• Teaching the Whole Child

    Mike Lawson | November 5, 2010

    Alexander Robinson is the longtime director of the Washington-Lee High School band from Arlington, Virginia. Twenty-six years ago, Mr. Robinson, as he's known throughout the school and the community, took over a music department that featured a ragtag collection of 22 students. Since that time, Robinson has transformed the Washington-Lee bands into a first-rate program with over 125 students participating in Marching, Concert and Jazz bands, along with percussion and guitar ensembles.

    While the top groups consistently earn superior ratings with level five and six literature, there is more to this music program than music. At some point in his teaching career, Mr. Robinson realized that in order to make the bands as successful as he wanted them to be, it was in his best interest to engage students through any means necessary, whether connecting with them at the middle schools, working on multi-discipline projects, involving them in the decision-making process for most aspects of the various performing ensembles, or by simply recognizing and embracing the life lessons that occur in day-to-day teaching situations.

    In a recent interview with SBO, Alex Robinson highlights some of the keys he's learned in his career educator that have enabled him to work "smarter" instead of "harder," while also achieving more.

  • Juggling the Many Hats of a Music Educator

    Mike Lawson | October 9, 2009

    In 2003, the NCTAF (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future) reported that the nation's widely publicized and often-lamented teacher shortages are, in fact, symptoms resulting from a teacher retention crisis in the United States. Beginning teachers had an attrition rate of over 46 percent for their first five years. And American schools lose about the same number of teachers as they hire each year. Music educators can be particularly vulnerable to burnout because of the many different "hats" we must wear in a given day. These proverbial hats can tax the energy of even the most enthusiastic teachers. It isn't because we are teaching too much, of course, but because there are just too many things to do. The solution is to find ways to reduce the outside factors, allowing us teachers to simply teach music. Technology can be a critical aid, as music office software applications can relieve pressure with quick and efficient administrative applications.

    In his book My Many Hats: Juggling the diverse demands of a music teacher published by Heritage Music Press, 2005, Richard Weymuth summarizes the many roles of a music educator:

    1. The Hat of a Ringmaster: managing your classroom and your time.
    2. The Hat of a Leader: setting the direction and tone of your classroom.
    3. The Hat of a Scholar: learning when "just the facts" are just fine, and when they aren't.
    4. The Hat of a Disciplinarian: the Three Cs: Caring, Consistency and Control.
    5. The Hat of an Eagle: mastering your eagle eye by establishing standards of excellence that will build your program successful over time and effort.
    6. The Hat of a Crab: attitude is everything; without it; failure, fatigue and burn-out can result sooner than later.
    7. The Hat of a Juggler: balancing a complicated and demanding class schedule
    8. The Hat of a Banker: fund raising and budgeting.
    9. The Hat of an Artistic Director: uniforms and musicals and bulletin boards, oh my!
    10. The Hat of a Lobster: establishing the proper decorum with your students with expectations that can be managed by technology enhancements.
    11. The Hat of a Pirate: finding a job you will treasure.
    12. The Hat of a Bear: learning to "grin and bear it" in difficulty situations
    13. The Hat of a Peacock: having and creating pride in your program.
    14. The Hat of Applause: rewarding and recognizing yourself and your students.
    15. The Hat of a Flamingo: sticking out your neck and flapping your wings by providing assessment data that your students are mastering the instruction.

    Music Admin Applications
    There are two different types of music office applications: desktop-based and Web-based applications. The advantage of desktop software is all that data can be stored on your computer without accessing the Internet. Some products can be networked for school district use so that data can be shared, such as libraries and inventories. However, with these products, you must back up your data on a regular basis fortunately, good backup applications are abundantly available in today's market at a minimal cost. For Mac backup reviews, do a Web search for "Mac OS X Online Backup Service Reviews." Flash drives are ultra-convenient for storing program data and sharing it with other computers.

  • Schools Music Programs Weather the Down Economy

    Mike Lawson | September 10, 2009

    In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Liberty High School orchestra, band, and choir struggle to keep the winds, strings, percussion, and voices on the stage and in the classroom. Students are stuck wearing old, worn uniforms. The school's instrument repair budget has been cut by thousands, and forget about seeing any new instruments. The band cannot order nearly enough sheet music. The jury, too, is out on whether holes in the staff will be replaced. Greg MacGill, Liberty's band director, says his band and orchestra are far from alone.

    As the US economy spirals, or at least festers in the ditches, the effects of this downturn fingers into the public school system. Cutbacks start happening. Supplies dwindle. And some programs either continue on a shoestring, or are completely slashed. Even though countless studies prove the positive effects of arts programs on the developing mind, usually it is precisely those programs that suffer cuts earliest.

    According to a recent article in SmartMoney, all three elementary schools in the Phoenix/Talent district in southern Oregon lost their music teachers, impacting 1,200 students. No concerts are budgeted for the coming year, and the PTA is trying to raise funds to bring the program back.

  • Creating an Inspired Musical Experience: 21 Tips for Success at Festival

    Mike Lawson | June 1, 2009

    Performing at concert festival is an inspiring musical experience for both music students and conductors. Concert festival is more than an assessment event, it is an opportunity to challenge students to achieve at their highest level. In addition to the learning experience, it is an occasion that helps clarify goals for a student, ensemble, or program. Festivals have contributed much to improve the quality of groups and the musicianship of students over the last 70 years. As thoughtful music educators, it is a topic worthy of our deepest consideration.

    Following is a collection of tips for enhancing the festival experience. This advice focuses primarily on the actual day, not the musical preparation. Many of these tips are subjective opinions, some of which evoke various levels of agreement among professionals. Consider these tips first, then imagine the event as you want it to create the inspired musical experience your students deserve.

    Stage Presence

  • A Commitment to Excellence

    Mike Lawson | May 13, 2009

    What exactly is it that makes a high school music program great? Is the success of a school's band or orchestra measured through victories at national competitions? Or is it found in something less tangible, such as a program's commitment to providing the very best opportunities for its students?

    At Avon (Ind.) High School, take your pick. The school's bands are the reigning champions of such prestigious events as the Bands of America Grand National Championships and the Winter Guard International World Championships. Yet, according to Avon band director Jay Webb, being successful isn't all about winning; it's achieved by sticking to that ever-so-basic philosophy of being the best that you can possibly be at whatever it is you do. Don't settle for anything less than being the best, trying the hardest, and making the most out of every opportunity you earn. This sounds simple these concepts are hardly revolutionary yet few educators have the drive, desire, and resources to take a program to the national level. And according to Webb, one's accomplishments can only truly be measured by matching up against the very best on that national stage.

  • Balancing Comfort, Style, & Image

    Mike Lawson | May 13, 2009

    Anyone who has experienced the excitement of watching a marching band understands that the visual aspect of the experience can be almost as important as the music that's being played. While first-rate choreography is a key element of any field performance, the design and feel of the uniforms can have an equally huge impact on the ensemble's presentation. Uniforms create an image for a band. Whether they are flashy, ornate, or subtle, one could say that the uniform makes the band. SBO recently checked in with some educators who have years of experience outfitting bands. Read on as they share their experiences, along with some helpful advice.

    What is the most important element that you look for in a uniform?

    Keith Rutledge: I think the key to a good uniform is the quality in the construction. I want to know that the uniform will hold up over the years. Support from the uniform company is also very important.

  • Salute the Troops

    Mike Lawson | May 13, 2009

    Whether at a parade, a formal ceremony, or a concert, it is likely that at one time or another you will have a group perform at an event to honor the men and women of the Armed Forces. In fact, in many communities, the school music program is the only organization that can provide this very special service. Throughout the last 16 years, our music students have participated in many such events. Each time, our students have come away with a deeper appreciation of their opportunities and freedoms, and a better understanding of what it means to sacrifice for your country.

    Unfortunately, the crowds at these gatherings are often sparse and devoid of many young people. Perhaps a reason for this poor attendance might be reflected in a recent Gallup Poll, which revealed that only 28 percent of Americans knew the original intent of Memorial Day! Another reason for poor attendance could simply be that everyone's lives are busier these days and attending these ceremonial activities isn't high on the list of priorities.

    With this in mind, it becomes apparent that encouraging attendance of a Veteran's Day Parade on a cold November morning or a Memorial ceremony on a day off of school or work may not be the best way to assemble a large number people who wish to show their appreciation.

  • Effective Equipment Logistics for Marching Bands

    Mike Lawson | May 13, 2009

    The logistical challenges inherent with handling marching band equipment when met properly can positively reinforce the excellence and discipline necessary to stage an award-winning performance on the field. While every marching band program is unique, creativity and coordination are two valuable keys to success.

    Creativity: Sharing Ideas, Finding Solutions
    While competitive on the field, most marching bands have a collegial, team spirit off the field and are willing to share their creative ideas and advice. Other programs can offer invaluable insights.

    "Since day one, we've modified everything I don't know how many times after seeing how others do it," comments Wayne Ivers, band director at Marshall High School in Marshall, Minn.

  • Earl McConnell, Jr. Carrying the Torch

    Mike Lawson | March 27, 2009

    In 1966, band director Earl McConnell, Sr. joined the faculty of East Fairmont High School in West Virginia. Known for his uncompromising principles, stern direction, and dry sense of humor, McConnell took the East Fairmont High School band in a new direction. Ten years later, his son, Earl McConnell, Jr., joined his father at the helm as assistant director, eventually going on to take over the program. What began as a mission and a dream of Earl McConnell, Sr. became a family affair and a lasting legacy for his son and the Busy Bee Band & the Honeybees of East Fairmont High School. Using the lessons learned and inspiration from his father as a springboard, Earl Jr. paved his own path as a band director by bringing new technology, along with continued success to his music program.

    In a recent SBO interview, Earl Jr. discusses carrying on his father's legacy and traditions, while bringing the program into the 21st century.

  • Report: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade’s Great American Marching Band

    Mike Lawson | January 19, 2009



    This past November, Macy's Great American Marching Band, a select 250-member ensemble comprised of high school students from all 50 States and Washington D.C., featured prominently in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for the third consecutive year. This ensemble is the result of a collaborative effort by Macy's and music tour company Music Festivals.

    'In 2006, Macy's was celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Thanksgiving Day Parade," says Wesley Whatley, creative manager at Macy's Parade & Entertainment Group and manager of the Great American Marching Band. 'We were doing this in a variety of ways: bringing in celebrities and bringing famous characters back that had been with us for years. For the band program, we really wanted to figure out something special. Back in the '70s and'80s, McDonalds had an All-star band that used to march in our parades, but that went away maybe 15 or 20 years ago when McDonalds decided to no longer produce it. So for the 80th anniversary, we thought we'd bring back this idea of an All-star band that would represent the entire country. At that time, we met up with Dennis [Rhoads, president of Music Festivals], and he was eager to jump on board and put it together from a production standpoint. So we all put our heads together and came up with the Macy's Great American Marching Band."

  • Forging Tradition: USC’s Dr. Arthur Bartner

    Mike Lawson | August 7, 2008

  • Uniforms & Footwear: Looking the Part

    Mike Lawson | May 23, 2007

    Smart uniforms create an image of unity, teamwork, creativity, and flair - all qualities that will reflect positively on a band program or school. However, apparel and footwear acquisition and maintenance can be a time-consuming headache for band directors.

    In a recent survey of SBO readership, we asked about uniforms -where and how often new apparel was purchased, preferences in materials, and other thoughts on the subject. Along with tips for maintaining upkeep and a few comments on current styles, we repeatedly received one key piece of advice: band directors have enough on their plate without worrying about every last shoelace and hemline, so don't hesitate to enlist parents, boosters, or others for help with purchasing and maintaining performance apparel.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!