Where Did I Put My Hologram Projector?

Thomas Palmatier • InService • March 27, 2020

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The world of music education (and everything else!) is changing on a daily basis as the world reacts to the coronavirus. By the time you’re reading this, nearly every school in America will have embarked on the brave new world of “remote learning.” I was busily preparing to conduct the Alabama All-State Band in a few weeks and like most band and orchestra festivals and performances, it has been cancelled.

As I reviewed the remote learning guidelines for Jefferson County, Colorado where I teach frequently, it’s obvious that they are mostly ill-suited to music performance. I experienced a somewhat similar situation during another emergency. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, all U.S. military installations adopted security measures that required significant amounts of manpower just to guard critical facilities. While I was in command of the U.S. Army Europe Band & Chorus, most public performances were prohibited, and we were required to provide guard forces around the clock. Ensemble rehearsals became impractical, so we did what all of you are doing now: focusing on sustaining and improving individual musical skills. We ensured that daily practice periods were part of everyone’s work/sleep schedule.

While we wish there was a way for us to plug our hologram projector in and magically appear in front of all of our students (and to be able to see if they are sitting up straight), those tools aren’t available for us yet. One way that we can continue to build ensemble skills on specific pieces of music is by sharing top-quality recordings and asking students to work up to being able to play along with those recordings. A number of adult community bands are not so different from some school bands in that not many of the musicians practice outside of rehearsal and they have other things going on in their lives. I have found that providing high-quality recordings can help them maximize the effectiveness of their practice outside of rehearsals.

There are many online programs and apps that most of you were already using to assist students in practicing and allow you to monitor their progress remotely. If you aren’t using these, find a local colleague who can get you and your students up to speed. However, there are other assets available to you that you may not have thought of.

For years, The U.S. Army Field Band has presented hundreds of clinics in schools annually. However, many are unaware of the incredible video tutorials that they have available for free online. Their video clinics include: Understanding the Oboe, Flute Fundamentals, Improving Your Clarinet Section, Bassoon Basics, Horn Playing Past and Present, A Player’s Guide to Trombone, A Trumpeter’s Resource, Tuba & Euphonium, The Complete Percussionist, Saxophone Standard, The Joy of Singing, and Inside the Big Band. These can be assigned to sections followed by chat room discussion of the key points learned. They are also fantastic refreshers for those of us whose secondary instrument skills may have decayed.

Also included on their site is “Perspectives – Resources for Jazz Education.” This includes royalty-free big band charts (Grades 1-6) with downloadable parts and scores and playalong tracks. The tracks are furnished with and without soloists performing so your students can practice their improvisation skills with the Jazz Ambassadors as their back-up band! Also, all of their CDs with extended program notes are available (some conducted by yours truly!). The link is armyfieldband.com/education.

The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” has similar royalty-free play-along products for The Army Blues and The Army Strolling Strings, as well as links to all of their extensive recording library. Find it at usarmyband.com.

The U.S. Marine Band has some educational clinics and a wide variety of recordings online at marineband.marines.mil/educational.

There’s also an online resource that’s been shared with SBO readers previously. It’s called “Sound Like This!” and has links to wind and string player performances. It’s on my website at ThomasPalmatier.com. If you encounter dead links, please let me know so I can fix them.

While this has focused on how you can remotely enhance the musical skills of your students, how about using this time to improve your skills? Haven’t had enough time to review new literature, listen to recordings, read back issues of SBO Magazine, study scores, or read books? (Check out Colonel’s Book Club in previous SBO issues). Now’s the time! Feel free to visit my website and the many other great resources provided by SBO, NAfME, NBA, ABA, ASTA, ASBDA, Conductor’s Guild….. you get the idea. This unplanned “sabbatical,” used properly, can result in students refocused on improving individual performance led by a teacher who is energized and full of new ideas.

Colonel (Retired) Thomas H. Palmatier is the former leader and commander of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” and commander and conductor of The United States Army Field Band. He holds degrees in music education from the Crane School of Music (State University of New York at Potsdam) and Truman State University as well as a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the U.S. Army War College.

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