• 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?

  • Sounding off on Print Music

    Mike Lawson | October 6, 2008

    Selecting repertoire is a critical aspect of band and orchestra programs, as directors must choose music that enables ensembles to reach their musical potential. Keeping students and audiences interested while blending modern music and classics is a challenge most easily met when there is a healthy variety of easily attainable material.

    This SBO reader survey tackles print music, covering subjects from school budgets to discovering new material and uncovering the latest music publishing trends.

    What is your annual budget for print music purchases?

    What is your annual budget for print music purchases?

  • Virtual Direction

    Mike Lawson | September 17, 2008

    For years, video games have been the virtual enemy of many a teacher and parent as they draw students into a virtual world of action figures, war games, mazes, and other surreal environments. The time spent playing these games has taken far too much time away from homework and, of course, practicing their instrument (as well as other human interactions). As game consoles and technology have advanced, however, there have been developments that are on the verge of reversing this trend, particularly in the music world. The first large-scale game on the market that offered some musical relationships to playing an instrument was Guitar Hero, and not far behind was Rock Band, which pulled together a virtual ensemble of players who need to work together in order to win the game. However, this left a void in the area of classical music. In the near future, Nintendo will be releasing (or may have by the time of the publication of this magazine) a game that will, according to the company, "Command an orchestra in the conducting game where you'll wave the Wii Remote controller like a conductor's baton to lead a Wii orchestra through orchestrated music. Make them play quickly, slowly, strongly or gently." Although early demonstrations of this game show that it is far from being a simulation of a realistic conducting experience, its most pragmatic aspect appears to be the requirement that the player maintains an accurate tempo in order to replicate a musical performance.

    The basic game appears to be simplistic and doesn't require technical aspects of correct conducting movements. However, a Web site,, run by Paul Henry Smith, takes the Nintendo Wii controller to the next level by connecting it to a midi controller and tests of the abilities of the system while conducting Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. You can see his demonstration on YouTube under "Digital Orchestra Test with Wii Baton." He indicates that "the results are promising, but I can easily see that this approach will have limitations as the music gets more complex. For example, when first violins need to be emphasized and then second violins immediately following them, how will the controller 'know' which instrument group to modify? We'll probably have to pair multiple controllers (perhaps Wii-motes) with multiple musicians and computers."

    Technology has helped to improve many areas of musical training and performance, including composition, recording, accompaniment, ear training, tuning, rhythm, and too many others to list here. Although conducting is an area that will take time before the software and human interface are up to the level where it will benefit training, it is not difficult to imagine there will be a time in the near future when this will be part of the standard educational repertoire.

  • Testing Economic Waters

    Mike Lawson | September 17, 2008

    Between rising gas prices, major credit crises, and massive deficits in the Federal budget, the US is facing economic uncertainty in proportions not seen for some time. To find out how these financially troubled times are affecting the nation's school band and orchestra programs, this latest SBO survey seeks answers directly from school music directors themselves. Our readers weighed in with their thoughts on the subject, sharing the extent to which their programs will be affected and providing tips on overcoming obstacles presented by tightening budgets.

    Will your program feel the impact of the recent downturn in the economy this coming school year?

  • What I did on my Summer Vacation

    Mike Lawson | August 7, 2008

    Well, it is not really what I did; it is more what I learned. And it wasn't really my summer vacation, but that of my daughter, Natalie. And what I learned through her experience may provide some insights that can help your program.

    Natalie is 12 (going on 28... I mean 13) years of age. She just finished seventh grade and is heading into her last year of middle school. There are many things Natalie likes and one thing she loves: music. She sings all the time and she plays the violin, which she has been doing for 4 years now.

    This spring, with school nearing an end and the summer break staring us in the face, we were struggling to find the proper summer activities for Natalie. As parents of a middle-schooler, my wife and I were seeking out summer music opportunities. There are lots of programs for high school students. Finding something for the middle school age was a much bigger challenge.

  • Music Gaming and other Intro-Level Learning Tools

    Mike Lawson | June 4, 2008

    We music educators would be well served to keep abreast of music developments in the popular gaming world. Beyond better understanding our students' extracurricular preferences, we might see that music-based games can be useful educational tools. Popular music video games involving karaoke, guitars, rhythm and drumming, music sequencing, and dancing are all growing in popularity. Let's look at several types of popular music video games and tools, and explore bridging them into the music classroom.

    Mixcraft for the Classroom
    In a time when much of the music we hear on a daily basis is produced in studios using all kinds of computer technology, it's a shame that so little formal musical education has anything to do with computer-based music production. Sequencing is one particular venue in which students can create music without formal music prerequisites. The biggest obstacle for educators is the lack of lesson plans that allow instant implementation of somewhat sophisticated software applications into the classroom. Now there are curriculum guides for three awesome sequencing programs that music educators might consider. These guides offer superb lesson plans for a semester or an entire school year.

    Looking for sequencing-oriented courseware? Mixcraft for the Classroom by Zig Wajler and Steve Riddle, distributed by Acoustica, integrates the software with student-driven activities for one or two semesters of instruction at middle or high school levels. It contains step-by-step, field-tested lessons integrating the sequencing application Mixcraft into the classroom by fusing music, technology, and interdisciplinary subjects. This serves to expand student thinking, learning, creativity, and communication. For those not familiar with Mixcraft, it is basically the GarageBand for the PC: very user-friendly to the point that is easier to use than most sequencers with built-in loops and very affordable at $49.95.

  • What Music Really Means

    Mike Lawson | April 9, 2008

    A long time ago, a very good friend of mine, Tracy Leenman, sent me a note with this incredible and true story. It was so compelling that I realized my own thoughts for this month would be better saved for another day, so that I could share her inspirational anecdote with you. This is a story that transcends any of our programs whether they are band, orchestra, general music or, as in this case, choir to give voice to the intangible intrinsic benefits that go beyond the music lessons and become life lessons each of you share everyday:

    In the early 1960s, a young man named Ron Cohen moved from Boston to Long Island in order to teach music at a brand new school, Howard B. Mattlin Junior High School. Three years later, when John F. Kennedy High School opened up right next door to Mattlin, Mr. Cohen became that new school's first choir director.

    Over the next thirty years, The Kennedy Choir became legendary, not only in its hometown of Plainview, but across the country. Appearances at New York's NYSSMA Convention in the •60s, •70s, •80s, and •90s made the Kennedy Choir the only group ever selected to perform at that convention over four successive decades. There were unprecedented performances at back-to-back MENC Eastern Conferences in 1971 (Atlantic City) and 1973 (Boston); In 1995, Ron Cohen was awarded the NY/ACDA Outstanding Choral Director Award; and in 1997, he was featured in USA Today as "A Real Mr. Holland."

  • The Dudamel Phenomenon

    Mike Lawson | November 27, 2007

    Clad in a bright blue, yellow, and red warm-up jacket which matches all of the members of the double-sized orchestra, an inordinately young conductor steps to the podium to "Beatle-esque" applause. Not only is the conductor excited, but he also has the whole ensemble nearly jump out of their seats and raise their instruments over their heads to "work the crowd."

    His performances with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra have elicited astonishing response from audiences worldwide. The conductor, with his long hair and extraordinary charisma, may be the brightest light on the horizon for classical music. His name is Gustavo Dudamel and, at 26 years old, he has recently been signed to a contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic beginning with their 2009 season. This makes him one of the youngest conductors since Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta to take the helm of a major orchestra. Sir Simon Rattle, the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, was quoted in the New York Times hailing Dudamel, as "the most astonishingly gifted conductor I have ever come across."

    "Dudamel does not appear to be leading the orchestra or even interacting with it. He is the orchestra, or is at least at one with it . . . And there was fun, fun, fun . . . an exceptional fresh talent with room to grow . . . Greatness like this doesn't come around often." (Los Angeles Times, 06 January 2007). Gustavo Dudamel is a product of the National System of Youth and Children's Orchestras of Venezuela, a relatively poor country, but one that has an enrollment of over 250,000 students in this program. Founded by visionary musician and organizer Jose Antonio Abreu, the concept of this system of youth orchestras embraces students from ages 2 to 18 almost as soon as they begin playing their instruments. They spend hours rehearsing daily, and quickly learn the teamwork, respect, and discipline involved being part of an orchestra. The benefits of this approach are multi-fold and these students bring this positive attitude with them into many other aspects of their lives.

  • November, 2007

    Mike Lawson | November 27, 2007

    VH1 Save the Music Marks 10 Years
    The VH1 Save The Music Foundation 10th Anniversary Gala Presented By LG Electronics MobileComm U.S.A., Inc. (LG Mobile Phones) celebrated ten years of successfully restoring music education programs in public schools across the country on September 20, 2007. The event, hosted by Maria Menounos, featured performances by John Mayer, Jon Bon Jovi, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Miri Ben-Ari and a 61-piece student orchestra made up of VH1 Save The Music students from across the United States. During the celebration, The Foundation paid tribute to Former President Bill Clinton, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mariah Carey, John Sykes, founder of the VH1 Save The Music Foundation and NAMM (The International Music Products Association) for their unyielding support and dedication to The Foundation's mission.

    Conan O'Brien kicked-off the event by humoring guests with an opening speech on the importance of music education during which the late-night star showcased his own musical talents, or lack thereof. Later in the program, Tim Gunn of Project Runway emceed a live auction, which featured one-of-a-kind items and experiences from VH1 Save The Music partners and raised over $200,000. Items in the gala auction included Gibson guitars signed by John Mayer, Tom Petty, Metallica, Neil Young, Paul McCartney and Keith Richards.

    The gala also featured a surprise duet of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Jon Bon Jovi and John Mayer, as well as a stellar finale featuring Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, the VH1 Save The Music Foundation's 61-piece student orchestra and the PG and Love choir. Speeches given by the night's honorees truly drove home the importance of music education and what it has done for people like former President Bill Clinton.

  • Byron Lampkins: Music is a Universal Language

    Mike Lawson | February 5, 2007How do you turn 120 musically inexperienced junior high school students into an award-winning string orchestra? Read More...
  • Programming

    Mike Lawson | November 7, 2006Each fall for the past two years I have written sequential articles for School Band and Orchestra magazine. Read More...
  • UpFront: Planning a Performance

    Mike Lawson | October 30, 2006

    All conductors face the issue of planning for their next performance. I constantly mull over questions like "How many weeks do I have?" and "How am I going to tackle this issue?" In planning from year to year, I always look for new and interesting ideas to help in the preparation for my next year's performances. I have found the answer in the concept of the "bowtie" rehearsal plan; X, Y, and Z axes (plural for axis, not the lumberjack tool); and stimulus variation.


    I learned of the "bowtie rehearsal plan" while attending a workshop at Columbus State University (CSU) in Columbus, Georgia. The director of Bands at CSU, Dr. Robert Rumbelow, facilitated the workshop. This particular work shop featured Gary Hill of Arizona State University and Craig Kirchoff of the University of Minnesota as the guest clinicians. The workshop was a two-day event with clinics scheduled after each conducting session, and one of the topics discussed in one of the sessions was how each of the three clinicians paced the rehearsals for the next performance.

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