Umm….why is March so maddening?

Ah, the madness of March...what could be better? Lots of stuff...

The NCAA got it right.  March Madness…an apt description.  For music educators it means [but not limited to] basketball playoffs, mid semester concert, solo/ensemble contest, the long haul to Spring break, depressing weather (at least around here), and restless kids.  Unfortunately, I have ALL of those things happening right now.  So, something has to give…

I did what most band directors would not do.  And I am not sure it is a risk worth taking.  I postponed by concert in favor of Basketball Playoffs.  I capitalize it here because it is HUGE at my school.  You have to understand that we have been working very hard to improve our school.  I am sure most school staffs do, but it was getting to a critical low about five years ago.  The recent success of the sports programs, band and choir programs, and various clubs has begun to rally the students together and we have seen some dramatic improvements across the board.

Back to Basketball Playoffs.  This is a big deal and a great opportunity to send the right message to the community about the band program.  It also makes our school look like a cohesive group.

The other side of the decision was based on the fact that the students are being asked to keep a schedule that is [in my opinion] inappropriate for a growing high school band program.  I think my decision to postpone a curricular event in order for my students to catch their breath and catch up on homework, was just as important a curricular decision as keeping the concert on schedule.

I am still not sure I made the right choice.  I am confident I did, but the danger is that I am setting the wrong president that concert band plays second fiddle to pep band.  That is not, and never has been my philosophy.  I hope to not have to compromise my principles too often in the future.

A Questions Posed:

How many times have you looked like this in rehearsal?

Would it be better for my students if I worked 70 hour weeks, and fought tooth and nail for a better program, resulting in a better more cohesive program but with an angry, unhappy man at the helm?  OR…Take my time, spend time with my family and be a happier person, striving for the same goals as before, but taking much longer?

I have struggled with this question for some time now, and have come to the conclusion that if I was the former, I would be more unhappy, thus making the students more unhappy…then what’s the point. In any workaholic’s wake, there are those that are neglected.  I do not want to risk making my family feel that I am a non-entity in their lives.  I just don’t know what to do, or how to be happy with the balance I find.

Think, think, think…

Still Back at the ol’ Drawing Board

A motto created by my students

Who ever coined the phrase “Back to the Drawing Board” must have been an educator.  Back in August, I wrote about reinventing myself as a band director and reshaping my program.  Well, it has been a long process, and what I hae learned is that I have not reshaped my program, but evolved with it.  A music program is like a living, breathing organism.  It like an ensemble unto itself. I have seen tremendous maturation occur so far this year, and have struggled to keep up.

This year, I have begun the great adventure of trying to be both band director and choir director.  It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.  The simple task of trying to transition between the two disciplines is mind-bending.  Fortunately, I have wonderful students who are doing a fairly good job of keeping this year in perspective and understanding that there are adjustments happening for everyone.  The learning curve has been very steep this year.

I think the most helpful change I have made this year is keeping a journal every day.  I reflect on everything from encounters with students to how a particular lesson went.  I started doing this for several reasons, among them was to gather the type of material that would be good for this blog and helpful to others.  So, going forward, I plan to share with you some of the most inspiring and insightful among my adventures this year so far.

Back to the Drawing Board

As another year begins, I am always reflective on two things:  how short the summer was, and how can I improve the beginning of the year.

As you may or may not know (depending on whether you are a teacher or not) the beginning of the year is a critical point.  It determines how the rest of your year will commence.  I have decided to do less FOR the students, and put more pressure on them to stay organized.  In the past I have spoon fed every thing to them so they all start off with everything they could possible need to be prepared.  I found that this just makes them dependant on me for the entire year.  This year they buy there own flip folders, organize their own pep band tunes, and makes sure they buy a lyre that works. 

I have also been handed the choir program at my school, so this summer has been a flurry of reorganizing what I have to accommodate a new rehearsal strategy and the new needs of the students (they also took the choir room away).  I am choosing to try and see the bright side of all of this.  Yes, it is going to be difficult to balance out the needs of two distinct programs.  It will also be hard to find the choir director in me, but it will also force me to stretch as an educator.  It will provide an opportunity to model a cool head in a difficult situation of my students, and afford me some level of achievement for future job opportunities. 

Now, on to future articles.  I am currently working on drafts of several articles for the blog that feature the use of technology that I have either tried and failed at, or used to great success.  I will also talk about some articles I have read recently about classroom management, and constructivism in the music classroom.  Back to the grind stone!

Quandry….

I have been musing for the past year….

How do I get a group of young musicians to perform a piece of music?

A little background.  Band directors all know that performances are a critical aspect to their curriculum, but how many actually teach “performance”?  What I see most bands do, and what my band usually does should be called “group recitation”.  The students are simply reading what’s on the page, and not really performing the music.

For a performance to occur every child MUST have internalized the music and made the choice to experience the music.  Every individual must make the choice to experience the music on a personal level on their own.  No teacher on this Earth can force a student to feel the music on this level.  The only thing a teacher can do is try and inspire deeper thinking about the music to his/her students.  I make a point of taking time out of rehearsal to talk passionately about the music, and try to convey a sense of deep importance in the music they are rehearsing.

I would love to hear about the conversations other band directors have with their students.  Some of my favorite teaching moments occur outside of class in my office with a small group of students just talking about the music.  We might have some playing on the stereo, and every once in a while I will say “Did you hear that?!?” and launch into a deep conversation about how the deep hues of the low brass support such a rich character for the ensemble, or wome other inflated artsy comment.  The students are able to make a more personal connection with you and they are able to see that music ins’t something that happens once a day (or in my situation once every other day).

If there are other stories about conversations you have had with students, or a way in which you can get kids to think about music outside of your room, let me know.

OOPS….you caught me with my pants down…..

OOPS!  I noticed after posting the last entry and then re-reading my older posts, that I already posted the article about recording your band….boy do I feel silly….

WOW!!!!! It has been a CRAZY year!!!

I haven’t blogged since last June as I was ending my first year teaching.

There I got that off of my chest.

If there is anyone out there at least a little interested in learning about my experiences as a high school band director, read on.  Contact me if you want to contribute as an author!

Anyway, a ton of stuff went down this year…along with the economy.  I started the year trying to get out of summer mode, and failing miserably at it.  Someone please enlighten me as to how to do it without seeming like the biggest flake on the planet for the first month of school.  Also, I hosted my regions large group contest this year.  WOW….that was an experience.  More on that in later posts.

Probably the most important thing I did this year was begin a parent group to help support music in my school.  This was a critical step for my program as the arts were hit pretty hard because of budget cuts.  Those parents are going to save by backside next year, because I am teaching Band AND Choir.  It is going to be as crazy, if not more crazy, than this year.  I am a little stoked to take on such a big job, but also petrified.  Stoked in that if I pull it off, I have proven myself a techer of some merit.  If I fail, the whole program goes down with me.

On my other blog “Music as Necessity” (http://musicessential.wordpress.com), I posted a way to record your band for contest, all-state, etc.  I think that post was supposed to come here, but I screwed up.  Oh well….

Anyway, I wil be posting to this site quite a bit in the coming weeks, and also pusing hard to try and expand its scope.  If you would like to help me add to the pantheon of knowledge for music education, JOIN THE FUN!!!!

Summer Vactation? WHAT Summer Vacation?!?!

Anyone who ways that teachers have it “easy” because we get Summers off…can cram it!  I have done nothing but work.  Obviously, it’s not quite like the school year, but feverish nonetheless.  Unfortunately the situation I walked into was one of chaos and disorganization.  During the year, it was all I could do to hang on and get some music made.  Now that the kids are gone, and I have a few nanoseconds to think, I am able to get some of the craziness cleaned up.  Fortunately, I have a strong core of dedicated kids who are/were willing to volunteer to help!

Here is what I got done, and what I have left to do:

1.  I (with the kids, my wife, and mother) completely reorganized all of the sheet music libraries (pep band, jazz band, concert band).

2.  I made an inventory of all of my loaner instruments.

3.  I redesigned my office to better suit my students, making it a rehearsal space as well as a place to find sanctuary.

Here is what I still need to do:

1.  Inventory all of my percussion instruments

2.  Reorganize my solo-ensemble library

3.  Establish a room plan that will allow for the most functionality for the mix of classes I will teach in there next year.

4.  Pick new music for next year (pep band, concert band, jazz band)

5.  Organize the flip folders for band camp

Jeez….I need to stop before I jump off of the nearest bridge!

Ask for what you need, and good things will happen!

Among the many challenges this year, I have had a rash of broken equipment.  Most of it was from standard use, but nevertheless, it was like trying to hit a curve ball.  Where do I go for money?  Who is in charge of giving me the funds for fixing equipment?  What do I do in the meantime?  A million questions rushed to my mind.  I decided to go to the music coordinator, and ask him if he had the power to make things right.  Of course, I got the standard “I will see if there are funds available, but don’t keep your hopes up.” response.  But he actually DID check to see if there were funds available, and he DID replace all of the equipment that was damaged!  I was beside myself!  It was like Christmas!!!  OOPS…I’m sorry….it was like a Winter Holiday!!!!!!

Anyway, I received this equipment the day of my final concert of the year.  I was abl to use it, and to great success.

I am planning on writing a whole post on the end of my year.  I am sorry it has been so long since my last post.  i thought things were settling down.  It just goes to show you how inexperienced I am.

Finally…..Time to take a breath!

I finally have time to take a deep breath and make the surge to the end of the year. The capping event of the year has passed, and I am glad to say that my students and I made it through the trials of an all day four parade mega-event just fine. It was hot, long, and tiring. And not only did I have to survive this trial of endurance, I had to start moving into my new house that evening. Talk about exhausted!!!!!

My students and I have hatched a plan to try and get enrollment up for next year. I have a miserably low number expected, and I am desperate to get that number up. I think one of my big lessons this year is how important it is for me to be seen down at the middle school. Next year, I plan on being a fixture for those eighth graders.

I will have some pics of my new house up soon!

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