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.