in Morgantown, W.V. Oh, and the band also traveled to the National Concert Band Festival in Indianapolis and the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.

    Did he mention the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York? Or that the band has traveled to all of these destinations since 1999?

    While many band members are fortunate to experience one of these events during their academic careers, the Lassiter Trojan Band has been making a once-in-a-lifetime trip almost every year for the past several years. The expense and logistics of taking trips with 270 students does not intimidate the 27-year veteran of band travel. With the help of his band booster organization and two assistant band directors, Watkins and his Bands of America National Champions hit the road for as many worthwhile educational events as possible.

    “We travel a lot because we have a lot of different ensembles that need to travel,” he relates. “We have marching band and parade band, a concert band program, a winter color guard, five different indoor percussion ensembles and a jazz ensemble. As a result of that, we have to put the kids on the road a lot to get them to national and regional events so that they can continue to grow and the program can continue to expand. We go for the best events that can allow for the greatest amount of learning for our students.”

  • Bruce Dinkins

    Mike Lawson | May 1, 2003

    When Bruce Dinkins moved 3,000 miles to become band director at Bowie High School in Austin, Texas, he went with a specific plan in mind for his marching band.

    ” I told the students, ‘A year from now, we’re going to be in the finals at the state competition.’ And they looked at me like I was an idiot. They’d been to finals once in the school’s history,” he recalls.

    After hearing Dinkins’ bold announcement, some of the students even logged on to an online chat room to discuss the new band director’s mental capacity.

    “They made comments like, ‘Is he crazy? We’re not going to do that in one year.’”But the new band director proved to be a man of his word. That year, the Bowie High School Band made it to the state competition and took 11th place (out of 30 bands).

  • UpClose: Wynton Marsalis

    Mike Lawson | December 1, 2002

    When Wynton Marsalis walks into the room, music begins to play. Actually, it’s spilling right out of his mouth, filling in the silent spaces, but not intruding into conversations. It’s just the music in him, searching for a way out.

    After a long day of press interviews promoting a new interactive jazz curriculum, the trumpet virtuoso is still buzzing with musical energy. He’ll soon be heading off to take a private lesson. Yes, even the world-renowned Marsalis – who has 40 jazz and classical recordings, nine Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize to his credit – continues to take private lessons whenever his schedule allows. The artistic director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center educational program and the music director of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra hasn’t finished learning all he can about music. Like the thousands of children and teens he’s coached during the past two decades through Jazz at Lincoln Center’s numerous educational outreach initiatives, Marsalis still considers himself very much a student.

    “I still feel like one of them,” he says of the music students he meets every year. “I’m still trying to learn. There’s so much to learn.”

  • J.J. Pipitone

    Mike Lawson | November 1, 2002

    Photos by Jaime Carrero, Carrero Photography, Lewisville, Texas.

    The students in the Lewisville (Texas) High School marching band arrive at the band hall at 6:30 a.m. each day for a before-school rehearsal. The percussionists, led by Percussion Director J.J. Pipitone, begin the process of moving all of their equipment to the football stadium for rehearsal, which is held from 6:45 to 7:45 a.m. every day before school.

    Rehearsals are held on Saturdays, too. In the fall, three hours of Pipitone's Saturday mornings are spent in drum line and marching band rehearsals. When marching season is over, all-day Saturday rehearsals begin for the springtime percussion ensemble.

    "That's a lot of Saturdays for me, all year long," notes Pipitone, who has been teaching percussion at Lewisville for seven years.

  • Jo Ann Hood

    Mike Lawson | September 1, 2002

    Photos by Jim McGuire, McGuire Photography, Nashville, Tenn.

    Jo Ann Hood has taught music education for 30 years – every single one of them in her native Tennessee, and most of them in the Metro-Nashville School District, where she presently teaches.

    For the last 23 years, Hood has led the John Overton High School Band to distinction in the face of insufficient arts funding and stiff competition for her students’ talents from area magnet schools. For the upcoming school year, each marching band student will be asked to raise $900 to participate in the activity. On the years that the band travels, the price tag goes up, depending on the destination. When the band performed in Hawaii last year, the week-long trip cost students $1,300 each.

    “We get no funding from our school system at all, except for a small budget for the repair of school instruments,” Hood notes. “We have to raise money to support the band, which is not right, but that’s the way it is around here.”

    Another challenge Hood faces each year is trying to draw her next crop of musicians from only one feeder middle school in her cluster. She anticipates that a re-zoning of the cluster, planned in the next few years, should help alleviate this struggle.

  • Bave Bellis

    Mike Lawson | June 1, 2002

    Photos by David Huber, David Huber Photography, Worland, Wyo.

    When the Wyoming High School All State Marching Band passes through town, it’s difficult to miss. The entourage consists of 13 motor coaches carrying 500 band members and a colorful, Pepsi-sponsored semi trailer loaded with the musicians’ instruments and equipment.

    Throughout the summer, this massive band comprised of Wyoming high school students from 47 high schools makes stops along its statewide tour to perform in various towns – many of which do not even have a local marching band. At night, the sleeping figures of band members and chaperones on air mattresses and sleeping bags cover every square foot of the gym floors of area high schools and colleges.

    The All State Marching Band comes together every couple of years to represent the state of Wyoming in a national performance, such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York or the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland. Most recently, the 500-piece band marched in the millennium Tournament of Roses Parade in California. For that occasion, band members boarded 19 different flights out of four airports in four states in a single day and arrived in Los Angeles every few hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The students and chaperones filled up an entire Embassy Suites hotel during their stay.

    And that’s just a small portion of the enormous undertaking that Dave Bellis and his wife, Dawn, orchestrate. Dave Bellis is the band director and his wife is a guidance counselor at Worland High School (Worland, Wyo.). Together, they serve as the executive directors of the Wyoming All State Marching Band and share the assorted responsibilities that go along with the job. Dave’s emphasis is on travel planning, while Dawn takes charge of chaperone recruitment, among other duties.

    The first All State Marching Band was formed in 1991 for the state of Wyoming’s centennial anniversary.

    “To be honest with you, I stole the i

  • Eric Weirather

    Mike Lawson | May 1, 2002

    Photos by Becky Gemmell, Gemmell Photography, Vista, Calif.

    In the Warner Bros. video “Here Comes a Marching Band,” actor Dave Hood invites viewers to join him on the campus of Rancho Buena Vista (Calif.) High School, which he calls “the home of one of the best marching bands in the country.” Hood, who adds some physical comedy to the serious business of learning about the marching band, literally “crashes” band practice by knocking over a cymbal stand and landing on the band room floor. The 130 students in the ensemble turn around to see what caused the ruckus.

    Then the camera lens focuses on band director Eric Weirather, who offers to explain to Hood the intricacies of being involved in the marching band. He shows him drill charts and reveals how students learn their marching moves. When Weirather invites Hood to join the band, the actor is both overjoyed and overwhelmed by the honor. Hood’s first order of business is to determine what role he will play in the band. He visits each section of the band – percussion, woodwinds, brass, color guard, drum major. The students demonstrate their instruments for him and answer his questions about their roles in the band.

  • An Honorable Orchestra

    Mike Lawson | January 1, 2002

    The students in the W.T. Clements High School orchestra program are at the top of their class. Orchestra directorPenny Meitz, who has taught music in the public schools for 24 years, has never seen such academically-focused students. On a recent trip, a group of orchestra students met every night to study for the AP Chemistry exam. Last year, 32 students from Clements High School were recognized as National Merit Scholars. Many of the students are so intent on boosting their grade point averages that they have to be persuaded to stay in orchestra, which is not an honors-level class.

    Those students who have remained in the program have helped the orchestra earn two distinct honors in the three years that Meitz has been director. Last year, the ensemble was invited to perform at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic, and this year the Texas Music Educators Association has selected the Clements Symphony Orchestra as this year’s Honor Symphony Orchestra for the state of Texas. As part of this honor, the orchestra will perform at the TMEA convention in February.

    The school’s Sugar Land, Texas, neighborhood has a substantial Asian population, and about 90 percent of the Clements Orchestra is Asian, Meitz estimates. The cultural emphasis on excellence extends from academics into the music realm, she notes. Many of the Asian students in

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