• Fix it in the Mix!

    Mike Lawson | August 14, 2015Reseat string orchestral sections into multiple string quintets. This approach emphasizes listening beyond your section and part while playing in an ensemble. It can also be a smooth introduction to conductor-less chamber music. Additionally, it’s a good way to check for individual accuracy much more efficiently and more in context than having them play one […] Read More...
  • UpClose: Franz Welser-Möst

    Mike Lawson | December 9, 2014

    The Cleveland Orchestra  - Bridging the gap from the concert hall to the community


    Given the widely publicized financial hardship in recent years at renowned classical music institutions across the U.S. — including orchestras and opera houses in Philadelphia,New York, San Francisco, Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville, San Diego, and a host of other locations — there is a clear imperative that these organizations must adapt in order to survive. Faced with shrinking audiences and an aging fanbase, the institutions that have remained successful are the ones that have put a renewed emphasis on their social mission: their dedication to reach out to schools, to young people, and to the communities in which they reside.

  • UpClose: Adrian Anantawan

    Mike Lawson | April 17, 2014

    Exploring strategies for more inclusive music education

    Many music educators speak about trying to engage as many students as possible in the act of music making. For children who have physical disabilities, participating in a typical instrumental ensemble can be a particularly challenging proposition. Fortunately, there is now a wide array of adaptive tools in this day and age that have been designed to assist children who have unique physical skill sets. There are also many resources out there for educators who may be unfamiliar with how to best serve these children. And more importantly, even though a disability may be an obvious way in which some children stands apart from their peers, chances are that children with special needs – mental or physical – still have many more things in common with their classmates than they do differences.

  • Guest Editorial: Fix the F#

    Mike Lawson | April 17, 2014

    Addressing Behavioral Issues in the Classroom


    When was the last time you had one of those days where you went home convinced you could set the world on fire if there was a way to make just a few key personnel changes in your band? 

    When I have one of these days, sometimes I speculate as if I were on some sports TV show. I wonder how good we could be if band was like professional sports, where the team’s management could put a few underperforming individuals on waivers and bring in some new blood. More often than not, the situations that frustrate us to no end, the ones that have us considering new careers and result in our students being in the doghouse, have very little to do with making music. Instead, these situations encompass the behavior and character issues associated with boys and girls who are in the developmental stages of becoming men and women.

  • UpClose: Marcus Tsutakawa

    Mike Lawson | January 21, 2014

    Great Works and Fun Gigs: Marcus Tsutakawa & The Garfield Orchestra

    As far as public school music programs go, Garfield High School has something pretty special going on. Building on a legacy that stretches from notable alumni like Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix (who was expelled his junior year) to current hip-hop artist Macklemore, this Seattle school music department has garnered more than its fair share of acclaim. In particular, its orchestra and jazz programs stand out, both of which are consistently among the best in their respective genres at top national festivals and competitions.  Marcus Tsutakawa (known as “Mr. Tsut” to his students) has been directing the Garfield Orchestras since 1985. While many might point to the numerous trophies, awards, and accolades that ensembles have garnered under his watch, when asked about his most significant achievements, Tsutakawa is quick to mention the array of fantastic literature he’s been able to share with his students. What it boils down to, for him, is pretty simple: “My goal is to perform often, learn as much new repertoire as possible, and play fun gigs.”

  • PBS Highlights Music Ed

    Mike Lawson | January 7, 2014The PBS Newhour recently produced a segment looking at the Harmony Project, a music education program based in Southern California. The Harmony Project seeks to fill the void in the arts left by school budget cuts, providing music education to improvished youths who would not otherwise have access to it. In addition to engaging many youngsters in […] Read More...
  • 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.

  • 2014 Grammy Signature School Semifinalists

    Mike Lawson | November 20, 2013

    U.S. High Schools in the Running for Grants for Music Excellence

    The Grammy Foundation has announced that 123 schools nationwide have been selected as Grammy Signature Schools semifinalists for 2014. Created in 1998, the Grammy Signature Schools program recognizes top U.S. public high schools that are making an outstanding commitment to music education during an academic school year.

    Each of the Signature Schools finalists will receive a custom award and a monetary grant to benefit its music program. The top programs are designated Gold recipients. The best of the Gold recipients is designated the National Grammy Signature School. The remaining schools are designated Grammy Signature Schools. For schools that are economically underserved, the Grammy Foundation established the Enterprise Award category to recognize the efforts in music education made by these schools. Grammy Signature Schools are made possible in part through the generous support of Converse, the Ford Motor Company Fund, the Hot Topic Foundation, and Journeys.

  • UpFront Q&A: Marilyn Kesler, SAA

    Mike Lawson | November 19, 2013

    Today’s Suzuki Method: A Conversation with Marilyn Kesler of the Suzuki Association of the Americas

    Decades before El Sistema thrust the youth orchestra back into the international spotlight through its widely acclaimed achievements with underserved children in Venezuela, Japanese violinist and pedagogue Shin’ichi Suzuki revolutionized string education with his philosophy of early childhood music education. Emphasizing rote memorization and learning by ear with students as young as three years old, Suzuki’s method quickly gained a major following among music educators in the U.S. and around the world during the second half of the 20th century. While Suzuki success stories abound, the method has also faced its share of criticism, particularly in regards to its de-emphasis of the importance of reading music, limited repertoire, and a purported lack of creative development.

    After teaching orchestra in the public schools of Okemos, Michigan for more than 40 years, Marilyn Kesler now chairs the Board of Directors for the Suzuki Association of America. In this conversation with SBO, Kesler talks candidly about the strengths and limitations of the Suzuki method, while addressing some of the larger challenges that face music education today.

  • A Conversation on “The Best We Can Be”

    Mike Lawson | November 5, 2010

    Frank Battisti is a familiar name throughout the music world. As the founder and longtime conductor of the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble, the founder of the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE), past president of the US College Band Directors National Association, as well as conductor and guest conductor of a wide array of premier ensembles throughout the world, Battisti's resume speaks for itself.

    However, of particular note in this storied career is his tenure as a high school band director in Ithaca, N.Y., during which time the band at Ithaca High School, a small and unassuming institution in upstate New York, achieved some extraordinary feats. The band was so good, and so inspired by its director, Mr. B, as he was then known, that such luminaries as Frederick Fennell, Doc Severinsen, and Benny Goodman, among many others, were inspired to visit the school to work with students and guest conduct or perform. The litany of achievements is truly astounding, but perhaps the most impressive realization of just what those ensembles created and achieved was indicated at a reunion of the 1955-1967 bands that took place during the summer of 2006. Some 50 years later, 235 of those former students, now well into their 50s and 60s, gathered to celebrate Battisti's 75th birthday and recount the exploits of the Ithaca High School band. Touched by the impact that his teaching had had on so many people, Battisti was impelled to catalogue the accounts of the band, and has done so in a newly published book, "The Best We Can Be: The Story of the Ithaca High School Band, 1955-67," co-authored by Battisti and R. Bruce Musgrave.

    SBO recently caught up with the esteemed director to gain some insight into how the remarkable achievements of those ensembles relate to music education today.

  • Revisiting the Arts Classroom-Based Performance Assessments in Washington

    Mike Lawson | August 5, 2009

    Two years ago, we reported here about the Classroom-Based Performance Assessments (CBPA) program being implemented in the state of Washington (SBO August, 2007). Many readers were interested enough in this news that they accepted the invitation to take a closer look. Now, educators from 15 states and seven countries have contacted Ms. AnnRene Joseph, Arts Program supervisor, for permission to cite and use the Washington CBPAs as a model for their own state, district, and school arts assessment programs.

    Since that time, we can report that excellent progress has been made. Washington has completed its second phase of this important fine-arts classroom-based performance and assessment project involving 295 school districts and is the only state in the nation conducting a large-scale reporting of performance-based assessments at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels, in all four fine arts disciplines: music, art, dance and drama.

    The positive impact of the CBPAs ensures that arts instruction is occurring in the state of Washington and validates the need for highly qualified and certified instructors in the arts to meet and exceed the expectations of the state for its one million students. Teachers are reporting that the CBPAs and the statewide reporting process "saved the arts programs in their districts" during the past year of financial issues across the nation.

  • Casting the Social Net

    Mike Lawson | March 27, 2009

    Chatter about social networking seems to be everywhere these days. Perhaps that is because the number of users on Facebook has balooned up over 175 million. MySpace, meanwhile, registered their 100 millionth user account all the way back in 2006. According to Wikipedia, over 6 billion videos were watched on YouTube in January of 2009 alone, and more than 12 hours of video are uploaded every minute. Facebook is the leading social (non-professional) networking site for individuals, while MySpace is still the premier option for bands, musicians, and ensembles because of its easy-to-use music player and highly customizable appearance. And by now almost everyone is certainly aware of the immensity of YouTube, which seems to carry videos of every conceivable kind.

    All of this begs the questions: How can these new technological tools benefit music education? With that in mind, we turned to our readers in this latest SBO survey, hoping to get an idea of just how these types of Web sites are being used by music educators, and why they are, or are not, being integrated into school programs.

    Curiously, the vast majority of readers indicated that their programs or ensembles did not have a Myspace site, a Facebook profile or group, or a YouTube channel, with many respondents stating that administrators have limited or prohibited their access to social networking Web pages on school grounds. Yet, going to any one of these sites and searching for school bands and orchestras will yield a seemingly infinite number of results.

    Perhaps Web-savvy band and orchestra students are already leading the charge.

    Does your school band or orchestra program have:

    a MySpace page?

    a MySpace page?

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