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2010 Midwest Preview

2010 Midwest Preview | December 2010

    The groups invited to perform at the Midwest Clinic each year represent some of the finest music programs in the country. Each group that is invited has distinctive traits, as seen in the comments of these directors the road to Midwest.

Kell High School Wind Symphony
Marietta, Georgia
    Director David McGrath was at Kell High School on the day it opened nine years ago and recalls some bumps in the road in the early days. “The new building split off students from three existing high schools, and they came from programs with different philosophies. While freshmen have never known anything different, the upperclassmen have strong opinions about what a band program should be.”
    McGrath says that his groups have put a tremendous amount of time into sound development through listening to recordings, using of a drone CD, and matching pitches at the start of every rehearsal.” The Kell High School bands also spend considerable time each year on sightreading. The two younger concert bands sightread mostly from books, but the top group sightreads dozens of pieces in a year. The first few weeks of the school year are devoted to reading charts, a process that helps him assess the strengths and weaknesses of the group. “Many of the pieces that are sightread are never polished for a concert. When I was in high school, my director, James Griffith, devoted every Friday to sightreading. We would arrive and there would be five or six pieces on our music stand, and we spent the entire day sightreading.”
    McGrath credits Griffith with invaluable inspirations that contributed to his later decision to teach music. A trip to perform at a San Francisco convention opened McGrath’s eyes to the possibilities of music. “That trip was hugely important to me as a 9th grader. I just fell in love with music and there was no doubt that I wanted to teach music for the rest of my life.”
     Despite a teaching career that spans 23 years, this was his first application to the Midwest. “After seeing what this invitation has done for my students, I am very thankful that I finally overcame the doubts and submitted a recording.  I encourage others who have strong ensembles to get past those anxieties and apply. The rewards are worth the time and energy.  I would do it again without hesitation.”

Liberty High School Saxophone Quartet
Frisco, Texas
    Until she saw that Rowlett High School in Texas sent a brass quintet to the Midwest a few years ago, directory Alyson Keller didn’t realize chamber groups could apply. She encouraged an outstanding saxophone quartet to submit a tape two years ago, but twice the ensemble did not receive an invitation. The third time proved to be the charm. Keller almost deleted the emailed invitation because it didn’t say “Midwest” on it, and she thought it might be a prank. “I had to read it a handful of times before I believed it.” The recording was made on a handheld device in the school auditorium. 
    Although the quartet has been largely self-sufficient over the years, Keller provided some assistance this year as they prepared for Chicago. She helped the group to choose music that includes a mix of past favorites and new publications, plus some at the easier grade levels. The group rehearses three or four times a week, even during the busy marching season.
When not assisting the saxophone quartet, Keller directs three concert bands each week. She is proud of the progress the music department has made in the five years since the school opened. Even with the accolades that have come with the Midwest invitation, Keller reflects, “In the band world it is so easy to get caught up in competition. What keeps me grounded and enjoying my job is working to make the music come alive for students.  When we focus less on winning and more on the music, everything falls into place.”

Fort Zumwalt North H.S. Jazz Band
O’Fallon, Missouri
    Rob Babel took a jazz group to the Midwest in 2004 and found this time that picking a program that suited the group’s strengths was difficult. Babel’s life in music began with strong encouragement from parents who attended every one of his concerts, even when he was two hours away while attending the University of Missouri at Columbia. He recalls being surrounded by music while growing up as his father regularly played Maynard Ferguson records on the stereo. When he arrived at college, Babel began as a journalism major but later switched to music through the inspiration of a pair of directors.
    Now in his 15th year at Fort Zumwalt North High School, Babel teaches two jazz ensembles and meets with the top group every day for 50 minutes. Those daily rehearsals help lay the foundation for strong improvisation. Every class starts with a with a major, dominant, or minor chord and scale warmup. “I’ll call out an instruction and we might warm up by outlining all 12 dominant chords around the circle of 4ths, and they’ll follow up by playing all 12 Dorian minor scales in the circle of 4ths. Thus, every student knows the major, dominant, and minor scales.” Babel credits attendance at summer jazz camps as another factor in developing improv skills.  He encourages every student, no matter how reluctant, to solo at least once on a concert annually. “Even if it is just one chorus of blues in front of the home crowd, students are expected to solo. That unwritten rule has helped many students overcome their fear.”

Wichita H.S. East Symphony Orchestra

Wichita, Kansas
    After performing at the Kansas state music convention, director Eric Crawford knew the time was right to apply to the Midwest Clinic for the first time. “I knew there was an outstanding group of students coming up for this year, so I decided to jump on the opportunity.” 
    Now in his fourth year at the school, Crawford admits that both the musical preparation and the details of planning the trip have taken time away from regular rehearsals this year. “My two other orchestras are continuing on as normal, but for the symphony orchestra, a solid 85% of our time has been spent on the music, fundraising, and spreading the word to the community. We held every type of fundraiser this year including car washes, garage sales, candy bars, and letter writing campaigns.”
    Crawford notes that the musical tradition at the school of 2,500 students predates his years at the school but has remained strong. He says that “for your average public school, I don’t think you would see this kind of program. They are fairly well-known in our area for being one of the top school performing groups around.” Crawford, a bassist in the Wichita Symphony and his colleagues help with private lessons for students. “Ours is a tightly knit community; everybody seems to know each other. It’s not hard to find private teachers.”
Despite the excitement of performing at the Midwest, the preparations for the trip have been tinged with sadness. “Just before we got the invitation, a car crash over spring break claimed the life of one of our orchestra students and left her twin sister, who is also in the orchestra, paralyzed from the waist down. Everything we have done is in her memory. The sister is back in the orchestra and making the trip with us to the clinic. It has been so important that she has been there with us.”

Center Grove H.S. Percussion Ensemble
Greenwood, Indiana
    Percussion instructor Joshua Torres first started attending the Midwest while still in high school. “Every year I saw great groups and from them developed a standard in my head as to how the best ensembles in the country sound. After several years at Center Grove, I felt good about our progress and decided to give it a try. We were accepted on our first try.” When deciding which of the 32 percussionists to take on the trip to Chicago, Torres knew it would be impossible to cut anyone. The younger students will play on the easier works while the advanced players will perform the grade 4-6 works.
    With 250 band students in three concert bands, the percussionists are pulled out of regular band rehearsals every other day. These 90-minute rehearsals are the basis of their preparation. They also balance a busy marching schedule, preparing for Bands of America nationals and state championships. “This year I have four students who plan to major in music, so they have to find time for college auditions.” 
    For the Midwest performance one piece calls for soprano voices, for which the ensemble will use sampled voices on a synthesizer and trigger each syllable. Torres has seen this technique used in Winter Guard and marching band and is excited to try it in a concert setting.
    As a Chicago native, Torres looks forward to showing his students some of the key sites around town. The ensemble does not perform until Saturday, but students from Center Grove are heading to Chicago on Wednesday night. “There’s another percussion ensemble from Washington State (Union High School) performing on Thursday morning, so we definitely want to support them.”

Kealing Middle School Wind Ensemble
Austin, Texas
    Director Mark Gurgel leads a Texas-sized middle school band program with 300 students in a school with an enrollment of 1,200. The top of three concert bands will perform at the Midwest Clinic; the group is mostly 8th graders and includes his daughter. 
    This middle school group has been maintaining the stamina necessary for a 35-minute concert. He has held sectionals throughout the fall and an after-school rehearsal on Mondays. “Sometimes fatigue is a problem during the Monday afternoon rehearsals. If that is the case, we spend more time singing and clapping rhythms. Approximately 80% of students in the top group take private lessons, and the excitement of the Midwest invitation had spurred more students than usual to take private lessons.
    When another middle school director just 15 miles away who also earned an invitation to the Midwest, this led to a new friendship. “I’ve gotten to know Robert Herrings and Henry Middle School quite well, and we regularly bounce ideas off each other. Just talking through our preparations has been a help. We listened jointly to new publications and sorted through the rules for selecting music. If he needed a suggestion for a grade 1 piece, I’d tell him what I liked.” Gurgel didn’t need any assistance when he commissioned a flute solo with band that his wife will play. For the Gurgel family and the students at Kealing Middle School, this will be a December to remember.

Checking in With Clinicians

    One of the hardest parts of attending the Midwest is deciding what clinics to attend. Here is a summary from some of this year’s clinicians.

Artistic Vibrato in String Class
Rebecca MacLeod
Wednesday, 10:20
    This clinic compares various ap-proaches to teaching vibrato using video clips of professionals in tempo and slow motion to illustrate a beautiful vibrato. One characteristic of professional players’ vibrato that will be examined is a flexible first knuckle joint. Young performers can practice flexing the first knuckle of each finger against their thumb in preparation for vibrato exercises. Practical applications for intermediate and advanced orchestra classrooms will be discussed, as well as the relationship to professional performance practice.

String Cleaning: How to Build Students’ Technique
Constance Barrett
Wednesday, 10:20
    School orchestras often place a student who is working on the Vivaldi A Minor Violin Concerto next to another who has just started lessons. Most fall somewhere in between. This clinic offers suggestions on developing the technique of students at all levels, from left hand technique and bowing to intonation, dynamics and rhythm. Improvisational games are effective, including one that demonstrates the pizzicato glissando, with the second finger of the left hand holding the string against the fingerboard, sliding the finger without losing contact. The object is to slide the finger farthest and play the highest note. We try this on all strings and with all fingers and then add an ostinato rhythm under it, encouraging students to listen to the silences between the notes.

Transforming Trumpeters Into Horn Players
Kristine Coreil
Wednesday, 11:40
    This brass clinic outlines the six steps necessary to switch a trumpet player to horn. The first step is to loosen the embouchure while raising the mouthpiece. A trumpet embouchure will work on the horn, but the tone quality will be bright. A horn embouchure relies more on the upper lip, which is looser, and freer. An ideal candidate for the switch is a trumpet player who already has a loose embouchure. Although the new hornist will lose some high range, the sound will become more resonant and rich with this relaxed approach. The presentation includes whether to rest the horn on the leg, whether starting a mellophone is a good approach, and whether students can switch back and forth between trumpet and horn.

Student Teaching
David Campo
Wednesday, 1:00
    Student teaching should be one of the most valuable experiences for future directors, but is often omitted. Research shows that among new teachers who forgo student teaching, many quit within five years. One of the simplest pieces of advice for aspiring student teachers is to dress and behave as a professional rather than a college student. There is a substantial difference how students and faculty perceive a student teacher who looks professional.

Developing the Expressive Bow

Kathleen DeBerry Brungard
Wednesday, 2:30
    This clinic offers a variety of proven ways to develop the right-hand technique. One way to combat rushing is by playing with fast bow speed and longer bowings instead of using small strokes. It may seem counterintuitive, but this steadies the rhythm and reduces anxiety over fast tempos. The sound has energy and the tone of the string section changes.

Japanese Ideas for Band Teaching
Yo Goto
Wednesday, 2:30 and Friday, 4:00
     In Japan, band rehearsals often include fundamental exercises, rehear-sals organized by students, and elders teaching beginners. The clinic will discuss how such ideas can work with American band students. This session will encourage  band directors to reexamine their rehearsals and offer ideas on how to manage them more efficiently.

Ride Cymbal Dance Party
Matt Wilson
Friday, 9:00
    The ride cymbal and the walking bass represents horizontal time, like the moving walkway at an airport, it takes you somewhere with comfort and ease. The cymbal should be struck with a large stroke – the size of the stroke, not the force of it, determines dy-namics – so everyone can hear it. Drummers should begin by playing just quarter notes and singing in a legato style, similar to the way a bass string vibrates. These quarter notes then provide the basis for the time. This clinic will have plenty more simple cymbal tips for jazz drummers.

Avoiding Drama on Performance Day
Gabe Musella and Mike Wells
Friday, 9:00
    This session was hatched by two music teachers who have been close friends for 25 years. During their discussions, they realized that much of each day is consumed with activities other than making music. They are at various times academic advisors, trip planners, custodians, budget managers, and fund raisers. Young directors are often blindsided by outside factors that end up detracting from their students’ performances, and the original title for the session was “The 70% No One Told You About.” They will share such horror stories as the director who had to order taxis to take his group to contest and the band that played extremely well at contest but fared poorly in the sightreading room because the students were released for an ill-timed restroom break.

Clarinet Technique 101
Robert Spring
Friday, 10:20
    As a university teacher for over 30 years I’ve noticed a steady decline in clarinet technique. My teacher at Michigan, John Mohler, believed the decline began when bands stopped playing transcriptions and the clarinetists no longer had to play the violin parts. This clinic will give specific exercises to grow clarinet technique. Such exercises can be accomplished at the beginning of band rehearsal or during the first five minutes of any private lesson.

Tools for Teaching Beginning Band
Jason Tucker, Rob Chilton, David Lipe
Friday, 1:00
    As I planned lessons for the next week, reflecting on how far students had progressed, I realized that the students were in charge of the pacing of the curriculum, not the teacher. This epiphany led me to experiment with a variety of ways to im-prove my effectiveness. My associate directors, Rob Chilton and David Lipe, and I have spent several years developing objective sheets to support our curriculum, weekly theory and practice assignment sheets, rhythm studies, motivational programs, and rubrics. We will give examples of our documents and discuss how we use them in our classrooms at Rice Middle School.

School Funding, Scheduling, and Reform
Roy Holder and Joseph Hermann
Friday, 4:00
    With information collected from across the nation, a panel of educational leaders along with hosts Joseph Hermann and Roy Holder will inves-tigate the difficulties and oppor-tunities that exist for music education, evaluate collected data from music educators, and try to provide answers to help music programs in every state.

Excellence in Cymbal Sounds
Michael Varner
Friday, 4:00
    Cymbals appear in every genre from marches to Opera but are often misunderstood. This clinic explores secrets and strategies of conductors and performers who have established gestures and terminology that communicate effects, colors, and sounds from the podium. Notation in a conductor’s score can leave the composer’s intent unclear. The wide range of colors available from hand and suspended cymbals can dramatically change the musical integrity of a piece.­