• 2008 Essay Scholarship Winners

    Mike Lawson | February 9, 2011

    SUBJECT: "Dear Mr. President, I am writing to tell you why music is so important to my complete education..."

    The following ten students are recipients of the 2008 essay scholarship, "Dear Mr. President, I am writing to tell you why music is so important to my complete education..."

    Each student will receive a $1,000 scholarship award from SCHOOL BAND AND ORCHESTRA and co-sponsors, Alfred Publishing,, Hershey Fund Raising, National Association of Music Merchants, Yamaha Corporation of American, Music For All and Avedis Zildjian Co.

    Check this web-site September 1, 2008 for a new essay scholarship. To the many thousands of students who entered the essay contest, and to their music directors, we thank you.

  • 2010 Essay Contest Winners

    Mike Lawson | February 9, 2011

    The following ten students are recipients of the 2010 essay scholarship, "I believe music must remain a part of the school curriculum because..."

    Each student will receive a $1,000 scholarship award from SBO.

    To the many thousands of students who entered the essay contest, and to their music directors, we thank you.

  • November 2010

    Mike Lawson | November 5, 2010

    New Works from KJOS

    Pride, Promise and Progress, by Timothy Mahr, was commissioned by St. Olaf College to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the City of Northfield, Minnesota, 1855-2005. The composition was premiered under the composer's baton on November 10, 2005 by the Northfield High School Concert Band, Mary Williams, conductor. The work leans forward with drive in its attempt to capture the strength of character found within the citizenship, past and present, of this city of "Cows, Colleges and Contentment."

    Miniature Overture by Jack Stamp is ideal as a concert opener. This energetic piece features strong melodies and a chorale-like middle section.

  • What’s Good for Drummers is Good for All

    Mike Lawson | November 5, 2010

  • And the Beat Goes On!

    Mike Lawson | November 5, 2010

    This time we're going deep into the core of music: the beat. Going all the way back to the days of Beethoven, the metronome is perhaps the oldest music technology device, and it continues to lay a strong foundation for the beat all over the world. But the metronome has come a long way over time, as there are some innovative and downright exciting options for keeping the beat in today's music. Percussionists, in particular, have great new tools to help build their chops in record time.

    Next Generation Practice Pads

    Since 1936, wind, string and brass instrumentalists have benefited from electric (strobe) tuners to nail their accuracy. Now there's a piece of equipment that can objectively nail the drummer's accuracy. The Beatnik is an interactive practice pad with an advanced built-in metronome. This super analyzer can help increase accuracy in ways never before possible. Learning drum rudiments coordinated with note-reading skills and real-time analysis of rhythmic accuracy makes it far more than your grandpa's drum pad. While Beatnik's multiple analyzers evaluate timing and rhythmic skills, its multiple views can give instant timing data of a student's technical strengths and weaknesses. This visual feedback is a powerful motivator that can speed up progress toward total rhythmic fluency and accuracy.

  • Awareness is Key: An Interview with Composer John Mackey

    Mike Lawson | August 13, 2010

    Peacefully coexisting with musical literature for band and orchestra is a topic that is typically at the core of most directors' thoughts in both philosophy and planning. After taking a look at two of the more contentious aspects of the subject (programming quality literature for inexperienced musicians and the current fashions of transcribing musical material for the "outdoor" marching band and drum corps), it might be best to seek out someone who has practical current experience in both areas, as well as a willingness to share his accumulated wisdom.

    I recently caught up with Mackey by phone at his Austin home; he seemed at once eager and a bit wary to discuss what we have already found to be two volatile subjects. This is likely an appropriate approach for one so in the spotlight of his profession. While talking about pacing and development in recent ensemble works, it came up that, just as with concert pieces, one of the more recent criticisms of "outdoor" music has been the lack of a sense of adequate development or musical "space." Mackey suggested that problems arise if "the music can't breathe and there's no real structural development." He agreed that the pacing/development issue should not be confused with only frenetic tempos or high energy. "I am often accused of writing music that is purely visceral. They say, 'It's really cool, but it's so loud!' That's my personality I like loud and fast!"

    We often hear spectators' complaints directly related to this pacing/development issue. They refer to "a lack of melody," "higher-faster-louder," or "too hard to understand," particularly in regard to contest or festival music. Much of this undoubtedly comes from the common techniques of abridging source material: "Each one (source tune) was probably ten minutes long to begin with, and now it's maybe three minutes," offers Mackey. "Everything is all chopped all up, and that's just the way that all goes."

  • Summer Music Camps

    Mike Lawson | March 1, 2010

    Extracurricular music programs come in all shapes and sizes, and those students who have the opportunity to attend some type of "music camp" during their summer break are faced with a vast array of options. Between summer camps with a focus on the arts, university-run programs, and intense workshops aimed at targeting specific performance skills, there really is something out there for everyone, from the most dedicated students to those who are simply looking to infuse their summer fun with a musical tint.

    To provide a better understanding of the range of offerings within summer music camps, SBO recently caught up with the directors of five prominent organizations, which, in sum, present a smorgasbord of exciting musical opportunities.

    Would you talk briefly about some of the unique benefits of attending your summer music program? What experiences or skills are you hoping kids will come away with?

  • School B&O Buying Habits 2009

    Mike Lawson | November 6, 2009

    For music educators, procuring band and orchestra instruments for their students can be challenging. When faced with budget restrictions, a tough economy or finding the right musical instrument dealer who will work well with them and their students, it can be a time-consuming mission.

    If a dealer and a school develop a good working relationship, both parties can benefit: For the dealer, a school can become a consistent, frequent customer; for a school or music teacher, the dynamic of trust and dependability in such an association is often important. To find out more about musical instrument buying patterns when it comes to student band and orchestra instruments, SBO sent out a survey to music educators across the country. We found out, not surprisingly, that behind every decision is a budget, whether it is a constraining one or not. For most schools, that's the bottom line.

    For the current school year, did you (or are you planning to) purchase more, less, or the same dollar amount of musical instruments as last year?

  • Introducing Rolls on Snare Drum

    Mike Lawson | November 6, 2009

    The most ubiquitous problem faced by percussionists is the question of how to sustain sounds on percussion instruments. The crux of the matter is that the sound percussion instruments make naturally decays at varying rates after the attack. Most non-percussion instruments create a sound which contains three parts: attack, sustain, and decay. However, the sound of most percussion instruments, especially the snare drum, begins to decay immediately after the attack, thus being devoid of the important quality of sustain. Therefore, percussionists have developed ways of implying sustained sounds.

    While their friends in the string section are drawing a bow across a string to set the string in motion and keep it that way, and while their colleagues in the wind sections are filling their respective instruments with moving air to create sustain, the percussionists must create the implication of sustain through a rapid repetition of single attacks. These attacks occur close enough together to give the listener the illusion of sustain. This series of attacks is often referred to as a roll. To successfully create the illusion of sustain while rolling, percussionists can shape their rolls in a way indicative of the three parts of sound created by many non-percussion instruments: attack, sustain, and decay.

    Attack: How does one imply an attack in a roll when a roll consists of a series of attacks? Most commonly, the first note of the roll is played with a slight accent. This gives the first note a stronger quality than the notes that follow, similar to the sound of an attack made by sustaining instruments.

  • An Inside Look

    Mike Lawson | October 9, 2009

    The flute has always been a favorite choice among young students just starting out in music. Its ethereal and beautiful quality of sound, its compact size, the glint of its silver, and its ease of transport make it one of the most often chosen instruments. This month's SBO UpClose focus on Lisa Preston provides insight into a teacher who has capitalized on her admiration for the flute and how she has incorporated it into her thriving music program at Normal Community West High School in Normal, Illinois.

    The flute choir offers flautists (or flute players, as a famous musician once noted, "I'm not a flautist, because I don't play the flaute!") a great opportunity to be heard without being overpowered by the brass, percussion, and other woodwinds. Preston also takes advantage of the portability of the flute to bring her flute ensemble to a local cancer center and other hospitals where people can benefit from the dulcet tones of her group. Not only does she offer a flute choir and a clarinet choir, but her program has all students involved in numerous other small ensembles as she believes that "everyone should have some sort of chamber experience."

    Stepping onto the brass side of this edition of SBO, trumpeter Dan Gosling makes an important case for helping one maintain their brass chops while minimizing the chance for damage. He takes an in-depth look at the mechanics of the lips and embouchure, and how, just like an athlete, you need to listen to your muscles. Today's athletes "alternate their workouts in a pattern of stress followed by recovery. If we don't include recovery, ...our bodies will force us to rest by breaking down." This especially means learning to know when a musician should give their lips the rest that is needed so they don't become overstressed and cause greater, or sometimes permanent damage.

  • A Push for Strings: Merlyn Beard

    Mike Lawson | September 10, 2009

    In the early 1990s, there was no orchestra program in the Waterford (Mich.) School District; fast-forward to this past year, and the Waterford Kettering High School boasted over 90 string players, and over 250 fifth-graders in the district have picked up string instruments. It has been a slow process, but Merlyn Beard and the administration have been relentlessly building this program, from a meager foundation consisting of a pilot program teaching general music to fourth graders, to the latest accomplishments, which include 100-member symphony feature performances at the Michigan Music Festival and the National Orchestra Festival, among others, as well as raising money for charities no small feat in this day and age!

    Merlyn Beard wasn't always sure of the direction school music programs in Waterford would take when he began working in the district 15 years ago. Although he spent his youth focusing on orchestra and choir, he entered the Waterford system as a general music teacher in the elementary schools. Still, Merlyn knew that he wanted to work with student orchestras, and he saw his chance the very next year, when he began teaching a pilot string program involving all of the fifth graders in the district. The following year, they taught strings to fifth and sixth graders, and the year after that, fifth, sixth, and seventh graders, and so on, until that first class finally graduated from high school, eight years later, in 2003, and there was a full fledged orchestra program spanning from fifth grade through the end of high school.

  • August, 2009

    Mike Lawson | August 5, 2009

    PASIC 2009
    The Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) will take place in Indianapolis, Indiana from November 11-14, 2009. For the second time in the event's history, Indianapolis will play host to more than 6,500 drummers and percussionists from around the world at the Indiana Convention Center and Westin Hotel.

    PASIC is the world's largest and most prestigious drum and percussion gathering that features more than 130 events on 13 stages with the leading artists from around the world in the percussion community. Session topics span a variety of areas including drumset, symphonic, marching, recreational, world and keyboard percussion.

    Evening showcase concerts include a variety of performances and styles of music. Wednesday evening features Filipino trip-hop duo Electric Kulintang (Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez), keyboard master Julie Spencer and percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson. Thursday evening brings Taiwanese percussion ensemble Ju Percussion Group to the stage. Israeli powerhouse percussion duo PercaDu will perform on Friday evening, and Tommy Igoe and the Birdland Big Band featuring guest percussionist Rolando Morales-Matos will close the convention on Saturday evening.

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