First Year Music Teachers: The Adventure is Just Beginning



The 2016-17 school year is now or very soon will be underway. Our teenage sons are continually reminding us of this. And not in an enthusiastic way.

With the new year there will be a new wave of music educators, out of college and leaping into their first teaching job. And to any new teachers reading this we say, congratulations...welcome to one of the greatest and most important professions in the world. We've been where you are. Your adventure is only beginning.

Part of our mission here at Festivals of Music is to do all we can to provide helpful resources to teachers--whether new or experienced--in order to make the job somewhat easier and contribute to reversing the trend of shortened teaching lifespans among the music teacher population. Speaking for myself, burnout on the profession is something I know all too well.

Don't get me wrong--I'm very happy with my lives as a performance travel planner and now festival organizer. I've still considered myself an educator in these roles. But there are things I regret not having achieved or experienced during the time I was in the rehearsal room and concert hall.

Well, so far anyway...who knows what the future could bring. I could still be asked to conduct Lincolnshire Posy on a future Eastman Wind Ensemble concert. Admittedly, the only qualifier I have to that possibility is the fact that I'm still taking in oxygen. But there's always hope. 

Because being a resource for music educators is at the core of our philosophy, we have begun partnering with organizations such as the National Band Association to create online resources for music educators to assist not only musically, but with the day to day administrative tasks and challenges. These are the topics for which there is not as much collegiate training and is by nature "on the job" training. And, sadly, often the factors that lead to short tenures in the music education world.

We're tapping into a network of experienced teachers to bring together best practices on a number of topics, and you'll see more of that on our blog in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned.

To jump start that process--we wanted to present some of the blog posts from the past year that might be most helpful to young teachers that are just beginning on their journey. Or, for that matter, experienced teachers just needing to see things through new eyes.

Here they are, at the risk of producing the equivalent of our blog's first "clip show":

  • Upon reflection of 25 years in great professions that can still be stressful, here's some thoughts on self care so that you can make it for the long haul.
  • One of the best things you can do for yourself is recharge at music conferences. For band and orchestra directors, here's some of the great things experienced last year at the Midwest Clinic. Consider attending if you haven't--we would love to see you there.
  • If one of the "to-dos" on your list this year is to take your ensemble on tour, we hope you'll give some thought to why and how this can best benefit your group.
  • If you are going to plan to tour with your group, here's reasons to consider a professional travel provider.
  • If on that tour you are considering a festival performance (and we hope you are!), here are ten reasons it can be the best option for your group. And, here are suggestions on how to get the most out of the experience.

There's more to come, and we look forward to sharing the journey with you. Bon voyage!


Ten Reasons to Perform in a Festival While on Music Tour




We lived in the Boulder, Colorado, area for nearly 15 years. If you've ever been there, you know that it is a bit of an eclectic place. Legally now.

One of our favorite things to do was to go downtown to the Pearl Street Mall, an outdoor open air plaza that was usually filled with street performers demonstrating a wide variety of talents. Poets, singers, and activists. Sometimes musicians with guitars or other instruments, always with a case open for spare change. The one that always drew a crowd was "the ZIP Code Guy." This was a person who could tell you the city and state where you lived if you told him your ZIP Code. Freaky, yet entertaining.

I often felt badly for the truly talented ones--and there were several. Here they were, pouring heart and soul and emotion into their performance art...surrounded by shoppers hustling about, the occasional siren screaming by, small children noisily running past them, and any number of other distractions that merely made them part of the scenery.

As the economy slowed in 2008, one of the natural trends in performance travel was to work to keep costs managed to allow as many students to participate as possible...it was a wise move and likely helped preserve travel traditions in countless music departments. One of the ways this was done was to find locations where groups could perform for low to no cost, thus being able to maintain the premise of a music tour and satisfy administrations and school boards by having musical content...while saving money in the process.

Open air plazas, shopping centers, lobbies or entrance areas of attractions and even observation decks in skyscrapers became places where groups could perform for little or no cost (besides the price of admission). The unfortunate trade-off was in the quality of the performance setting, and the acceptance of "good enough" for the cost. These talented musicians became simply part of the scenery, and this became a new normal for music tours.

As the economy improves, perhaps now is the time to reconsider this approach. And while it will obviously appear self-serving to hear this coming from a festival organization...in the bigger picture should consideration be given to the impression that use of these free locations makes regarding the value placed on music education? Is it truly "good enough" for our young musicians?

Compared to a free performance at an open public venue, a festival offers much more:

  • You are performing in a venue meant for music performance, in a location of acoustic and aesthetic quality where your musicians will be able to sound their best and truly showcase their talents.

  • You are in an indoor venue and not at the mercy of weather conditions. Many free venues are outdoor locations.

  • Nearly all equipment needs—large percussion instruments, piano, choral risers, music stands, chairs and sound systems—are included in your festival cost and readily available for use, rather than being rented and carted to and from the site. A self-contained performance location greatly simplifies your planning and allows you to focus on the performance.

  • You are not subject to repertoire and ensemble restrictions (as you may be in a church), noise levels (as you may be in a museum) or extraneous sound interruptions (as you may experience in an open plaza).

  • Audiences in a public venue are generally passive and transitory. At a festival, those in the audience are people who are engaged in and appreciate your work—whether they are adjudicators, other student performers or music booster parents (your own and perhaps those of other groups). They understand the hard work you put in to achieve what you do.

There is deeper educational and musical value added to your tour:

  • The commentary and clinics from the adjudication panel provide a variety of ideas, opinions and feedback from several experienced educators with differing viewpoints and expertise. This provides a wider range of ways to improve musicianship, all from a single performance.

  • The opportunity to hear other ensembles provides insight on what you may be doing well musically, what areas you can improve upon, and may introduce you to interesting unfamiliar works in the repertoire and other new ideas.

  • Listening to and supporting other ensembles develops community in the music education world, providing the opportunity to hear and interact with student musicians from many different areas and backgrounds. It makes our musical world more connected.

  • An accomplishment quality rating at a national level festival can provide a benchmark that can be a point of pride and program advocacy within your home community.

  • Even if not all of your ensemble members are able to attend, quality adjudication panels at an educationally focused festival understand these tour realities and are able to provide constructive observations in a confidence building manner.

Quality over Quantity. A meaningful music tour should include setting and achieving goals that lead to growth for the individual musician and the program as a whole, rather than a “checklist” of activities. If a performance is to be a part of your music tour plans, you want it to be a worthwhile opportunity that enhances the education and growth of your students and your program.

Ultimately a successful music tour is about balance--putting equal weight on the musical aspects and the fun activities. Making certain that the music portion is worthwhile and rewarding makes it easier to justify the truly long-term value of the experience.


In Memoriam: Jean-Baptiste Lully (Or, Don't Let the Job Kill You)


Last week was the anniversary of the death of Jean-Baptiste Lully, who died in 1687. A French composer of the Baroque Period, he was also one of the world's first conductors. And the job killed him.

No, seriously. Here's how it happened, and immediately qualified him for music history's first and, still probably best, Darwin Award.

He was conducting a performance of his Te Deum at a celebration of Louis XIV's recovery from surgery (irony alert). In those days, a conductor's baton was actually a long staff--somewhat similar to a mace like you would see a ceremonial drum major carry today in a military band. They kept time by banging the pointed end of the staff on the stage floor, which ultimately led to the creation of Dr. Beat...but that's another tragic story.

In his excitement, at one point Lully missed the stage and instead struck his toe. The wound developed gangrene, but Lully refused to have his leg amputated because he still wanted to be able to enjoy dancing. He died of blood poisoning in two months.



Fortunately, thanks to new advancements in modern baton technology, this is less of a problem.

We're about to dive into a time of year that, in all seriousness, can be hazardous to our health as music educators, festival organizers and travel planners. It is perhaps our busiest and most stressful time of year, and I have experienced it in all three of those vocations.

For music educators, we are simultaneously managing such things as solo and small ensemble contest, production of spring musicals, preparing for spring large ensemble festival and final concerts, submitting ever-shrinking budgets for the following school year, fighting over the calendar for the same coming school year, coordination of music for numerous end of year celebrations, possibly embarking on a spring tour, researching summer music camp options for our most dedicated students, hiring summer band camp staff, and finalizing and promoting multiple fundraising efforts to even be able to afford it all.

For travel planners, this is the point where everything you have been working on for the past 12 months or more comes to fruition in the span of three months of long days and short, sometimes worry-filled nights. Will a bus break down in the middle of Nebraska? Will that blizzard hit Denver and shut down the airport at the same time six groups are trying to fly to both coasts? Will that hotel forget about the 200-member group arriving tomorrow?

The festival organizer has similar worries. Will an adjudicator get the flu the night before the contest? Will the trophies arrive at the right place? I'm finding this is where the internal conversation of "festival organizer OCD" kicks into high gear. ("Did you order those four timpani to be delivered? Better check. Are you sure? Better check again.")

Behind all of this is one simple truth--we are this way because we want these experiences to be the best possible. We're all artists and we're wired for nothing less than excellence. If there is anything I've finally learned after 25 years experiencing the spring rush in these vocations, it comes down to two things.

First--be kind to yourself.

  • Take breaks--mental and physical--when you can. Preferably away from a computer screen.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help.
  • Eat well, even (and especially) when you're on the road. I force myself to order salad more when I'm away from home.
  • Sleep well, or at least as best as you can. I've started using a sleep mask, and besides feeding my inner super hero it works wonders.
  • Exercise. This in my opinion is the world's best stress buster. We have a treadmill here that just recently broke down after 12 years of almost daily use. (Yeah, bad timing on that.) It has probably saved me more than I know.
  • Find a fun stress buster. One year during a particularly rough spring I got really good at Tiger Woods Golf on our Nintendo Wii. (Sadly the skill does not transfer into reality.)
  • Finally, when you mess up (and you will), simply this--take responsibility and own the problem. People will respect you infinitely more, and hiding it and being found out makes you feel infinitely worse. Then whenever possible fix the problem, because nothing feels better than that. Then move on.

Second--be kind to those around you.

  • Remember you're working together toward the same goals.
  • Remember to take care of each other.
  • Say "please" and "thank you". A lot.
  • A fun little surprise will make you both feel better.
  • Find the humor in the everyday. Laugh about the ridiculous things that happen. Because they do.
  • Finally, when someone else messes up (and they will), simply this--don't waste time playing the blame game. Focus on solving the problem. Give kindness and service, because nothing feels better than that. Figure out how to make it better the next time.Then move on. 
And, hopefully unlike Lully, you'll live to dance another day.


Live from West Chester University

One of the things we do here at Festivals of Music, besides planning and carrying out our spring festival season, is supporting educational opportunities and organizations that share our philosophy of promoting and enhancing music education in the schools. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of working with two of our partners in music education...all while listening to several great wind bands and watching remarkable conductors work their teaching magic.

And it was in a place where I'd never been before, but in many ways was like coming home.

The National Band Association held its Wind Symposium on the campus of West Chester University in Pennsylvania. We are just beginning a partnership with NBA where we'll be helping develop resources for both young and more experienced band directors, bringing together the expertise of years from their members and our network of participating directors to find out what kinds of materials and information will best serve their students and help them learn and grow in the profession.

Six high school bands from the area over the course of two days had the opportunity to work with three incredible wind conductors on a rotation basis. On hand were Kevin Sedatole of Michigan State University, M. Gregory Martin from West Chester University, and John Casagrande, current Executive Administrator of NBA and a long-time very successful director in the Fairfax County Schools of Virginia.

Each group had three 90-minute rehearsal segments...one with each of the guest conductors. They also had an opportunity to experience master classes with West Chester applied faculty, and a special morning warm up session with Sam Pilafian...tuba player extraordinaire, founding member of the Empire Brass and currently with the Boston Brass, and co-author of the "Breathing Gym" pedagogy text. For the band conductors, there was a fantastic round table discussion with the guest clinicians each day dealing with topics such as rehearsal planning and repertoire.

To top it all off, each day was capped with a "show and tell" by the three bands followed by a stunning performance by the West Chester University Wind Ensemble, led by their conductor Andrew Yozviak. Their portion of the concert included the brand new work by David Maslanka, Hosannas, written to honor conductor Gary Green of the University of Miami upon his retirement last spring. It is a phenomenally beautiful work.

The best part? This was all captured on video.

The entire event was being webcast by banddirector.com, and is the first of three concert band events that we are helping sponsor this spring. If you've not visited their website, it is a treasure trove of helpful videos, articles and performances by some of the most outstanding school bands in the nation. And the material from the weekend will be edited and archived onto the site in the coming days, so that directors can access it to watch the clinicians at work with the students on some terrific staples of the wind band repertoire.

But here was the simultaneously fun and terrifying part...they let me be on camera too.


My role was to offer the "play by play" of the weekend, alongside Sam Pilafian. I had never done anything like this before, and the good people at banddirector.com were taking an enormous leap of faith on me. Most people had always told me I had a face made for radio.

Improvising in performance has never been a strong suit for me. I'm a clarinetist for crying out loud. But Sam and Dave Knox of banddirector.com provided fantastic guidance and encouragement to me all weekend. Sam is a tremendous teacher, as you can see in this video where he gives someone you may know a tuba lesson.


It was one of the most fun things I've done recently. Part of the commentary was pulling the conductor out of the rehearsal about halfway through to interview him about what had happened so far and what they were going to work on next. Sort of like the way football coaches are interviewed on their way into the locker room at halftime, but without the impending explosive tension. It gave the viewers valuable insight into what had just been experienced and a preview of the thought processes for the rest of the rehearsal.

Watching from home, my wife told me I was much more relaxed on the second day. A good thing, because I'll be doing this twice more this spring for the Lawrence R. Sutherland Wind Festival at California State University-Fresno in March and the Illinois SuperState Festival in May.

The other wonderful thing about the weekend was finally visiting West Chester University. It was a full circle moment for me. I had never been there, but much of my life was influenced by this place...mostly without me knowing it until recently. Our Festivals of Music founder, Dr. James Wells, was the longtime Director of Bands at the school. Dr. Wells created an atmosphere of collaborative leadership at West Chester, and the leadership programs he created and developed here touched the lives of thousands of music students and future music educators. One of them being his drum major, a young man out of Delaware named George N. Parks.

I was a member of "George's Army" as we called it, back in 1982 in Whitewater, Wisconsin. That week was the initial step on my path to a career in music education, and so many of the incredible things I've had the opportunity to experience in my life trace back to that week. Including what I'm doing today.

As I stood in the lobby of the beautiful Madeline Adler Wing Theatre this weekend talking with John Villella, himself the former Director of Bands at West Chester and also an active part of Festivals of Music over the years, he told me that where I was standing used to be a big open field where the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy used to hold its summer sessions all those years ago. Hundreds of drum majors could be seen on this spot, learning their first conducting patterns, perfecting their marching technique, and developing their leadership skills...for some, likely their first steps into music education as well.

Yes, it was just like coming home.

Prevent a Blizzard of Worries: Have a Travel Planner

As I write this, Winter Storm Jonas is bearing down on the east coast, bringing with it advisories ranging anywhere from "blowing and drifting" to "repent your sins." And as I sit here and contemplate, two things consistently go through my mind:

  • We're really naming these after boy bands now?
  • Thank goodness this isn't tour season.

Even though I don't plan group travel anymore, I have a lot of longtime friends and colleagues who do...and I feel their pain. When the weather wreaks havoc like it is this weekend, it can be an extremely stressful time for even the most seasoned travel experts. I remember many times in December or March or April, being glued to The Weather Channel, watching radar reports and looking at my list of what groups were where and when. It didn't even have to be bad where they were going, or where they were leaving. A shut down of a major hub like Denver or Chicago-O'Hare could put a full stop to plans simply by the ripple effect it creates.

Travel planning is not for the faint of heart.

I was extremely fortunate...meaning, I was extremely lucky. I only had a handful of groups that were adversely affected by travel weather conditions over a twelve year period. One of those was a group that couldn't return to Colorado because of a blizzard there, and were forced to spend another day at their destination.


Yeah, probably shouldn't include them on the "adversely affected" list.

I was also fortunate in that, even though I was the travel planner, I had a support team of people in my organization who were true experts when it came to working with the airlines and navigating the waters when weather created challenges. It is not a job that I would have wanted to take on.

Unfortunately, in a lot of ways dealing with weather situations while traveling has become even more difficult in recent years.

  • Global warming arguments aside, weather events appear to be more extreme and at stranger times of the year.
  • The trend I have seen with airlines is that they are downsizing more aircraft, which means fewer seats. For large groups this means you are on more flights, creating more exposure to delay potentials due to weather.
  • The other trend I have seen is a tendency for airlines to preemptively cancel flights before weather sets in. This happened today with at least one airline cancelling most of their flights in the northeast.

Consider those last two points in particular. You have lots of cancelled flights, with far fewer available seats. And everybody wants them. While the circumstances may not change--your group is going to be stuck on the C Concourse for awhile--you have to ask yourself this question:

"Do I want to be the one trying to fix this?"

There are many groups that for varied reasons will make their own travel arrangements. They want full control of the plans, they're familiar with the destination, or--most likely based on what I've seen--they want to save cost by doing the work in house. And that might seem OK when things are going great.

Here's the thing: if you're in line at the ticket counter and Jim Cantore and the Weather Channel crew are walking past with microphones and cameras...things are not going great.

A travel professional working on your behalf is vital in conditions like this.

  • Because their relationship with the airlines involves not just your group, but spans multiple groups over several years of experience, they know how to best advocate for you. They can help you make the best of a bad situation.
  • Once you have the flight crisis solved, what's next? Do you need hotel rooms for an additional night? Do you need a bus to get there? Something to do the next day with a hundred bored teenagers who just wanted to go home? Or worse--thought they would be spending the day at Disney World and instead are devising ways to turn the baggage carousel into a thrill ride? They can solve multiple concerns for you.
  • Perhaps most important, and often overlooked. With them focusing on the travel issues, you can focus on the kids and make sure they're in good shape--keeping morale up against the disappointment of delay. They need reassurance from you that work is being done to get their adventure back on track as soon as possible. 

If you already work with a trusted travel planner, you know that these are the moments where they truly shine and their value is pure gold. If you don't--you have to ask yourself if whatever you saved was worth it at a time like this.

My advice? These people are professionals. Don't try this at home.

Getting the Most out of Your Festival Experience

NOTE: This story appeared in the November 2015 Choral Director Magazine and December 2015 School Band and Orchestra Director Magazine.


As soon as I saw my French horn section taking a nap outside the auditorium, I knew we were in trouble.


It had been three long days in the theme parks, including a parade performance that consumed much of an afternoon. Late nights taking in every last ride and fireworks finale was beginning to take its toll. And now on the day of our adjudicated performance that we had worked so hard to prepare musically, the energies were starting to fade.


Well, I thought. So Childrens March and Nimrod are going to go really well today.


Fortunately, the troops rallied. We somehow, somewhere, got a second wind, went onto stage and performed wonderfully….ending up receiving first place in our division. Deep down I knew we had dodged a bullet that could have shot down weeks of preparation and deflated the confidence of the students in the wind symphony. I had learned my lesson.


It's no surprise that bringing your ensemble to perform in a quality festival experience can be an educationally rewarding opportunity for musical growth. As a teacher, the ability to have your group perform and receive feedback from experts in the field helps them improve as musicians and helps you improve as a conductor--and usually reinforces the lessons you teach from the podium every day!


Along with the musical preparation necessary for success, an additional important ingredient to remember is to set a pace for the performance day that will allow your group to be at its best. This means not packing every moment of the day full of activities, but rather building a lighter and more flexible schedule into the day. And while it may run antithesis to common thought, you will likely find that it will make for a more optimal experience in the long run.


Conventional wisdom usually falls into one or more of the following camps:

  • A full schedule means less idle time for problems to arise

  • We've come all this way to "x" destination so we need to make the most of every minute to get our money's worth

  • I don't want the students complaining that they're bored

  • This may be the only time some of these students get to travel to "x" location, so we need to see everything and can't spare any down time

All valid reasoning, but consider the following as well: your musicians need to be in a condition (physically and mentally) to perform at their best to avoid all your preparation being for nothing. That means they need to have had adequate rest and arrive at the festival with sufficient time to warm up, tune, and otherwise prep for the performance.

 

I can't tell you how many times I've seen groups arrive at a festival (or clinic, or workshop, or rehearsal with a guest conductor) where the students are in a "fog" or even beginning to nod off because they have been running at such a breakneck pace since they arrived in the city and are exhausted from getting little sleep combined with being "on the go". This becomes magnified if your group is performing as part of a mass ensemble (such as a bowl game performance or collaborative choir) and affects the performance quality of fellow musicians who have also worked hard--and often paid a substantial amount--for this opportunity. Now your sluggish and seemingly unprepared or uncaring musicians are branded as "that ensemble" for the duration of the event. Not a fun place to be.

 

Add to that the effect of "sensory overload" present in some locations. Believe me, I love Times Square and theme parks as much as the next person....but the constant lights, sounds and crowds are cumulatively overwhelming. Throw into the mix doing this all while probably on a diet of more fast food, snacks and caffeinated sodas than usual....even for teens. This is where exhaustion can very quickly transform to sickness and take performers out of commission.

 

Then there are the cases of the groups who arrive for their event late due to unexpected traffic issues because they were squeezing in another attraction. Or had "that one student" who got stuck in the museum gift shop, or lost track of time, etc. The students leap off of the bus, hurriedly grab (or toss) instruments and concert wear out of the bus bays and go dashing to a warm up room while slapping a reed on a mouthpiece or organizing their music....all while harried chaperones and directors are prodding them to move quickly. Not exactly conducive to creating a memorable rendition of a lush, serene Grainger work.

 

Being a parent gives me a new perspective on this. You know those parents that you see at “X” theme park? The ones who look like they’re on their last nerve, about to fall over, with two kids under 10 in tow having the “meltdown to end all meltdowns” due to missed naptime because they didn’t want to sacrifice having a magical experience?


Yeah, this is you now. Except its performance time and you have to hit the stage, not take everyone for Dole Whips.