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Interview

  • UpClose: Dale Clevenger

    Mike Lawson | December 16, 2013

    “Music Is Life Itself”

    Dale Clevenger has forged a virtually incomparable career in music. Recently stepping down after nearly a half century as the principal horn for one of the world’s great institutions, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Clevenger has been the driving force behind the CSO’s brass section, widely lauded as the preeminent of its kind. In addition to being a world-renowned performer – he even had a concerto written specifically for him by iconic American composer John Williams, which was debuted with the CSO in 2003 – Clevenger has also placed a special emphasis on education throughout the years, teaching at a number of colleges and universities, as well as participating in outreach programs through the professional ensembles with which he performed.

    Now a professor of practice on the Brass Faculty at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, Clevenger devotes his time to assisting aspiring musicians to “reach for their dreams.” In a recent conversation with SBO, Clevenger looks back at some of the lessons that can be gleaned from his historic career and addresses some of the challenges facing professional ensembles, and the art form they perpetuate, going forward.

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  • The University of Minnesota’s Craig Kirchhoff: Preparing the Next Generation

    Mike Lawson | August 13, 2010

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  • The Business Approach

    Mike Lawson | June 1, 2010

    It's not often that we come across a director who takes a marketing-type approach in determining the future direction of a school music program. Like a business analyst who is brought into a company to turn a troubled venture around, the idea of surveying students - the "customers" - to determine what is needed in the school - the "marketplace" - can be a key step in creating a successful program. Trends in students' tastes, preferences, and desires do shift over time and it is increasingly important to analyze and understand these needs in order to design an effective program that will generate the highest level of interest and participation. The basics aspects of an educational music program still apply - including theory, instrumental techniques, music history, and ensemble performance - however, the path to this end isn't always clear.

    This month's cover director, John Yoon, was given an initial mandate from the administration to implement a competitive marching program in Greenwich, Connecticut in a similar fashion to what they had had in the past. Although this was a reasonable objective, Yoon decided to first determine if there was a need for a marching program based upon the student's goals, and then ascertain the reasons as to why the previous, once-successful marching band had lost so much steam. Interestingly, Yoon not only asked the students within the music department about why they thought that attendance in the music department was shrinking and the direction they wanted the program to take, but he also solicited opinions from students outside of it as well. The result from this information gathering suggested that the students were more interested in jazz and concert bands rather than marching band. Within this particular community, Yoon determined that if he was going to build a program effectively, he would have to provide the students with what they wanted.

    Obviously no music program can cater to every want and desire that students have, as trends and fads can shift so quickly that by the time something new is implemented, it is just a quickly out of style. However, we can't ignore broader changes in demographics and basic underlying preferences. This is certainly not to suggest that marching bands are in any way caught up in some sort of downtrend; it's just that, in this isolated situation, Yoon applied the same approach to building a music program that a company would to effectively enter a market - by seeking to understand what the customers want.

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  • Dr. Richard Suk: The Most Exciting Band in the Land

    Mike Lawson | August 5, 2009

    Dr. Richard "Ricky" Suk (rhymes with "book") is the director of Ohio University's Marching 110, an illustrious marching band that may fly under the radar because the school's football program isn't exactly among the nation's elite. In fact, the Ohio University Bobcats have only made it to one bowl game in the 13 years in which Ricky has been leading the marching band. Yet, the lack of national exposure doesn't stop the Marching 110 from putting on dazzling and electrifying field shows, with a high-intensity, athletic marching style that often includes elaborate dance routines. In fact, one could argue that the band's halftime shows are the highlights of the Bobcat football games, as Suk's ensemble routinely keeps the crowds ooh-ing, aah-ing, and cheering ecstatically throughout their performances hence the nickname, the "Most Exciting Band in the Land."

    After cutting his teeth at several high schools in Mississippi and Tennessee, Ricky followed his ambitions to the University of Illinois, where he earned a doctorate while studying under the Fighting Illini's distinguished director, Gary E. Smith. From there, Ricky packed his bags for Athens, Ohio, where he's been since. In a recent SBO interview, the Alabama native details his progression through the teaching ranks while stressing the importance of forging bonds between universities and local high school bands.

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  • A Family Affair

    Mike Lawson | January 19, 2009

    Lassiter High School of Marietta, Georgia, features one of the finest high school music departments in the country. While much of the acclaim has gone to the school's stellar marching band which, under the direction of Alfred Watkins, was crowned Bands of America Grand National Champion in 1998 and 2002 the orchestra program, led by Carol Doemel, has been outstanding in its own right. In fact, Ms. Doemel and the Lassiter Orchestra just finished their second appearance at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago, and they are only a year removed from being named the Grand Champions of the National Orchestra Cup at New York City's Lincoln Center.

    Carol Doemel has been the directing the Lassiter High School Orchestras since 1993. Prior to that, she spent eight years as an actively enlisted member of the military, touring the country and playing the trumpet with the Armed Forces Command Band. In this recent SBO interview, Carol shares how the idea of a musical family (from the literal piano-playing mother, violinist brother, and horn-playing, string-teaching husband, to the larger family of military bands and orchestras she has played with) has served as an inspiration in building this thriving high school orchestra program.

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  • The Presidential Inauguration Parade

    Mike Lawson | January 19, 2009

    The Presidential Inauguration Parade in the United States has a long and storied history that can actually be dated back to 1789, according to the US Senate inaugural Web site. The first parade actually took place in Federal Hall in New York City, where George Washington took the first oath of office. It wasn't until 1801 and the inauguration for Thomas Jefferson that the parade was held in the new Capital of the U.S., Washington D.C. For Jefferson's second Presidential inauguration, in 1805, the United States Marine Corps Band accompanied the procession and it has been involved in every inauguration since that time. In 1865, during Abraham Lincoln's second election, African Americans participated in the parade for the first time, including four companies of troops, as well as an African American Mason and Odd Fellows lodge. Astonishingly, women weren't involved in the parade until 1917!

    This year's 56th inaugural event is a watershed year as a record 1,382 bands applied for the presidential inaugural parade, showing a significant increase from the 340 bands that applied to be in the 2005 parade. The bands chosen for 2009 represent a wide diversity of groups and cut across a varied swath of demographic backgrounds to include such notable and historic ensembles as Howard University Marching Band, Punahou School Marching Band (Obama's Alma Mater in Hawaii), University of Delaware Fightin' Blue Hen Marching Band, Grambling State University Marching Band, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment Company A Band, and the Espanola Valley High School Mariachi Band from New Mexico, among dozens of others. The Marchingsport.com site quotes Howard University Showtime Marching Band director John Newson as saying "This is exciting for us at Howard University. We are truly honored to participate in this historic inauguration."

    This event will provide thousands of young musicians with a truly memorable life-experience, as well as a reminder of the significant benefits of being involved in music. The University of Delaware's director, Heidi Sarver, said it best to her students in an interview on the school's Web site, "You are part of history today, part of the American way of life. Savor every moment of it because you may never have such a magnificent opportunity ever again."

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  • Building a Clarinet Choir

    Mike Lawson | October 6, 2008

    Specialized ensembles provide a unique opportunity for both music students and educators. They allow students to hone specific elements of musicianship and delve into an intimate musical world, while teachers get a chance to work on creative arrangements and unique instrumentation.

    Mitchell Estrin is an associate professor of Clarinet at the University of Florida, where he runs an acclaimed clarinet choir. In a recent SBO interview, he was kind enough to share some advice on tackling the challenges presented by running an ensemble such as his.

    School Band & Orchestra: How did you get started with clarinet ensembles?
    Mitchell Estrin: I grew up in Chicago and in the '60s and '70s clarinet choirs were very popular in the Midwest. I played in my first clarinet choir when I was in high school.

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  • A Lifelong Pursuit of Music

    Mike Lawson | September 17, 2008

    Ben Brooks is a veritable institution in the greater Portland (Ore.) orchestra scene. He's been teaching music in Oregon Public Schools for over 35 years, with the last 30 of those years in the town of Troutdale, on the outskirts of metropolitan Portland. Under his direction, the Reynolds High School Symphony Orchestra and String Orchestra, whose primary performance venue since 2003 has been the school's Ben Brooks Auditorium, have won six state championships and numerous other awards. He's also spent 15 years conducting a renowned community ensemble, the Mt. Hood Pops Orchestra, and has been active with the All-State Band, the Northwest Bandmasters Association, the Oregon MEA, MENC, ASTA, and a slew of other music education organizations.

    Such dedication to a profession, while perhaps rare, isn't unheard of, and it is fitting that Ben Brooks declares music to be a "lifelong pursuit." A living testament to this philosophy, Brooks has spent decades fostering, as he likes to say, "musical appreciation through performance."

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  • Expanding Boundaries

    Mike Lawson | August 7, 2008

    With their trademark dark sunglasses, Southern California swagger, and gleaming gold helmets, it is clearly evident that this band steps onto the field with a rock-star approach. They have great presence, a bravado and cool that seems to transcend the idiom. The USC Trojan marching band, led by the legendary Art Bartner, this months cover profile, has taken the genre into realms that are far from the norm. The band can be Hollywood, Hip Hop, Rock •n Roll, Classical, Jazz or any other style they want, and their resume has the gold to prove it. They've worked with such diverse superstar artists as OutKast, The Offspring, John Williams, Fleetwood Mac, and George Clinton; they've appeared in numerous movies, television shows, magazines, and CDs, including Forest Gump, Fame, Naked Gun, the Sports Illustrated "Swim Suit" issue, and at the Olympics and Super Bowls.

    One of the many unique aspects of Dr. Bartner's leadership is his open mind to music of all genres. In this exclusive SBO interview, he indicates that he personally enjoys a wide variety of musical styles, including jazz, Broadway, classical, traditional band music, contemporary and even opera. It is this breadth of interest that has helped open many doors in Bartner's personal career and has enabled him to lead the USC band in so many directions. Dr. Bartner is quoted on the Web site of USC's football coach, Pete Carroll, as saying, "One of my visions was that this marching band should be all things to all people at USC. Now it becomes not only a football band, a basketball band, but all the sports. It's the hub of spirit and tradition at the University of Southern California."

    Bartner is a celebrity in his own right, and next to Carroll, he is one of the most widely known faces on the USC campus. Carroll's Web site even cites an occasion in which the NFL Hall of Fame football player and USC alumnus, Marcus Allen walked over to Bartner's table at a restaurant to say hello. This is the sort of fame that is rarely, if ever seen in the marching band universe.

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  • Learning by Doing

    Mike Lawson | March 23, 2007An important issue within the field of music education is how to provide students with an opportunity to conduct or lead an ensemble. In SBO’s sister publication, Choral Director, an interview with music director William Breytspraak indicates that, “The best way to learn is often by doing, and hands-on experience can provide insight that might […] Read More...
  • FromTheTrenches : How Creativity, Education and the Arts Shape a Modern Economy

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006  By: Bob Morrison   I have had the good fortune in my career to work with some really great thinkers over the years regarding music and arts education and the role these programs play in our society. So I was thrilled when the Education Commission of the States asked me to do an interview […] Read More...
  • UPFRONT: AN HISTORIC COMMISSIONING PROJECT

    Mike Lawson | September 1, 2003

    'Hope Afloat'
    Music Class Remembers the USS Indianapolis


    On July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Philippine Sea and sank in 12 minutes. Of the 1,196 men on board, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining sailors were left floating in shark-infested waters with no lifeboats, food or water. By the time the survivors were rescued five days later, only 316 men were still alive.

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