Perspective: What A Long, Strange Year It’s Been…

Mike Lawson • Commentary • December 11, 2015

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It’s hard to believe that I am already sending my thirteenth issue of SBO to the printer since taking over as editor a year ago. My first issue was December 2014, and here we are at December 2015. Like that first issue under my tutelage, this is also the annual “50 Directors Who Make A Difference” issue. Once again, we gathered a year’s worth of nominations for this honor from the submissions we received through, reading each of them for their words of praise heaped upon their particular nominee. As was the case my first year putting this feature together, getting the information from various band directors was a challenge about 50% of the time. Gathering this info from fifty people in every state is quite a process. To the very last minute, there were phone calls made, voicemails left, more emails sent, text messages, more phone calls, calls to administrators and sympathetic school office staff, there were Facebook messages; I was even tempted to try carrier pigeons. If you’re a band director and you get an email from me out of the blue in November 2016, all I can say is, “please open it and reply promptly.”

Looking back over the year, I feel good about the direction I’ve been able to help steer SBO in after taking the helm. We started off 2015 in January honoring a true prodigy with our cover feature on composer, conductor and popular clinician, Tyler S. Grant. It was a real pleasure to help introduce him to your world. The next month I was really pleased to bring you a comprehensive interview with Robert W. Smith, a man typically described as a “rock star” in the marching and concert band world for his arrangements and original compositions. In March, I was honored to interview my friend Henry Panion, music educator at UAB, and arranger for Stevie Wonder.

Theme parks offer a hard-to-resist temptation for band students, helping with recruitment, retention, and more. I really wanted to understand more about that industry, and how it serves our readers. One thing I couldn’t help but notice as I settled into this job was the amount of advertising support we get from travel planners, festival producers, theme parks, workshop producers, and similar businesses. This led me to travel to Orlando to meet with executives at Universal Resorts Orlando, to see their emerging new workshop program, “Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley” which I featured in April, but I also got a chance to meet the brass at Walt Disney World Resorts and see their amazing workshops, performance programs, and festival offerings from Disney Youth Programs, as featured in September.

Our May issue focused on technology, which gave me the chance to interview a real pioneer in the use of music technology in the classroom, Will Kuhn. Over the summer, we interviewed a band director in my back yard, Justin Barr, who took his band program from near-extinction to a full rebirth in two years. We showcased the winning entries to our annual SBO essay content which awarded $20,000 in scholarships to students around the country. Many thanks to, NAMM, Yamaha, EPN Travel, Alfred, Belwin, Sabian, and Woodwind & Brasswind for their sponsorship of this awesome program, now in its 16th year!

We gave you an in-depth look at the fabulous Eastman Wind Ensemble, interviewing two of their long-time conductors, making sure we stay true to the traditional markets we serve at SBO in concert band, ensembles, orchestra, and marching bands, but we also explored some evolving areas of school band educational programs, namely, the “Modern Band” movement being added to school systems around the U.S. by David Wish and his powerhouse non-profit, Little Kids Rock. Before getting to this fine issue, we put out our annual percussion issue and college and career guide, with profile interviews with a couple of mega-star drummers, Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Narada Michael Walden (multi-platinum producer, songwriter, and drummer for Jeff Beck, Sting, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and more), both of whom got their start in the state of Michigan wearing marching band uniforms, proudly playing in a band program much like your own.

As we head into 2016, I plan to continue learning more about the world of festivals, how they work, and make some visits to them around the country. I plan to keep our focus on what you do everyday by pulling in great writers to give you tips on playing, performance, rehearsing, marching, instrument maintenance, and more as I keep a focus on traditional music programs, while exploring the ever-changing times we live in with music education.

I’d like to wish you all a happy new year, and hope you’ll drop me a line from time to time to let me know how I’m doing with your School Band & Orchestra magazine.

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