Monday, February 19, 2018

Zombie Myths and Bad Habits Perpetuated in the Band Room. C'mon Music Educators!

Some ideas just don't seem to go away.

As music educators I believe most in our field really do want to see their kids succeed and thrive. However, we seem to shoot ourselves in the proverbial foot from time to time. Often, it's by repeating the same statements or ideals made by our band directors. Hence, we have what I call 'Zombie Myths'; the myths which just don't seem to die! Beyond that, we often pick up some of the bad habits that we observed (but didn't necessarily know were bad) through our band/orchestra/choir directors or our private instructors. Our heroes aren't perfect, y'all. Neither is their teaching philosophy. As a music educator, or future music educator, one must look at the dogma of your teachers with a critical eye. Let's get a few of these zombie myths out of the music room.

  • Some scales/keys are harder than others. FALSE. C# major has the exact same number of pitches as C major. If we start treating them the same, perhaps students won't stay awake the night before an audition hoping the judges don't call B or F# in the scale portion. I think as music educators we sometimes look as some keys as harder than others because that's how WE felt in the same situation. Let's get past that.
  • High school band is all about marching trophies. No, it's learning how to be a musician and play your instrument. I came from a high school marching program which was very successful. Do you know how much that impacted my life as a musician the second the last contest was over? ZERO. You can enjoy marching band, perhaps even prefer that end of the field yourself. However, if you make that the central focus of your program, you are doing your students a great disservice. Enjoy the Blue Devils but look to the Chicago Symphony and President's Own Marine Band for more inspiration.
  • Step up instruments/mouthpieces/reeds are one size fits all. STOP THAT. No, not everyone needs the same brand/model horn. No, saxophonists don't all do best on the Selmer S80 C*. No, all clarinetists don't need to be on a 3 1/2 strength reed by their junior year. Educate yourself on instruments and accessories outside of those you majored in in college.
  • If your students know the shows of the last four DCI champions and zero pros on their instruments, they're doing it wrong. If you don't know at least 2 major names on each instrument to share with your students, YOU'RE doing it wrong. 
  • The families/band boosters are their to support, not run, the band. You might occasionally need to gently remind them of that fact. See my statement about marching band. 
  • Yes, you should still maintain chops on the instrument in which you majored. Show the kids that you love music so much that you still want to play, too. Besides, if YOU play at a high level in front of the kids, it might inspire THEM to play at a high level.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

It's About the Music, Period.

Greetings after a short absence!

I was busy trying an interesting concept. Write less, practice more 😋

Having said that, the practice has been pretty specific to once and for all address deficiencies in my fingers and articulation and is slowly but surely coming along, thank you very much.

I have to keep reminding myself of that last bit....."surely coming along". I still have so many ingrained insecurities about my ability and fall into a lot of self fulfilling prophecies. I have a feeling that though my personal journey as a non-traditional student may be slightly unique; the insecurities certainly aren't.

This leads me to my lesson this week and a statement which has been a complete game changer for me.

I was preparing Karel Husa's "Elegie et Rondeau" for a recital performance this week and my professor, Mark McArthur, was listening to a run through with my pianist. Afterwards, in his commentary, he pointed out a series of glissandos in the Rondeau and said something to the effect of "What you did with these glissandos didn't fit the piece at all. Why did you perform them like that?". I responded that I was just trying to play them cleanly. Mark explained something fairly poignant to me......that I was worried about simple glissandos because I had such little confidence in my technique and then said something that sounds so simple on the surface but has caused a complete change in my mindset this week. I didn't write it down when he said it. I should have. However, the gist of the statement was this:

Never base your musical ideas or interpretation on what you think your technique is capable of doing. Instead, base your technique on what musical ideas you want to express.

It's a simple enough statement but for me, it was a total eye opener.

Yes, you need good technique.
Yes, you need a good sound.
Yes, you need to have solid reading chops.

Mostly, though, you need to have the ability to serve the music and use it to say what you and the composer wanted to say. If something gets in your way, don't allow it to affect the piece. Instead, get in the practice room and work the problem until you can get past it and just play.

Work hard
Get better
Just play and let nothing get in your way.