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Colonel’s Book Club, Edition 6

Thomas Palmatier • April 2021InService • April 6, 2021

This edition of Colonel’s Book Club will feature Richard Floyd’s 2015 book, The Artistry of Teaching and Making Music. Richard and his wife Cheryl are legends in the band world with decades of success. I’ve had the privilege of working with both of them and they are the real deal.

There are lots of books that offer excellent “how-to’s” for developing superb bands and orchestras. There are also many publications that hope to inspire the reader and to illuminate the magic of the art of music. What Richard has done is to provide us with the very best of both. This book reflects the beliefs of someone who has thought deeply and read widely about both the how and why of what we do as music educators. It is drawn from a diary of lessons learned from half a century as a music educator. In other words, the techniques, tips, and philosophies it offers have been tested in real band rooms.

As I read the book, I started jotting down nuggets of wisdom but there were so many that I’ll share just a few (italics indicate direct quotes):

The ultimate goal of education must be to teach students to think for themselves. This may seem pretty obvious but it reflects the student-centric approach of the entire book. He rightly puts the focus on the importance of each musician, not the person standing on the podium. Further, he makes clear throughout that growth in the student as a person is every bit as important as their growth as a musician.

Engaging students in the decision-making process, defining the musical reasons for making the adjustments, and empowering the students to use this acquired knowledge is music education of the highest order. Again, the focus is on creating thoughtful and involved musicians, not just outstanding technicians.

– Rehearsing in a positive context. Instead of identifying things that are wrong, rephrase them in a way that both teaches and encourages.

The Music First… Always. Teaching notes and rhythms and “adding the music” later is just plain wrong. By “fixing” everything first, we will have drained the life out of the music before it can come to life.

There are chapters titled “Failsafe Fixes” that are pure gold and a must read for any band or orchestra teacher. The topics are: tone and intonation, time, balance and blend, articulation, dynamics, musical line, and putting it all together. Although these chapters provide specific teaching techniques to address the topic areas, they are still infused with the central premise of the book. Namely, helping students to learn how to not only make great music, but to savor that achievement, and in the process, grow into better adults. Not once does he mention competition scores or the numerous awards his ensembles have won. He describes his “victories” in the moments when music helps a young person thrive. Indeed, the most meaningful educational achievements he shares involve students who were not the best musicians but were the ones who worked hard, gave it their all, and grew emotionally through the process. If you want to be a better music educator, if you want to be refocused on why we do what we do, and if you want to benefit from a remarkable lifetime of music-making, study, and reflection, read this book.

Next month, we will discuss ways to improve the dynamic control of our ensembles. If you haven’t read “Focus, Not Balance: How to Change Your Ensemble Sound to Ultra 3-D” in the February 2021 issue of SBO Magazine ( https://sbomagazine.com/focus-not-balance-how-to-change-your-ensemble-sound-to-ultra-3d/ ) please consider reading that because next month’s article will be somewhat of a sequel to that one. Have an idea for a future article or a book to review in Colonel’s Book Club? Contact me through www.ThomasPalmatier.com.

Colonel (Retired) Thomas Palmatier was formerly commander of The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” and The U.S. Army Field Band. He is currently a Conn-Selmer educational clinician, director of the Thornton Community Band, and a monthly contributor to SBO Magazine.

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