Mac Corner: We Are Not Alone

Mike Lawson • • February 5, 2016

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Dr. Charles T. Menghini Every day I have the opportunity to work with music teachers, present and future. I try to provide them with ideas and strategies to make them effective in the classroom. We talk about rehearsal techniques, repertoire, instrument pedagogy, recruitment, and retention…the list goes on and on. Our goal, as music teachers is to help create a climate where people will love and appreciate music throughout their life. We want to have as many students participate and enjoy being a part of our school bands and orchestras as possible. We often take it personally when a student (or parent) informs us they are quitting. We are not alone.

Whether music teachers realize it or not, there is a huge support network working to help us attract and retain as many students as we can possibly teach. This network wants students to play high quality instruments and high quality, developmentally appropriate repertoire. They want us to succeed. They realize we are all in this together and if you don’t succeed, they don’t succeed. This network includes our music manufacturers and school music dealers.

Now I can see some of you already reading this with a curious eye, as there is an element in our profession who believe that the only thing that music manufacturers and music dealers care about is making money. Of course as music teachers we must remember that we do not teach for free. We all wish our salaries were higher and if a position opened in another district that would pay us more money, we would certainly consider applying for it. Making money is something that all of us have to do to pay our bills and provide security for our families. The joy in life comes when we can make money doing something that we believe in. Music manufacturers and music dealers are no different.

As music students there was a point in our life when we realized we were not going to be the next symphony orchestra or jazz professional. But music was important to us, real important. As a member of our school or community band or orchestra we got hooked on music. For some of us it was that sound, creating and chasing that sound. For others it was that person who stood in front of us each and every day and inspired (and sometimes scared the living daylights out of) us. If we were real lucky we experienced both.

Music was the reason that we showed up for school every day. It was the best part of our life. I simply could not imagine showing up for school without having band rehearsal, and I was not alone. When it came time to graduate I decided that I wanted to be a band director, a music teacher. There weren’t many of us from my school who chose to pursue music teaching as a career, but that didn’t mean that my classmates who played with me in band and sang with me in choir lost their love of and appreciation for music once they graduated from high school. Classmates who graduated from my (and your) high school probably enrolled in just about every major their college or university of choice offered and regardless of major, music was still an important part of their being.

Somewhere along the way all of us had to decide upon a career. For those who didn’t become a music teacher, or who realized that teaching just was not their ft might just have been lucky enough to fnd a job that was associated with music. For others, their path to the music industry was because they saw an area of need and worked to solve it.

Vic Firth was the timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra but was not satisfied with the timpani mallets that were available to him. So he set out to make timpani mallets to meet his needs. Vincent Bach began by making instrument mouthpieces in the back of the Selmer Music Store in New York. Harold “Hal” Edstrom and his brother Everett “Leonard” Edstrom had a popular jazz band in the 1930S and since they felt their father didn’t want them using their family name began the “Hal Leonard Band.” Their ability to arrange popular music for school bands has evolved into the world’s largest educational music publisher. The D’Addario Company traces their roots back to 1680 and their Italian ancestor Donato D’Addario, a string maker.

Over the years music manufacturing has become a global business, but the desire to make a positive difference in the lives of music teachers and musicians, be they students or professionals, continues. One only needs to look to the Yamaha Corporation’s philosophy statement: With our unique expertise and sensibilities, gained from our devotion to sound and music, we are committed to creating excitement and cultural inspiration together with people around the world.

The leadership and ranks of music manufacturers are filled with people who have an extensive history in and love of making music.

Much closer to home are our music dealers; the people who call on us each and every week and pick up instruments that need repair, deliver reeds, oil and drumsticks, and serve as our resident psychologist or therapist. In my estimation, there is no value that can be placed on having a great relationship with a local music dealer.

I recall my first teaching job. I was young and inexperienced and didn’t know what questions to ask. Our school needed a new baritone saxophone and I met with the principal and received approval to purchase a new baritone saxophone. To do this I needed to send the information to the district’s business office that would bid the saxophone request. I wrote a memo that indicated I wanted a (brand name) baritone saxophone and several weeks later a so-called “music dealer” showed up in my band room with a cardboard box and inside the box was my new baritone saxophone packed in what we would call today “packing peanuts.” There was no mouthpiece, there was no neckstrap and there was no case. When I inquired where these items were I was told that the only thing on the bid was a baritone saxophone and that is what he delivered.

It was an early lesson for me that I needed to establish a relationship with a credible music store and music dealer and have since learned that music dealers also have a professional organization, the National Association of School Music Dealers. Members of this group meet to share ideas and discuss how they can better serve school music programs. Members of this association realize the importance of selling and renting reputable instruments and equipment, ones that meet the needs of our students and programs, and they will stand behind them.

Many music stores got their start when school music teachers had difficulty in securing instruments for their programs. Quinlan and Fabish Music Company in Burr Ridge, Illinois, was started by George Quinlan, Sr. and Tom Fabish. Both taught in the Catholic Schools of Chicago and Quinlan was the big band lead trumpet of Chicago in his day. The origins of their store centered on helping school music teachers and students acquire quality instruments to play. Chances are if your music store has been around for twenty years or more there is a similar story to learn. The store began because of a need that was present for teachers and student musicians.

Music dealers are there when students make their first decision as to what instrument to play, and they are there when that student decides it is time to get a step-up or professional instrument. Music dealers realize their livelihood is based upon the success of the school music teacher and program. School music dealers are at their best when they provide service. Making an emergency repair on the day of the concert is invaluable. Being able to deliver a new clarinet mouthpiece to the student who dropped theirs hours before the downbeat at contest is priceless. Having someone sit down and help you develop the specifications for your school’s bidding process will help ensure that your baritone saxophone comes with a case!

If you research the ranks of your local music dealer you will most likely find it run and stafied by musicians. You will find former and retired music teachers and professional players serving as school route personnel, in-store sales staff, or working in the instrument repair lab. Their mission is to make sure that music teachers have the instruments, music, and supplies necessary to teach their students in band and orchestra classrooms everywhere.

For the past several years I have had the honor of being an educational representative to the Music Achievement Council (MAC). MAC is a nonprofit organization of music industry leaders dedicated to developing and retaining instrumental music students and teachers. The Council is comprised of three members from music manufacturing and music publishing, three from the National Association of School Music Dealers, two educational representatives and the President and CEO of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM). The Council meets several times a year, and all of our business and discussions can be summed up trying to answer this question: “What can we do to help school music teachers be more successful?”

Sitting through those meetings I have never heard them discuss product or profit margin. I’ve never heard them speak negatively of a competitor. Instead the discussions are directed in trying to find ways to provide more free and low cost materials and resources to help teachers succeed. Their goal is to help teachers attract and retain more students. They are continually looking for ways to help music teachers work more effectively with their administration, parents, colleagues, and community and to give their students a more positive musical experience.

The Music Achievement Council exists because the governing bodies of the National Association of Music Merchants and the National Association of School Music Dealers realize that we are in this together. They realize providing quality products and service to help music teachers and students make more and better music makes everyone successful. It has been a great education for me to deepen my understanding that we owe a great deal to the music industry and to our music dealer network.

Understand that like our teaching, there will be times when new products fall short of expectations. But ultimately we have to know that like great teaching, quality instruments, equipment, and music will withstand the test of time. It is a symbiotic relationship. We need each other. Without instruments, equipment, and music, we would not have the materials we need to teach band and orchestra, and without band and orchestra teachers and programs, they would have nothing to sell. The members of the industry and our dealers realize they win only when we win. As music teachers we must also understand that we win when we use their products and services to introduce the wonder of music to children of all ages.

Charles T. Menghini is president, professor of Music, and director of bands at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Illinois. He began his teaching at Vander- Cook College in 1994.




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