Mike Lawson | November 1, 2003

    With all the new drumsticks, mallets, hand drums and accessories coming on the market, drumheads seem to get very little attention. But without drumheads, percussion instruments like the snare, tom toms and bass would be about as musical as donuts.

    In this Report, SBO presents a sampling of the latest drumheads for use in school marching and concert bands.

  • How to Build a Percussion Ensemble

    Mike Lawson | November 1, 2003

    Involving your school percussionists in band and orchestra can sometimes be a difficult task. Certainly there is a great deal of literature that utilizes a lot of percussion, and that music should be performed both for the sake of artistic integrity and for your percussionists to be involved with playing some meaty parts. But at times, the percussion section is often neglected due to the style of music being performed (i.e., a Bach chorale, symphonic music that does not involve a lot of percussion, etc.).

    There are ways around this dilemma and it is possible to include your percussion section in these pieces. But so many times, and at all levels, the percussion section is left out, so to speak. While conductors are working on clarinet intonation, a difficult technical passage for the saxophones, balance in the low brass, etc., the percussionists are idle and often bored.

    Those pieces that do involve a lot of percussion keep them happy and audiences enjoy watching your percussionists run around playing everything under the sun. But let’s face it: there is a lot of time in rehearsals where percussionists just sit around doing nothing.

  • Winter Guard Opportunities

    Mike Lawson | November 1, 2003

    The conclusion of marching band season can leave a void in the lives of those percussion and auxiliary performers who have connected to audiences throughout their fall season. Many, however, eagerly look toward an even more specialized focus for their particular talents, as winter competition for percussion and color guard flourishes throughout the United States, Canada and now in Europe and Asia.

    Music programs are growing significantly with the inclusion of this special opportunity for students in these two areas. While concert band develops that mature and beautiful indoor sound that is the essence of music programs, the winter activities for percussionists and guard members yield the same level of excellence and development for these students. When the school year ends, all members of the band program have enjoyed their own special emphasis, moved to a new level of achievement and supported one another in a growing family of musical and visual excellence.


    Mike Lawson | October 1, 2003

    How do you choose a plumber - the Yellow Pages? Ask a friend? How do you choose a doctor? Can you call 1-800-FIND-A-PRIVATE-TEACHER? My father, a professional musician and educator, has said, "Everyone who graduates from medical school is called 'doctor,' but there are good ones and not so good ones." A person can't choose just any doctor nor just any teacher.

    Although we desire and encourage our students to take private lessons, sometimes it is difficult for us to recommend our colleagues, friends and prior students. Many counties and districts have a list that is easy for private instructors to get on. However, for many of us, it may be unprofessional and politically incorrect to make our own select list even if it is extracted from the collaborative list. One solution is to identify assessment tools to increase knowledge for both students and parents as to how to find a good private teacher.

    Why Private Lessons?


    Mike Lawson | October 1, 2003

    At Flower Mound (Texas) High School, which opened four years ago, the students in the concert band program have options. How well they play and how much time and energy they're willing to spend in pursuit of musical excellence determine whether they will become a member of the Varsity Band, Concert Band, Symphonic Band or the Wind Symphony.



    The students who are the most likely to seek a musical career work their way up to a chair in the Wind Symphony, where the most challenging repertoire is standard. Those musicians who are interested in the social benefits of inclusion in an ensemble but are not prepared to practice constantly find a place in the Varsity Band - or somewhere in between.

  • Orchestrating a Successful First Concert

    Mike Lawson | September 1, 2003

    Does the thought of a beginning band concert conjure up aural images of colliding asteroids or a visit to the sound effects studio for Jurassic Park? Do you find yourself mourning the loss, the perceived besmirching, or possibly the compromising of great musical themes and favorite national airs, subjected to unrecognizable renditions by beginning bands? Granted, unhappy outcomes can always occur, but there are strategies for making those first concerts less traumatic and less likely to alter or destroy your sense of humor and emotional equilibrium.

    Wise Music Choice, Careful Preparation

    When you pick music for the first concert, use the best-sounding five or six melodies your students have been playing in their beginning band method. Parents typically don’t care if their fledgling band students are playing “London Bridge in Quarter Notes” instead of the “Too Difficult For This Band March,” as long as it sounds good and the students feel positive about the result. Make your number-one criterion selecting whatever the band can play that sounds good, period. Whether they play three, five, eight, or more pieces, just be sure to pick the ones your group can play well.


    Mike Lawson | September 1, 2003

    Every director has his or her own approach to selecting the music that will be performed during an upcoming concert. From listening to promotional CDs from music publishers to attending as many other schools' concerts as possible, directors are always on the lookout for new and appealing music to perform with their students.

    School Band and Orchestra magazine recently surveyed a sampling of music directors at the elementary and secondary teaching levels about what factors they consider when selecting concert music for their ensembles.

    "I keep many lists from great conductors and composers that I have worked with and spoken to over the years that I refer to often when selecting programs. I attempt to listen to as many pieces as possible each year in concert and promotional recordings. A piece that does not work for you now may work well five years from now. Keep as many recordings available as possible for future reference," advises Bernie Potter, a director at the Roosevelt Fine Arts Magnet School in Peoria, Ill.


    Mike Lawson | August 1, 2003

    This article is an excerpt from the book "Teaching Music at the Secondary Level: a Pedagogical and Curricular Guide," by Dr. Steven Porter and Joel Smales, published by Phantom Publications in association with Players Press and distributed by Empire Publishing Service, P.O. Box 1344, Studio City, CA 91614.

    By Dr. Steven Porter and Joel Smales

    Let's make the assumption that you are beginning the teaching of your performing group program either because it is your first teaching assignment or because it is your first year in a district to which you have just transferred. What follows is a guide to help you organize your program successfully. It occurs in the order in which things should be done. Hopefully, you have not been hired at the last minute, and you have at least the summer months to prepare for the start of the school year in September.

  • What Real Band Directors Use

    Mike Lawson | July 1, 2003

    This past year I was asked by MENC to respond to band director questions on the MENC Band Chat-Line. I found many directors were either looking for more money for their programs, or looking for answers to improve their teaching situations. It became apparent that most were just looking for programs and products that would be helpful to their ensembles. From that experience I then realized we as band directors need to do a better job at sharing ideas and products that really work in the classroom. Included in this article are some of the areas I covered as a mentor. For now we’ll leave finding more money for your program for another article.

    Did you ever attend a music conference, attend a session on some new product or new idea on how to teach and leave wondering if anyone ever uses any of those products? Or, how many sessions have you attended where the clinician got so deeply into the subject area that you were left behind while you were still trying to figure out the first concept?

    That happens to me, too. Computer technology sessions do that to me. I don’t know all the computer lingo. They leave me behind as soon as they use some computer word that I have no idea what it means. Meanwhile all the computer wizards in the room fly off on a tangent leaving the regular layman, or should I say lay bandsman, behind in the dark.

    A few years ago I attended a jazz improvisation clinic. It started out OK, but about 10 minutes into the session, some of the jazz music writers in the room took off with the clinician, running through a myriad of jazz chords. Meanwhile, the rest of us were still stuck analyzing and trying to figure out the first chord. I was lost the rest of the way.

  • Alfred Watkins

    Mike Lawson | June 1, 2003

    At first, Lassiter (Marietta, Ga.) High School Band Director Alfred L. Watkins downplays his band’s recent travel plans – a trip to the Bands of America National Championships in Indianapolis, and another to the Marching Band Regionals in Morgantown, W.V. Oh, and the band also traveled to the National Concert Band Festival in Indianapolis and the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.

    Did he mention the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York? Or that the band has traveled to all of these destinations since 1999?

    While many band members are fortunate to experience one of these events during their academic careers, the Lassiter Trojan Band has been making a once-in-a-lifetime trip almost every year for the past several years. The expense and logistics of taking trips with 270 students does not intimidate the 27-year veteran of band travel. With the help of his band booster organization and two assistant band directors, Watkins and his Bands of America National Champions hit the road for as many worthwhile educational events as possible.

    “We travel a lot because we have a lot of different ensembles that need to travel,” he relates. “We have marching band and parade band, a concert band program, a winter color guard, five different indoor percussion ensembles and a jazz ensemble. As a result of that, we have to put the kids on the road a lot to get them to national and regional events so that they can continue to grow and the program can continue to expand. We go for the best events that can allow for the greatest amount of learning for our students.”

  • Festivals and Travel

    SBO Staff | June 1, 2003

    Fundraising. Booking flights, buses, hotel accommodations. Recruiting chaperones. Organizing the itinerary. Answering multitudinous questions from students, parents and administrators. As if music directors don’t already have enough to worry about when planning trips for their ensembles, recent world events have added more apprehension to the equation.

    Concerns about national security, the war in Iraq, SARS and the weakened economy have combined to create a much more cautious student travel climate in 2003, according to travel and festival companies that serve the school band and orchestra market. In recent months, a significant percentage of band and orchestra trips have been cancelled, re-routed to different destinations or postponed until 2004. But, despite existing concerns, festival and travel companies continue to see a growing interest in student travel and attendance at band and orchestra festivals.

  • UpFront: Drill Design for Band Directors

    Mike Lawson | May 1, 2003

    The most important characteristic a show designer must have is a creative mind. This cannot be taught. Although a person knows all the various drill movements, this does not necessarily mean he or she can combine them in a creative way that relates to the music. It is the same as a composer, artist or writer. You can learn all the rules and techniques, but to formulate them in an artistic production requires a creative mind. The drill designer must be able to listen to a musical phrase and visualize movement that interprets it.

    The second most important characteristic is the music education of the show designer. It is very important for marching band show designers to have a strong musical background. They should have a degree in music education to have a complete perception of musical literature, form and analysis, and a knowledge of all band instruments. Ideally, it is important to attend a university that also has a qualified person teaching the marching band techniques class on show designing. This will form the foundation of show designing and indicate whether you have show designing talent and enjoy writing drill. If you lack the basics of drill designing, attend workshops, study books and analyze copies of drills and videos. The purpose of studying drill designing is to learn the concepts of another designer - not copy them - so that you can create your own style of writing. The more sources you expose yourself to, the easier it will be for you to create original designs and become a successful show designer.

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